Anxiety Relief, Breathe, Meditation, Mind, Mind, Body & Soul, Mindfulness, Positive Thinking, Self-Care, Stress Relief

Anxiety Management Techniques

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When suffering with anxiety symptoms it is important to find effective ways to change your physiology through the use of relaxation techniques, developing your self-awareness and learning productive coping strategies. Here are a few anxiety management techniques that you may find useful.  Choose the one’s that you find most beneficial and enjoyable as they are not one size fits all techniques.

Relaxation is the return of your system to equilibrium. When you are functioning at your best there is homeostasis (a state of equilibrium) between your bodily functions.  So when your body is under stress it will try to find balance by producing feel good hormones called endorphins, these are opioid peptides that help to deal with pain and anxiety by relieving it and producing a sense of wellbeing.

BREATHE TO RELAX ~ deep breathing is the fastest way to activate your ‘rest and restore’ parasympathetic nervous system. Experiencing a deep breath into the abdomen is not only relaxing; it’s been scientifically proven to positively affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system. Deep breathing alters your state of mind and helps your body to relax. Regularly engaging in 1-2 minutes of this deep breathing technique throughout the day will keep you calm.

Try these deep breathing techniques:

  • Breathe deeply and slowly so that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration.
  • Count 1-2-3-4 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3-4 while exhaling. Gradually increasing the numbers as you deepen your breathing.
  • Alternate nostril breathing can also help to slow and deepen your breathing. Using your thumb and ring fingers to gently open and close the nostrils, breath in 1 nostril and out the other. Repeat for 5 cycles and then change nostrils.

 

HOW TO AVOID PANIC ATTACKS ~ People who suffer panic attacks are usually very aware of their physical sensations and any changes that may occur such as hyperventilating, fluttering in the stomach, heart palpitations, sweating, etc. This awareness of any physical changes then heightens their anxiety, as they begin to worry about having a panic attack – what IF this happens or what IF that happens? The fear of having a panic attack as well as the fear of other people seeing them or judging them all serve to heighten their anxiety and this then triggers a panic attack which is frightening.

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment you are living in and it is the antithesis of anxiety which is worrying about what was or what will be. One aspect of mindfulness is shifting awareness – choosing what to pay attention to by learning to direct your focus and attention to what is happening around you. By focusing your attention on what is happening around you, to your outer world instead of your inner world, you stop focusing attention on the physical sensations of panicking and you gain some sense of control over how you are experiencing life.

To practice mindfulness with shifting awareness you can:

  • Close your eyes and follow your breath into your body as you inhale – noticing the coolness of the air, the pressure of airflow, how the movement feels through your nose, throat and down into your lungs and notice the pattern in reverse as you breathe out exhaling through the nose or mouth.
  • Direct your awareness to all the sounds around you in your environment, paying attention to the location and intensity of each sound. Or shift your awareness to the smells in the environment around you, or to a sense of movement if you are in a place with other people nearby.

It is a good idea to practice the above so that you have a plan to ward off a panic attack when you feel one coming on. Mastering this technique will help you to stop fearing physical sensations that may then trigger a panic attack. You are also using the brain to control the brain which is crucial in anxiety management.

SPEAK or SING ~ One way to interrupt anxious cognitions is to choose to replace negative thoughts and this works very well when you plan to have something in advance, rather than feeling stuck when you are in the middle of ruminating. Compete with your negative thoughts by speaking out loud – reciting song lyrics, saying an affirmation or a poem can be very helpful. Singing is also very effective as it uses more parts of your brain and singing out loud uses even more and adds the dimension of hearing to your positive thought. Plan your songs or the recitation you want to use ahead of time based on what works best for your style and personality. Feel free to share what works well for you in the comments box below, in doing so you may find suggestions from others and create a selection that you can use.

Suggestions:

  • Affirmation: Stay Positive. Be positive. Think positive.                                                      
  • Poem: I am not what happened to me. I am who I choose to become. ~ Carl Jung
  • Song: Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne

 

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS ~ We spend a lot of time and energy fighting with our internal states. The expectation is that we should feel good most of the time, so we try to change our anger, get rid of our sadness and escape from our anxiety. Our way of dealing with unpleasant emotions is to get rid of them, change them, suppress them or ignore them. That is what we are taught to do and that is what most of us do most of the time and because of this we become afraid of feelings and try to avoid them. Carl Jung said that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” When we try to control our feelings they get stronger and multiply. The best way to learn how to cope with difficult feelings is to practice allowing them to be there. Practice exploring them and being okay with them. You gradually build your ability to observe, notice and sit curiously with what is – without getting caught up in the stories that your mind is telling you. You are stepping out of the story and into the experience. You are experiencing the feeling as it is – a physical sensation. You are allowing your body the space and time to process stress. You are also building your ability to be with difficulty, challenges and discomfort and in this way you are able to break the cycle of pain.

