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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nutrition and Mental Health

In the realms of mental health, nutrition, and medicine the research world is currently littered with the term "gut to brain axis," and much needed attention is being given to the interplay between the nervous system of the gut and the nervous system of the brain. Neurotransmitters that regulate brain function are first produced in the gut, so it stands to reason that imbalances in either realm will affect the other.

How deep does the connection run? Is depression merely a manifestation of malabsoption of nutrients due to a variety of causes such as bacteria, inflammation, infection, or parasites? Could the food we eat have severe affects on mood and cause long term neurological degeneration?  Researchers are noticing a relationship between functional bowel disorders and brain disorders, i.e. a high percentage of children with Autism also have improper gut motility (constipation, diarrhea) or food intolerances/allergies, but which comes first, the gut disorder or the brain disorder? Could regaining function in your bowels not only improve your mood, motivation, hope, but also eliminate pathological anxiety and depression?

In my experience, the answer is mostly yes. However, even in something as seemingly simple as nutrition, we have to be careful to avoid all or nothing thinking errors. For example, gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that tends to cause negative gut and brain issues in many people, has gotten a very bad rap because of the disease sprue (celiac) where the immune system destroys the small intestine in attempt to kill gluten. Celiac is potentially deadly and should be taken very seriously, but the idea of "gluten intolerance or sensitivity", what is that? One thing that may cause it is if you have some kind of infection or low stomach acid, a relatively minor problem and easily treatable, yet your ability to absorb food properly may be compromised and you may have imbalanced strains of bacteria in your SI tract, causing "leaky gut." When large molecules of food penetrate this gut, and cross the blood brain barrier, it causes negative affects on the brain such as brain fog, inability to focus, fatigue, and head aches. Since gluten is one of the foods that easily penetrates this leaky gut, and its effect on the brain can be disastrous, consuming it can be problematic for many people even if they don't have celiac disease. But for some, with no dysfunction in bowel movement or absorption, gluten may pass through without causing harm to the individual. Hence the need to be careful not to assume that gluten is always the bad guy.

Functionality can be influenced both ways. For example, someone who experiences a severe trauma may develop PTSD symptoms irregardless of their diet, however the resulting anxiety, panic, depression, sleep dysregulation problems triggered by the trauma will most likely negatively affect digestion, which could perpetuate the symptoms and create a downward cycle. Researchers show that alcoholics in recovery start craving sugary foods, and those who turn to carbs and sweets are the ones mostly likely to relapse to their drug of choice and end up back in rehabilitation. However, those who change their diet to include nutrient dense, protein rich, non sweet whole foods are able to stay sober and regain functionality in mood regulation. The simple reason is they were able to regulate the gut to brain axis and thus maximize emotional regulation.

No client I have ever met likes to be told what to eat, even though the 64 oz soda they ingest every day may be negatively affecting their blood sugar regulation, bacterial and yeast balance, and a myriad of digestive and mood difficulties that result. Even soda has its positive effects, if what you are going for is a temporary mood lift and quick rise in blood sugar, then you've got the right fuel. But we know that what is good for us in the short run is not always the best in the long run. Being mindful of what you really want and need may include being aware of the connection between food and brain function.

Just as people have both strengths and weaknesses, different foods have both benefits and drawbacks. It may be wise to be wary of any experts telling you to completely ban a certain food or over promoting a certain supplement. There are benefits and risks to nearly every food, and eliminating foods can cause problems just as eating harmful foods (when your gut is compromised) can also cause problems.  The important thing is not whether you eat blueberries or take fish oil every day, its about the motivation and mindfulness of eating. Are you eating because you are craving something and feeding an organism bigger than yourself like Candida overgrowth?  Are you not eating because you have anxiety that this food will hurt your body or make you fat?  Are you paying attention to what your mood and digestive response is to certain foods, or are you pushing through the negative symptoms and eating what you want?  If you are craving it, if you have negative digestive responses eating it, the brain to gut axis is telling you something is off--be mindful of the connection gut to brain and brain to gut!

