Category: Anxiety & Stress Management

Posts that help you take charge of your body and your thoughts and deal with your anxiety more effectively.

Trusting Your Gut: Anxiety vs. Fear

Do you trust your gut? Can hear your intuition tell you when things are great and when they are really not ok?

For those who tend to be fairly anxious people – worriers – this feeling may go into hyper drive and you may get a strong sense of uneasiness when there is actually no real reason for you to feel that way. Do you want to know how you tell if it is time to listen to your gut and get the heck out of Dodge and when it is really time to put on a helmet and charge forward anyway?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Was there some kind of situation or stimulus to tell you that something was wrong BEFORE you started to feel anxious?
  • Did you get a sense of doom in the pit of your stomach AFTER you found a potential problem?

If you answered yes to one or both of these questions then you need to listen to your gut. If it tells you to seek safety then find a safe place. If it tells you to seek support then find a friend or text someone to let him or her know what is going on and where you are.

Anxiety-vs-Fear1Sometimes we get a sense of doom in the pit of our stomach and THEN we try to find the source of why we feel anxious or afraid. This is anxiety taking the drivers seat in your decision making process and you are probably safe. There is no true reason for worry or fear if you are looking for a reason why you are afraid.

Our anxious response serves as a safety mechanism to keep us out of harms way – when harm comes rolling down the road in your direction it kicks in to keep you safe. Be honest with yourself and when you can find a true reason why you feel anxious or afraid honor that. Find your exit strategy or a way to create safety and trust yourself.1


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Seeking Intention and a Plan to Tackle Anxiety

making-plan-17872651Anyone who knows me knows I am a planner. Not only to I know my schedule for the rest of the day but I know what I am doing the rest of the week – and I know where I will be and approximately what  I will be doing for each major holiday, family birthday, and community event from now until 2015. This is outrageous. Granted, at least 50% of my current plans will change but honestly, knowing I have a general plan for what is coming makes me feel so much better!

It is a huge relief to know that I have already considered my options and have decided on a course of action so when the event arises I don’t have any big decisions to make – I made those decisions at least 4 months ago. We all have our own ways of relieving situational anxiety or anxiety around certain events/functions. Mine is to have a plan (along with a plan B,C, and D – just for good measure).

What does yours look like? How well does it work?

Is your anxiety relief a nervous habit or does it serve a real purpose?

How intentional are you with relieving those feelings of worry?

As intentional as I am with making plans and trying to take care of my own anxiety in advance, I find that when plans have to change at the last second I go into panic mode, I am mad at everyone, and I can ruin what was supposed to be a good day. That is where I need some work – to make my intentional plan but to have flexibility as well. You know how healthy trees bend and sway in the wind but they don’t break and they have a destination, a purpose – to grow up and out!

With that being said here is your homework:

Examine the ways you try to manage your anxiety. The ways you plan or soothe yourself. Look at the front end and how you accomplish that but then look at the back end where either it worked, it didn’t work, or things shifted. What was that like? What needs to shift?

Working with anxiety is like that – we all need to adjust a bit here and there until we get things right. Peace is not a destination it is a process with multiple opportunities to grow and learn.1


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You don’t have to be a Superhero

Do you feel frantic? Like, all the time?!

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It seems that in today’s fast paced world there is always somewhere to be and something to do. If you are waiting then you have probably already missed your cue or if you rest for just a moment than an opportunity will pass you by.

I don’t know about you but I am tired. Worn out by the constant frenzy. I need a moment to just be, to rest and for that to be ok. This past week I looked at my calendar and I had triple booked myself. I guess I thought I was superhuman and was capable of being in 3 different locations at once. That is when I had to reality check myself and slow down! Which leads me to today.

Today I am seizing an opportunity to do as little as possible. I don’t want to have to rush all over the place to get a million things done. I want to drink tea and wrap up in a sweatshirt. Enough of this constant motion and enough of worrying over what I have missed.

Did you know that it is ok for you to give yourself permission to relax? Permission to take care of yourself?

Please take comfort in the knowledge that today you do not have to hold up the world, you don’t have to save the day, and you don’t have to impress anyone with your superhuman capacity to propel forward without any fuel. In the next two days take a weekend! Do nothing or do something that will fuel you for the next week. Take a walk in the changing leaves, read a book, take a long hot bath. However you need it, gift yourself with stillness and relaxation.1


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Step 8: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 8: Do Something Different

You have been doing a  lot of work on understanding your anxiety, mapping out what your specific symptoms are,  and taking control of your thoughts and body. You are actively redirecting your thoughts regarding your anxiety triggers and taking time to breathe deeply and replenish your system with oxygen.  The last step in treating your anxiety at home is to change your behavior – to do something different about your anxiety.