 

BREATHE INTO YOUR BELLY ~ Mindfulness meditation has 2 aspects and the first is stopping and calming. Belly breathing is a simple and effective method for taking care of our strong emotions like fear or anger. These strong emotions can be like standing in the middle of a storm that feels dangerous and overwhelms us. We can ground ourselves by bringing our attention down to the abdomen and breathing mindfully. Focus on your navel, breathe in and breathe out and become aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen. Don’t think of anything; just breathe this way for 5-15 minutes and the storm will pass. The more you practice doing this, the more peace of mind you will experience, so that the next time a strong emotion arises, it becomes easier to belly breathe and you already know that you can survive it.

 

TAKE A BREAK ~ Take regular breaks from high-stimulation environments. Noisy school classrooms, working in an open plan office, commuting on busy streets, fluorescent lighting, shopping malls, etc. all impact on your levels of stress. Plan regular short breaks in the day to calm your mind and body and make time in-between activities to give your nervous system a chance to rejuvenate itself.

  • Go outside even if it’s only for a few minutes to look at trees, gardens, the sky, etc.
  • Have a picture of your favourite people/places/things handy and spend a few moments looking at it with love and appreciation
  • Move away from your work station – walk up and down the stairs, go to the bathroom even if you don’t need it, have a drink of water
  • Take a mental vacation – close your eyes and imagine your favourite place using all 5 of your senses to experience it fully
  • Sit in a quiet space for a few minutes and breathe mindfully, read or meditate
  • Listen to music that soothes you

 

SEEK SILENCE ~ Close your eyes and tune into your environment right now. What’s plugged in, switched on and making a noise? When you stop and listen to your life, you’ll notice that you are surrounded by noise all the time. Your body absorbs and processes sound which takes energy, so the absence of peace and quiet means that you are constantly processing sound, leaving you feeling tired and drained. Your body, brain and wellbeing need a rest from this on-going noise and activity. With peace and quiet, your thinking will slow down and your body, particularly your nervous system, shifts to a more balanced state that allows your fight-or-flight system to rest and relax. If you consciously turn down the noise and integrate some time for peace and quiet throughout the day, you will enjoy mental and emotional calm to reduce anxiety, free up your mind to enable you to make better decisions and choices and practice mindfulness.

Tips for intentionally seek out more quiet moments throughout your day:

  • Occasionally enjoy a quiet house – run the dishwasher/washing machine when you go out.
  • Drive or commute in silence without the radio/music.
  • Find a quiet area at work or in your garden/home where you can sit for few quiet moments.
  • Avoid falling asleep to the sound of the TV when you go to bed at night.
  • Try to eat one meal a day alone in silence without any distractions.
  • Manage technology – turn off all devices during certain hours instead of being available 24/7.
  • Shop on-line in the peace and quiet of your home.

 

 

Confidence, Mind, Positive Thinking, Resilience, Self-Care, Self-Esteem, Stress Relief

Understanding Self-Sabotaging Behaviour

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Are you are your own worst enemy? How many times have you intended to make changes in the New Year and then asked yourself why you self-destruct? We can all be guilty of self-sabotage, whether it’s procrastinating when something important is due at work, working out in the gym and then binging on chocolate when you get home, making promises to yourself that you don’t intend to keep, or keeping so busy that you barely have time to think let alone deal with your issues.

Self-sabotage is when you feel that you can’t do something you should be able to do, or that you shouldn’t do something even though you know deep down that you want or need to do it.  It’s a way of punishing yourself when you feel out of control and when you have unmet desires and needs. 

How do you get in your own way? 

Your counter-productive habits manifest themselves in 2 ways – they’re either rebellious coping mechanisms in times of stress (such as overspending or drinking too much), or they are ways of staying in your comfort zone due to feelings of unworthiness (like never asking for a promotion or staying in disruptive relationships).  You may be wondering “Why do I do that to myself?”

You have automatic inborn survival responses relating to feelings of fear that prepare your body to “fight” or “flee” from situations where you feel threatened, or when you think that you feel threatened.  It is the feeling we attach to these fearful events that cause us to use a coping mechanism which then becomes a self-defeating behaviour. 