Rather than demonizing a food, balance your intake. If you chose to start avoiding simple carbs and refined foods you will have to replace it with something, and your body will have more opportunity to eat more whole foods, and foods rich in healthy fats and protein to boost your amino acid production and vitamin and mineral content, which boosts tryptophan and serotonin production in your brain. But don't completely get rid of vegetables and fruits and even carbohydrates that have many healthy benefits as well!  Even a starchy potato can be good, with the skin on and cooked and chilled a potato has many resistant fiber and carbohydrate benefits that we would be remiss to eliminate from our diet. It will take some time to build healthy bacterial strains and eliminate the harmful strains creating the cravings, and some elimination of foods may be necessary for a temporary period in order to heal your gut from damage, but keep in mind that reintroducing those foods in moderate and wise amounts will be necessary so you can get the benefits from that food. Educate yourself on the benefits of food and how it affects your brain, but be wise to not believe everything you read on the internet, choose reputable sources and find the truth in what the nutritionists have discovered. Every body is different, you can find out what works for you, but be aware of the connection between the gut and the brain when you eat.

For more information on mental health and nutrition, contact our office and request a seminar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spirituality and Mental Health

Spirituality can be a great coping tool to aide with mental health recovery. If you are not a religious person, you can think of your "spirit" as being your soul, your will, or fate, but it also applies in helping you work with your mental limitations to achieve your personal goals.  Refer to the poem  "Invictus" by Ernest Henley and think about how it may relate to depression, addiction, or just feeling lost:

Out of the night that covers me
      Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Our spirit or soul can do much to help regulate our brains.  So let's talk about the brain first.  If you make a fist with your hand and cover your thumb with your fingers, you have made a crude model of your brain.  The bottom of my hand is the brain stem; all creatures have a brain stem, reptiles, insects, humans, fish etc. The brain stem tells us to do things like eat and sleep and breathe and reproduce, basic survival stuff.

If I fold my fingers back, or the top of the brain back, you can see the thumb which represents the amygdala and hippocampus, also called the limbic system, and this controls the emotional centers of our brain. Things like fear, anxiety, sadness, laughter, contentment, love, and attachment to people are processed here.  Mammals all have this part of the brain, they can attach to their young and take care of them, and can even attach to humans because they have more than just a brain stem. 

The fingers that folds over the limbic system represent the cortex, the front being called the prefrontal cortex. This controls such things as verbal language, decision making, and creativity; it is our logical or intelligence center of the brain. This is what distinguishes us from animals and makes us “aware of our awareness” and is how we have agency to choose, or a will of our own. Animals and insects follow their basic survival needs and emotions, humans can choose to put those things aside in pursuit of their individual goals and desires. For example, an animal is very compelled to eat and satisfy the hunger instinct. A human can hold back the survival instinct to eat when they are fasting for a personal reason or if they are trying to avoid eating unhealthy food; even though the human’s limbic system and brain stem says “eat” and their prefrontal cortex says “wait” and they make the appropriate actions that will get them to refrain from eating food until the time is right. Animals can be trained to do interesting things, but based on reinforcement of survival needs, not on a purpose outside themselves.

There is a constant back and forth messaging going back between brain stem, limbic system and prefrontal cortex. Basic survival needs, emotional needs, and decisions/planning/analyzing are constantly at play with each other. Your alarm goes off at 6:00 am in the morning and your brain stem says “more sleep,” your limbic system says “I hate myself for going to bed at 2:00 am, I feel awful, why do I have to go to stupid school” and your prefrontal cortex says “Lack of sleep or not I’m going to get a bad grade if I get another tardy so I better get up.” So (depending on the state of your mental health) you get up and tell yourself “get to bed earlier tonight.” What if you would have just stayed in bed? You would have had to face the consequence of getting a tardy or absence and a lowered grade, but also would have had to face an irritated parent, would have extra work the next day catching up, and possibly extra chores depending on the consequence given at home.  Parents are constantly trying to teach children to do what is in their best interest even if it is hard at the moment, because basing decisions on survival needs and emotions isn’t going to get you far in life.
It is very important that your brain is in optimal working condition in order for your prefrontal cortex to make decisions in your best interest. Neurotransmitters in your brain are what make this back and forth exchange from logical brain to emotional brain happen. There are so many neurotransmitters and so many neurons in our brain that there are lots of ways this can go awry.  One wrong meal, a bad test score, a fight with a loved one, can throw off the balance of neurotransmitters.  It is very important to keep your body and brain healthy so you can make decisions based on what is overall good for you and others. If you are super tired and hungry, your brain cells are probably not working optimally, and you will make decisions based more on short term emotional and survival needs than you will on long term positive outcome. Can you think of an example of this? (i.e. skipping class to get food because you skipped breakfast, yelling at someone because you didn’t get enough sleep, eating a candy bar because it’s the easiest things to grab instead of preparing healthy food). On the flip side, if your desire is strong and your prefrontal cortex working well, you can make yourself do amazing things that cause pain now but save us pain later. What are some examples of this? Examples: long distance running, immunization shots, college degrees.