If I had just started this series by advising you to do something different about your anxiety you would have stopped reading. That is just not how you begin to tackle the anxiety beast – but we have worked up to this and now you are ready! You know how to calm your body, you know how to replace and redirect your thoughts, you know how to plan for situations that cause anxiety. All of that tells me that you are practically changing your behavior already. Congratulations!

Of course I wouldn’t feel right unless I gave you some kind of guide on how to plan-fully change your behavior around your anxiety or panic so here it goes.

Make a chart for yourself with 3 columns.

  • Label column A as Goals/Actions/Intentions that raise Anxiety
  • Label column B as First Thought
  • Label column C as Opposite of Frist Thought

Now go on and fill your first row in column A with the most prominent goal/action/intention that causes anxiety. For example’s sake we’ll roll with you have to make a presentation at your next staff meeting.  Then move across your columns and write out the first thought you have about that presentation.
“I HATE public speaking and I always mess up an important point.”
Then move to column C and write the opposite thought to your first thought. “I hate presentations but I will be very well prepared.”
Go back to column A and write down the next part of the event that causes anxiety for you. You have to run the presentation content past your supervisor before you can present it.
Then to column B: “My supervisor is an expert in this, he/she will know if I have any incorrect information.”
Finally back to column C: “My supervisor can help me make this a great presentation because of their knowledge in this area.”

Keep moving your way down and across until you have a list of reassuring and true thoughts that will help you reframe the situation that causes anxiety for you.  You will be able to change your actions to address the stressful event more head on instead of avoiding or spiraling down that rabbit hole into anxiety or panic. This is taking planning for anxiety from step 7 and targeting it in a very specific way. You will be most effective at this if you have been collecting your tools for calming your body and your mind from steps 2-6. But even if you are tuning in just now this is still a valuable tool.

Please continue to check in with us at Willow Oak, because anxiety is my specialization I love sharing practical ways to decrease its effects on your everyday life.1


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Step 6: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 6: Control Your Thoughts

We started talking about how to better understand your anxiety symptoms or your experience of panic. Then we moved to giving your body some tools for relaxation and deep breathing. The thing about anxiety that tends to stick with a person is that it is not only a cognitive experience or purely an emotional problem – this gets into your body and pulls in your physical senses like nothing else does. You physically feel different when you are anxious.

For the past two steps we have been looking at your thoughts and how to interrupt problem thoughts by knowing what it is that really tips the scales into the anxious frenzy. Now we need to pull those two things together. We know that anxiety and panic are both equally a cognitive issue as well as a physical issue. That means we need to treat this from a body and a mind perspective.

Mindfulness through shifting awareness is a great way to check in with how your body feels as well as keep your brain moving and occupied in a way that deflates your anxious thoughts. This is something you can do at home, in the car, at the office, anyplace you can find a comfortable place to sit and be still. UCLA has some great free podcasts that you can play to guide you thought mindfulness. They range from 3 min -20 min and all are great. I particularly like the one preparing you for sleep and the Breath, Sound, Body meditation. Check out a link to their podcasts here.

To do this on your own, come to a comfortable seat.  Settle into your body and take a deep breath in through your nose. Let it out slowly through your mouth and then breathe in again. Close your eyes. Spend a few good breaths getting a good rhythm for your inhales and exhales, allowing your body to fill with oxygen and relax. Now focus your attention on the tips of your toes. How do they feel pushed against your shoes? Are they heavy on the ground or do they feel light? Allow your attention to travel up to your ankles and then to your legs. As you move your awareness to your knees what does your skin feel like? Is it tightly stretched over your bones or does it press against the fabric of your clothes? Continue to move your awareness through your legs up into your torso, your arms, eventually all the way up through the top of your head. Stop often to check in with your body and how it feels, notice what sensations are there. Take your time with this and acknowledge how your body feels in the present moment – devoting every last bit of concentration to observing your current state. To come our of your mindfulness exercise take a few more deep breaths and allow your eyes to open slowly, blinking as you take in the light.

