Healthy Habits

blog-autumntrees

In the rush of September, I’ve been thinking more about what makes me feel my best and what kind of daily habits I consistently follow.  In my head, I’m a person who meditates, exercises, prioritizes relationships and creates time for myself, but in actuality, I tend to go to bed way too late, skip meditating because I missed my “window of opportunity” and get my work done at home in front a computer screen instead of getting out and being with people.

A few days ago, though, I stole away for 15 minutes and meditated between getting my older two kids out the door. After walking the youngest to school, I got a text from a friend asking if I could go for a walk. A chance for exercise and social contact – yes! We walked for over an hour, caught up and discussed an upcoming project. I came back home feeling so much more energized with a happy outlook on life.

It’s not rocket science, right? But somehow it becomes difficult to make time for self care – even when we know that taking care of ourselves makes us happier people, easier to live with and more productive to boot. Seems like lots of folks have been thinking about how healthy habits like meditation, movement and sleep can affect overall health and outlook.

Here are a few reads to check out this week:

*I popped onto a blog I like called Hey Sigmund the other day and followed a link to this article on how exercise and mindfulness meditation can significantly drop rates of depression. The study referenced looked at how a consistent course of exercise and meditation effected people with and without symptoms of depression. Check out the link to see what they discovered & then also look at this article on exercise and anti-depressants.

*Taking exercise farther, Outside magazine online talks about finding ways to add movement throughout your work day. It’s not that getting an hour run in the morning doesn’t cut it, it’s just that slow, constant motion throughout the day, in a variety of positions, can greatly increase our overall health and wellbeing.

*Katy Bowman, who is interviewed in the above article, show us here how she lives a movement based lifestyle. Yes, a little hippy for sure, but I really enjoy her fresh perspective.

*The Chopra Center discusses the benefits of exercise, meditation and healthy eating for anxiety reduction.

*And two articles on sleep and anxiety plus this one from one of my favorite doctors!

*Need help finding ways to make your habits stick? Gretchen Rubin has a few free downloads to help us on our way.

How about you? What makes you feel your best and what’s stopping you from making those healthy habits a part of your daily life?

Three books and a podcast

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire

If you’re a fan of Mrs. Doubtfire, you will love listening to Dr. Claire Weekes in Hope and Help for your Nerves on Audible or CD.  Yes, some of the terminology is a little outdated, but I found the information very relevant and couldn’t help being charmed as she cheered me on.  Little known fact about Claire is that she had anxiety and panic attacks as well throughout her life.

Chronic worriers, Dave Carbonell is at it again. His latest book is called The Worry Trick and follows the popular workbook, Panic Attacks Workbook. I’ve read and enjoyed the workbook and have just begun making my way through The Worry Trick.  You’ll find expert advice inside on how to deal with chronic worry with a healthy dose of skill and humor.  Happy reading!

Do you find yourself backing away when anxiety makes it’s move?  Reid Wilson teaches us the new rules of the game in his latest book “Stopping the Noise in Your Head”. I’ve been reading a little bit every day and find myself underlining something on each page.  If you’ve read about my experience in his weekend workshop, you have an idea of what this looks like.  His style is very strategic, crosses over all anxiety disorders and you’ll feel like he’s coaching you personally along the way.

And finally, have you ever been listening to a podcast while driving home and it’s so good you just sit in your car in front of the house, until it’s over? In this section of This American Life, Paul Ford imagines what if anxiety were an IT problem to be solved?

Ping!

Have a great weekend!

Reading Material

Photo by Lia Leslie

Here are a few reads for your weekend or to start your week off right.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee or green tea and cozy on up.

ABC News talks about which exercises are best for anxiety. Although, the ADAA reminds us that just getting your body moving – especially cardio – makes a big difference.

Research shows that mindfulness meditation can reduce overall anxiety and rewire the way our brains work. Here’s a nice overview as well.

Speaking of meditation, have you read Dan Harris’s book “10 Percent Happier”?  A national news anchor, he talks about having a panic attack on live television and what he did to get to a place of confidence again.

I’ve been meditating a lot more these days, so that means more links for you!

Love this infographicSharon Salzberg, and this great article on the reality of taking up a meditation practice.

What would you do if you had no fear?

I’ve been skimming through this book & wondering, dear reader,
“What would you do if you had no fear?”

Knowing that most of what we fear is really not dangerous. . .

If you could free yourself from the constraints of fear & what if’s, what would you do differently today? Next month? With your life?

I’d love to hear from you!

On my bedside table

Sometimes I feel like a graduate student in anxiety & it’s many treatments! I’m usually reading more than one book at a time (I like choices) & these are some of the books I picked up at the library & currently have on my bedside table (ok, within reach, but scattered on the floor):

The Worry Cure – by Robert Leahy, Ph.D.
*I love the introduction titled, “The Seven Rules of Highly Worried People” — read it over & see how many of these with which you can identify. I’m still making my way through this one, but so far it’s a great read!