Addiction is just another way to say your neurotransmitters are fixed in a pattern of self destruction! It is a disease of choice, you fuel the immediate need instead of long term healthy goals. That is why we go to extreme measures to make sure youth do not fall prey to addictions.  Hopefully you are not dealing with addictions. But we all deal with the little imbalances, like a bad mood, a temper outburst, behavioral issues at school, etc. Brains can cause a lot of problems for everyone, even the people you think “have it all together.” It is dangerous to compare yourself with others, because usually we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel! It’s a normal part of life to have emotional ups and downs, but your ups or downs won’t look the same as my ups and downs. 
Think of yourself as a vehicle. The road you travel is your environment, some are bumpy some are smooth, some have lots of road blocks. Each vehicle looks a little different from the outside. All vehicles have an engine (brain and heart) a gas tank (stomach and digestion) wheels and cogs (limbs) a transmission (circulatory system) and a radio (thoughts) and a steering wheel (agency).  If the steering wheel is agency, what does the driver of the vehicle represent?  Yep! There is another important part of our vehicles and that is our spirit!   It’s very important to distinguish your spirit from your body and brain. Why? Because it took 1 trillion cell divisions to get you the body you have, and there is a lot that can go wrong in 1 trillion cell divisions!  That is why everyone is a little different. I’m short, she is tall, I have digestion issues, my husband can eat whatever he wants and feel great, her prefrontal cortext is able to say “Don’t worry this won’t last forever, you will feel better tomorrow!” while my brain may say “you are weak and tired and can’t go on”.  When I identify myself too much with my vehicle, I lose sight of the fact that I am not my physical body! That is the good news, we can use our spirits and agency no matter what is going on in our brains and bodies and environments to give our lives meaning and purpose to pain and help us press forward toward what is best for our lives.

But that doesn’t always take away the pain. When you are feeling negative emotions, what does your radio tell you?  Example: you are a nobody, you are weak, you are insignificant, you are a failure, etc. Emotional pain is I think the most difficult pain to endure. If you are suffering emotionally, there is an imbalance going on in your physical body, your mental cognitions (the radio), and/or your environment, and you’ll likely suffer spiritually.  If you are suffering spiritually, your logical brain may not get the last say and you will suffer emotionally and physically. It’s a negative feedback loop!  What can we do about that?

These are the three areas of our life experience: biology, environment, and psychology. If we are spiritual beings having an human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience, then these realms represent the human experience. Psychology is your mental brain: how you see the world, your mind, your thoughts, and how your neurotransmitters all play off each other. Biology is your physical body: your digestion, immune system, blood cells, and how neurotransmitters are being formed and fueled. You environment is your support system: where you live, who you have relationships with, where you work or go to school. When you experiencing something positive in one of these areas, the other two areas are affected positively. See how they are connected? The reverse is true, when one area is affected negatively, all areas go down. If you have a tooth ache (biology) you will likely have some negative thoughts (psychology) and may be short tempered with people around you (environment). If you are depressed (psychology) you may feel low energy and feel yucky (biology) and you may start to do poorly in school (environment). If you break up with your boyfriend (environment) you may not sleep well (biology) and you may have serious thoughts of low self worth (psychology).  This is actually good news! Because this means our SPRIRTS can influence our human experience for good, we can purposely do things in any of these three realms to positively influence the whole system.
These are just a few of the tools you can use to help your human experience that often take a spiritual resolve to keep doing, but will help your neurotransmitters stay in balance:

Exercising (B)

Eating clean (B)

Adequate Sleep (B)

Medication when needed (B)

Positive affirmations and thoughts about self (P)

Positive thoughts about others (P)

Positive thoughts and hope for future (P)

Watching out for cognitive distortions (P)

Prayer (P)

Journal Writing (P)

Loving your friends and family (E)

Acts of Service (E)

Going to church (E)

Reading uplifting material (E)

Treating others with respect (E)

Working hard in school, work, or other responsibilities (E)

More good news: ALL these also fuel the spirit! Which you will need to do because it is not easy to try and constantly keep your human realm functioning, you need spiritual meaning and purpose behind your action. This is a positive feedback loop! When you know its the right thing to do, you will tolerate quite a bit of discomfort to make it happen. It will take your personal will power and prefrontal cortex to do this, because who feels like exercising and doing service when they are depressed, no one!  They may not be fun in the short run but they will eventually pull us up little by little until our biology, psychology, and environment are back in balance. So it takes the spiritual resolve to make it happen and making it happen fuels our spiritual resolve. Positive spiral upward!

Overcoming mental health issues often means doing what we know is right no matter how we feel. Try getting in touch with your spiritual side and see if it helps!  Remember you are the captain of your fate, the master of your soul.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


When I went to a CBT conference hosted by David Burns, I was surprised by the fact that he kept bringing up anger.  It was a conference about combating anxiety, yet he continually found that anxiety was usually secondary to anger, because we live in a "nice" culture where it's not OK to express your anger.  In fact, one of his techniques to "untwist your thinking" revolved entirely around the idea that you may be holding in something upsetting and your brain has converted this anger into a safer emotion (anxiety).

The Hidden Emotion Model: This technique is based on the idea that when you're anxious, you may be avoiding a personal problem that you don't want to face. Bringing this problem to conscious awareness and expressing your feelings will often eliminate your anxiety. Ask yourself, "Am I focusing on my anxiety to avoid dealing with something upsetting? What's the real problem that's bothering me? Do I secretly resent my spouse or my job? Am I unhappy about being in school? How do I really feel?"  (from David Burns 50 ways to untwist your thinking)

That was different from what I heard in my substance abuse classes; there I learned that anger is a secondary emotion and that there is usually something behind the anger, like feeling inferior, that people won't let themselves be vulnerable enough with to express, so instead they take it out on the people around them with anger.   
Which comes first the anxiety or the anger?  I think it depends on which population you work with. If you worked with drug addicts all day, you may see a lot of angry clients and see that the real reason they express that emotion is they are experiencing pain from cravings and withdrawal, pain from abuse and neglect, and sorrow from past mistakes. If you are working with anxious clients, you will see that the hidden emotion is unexpressed anger and they have learned to quickly suppress it because its "not OK to be angry." For example, a client may be really angry they had to work a late shift again but was too nice to tell his boss how mad he was, and may feel he doesn't deserve to be angry anyway and should be grateful he even has the job, so instead he just develops anxiety about going to work, or may have the urge to throw up every time his boss comes around. 
In either scenario, managing anger becomes an important aspect of recovery. Anger has gotten a bad rap because we associate anger with being out of control. Many people get uncomfortable at the least and at worst hurt when anger rears its ugly head. However, anger is an emotion we all will experience and simply having some anger does not make you out of control, any more than having some sadness makes you depressed.  It can actually be quite useful anger, it can defend us when we are in danger and can warn us when something isn't right, and helps us keep healthy boundaries, so we don't want to eliminate or suppress it completely.
So what do we do with it?  There are two options, you can 1. lower your expectations or 2. learn to express your anger in a healthy manner. 
The latter, learning to express your anger assertively but not hurtfully, is by far the optimal decision for your mental health. However, it takes practice, courage and vulnerability to be able to learn how to simply and assertively express that you are upset about something without hidden vindictive intentions.  We first have to identify what is making us upset, and sometimes that alone is very difficult because we've spent a lifetime suppressing or avoiding the emotional pain of anger. Once the source of the anger is pinpointed, we must have the courage to say in a calm voice, "I feel upset about that" without criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or revenge.  (Or "please don't do that" or "I don't feel right about that" or even "I'm so angry I can't see straight.")