While engaging in this exercise your mind is so occupied that you cannot think about your anxiety while focusing so intently on the physical sensations in your body. This also has a calming effect on the body and you will likely notice your heart rate slowing and your breathing become more even. You will probably feel more relaxed and peaceful when you finish. Check out those podcasts – those folks in California really know what they are doing. Again – the more you practice the more beneficial this actually is!1


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Step 5: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 5: Stop Your Thoughts

Did you spend some time really thinking about that tipping point? The thought that snowballs you into an anxious spiral or a full-blown panic attack? The next piece in treating your anxiety at home is to stop the thoughts that take you into that anxious space.

Honesty Moment – this is hard to do! There is nothing easy about thinking about something completely different or avoiding one particular thought. Have you ever been told to think about anything EXEPT the abominable snowman? You can only think about snow and the Himalayas and massive snow beasts. This is a little bit like that. Every time you notice yourself getting to the point where you are worrying, that everything seems terrible, that there is no way you can deal, you are going to tell yourself:

“Self – Stop it!”

And then you are going to use that relaxation you figured out in Step 2! It is impossible to just not think about something, to void your mind of a specific thought without putting something in its place. What do you like to think about? What is calming and relaxing for you? When you feel that your brain is sending you a red flag that something is wrong and that it is time to go into panic mode what thought can you hold onto and focus on instead? If you don’t give your anxious thoughts space and power then you won’t go down that rabbit hole.

So how do you do that successfully? Have a list for yourself of thoughts that are joyful to you, calming to you.

  • Keep it on your phone
  • Write on a piece of paper to keep in your wallet
  • Carry a keepsake that reminds you of your thought

I have a ring that I twist around my finger when I feel like I am losing it. The physical sensation of the metal twisting around my finger paired with thinking about my grandmother who gave me the ring is what I need to distract me long enough to pull things together. I am able to deflate my anxiety by thinking about family.

Thought replacement is a slow process and like everything we have talked about so far – it takes a lot of practice to be effective. You may have to say, “Self – stop it!” a thousand times in one day. It may be like that for 2-3 weeks before you are able to say it only 750 times. Eventually, with work, this will keep you from moving into a full-blown panic attack or from being overwhelmed by your anxiety, especially when you pair it with deep breathing or a relaxing activity.

Practice this, lay out your replacement thoughts and have at it!1


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Step 4: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 4: Learn your thoughts

Do you remember the activity I talked about in step 1? Where you wrote down everything you possibly could about your anxiety? Part of that was to identify what your thoughts and emotions regarding anxiety or panic are, now go back to that list. Its time to put that to practical use! (If you haven’t tuned in for step 1 you can check it out here or you can give yourself a few good minutes to really flesh out what you think about your anxiety and what emotions you associate with being anxious or experiencing panic.)

When we start to get worked up we have an internal dialogue running in our head. It may be

“I am embarrassed to be here – I can feel my face getting red and everyone can see it. They all know I don’t belong here!”

“I can’t breathe, and my heart is moving too fast – I am having a heart attack.”

“If I don’t get this next client my paycheck is going to be too low this week, I won’t be able to pay my bills.”

There is some kind of starting thought; a trigger or tipping point that will dump you down the anxiety rabbit hole into your dread spiral. You have one thought that leads to another and another and before you know it you are in a full-blown panic attack or an overwhelming state of anxiety.

We need to know what it is that kicks off that spiral, what thoughts will tell you that you are on the edge of keeping it together and feeling overwhelmed. Next we’ll work on dealing with those thoughts so they have less power but first spend some time thinking about what your internal dialogue is saying. Write out the script, or scripts, and make sure you catch everything.

This is part of the “getting to know you” process and returning to understanding your symptoms to more efficiently target them and regain control.1



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Step 3: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 3: Control Your Breathing

To recap – so far you know that understanding your anxiety, how that affects you, and what the symptoms of anxiety mean to you is going to help you better target your symptoms and stop them from happening so frequently. You also know that it is crucial to find your own version of relaxation so you can come to a more controlled state of functioning when you start to feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Next step to treating your anxiety at home is to do some deep breathing. When we get really worked up, when we feel anxious, or when we are in the middle of a panic attack where does your breath go? Is it nice and deep and full? No. It isn’t. More likely than not you are trying your best to suck in air as fast as you can, keeping everything in your chest, the air isn’t filling and expanding your lungs. You are hyperventilating. That shallow, rapid breath is depriving your body of needed oxygen and as a result you might be getting light headed, and your body is getting the message that something is physically wrong. In a panic attack you might literally feel like you are dying or that you are going crazy.