Your subconscious stores all your past memories and experiences of occasions when you’ve felt fearful and these subconscious memories manifest in your thoughts, actions and patterns of self-defeating behaviours.  These behaviours usually start in childhood when your options are more limited and your subconscious mind is more open to external manipulation, because we accept what we are told through the repeated information given to us by authority figures, such as parents, teachers and religious leaders.  We then bring these suggestions into our experiences and build them into our core belief systems – so without realising it, we tend to internalise attitudes that were taught to us by parents or influential caretakers throughout our development.  This critical inner voice is formed from our early life experiences for example, if our parents said we were lazy, we may grow up feeling useless or ineffective and engage in self-sabotaging thoughts that tell us not to even try, such as “Why bother? You’ll never succeed anyway. You just don’t have the energy to get anything done.”  In a similar way, children can also internalise negative thoughts that their parents or early caretakers had toward themselves.  For example, if you grew up with a parent who often viewed themselves as weak or a failure, you may grow up with similar self-sabotaging attitudes.

We can’t change the past, but as adults, we can identify the self-sabotaging thoughts that we’ve internalised and consciously choose to act against them. It is when we become victims to our critical inner voice and listen to its commands that we often engage in self-limiting or self-sabotaging behaviours that hurt us in our daily lives.

Your self-defeating behaviours usually start in early childhood as an effective way of coping, dealing with, or getting out of a difficult or unpleasant situation.  Then these behaviours, thoughts, or feelings become an unconscious reaction.  In recognising the life circumstances which have led to these behaviours, you will more accurately identify your underlying needs associated with the behaviour and your core beliefs that fuel those thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  Self-sabotage can come in many forms and manifest in our lives in many different ways.

Here is a list of the common forms of self-sabotage :

Perfectionism                      

Denial

Busyness

Worrying

Hostility

Lack of commitment

Addictions – smoking, gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, exercise, food, internet, etc.

Spending money

Giving up

Withdrawing

Risk-taking

Work/career

Fantasising

Picking fights

Compulsive, ritualistic behaviours in excessive forms

Avoidance

Shutting down

Lying by omission

Procrastination

Sickness/being ill

Inability to say NO

Suspiciousness

Excuses

Comfort eating

Defensiveness

Isolating

Shyness

Escapism

Lack of confidence

Sexual dysfunctions – psychological impotence and frigidity

Depression (this is self-defeat at its most effective)

Where do self-sabotaging thoughts come from?

Self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours are perpetuated by an inner critic we all possess.  We are already so hard on ourselves and what’s worse is that we usually don’t recognise that it’s even happening.  Negative self-talk strengthens the negative thoughts and patterns you have about yourself, your inadequacies, your lack of success and this leads to a cycle of self-sabotaging that can be very difficult to break.  Your anti-self, that’s formed from your early life experiences, casts doubt about your abilities, undermines your desires, and fills your mind with critical self-analysis and self-sabotaging thoughts that cause you to hold back from your true goals.  Therefore changing these behaviours means challenging deeply engrained, old and familiar attitudes that you have about yourself.

All self-defeating behaviours are false friends – they seem helpful at the time but are actually harmful, especially when repeated as a pattern and developed over time. Comfort eating, for example, might not be too problematic if it happens only once every few weeks, but it becomes self-defeating when it occurs frequently (after every stressful event and becomes your go-to response because you might not know another way of coping with pressure) and causes weight gain, health issues and body dissatisfaction.

Some of the most severe forms of self-sabotage often feel right because they help us escape intense and uncomfortable negative emotions.  Sadness often leads people to withdraw from others and to stop engaging in activities they enjoy. This response feels right, but it is actually harmful because by withholding the healthy things from ourselves when we are sad, we only intensify the sadness, potentially turning it into depression.

How to stop engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour

All forms of talking therapy are designed to treat some form of self-defeating behaviour.  Bearing in mind that the main reason we practice our self-defeating behaviours is fear (our automatic inborn survival response) the main reason that we carry on these behaviours is the instant reduction of feelings of psychological and physical tension.  This instant reward causes us to minimise the effects of our behaviour and to rationalise it in order to continue to use it, which takes away the possibility of choosing a healthier action or behaviour in the future.   Self-sabotage is a complex process that encompasses your limiting beliefs, so it’s necessary to pay close attention to the excuses you may make that prevent you from moving forward.

Limiting beliefs like:-

This won’t work …

I can’t do this …

I’m too busy right now …

I’m just not ready yet …

I’m just not good enough …

Through conscious self-awareness can you begin to put a stop to these patterns of behaviour. 

To help you to eliminate these self-sabotaging behaviours I can assist and guide you to:-

  • understand where your self-defeating behaviours originated and to pinpoint specific triggers (people, objects, specific times, events, locations)
  • identify the underlying needs associated with this behaviour
  • explore your core beliefs that fuel these thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • understand why you need to change your maladaptive patterns
  • take responsibility for choosing alternative responses that are more helpful

All negative behaviour has negative consequences for our life. What is this behaviour costing you? When we take the time to recognise the consequences, we form a greater understanding of the problem and we build up the motivation to resolve the situation.  It’s also beneficial to list all the positive consequences of life without your self-defeating behaviours. Listing positive outcomes will serve as a positive reinforcement towards choosing and implementing behavioural changes. 