If you are not sure that expressing your anger is an option for you right now, you can try to lower your expectations.  Anger generally comes from frustration about something you expected to happen or thought should happen but did not.   The man yelling at his computer obviously thought some technical program should be easier to navigate than it was or doing something that it was not. A wife  cannot be angry with her spouse if there was not some expectation in her mind that he did not meet.  It stands to reason that if you lower your expectations you will lower your frequency of angry moments.  Trying to lower expectations can help you at least start to identify the source of your anger so that you can decide if its worth being angry about, and if it is, explore ways of how to express that.

"Peace comes from learning to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be."

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!


We all do things to try and alter our conscious awareness at times. Whether it be food, botanicals, or entheogens, humans have long been taking in substances (or engaging in behaviors) that change the chemicals in the brain to promote a sense of well being.  You may be doing it too, without realizing it.  For example, bread or other carbohydrates make us feel calm and stimulate serotonin levels, and you don't realize how much you "need" refined carbohydrates until you try to eliminate them completely from your diet. Most people who engage in behaviors that promote their sense of well being will continue to do so until it causes more pain than relief, or too many disadvantages to ignore any longer.  So ask yourself, is what you are doing working for you?
Maybe you do realize you are trying to alter your conscious awareness, and it's causing you some problems, but you don't know what to do about it. When the neruotransmitter dopamine gets a surge and the pleasure centers of the brain become accustomed to a certain substance or behavior, the ability to choose becomes compromised. Your brain will push you towards more of that substance to the point of feeling you need it to keep going, to keep living, to survive.  When a substance becomes one of the primary survival needs it is very difficult to reverse that process, because the brain itself becomes programed to protect itself from ever losing its source of pleasure and survival.
Contrary to what the popular Eagles lyrics suggest, there is hope. The human brain can cause a lot of problems, but the mind can overcome the brain if given the proper tools. Have you ever looked at a large dam?  At the bottom of every dam there is a little river of water.  The flow of that river of water increases or decreases depending on the pressure building up on the other side of the dam. More pressure, more water let out. It is the same things with our life. Willpower alone will probably not get you far in overcoming addition, but willpower combined with positive negative outlets such as therapy, group support, journal writing, writing your story, exercise, pursuit of hobbies and goals, and telling your story to family and friends, may help your brain little by little find other ways to cope with discomforts in life without the addictive substance.  The key is to find positive coping outlets, if you deal with negative experiences in life by numbing the pain instead of letting them out, your will become internally as toxic as the Dead Sea.  You need an outlet!  Negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences will continue to come, but there is much in life worth living for if you know how to let the negative out in a positive way.
It will take time and courage and vulnerability, and will not be easy, but if you "hold the vision and trust the process" your mind can help change your brain that has been trapped in the dopamine surge of addiction. Please seek help, talking to someone about it is a first great step.

"Whatever the mind can conceive, it can achieve." --W. Clement Stone
"Where there's hope, there's life; it gives us fresh courage and makes us strong again." Anne Frank

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Agenda Setting

Part of any therapy process needs to include setting the agenda with the client. This means the client chooses how much change, if any, he or she will make in treatment and the therapist goes at the client's pace.  This is important for a number of reasons, two reasons are 1. because the therapist can't work any harder than his or her client, and 2. because self determination and agency of the client are vital in successful treatment outcomes. So how badly do you want to change?