Our bodies need oxygen to live. When we panic like this and suck violent, shallow sips of air we aren’t able to give our bodies what it truly needs – OXYGEN! When we have ample amounts of oxygen in our bodies our brains can more quickly return to a reasoning state where you can calmly handle your feeling of anxiety, without that the body is stuck in the panic attack.

How do you breath deeply and fully enough to be able to regain control of your body? This is what I call square breathing. The idea is to breathe in for 4 counts, slow counts (no less than a second) and then to breathe out for 4 counts just as long as the in-breath was. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you breathe out, purse your lips together like you are pushing air through a drinking straw, that will help you keep the breath long, even and controlled.  Here are the steps again:

  1. Breathe in through the nose for 4 slow counts – no shorter than 1 second for each count
  2. Breathe out through pursed lips for 4 slow counts – no shorter than 1 second for each count
  3. Continue to breath in and out like this for about 5 min

The more you practice the better able you will be to interrupt a panic attack or calm your self before you enter a full-blown panic attack.

Helpful Hints:

Practice this in a comfortable seated position.
Practice for 5 min each morning as soon as you wake up or 5 min before bed.
The more you practice the more effective this will be!1


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Step 2: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 2: Learn to relax

If you really want to piss off someone who struggles with anxiety there is no quicker way to do that than to say, “Everything will be fine, just relax.” Anxiety sufferers know that is pure bologna – relaxing is one of the most difficult things to do while you are in the middle of a panic attack or in the height of an anxious episode.  It is very hard to calm an anxious body down BUT there is some truth to the “just relax” idea.

When the body is relaxed the threshold for anxiety is lowered and you are less likely to experience a panic attack or extreme worry. There is a lot of science in the anatomy of relaxed state vs. aroused state that I won’t go into here, just know that it is scientifically proven that a relaxed body is a body at peace.

Relaxation looks different for everyone. If you are that type A, super productive individual then just sitting and watching one of your favorite movies is probably not relaxing (in all honesty you are probably making mental lists of all the things you have to do as soon as the credits roll). If that sounds like you then maybe you need to identify an activity that is both relaxing and productive. For some of the people I work with this is some kind of craft, walking the dog, or even doing the dishes. An activity that accomplishes something productive or positive (see our earlier post on the 2Ps for more info on this) can be your personal form of relaxation.

So here’s how to get started with learning your own personal kind of relaxation. Make a list of the activities that you enjoy, the activities that put you in a good place.

  • Does that mean you meditate?
  • You visualize being on a beach while listening to ocean sounds and smelling a sea breeze candle?

Find at least one relaxing activity for each place where you experience anxiety, one for work, school, home, in the car, etc. After you have your list of activities keep that in a place that is easy to see or quick to access. You have already thought about how to get your body back to a state of calm so now all you need to do is follow your own directions.

Hint: the more you practice your relaxing activity the faster you will be able to calm your body when anxiety strikes!1


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Step 1: Anxiety Treatment at Home

Step 1: Know your anxiety

If you talk to one hundred different people you will have 100 different definitions of anxiety and 100 different experiences of how worry can dominate a person’s day. It isn’t easy to define in a way that is meaningful to someone experiencing worry but if you are experiencing extreme worry or anxiety you sure know you’re experiencing it!

Step 1 in controlling your worry or your anxiety is to know how it effects you. How does anxiety serve you? Answer these questions to help you create a holistic picture of what anxiety means to you and how it is presenting itself in your symptoms.

Write down what feelings and emotions you have about your worry. Does it make you feel out of control, frustrated, or even hopeless?

Then write down the behaviors that your anxiety tends to trigger. Sometimes people avoid certain places, people become habitual list writers, or someone might have a list of nearby hospitals on speed-dial at all times.

What symptoms do you have of your anxiety? Maybe your hands start to get sweaty, your heart starts racing, or you have an intense feeling that something bad is going to happen. What signs can people see and what signs can people not see?

Finally, what beliefs do you have about anxiety? Is it ok for someone in your position to be overwhelmed? Are you allowed to reach out for support? Do you need to keep this a secret? What did your family believe about anxiety while you were growing up or how have you seen it handled by people around you?

But truly understanding all the pieces that make up your anxiety and what each of those pieces means to you, you will be better able to target your efforts to reducing the hold that worry has over your life. You will be able to work more efficiently at decreasing the symptoms that are so uncomfortable.

Take some time to really flesh out each of these areas, write it down and give yourself some time to edit or expand on what you find.1


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