What Would You Do If You Had No Fear? – by Diane Conway
Sweet interviews and stories of courage and a great question to ask yourself? What would you be doing if you had no fear?

Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy — by Steven Hayes, Ph.D.
I love the mindfulness approach already & it’s value for those dealing with chronic anxiety, depression, emotional pain. This workbook helps you look at your anxiety in a new way & provides great experiential exercises.

*Non-anxiety related: Bend the Rules Sewing; The Sisters Grimm; The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt and Repairing the World.

Happy Reading & I look forward to hearing your reviews!

Unstuck

I love finding a great, new resource book. And, just as much, I love being able to share one with others.

Maybe you’ve heard of this one already, but it’s called, “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression” by James S. Gordon, M.D. I’ve only just begun to make my way through it, but can tell already that it’s a gem even for those of us who don’t lean toward depression.

Dr. Gordon states that depression is not pathology, but a wake up call that your life is out of balance. This wake up call offers you the opportunity to make the classic heroes journey, which he guides you through using a holistic and integrative approach. He reminds the reader that at the crux of crisis are the Chinese characters representing danger and opportunity. Meditation, exercise, guided imagery, spirituality, movement (dance, yoga), & eastern medicine are just a few of the tools you’ll find in this guidebook along with practical exercises to integrate them into your life.

Unstuck appears to be a book not just for those struggling with depression, but for anyone feeling stuck in their lives and wanting to find greater fulfillment. I picked my copy up at the library — Let me know what you think!

Showing up

Woody Allen said that 80% of life is showing up. This is a great reminder for everyone, but especially so for people with anxiety. So often when I’m working through anticipatory anxiety, I remind myself – all you gotta do is just show up.

One of my big pitfalls with doing exposure work in the past was that I measured my success by whether or not I experienced anxiety & panic. Even though I felt good about the fact that I was regularly going out and driving parts of the highway that were hard for me & sticking it out, I wasn’t satisfied because I still had spots on the road where I would get huge waves of adrenaline & experience that familiar doubt of “can I really do this?” I kept waiting for those feelings to go away.

Now I realize that good practice and getting past anxiety is to take the power back & upset the normal pattern of anxious thoughts & symptoms which can lead to panic. . . I realize that I can choose to be excited when I feel anxious in a situation & see it as an opportunity for good practice. Whenever I can, I try to say “yes” to my symptoms, even if I don’t really mean it at first.

In Dave Carbonell’s workbook, he says that you should ask yourself these questions to measure your success in doing exposure work.

Did you show up?

Did you work through the AWARE steps to the best of your ability?

And, after reading Reid Wilson’s article (The Anxiety Disorders Game) I would add that you get extra credit for these –
Did you try & provoke your anxiety symptoms? Did you invite & say yes to them? Did you try & make the symptoms stronger & keep them stonger for at least 45 minutes?

Sometimes this is exciting work for me – I get psyched up and am ready to face anything. Other times, this is hard, hard work and I just want anxiety to go back to where it came from. But, I know that showing up time and time again and saying yes to my anxiety is the way to freedom for me. What kinds of tools/techniques are working for others out there – whether you’re working through your own anxiety or helping someone through theirs?

Look behind the curtain

One of the most enraging parts of anxiety is that one day you feel completely fine and the next, you’ve had your first panic attack and normal, everyday things you’ve done your entire life become places where you fear you might freak out, go crazy, or die. Driving in general, highways, public speaking, going to the grocery store, standing in line, elevators, heights, bridges, tunnels, getting your hair cut, signing your name, crowds, meeting a friend for coffee – I don’t claim this long list, but they’re some typical situations that people end up fearing after experiencing the height of panic.

In Dave Carbonell’s workbook he talks about what happens when we experience that first panic attack. He says that because we can’t explain away the intensity, we make something up. So, if your first panic attack is on an elevator, you tell yourself that you must have a problem with elevators. You see, our brains like to make connections and make sense of things. We either assimilate information into our current mental files or accommodate by making a new hanging file all together that says “Don’t go there. . .”

While we might think it has everything to do with the situation, it’s all about the fear of fear. What might fear do to me this time & in this place? Did I narrowly escape the last 100 times I got anxious on the elevator and THIS time I’ll lose it, go crazy, or die?

I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous in the light of reason. But imagine stepping into a grocery store and all of a sudden your heart begins to race, you feel like you can’t catch your breath, adrenaline surges and your legs feel like jelly. Internally you might think, WTF? I’ve got to get out of here. By the time you get home, you’re feeling better, but wondering if it will happen the next time you try to go shopping. Suppose it does. It makes sense that you’d want to stay away from the local A & P. But, then you find the symptoms & thoughts hijacking reason again while you’re driving, and then at a dinner party, and then at the office.