The choice of changing these behaviours lies solely with you, but knowing that you have a choice about how to respond to difficult situations is very empowering.  Replacing maladaptive core beliefs with self-enhancing beliefs will also help to raise your self-esteem and motivation.

These questions are a good starting point and will get you focused in the right direction:

What goals have you had for a long time and never been able to accomplish?

Are you lacking motivation to do something that you should want to do?

In which areas do you find yourself procrastinating or putting off making a decision?

Is there something in your life that bothers you and causes you dissatisfaction because you know you could do it, or do it better?

Is there an area in your life where other people consistently get frustrated with you?

Body & Soul, Mind, Positive Thinking, Resilience, Self-Care, Self-Esteem, Stress Relief, Wellbeing

How To Develop Resilience

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Have you ever wondered why some people are able to cope with distress more ably than others?  This subject has always fascinated me as I do a lot of work around strengthening resilience with clients who come to me for support.  Resilience can be described as the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from setbacks.  It’s actually all about your ‘survive and thrive’ instinct and it develops from the start of your life as your brain processes or learns from experiences to keep you safe and alive.

You learn your earliest strategies of resilience in infancy, through interacting with your parents, caregivers, and others who are close and influential to you.  Attachment theory provides an explanation of how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development.  In the 1950’s British psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory of attachment showed that as babies, fear drives us to seek reassurance and protection from someone who is older, wiser, stronger and able to help.  He found that ‘early attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our “internal working model” of self in relation to others.’ 

In other words the way that parents respond to their baby encodes into its brain the internal working models and rules of coping by 12-18 months of age.  So when a parent repeatedly responds sensitively and appropriately to the baby’s needs by smiling, holding them gently, and speaking empathically to them, this forms the basis for an attachment that is safe and trusting.  If parents repeatedly respond calmly to a baby’s cry, changing their nappy and feeding them, the baby learns to soothe itself.  The baby learns that when it calls for help, that call is answered and solutions to problems do exist.  The baby gets a sense that “I am important.  I matter.  I am loved.”  This is fundamental in establishing the basic patterns of resilience.   As that child grows and develops it feels valued and understood which leads it to trust its own competence and cultivate the ability to bounce back.  As the child matures and continues to learn strategies for communicating its needs, and more importantly, feels deserving of having those needs met, they feel the bonds of trust and love.  These patterns of response then become the brains template for their lifetime.
 
What we have to bear in mind is that our parents didn’t always get it right and did the best they could with the knowledge and experience they had at the time.  They also would have gained that experience and learnt their coping strategies from their parents and so on and so on. Fortunately, you have an innate capacity for continuing development of resilience and you can change old patterns of response.  So if you did not initially learn these patterns of response for developing resiliency, as you grow older and become an independent adult you have more and more opportunities to learn this through interacting with other resilient people: role models from life, history and literature, peers, mentors, teachers, partners, therapists, coaches, etc.  Over your lifetime through interactions with the above people you can learn how to think outside the box, solve problems more efficiently and handle disappointments and upsets more capably. 

Neuroscientist Donald Hebb said: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”  This means that each time you have an experience, good or bad, whether it is an external event (something that happens), or an internal response to the event (your feelings and reaction) the neurons in your brain fire to send electrical and chemical messages which reinforce pathways in the brain.  As an experience is repeated the neurons that fired together to create the pathway tend to fire together again, strengthening that pathway and this prepares the brain to respond in the same way each time it encounters a similar situation, creating stronger patterns of response, or wiring.

When you repeat a pattern often enough this is what neuroscientists call conditioning. Conditioning creates automatic habits and stores those patterns of response in your unconscious memory enabling you to respond automatically.  We can deliberately use conditioning to create positive habits of resilience.  For example you can choose experiences to deliberately rewire your brain to cope better.  Although the initial wiring of your brain is based on early experiences, your later experiences (especially healthy relational ones) can undo and overwrite your early learning.  It is from your experiences with others that you learn how to calm your nervous system, remain level headed in times of crisis, trust yourself to make good choices, and use your resources wisely to increase your options for coping. 

This is where a therapist can be restorative in helping to change insecure attachment bonds by providing unconditional support to clients.  In offering a quiet, non-judgmental space and deep listening you can gain support to access your deep-rooted patterns of response that formed early on and gain assistance to reform new and more beneficial patterns of resilience.

It is helpful to remember that it is not the external trigger, but rather your internal response that is important for resilience.  You will find that often you cannot change the external trigger that creates stress, but you can do something to change your internal responses to those stressors.  You can learn to rewire old patterns of response into new, more helpful patterns that will enable you to cope differently and more resiliently to anything.