When setting the agenda, it's helpful to include a cost/benefit analysis of what you are experiencing so that you can foresee what process and outcome resistance might come up for you. For example, if you're focus of treatment is conflict with your spouse and you are miserable in your relationship, but really don't want to divorce your spouse, you will be faced with needing to change some things about yourself in order to change the situation in your relationship.

But why should you change? Why can't they change? Its easy to see how much easier your life would be if only they would change. It's hard to be the one to say "I'd rather be married than be right" and make some adjustments.  In fact, some people would rather live in misery than do the work necessary to change. That is generally because there are some benefits to staying the way you are.

It helps to know what you are up against, and doing a cost benefit analysis will help you know. Pick one of the scenarios that closely applies to you and fill out the advantages/disadvantages lines.

Attitude or emotion: "It's not me who needs to change, its his/her fault things are a mess"
Advantages to holding to this belief:
Disadvantages to holding to this belief:

Attitude or emotion: "I'm the victim here, I'm not doing anything wrong."
Advantages to holding to this belief:
Disadvantages to holding to this belief:

Attitude or emotion: "I feel like I've already tried everything in my power to improve things."
Advantages to holding to this belief:
Disadvantages to holding to this belief:

Attitude or emotion: "Nobody understands how hard it is, I can't do it."
Advantages to holding to this belief:
Disadvantages to holding to this belief:

What were your answers like?  Did they sound anything like the following?
Advantages to holding to this belief: You don't have to communicate your needs; you can justify feeling hurt; your don't have to forgive; it's safer to be guarded than being vulnerable with someone who can hurt you again; its easier to do what I'm used to.
Disadvantages to holding to this belief: You don't have an emotional connection; trust is broken; you actually don't feel safe you feel the need to guard yourself; everything is more complicated because your upset about being at odds with someone you love; you are unhappy.

The answers will vary because no two people are the same, what's serving one will not necessarily serve another, neither will the what's hurting one hurt another. But knowing the advantages and disadvantages can help you really see which side is more important. Is it more important to you to feel safe and guarded, or vulnerable and connected? Which is serving you in the interest of you goal?  How important is it to you to change? How hard are you willing to work in order to get rid of those disadvantages, or maybe you aren't really interested in getting rid of them at all?   

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mental Filter

If you suffer from shyness, anxiety about going into something new, or fear of not knowing what you are doing, or have any social phobia of any kind, you may be buying into the cognitive distortion which is a sub type of All or Nothing thinking, the "Mental Filter."  Mental filtering is when we pay especial attention to our limitations and weaknesses or outright flaws, and filter out the positive qualities we have.  This makes us feel vulnerable and saps our confidence, and the thought of facing situations where we don't know what to expect will cause massive amounts of anxiety.

Do you ever tell yourself any of the following?

"I won't know what I'm doing."
"Everyone will think I'm weird or stupid."
"I can't do, that I already tried and couldn't do it."
"I made a mistake, I'm a loser."
"Everyone else seems to have it together, what's wrong with me?"
"That would be too [hard, humiliating, scary, embarrassing]"

Coupled with some other cognitive distortions, the Mental Filter is present in all of these statements.  Assuming that because you aren't the expert in a situation so you won't be able to handle it turns out to be self fulfilling prophecy; either you don't try so you never find out, or if you do try your hesitation and holding back will suggest to people that you truly can't handle it. Either way you get to avoid what you feel you can't do, and this only gives you another layer to add to the negative attributes list that you are holding in the mental filter sieve.

You owe it to yourself to stop filtering out all your positive qualities!  People are more than their negative attributes, much more. If your negative attributes count, so do your positive attributes.