This is where exposure work is so important. In order to retrain your brain to turn off the alarm when sensations and thoughts of anxiety arise, you have to willingly go into any dreaded situation, stay long enough to feel the full extent of your fear, let it pass, and realize that you’re still alright. It actually works best when you have the attitude of expecting & wanting to feel the fear. Because, really, it’s like The Wizard of Oz. The voices that say “maybe I shouldn’t” and “you can’t” are big and booming, but anxiety is just that little punk behind the curtain. And honestly, you’re strong enough to stay and take him.

YOU have anxiety?

“YOU have anxiety?”, people often say to me. “But you’re so calm and peaceful all the time!”

It’s true. I’m not high strung or type A. I feel calm a lot of the time. I have many friends who confide in me because I’m a calming presence for them and a good listener. But, I’ve wrestled with anxiety and panic attacks for the past 12 years. My first panic attack was out west while I was on spring break with my Mom. I was driving on the highway and a thought entered my head, “I wonder what it was like for Dad when he couldn’t drive because of panic” and BOOM — it was like my body, genetically predisposed for this stuff, had been waiting for this invitation and jumped me right in to a full blown panic attack. I felt huge waves of adrenaline surging across my chest and back, I felt hot all over, my hands were shaking and I felt scared that I might lose control — whatever that meant. “I’ve got to pull over”, I said as I very carefully changed lanes, exited the highway and asked my Mom to take over at the wheel. (Which is typical of panic that I only felt out of control, tricked by my brain, while driving perfectly well. )

If you’ve never had a panic attack before, it feels as scary as if you were being chased by a hungry tiger or if someone jumped out from behind the corner and put a gun to your head (luckily, that’s never happened, but you get the visceral response). Even when everything you read says that it’s just physical sensations, nothing is dangerous, what you fear never ever comes true – the intensity of panic hijacks logic and says, “Get me the fuck out of here!”

I’ve learned over the years, from people like Dave Carbonell, that if I could have simply experienced the symptoms without creating a story about them (what if this happens all the time? I can’t function when I’m panicking. This is dangerous. I’ll be the woman who stopped driving at 26yrs old! – something’s very wrong with me – I’d better not tell anyone or they’ll think I’m crazy), it would have been no big deal and the sensations would have melted away.

But, I believed the story in my head and added more chapters. It didn’t take long before I started to fear that I’d panic while driving on the highway and began avoiding. I stopped driving on the highway and even avoided some “regular roads” with which I was unfamiliar. I felt more secure if I was driving with my husband (my “safe person”).

I bought a great workbook by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D. and started doing my homework. I wanted to be over this problem yesterday, asking the question “why is this happening to me?” Unfortunately, as I read, I realized that people could panic anywhere and started worrying about what others might think if I lost it in front of them. What if I panic while I’m getting my hair cut? That would be weird and so embarrassing! What if I get panicky at work? Everyone thinks I’m calm and competent – what if that’s not true & I’m just a fraud? What if I freak out on an airplane and can’t get off? It might just get so bad that I never really recover and they lock me up. I was being hijacked by these irrational worries that would never happen. But, my brain started wearing a deep groove and the thoughts began to skip and repeat.

Over the years, I started having babies and realized that I had to do something about my fears and began tackling them. I had three natural births with a midwife and two of those babes born at home. From childbirth, I remembered that I was really strong and powerful and could do anything. I began planning and doing the hard work of daily exposure practice on my own, made a lot of progress and then enlisted the help of a therapist.

Since then, I’ve “taken back” the highways for the most part. You won’t see me crossing over big bridges, but those bugged me before the anxiety crept in.

I still get “wiggy” talking in front of people some weeks (which is what I do for a living). I’m not so fond of airplanes, tunnels and bridges. And, sometimes the social piece creeps in and I worry about feeling anxious around other people and what they’d think if they knew I was anxious for no good reason other than “what if they knew? What would they think? What if I lose it here?” Because, really, that sounds pretty silly when I’m rational about it. Who cares what other people think? Why get all worked up? I guess part of me still worries that if anxiety really attacks, I may take a nose dive and never recover. I read once that men commonly fear that they’ll die from a panic attack and women commonly fear losing their minds.

That said, I don’t avoid anything in my daily life anymore. I try to see things that worry me as “good practice”. When I start feeling funny again, I schedule some highway practice drives & even include the kids. Crossing bridges, my 6 & 8 yr. olds yell with joy, “Go Cowgirl Mommy!” I know from experience that I have to keep doing the work of exposure on a regular basis or I’ll slide back and feel really bad pretty quickly.

Well, that’s enough for one post. My goal in writing this blog is to normalize anxiety & offer hope for anyone who is struggling with it & feeling alone. I’d also like to provide some good resource information and links. I hope this has been helpful!