It may take years to understand that you can be weak and its OK, but it will be revolutionary once you get it. It doesn't have to be one or the other, it can be both! Combat the mental filter with a combination of self defense and acceptance. Examples include:

Its true I'll never get everything done in a day that needs to be done. (acceptance)
I'll never be "good enough" but I am enough (acceptance and self defense)
I'm not able to completely control my emotions. (acceptance)
I'll make mistakes every day. (acceptance)
There will always be people who don't value me, judge me, and maybe even dislike me. (acceptance)
Some things are in my control, some are not, that is normal. (acceptance)
Some days I won't live up to my own standards and values. (acceptance)
I won't know all the answers. (acceptance)
I'll experience humiliation shame and fear. (acceptance)
I can accept these because it's OK, what we’re here for is to learn. (self defense)
Every day I can get up and try again. (self defense)
Every day I can be thankful for something. (self defense)
Every day I can step a little closer to my goals. (self defense)
I can endure, and save myself for days of happiness. (self defense)
I'm not an expert on everything but I have many strengths and talents. (acceptance and self defense)
I can use the strengths I have and apply them in situations I feel weak. (self defense)
I'll never give up holding to my standards and values. (self defense)
Where it truly matters to me, I excel. (self defense)

My favorite combination of acceptance and self defense sounds like this: "I'm weak and I'm strong. I'll never be 100% good or 100% bad. I'm capable and I'm limited, I fail and I succeed. There's no one like me out there so there's no one I'd rather be than me." 

These will help you will cure yourself of Mental Filter so you will be able to build the confidence you need to move in the direction you desire.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I think, therefore I fear

Anxiety. One among many of the wide range of emotions we will experience during our life. Depending on its intensity anxiety can range from mild nervousness or anticipation to terror or panic.  Many clients come with the goal of not being "so anxious" or eliminating anxiety altogether.  Is it unnecessary to be anxious?  What constitutes a healthy amount of anxiety?

We need some anxiety, it keeps us from getting into goal-hampering or dangerous situations. For example, its anxiety that keeps us safe on the road, we pay attention to other drivers and don't wander into the oncoming traffic due to fear of getting in an accident. But too much of it and you become a road hazard; heightened anxiety can cause you to be paralyzed by fear, hyperventilate due to panic, or cry in fear, or become too terrified to get in a vehicle altogether.

Where are you on the anxiety spectrum?  If zero were "feeling completely calm and safe" and ten were "full blown panic attack," in what situations do you find yourself at a 3? a 9?  Perhaps when you are driving you are only at a 2, but going into the grocery store anxiety levels reach a 7? Perhaps at home you are a 0, but when someone knocks on the door you jump to a 10? It is different for every person because of differences in biology, psychology, and environment. Understanding how each domain influences anxiety can help you keep your anxiety at manageable levels.

In the psychological realm, our thoughts affect our anxiety levels. If you are afraid, its assumed that you must be anticipating bad things will happen, otherwise the fear would not be there.  What are you anticipating bad will happen?  What are you telling yourself when you are in the anxiety-provoking situation? Changing your thoughts to be free of distortions or self defeating beliefs can help decrease your fear of what might happen. This is hard to do because thoughts are so automatic and shaped over years of development.

In the biological realm, our sleep, diet, and exercise regime affect our anxiety levels. High intake of caffeine and sugar will affect mood swings and may created a heightened sense of anticipation. Not eating regularly can cause low blood sugar which may make you vulnerable to feelings of fear. Exercise helps regulate chemical flow in the brain and will give you an increased sense of control. Sleep restores the brain function and allows for more ability to think clearly.  Many are the benefits of a balance in healthy eating, active lifestyle, and sleep and rest; lowered anxiety is one of the benefits.

In the environmental realm, stress levels affect anxiety. Depending on your stage of life and circumstances you may or may not have a lot of control over your environment. Be that as it may, high stress levels increase cortisol production, which is the "stress hormone" that moves you to action and can cause influx of adreneline to be secreted unnecessarily. High amounts of cortisol are toxic to our brains and will decrease our ability to maintain healthy levels of anxiety.

All of these domains are affected by each other. For example, if you are experiencing high levels of stress in your environment, it may be due to the fact that psychologically you are telling yourself that your productivity level is tied to your self worth, which makes it feel impossible to decrease your work load. This can affect your time to rest and exercise, and even may negatively affect your eating patterns.  A good place to start in managing your anxiety is by monitoring your thoughts, which is why therapy can be so helpful.  We think, therefore we fear.  Grab whatever courage you can, and seek guidance to make sure your thoughts are not exacerbating emotional pain due to anxiety.