Tag Archive | mindfulness

Do You Need Help To Manage Your Anxiety?

anxiety-cb

In 25 years of practicing psychology, about 90% of clients who come to me for counseling are suffering from anxiety.  It comes in so many forms that many people do not even realize that it is the culprit for their misery.  Some of my clients have full blown panic attacks: racing heart, shortness of breath, feeling faint, choking sensation, and a sense of impending doom.  Others experience anxiety with just one symptom: a tightness in the throat and feeling that they can’t swallow; persistent worry; or a feeling of being detached from their body and from society.   Having one symptom can be just as debilitating as having full blown panic attacks.

The good news is, there is no need to suffer in silence!   There are natural techniques for managing anxiety which scientific studies have proven can be just as effective as taking medication. Do you need help in managing your anxiety?   Take this simple test to find out your anxiety level (credit for this test goes to David Burns):

Based on how you have been feeling for the past week, rate the following 5 items on a scale of 0 to 3 where:

0-not at all

1-somwhat

2-moderately

3- a lot

  1. To what extent have you been feeling anxious, nervous or worried?
  2. To what extent have you been feeling tense, restless or unable to relax?
  3. To what extent have you been feeling stressed, uptight or on edge?
  4. To what extent have you been having frightening thoughts, fantasies or daydreams? (eg. what if my son is in a car accident?  What if I get sick? etc.)
  5. To what extent have you been having physical symptoms of stress, such as racing heart, throat constrictions, shortness of breath or tight, tense muscles?

Interpretation:

0 to 2: normal

3 to 5: borderline anxiety

6 to 10: mild to moderate anxiety

11 to 15: severe anxiety

Over the years, I have accumulated an entire toolbox of strategies, techniques and tools for treating anxiety.  I have combined these techniques into an organized program called Mindful Anxiety Management, which has helped hundreds of people to keep their anxiety in check.  It is a program based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which simply means the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.  Right now, for example, there are no neural pathways in my brain for playing a musical instrument, since I have never tried to learn that skill.  However, if I wanted to learn to play the piano, I could take lessons and practice.  Every time I practiced I would be strengthening the neural pathways in my brain for that skill.  Eventually, with enough practice, I would be able to sit at a piano and play without even thinking about it, thanks to the neural pathways I created.

Right now, many of you have strong neural pathways in your brain for anxiety, worry and stress, because that is what you PRACTICE on a daily basis.  You have made these neural pathways so well worn, that it is the path that your brain will naturally take you on as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.  Well, what if you could create NEW neural pathways…..pathways for peace and relaxation?   That is exactly what Mindful Anxiety Management does! 

What is the opposite of anxiety?  Relaxation.  It is impossible to feel both anxious and relaxed at the same time.  It makes sense then, that the best treatment for anxiety is to build strong neural pathways in the brain for relaxation.  How do you do this?  You PRACTICE relaxation skills.  Remember, “relaxation skills” are not the same as simply “relaxing”.   They are a specific set of skills that can be used to calm the body and the mind, and promote a sense of well being.   

Because of the success that my clients have achieved with Mindful Anxiety Management, I have decided to offer online groups, so that people can participate from the comfort of their own homes.  This is especially useful for people who have social anxiety, as many would find it overwhelming to be in a room full of people.  If you are interested in learning more about these groups, please check out my website: https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops

Want to start building your neural pathways for relaxation right now?  Then find a place that is free from distractions and listen to this 10 minute guided visualization.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KXnALvPIW8

Just relax!

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How I Overcame A Nervous Breakdown

flo2bwFlorence Strang, Registered Psychologist

“Nervous breakdown”, I am so glad they don’t use that term anymore.  It suggests weakness and an inability to cope.  The term actually implies that you are somehow broken!  I guess that is why there was so much stigma and shame attached to it when I struggled with an anxiety disorder nearly 20 years ago.  Thankfully, people are more open to talking about mental health issues today, and the stigma is slowly disappearing.  But back in MY day…..

I was in my early thirties, with two small kids, a demanding career and the first stirrings of discontent in my marriage.  I felt fine when I set off to Corner Brook for a psychology conference, but I found myself running late for my first session and that worried me.  If there were going to be a lot of people in an enclosed space, I liked to get there early to get the chair nearest the door.  From an early age, I had a kind of phobia of being surrounded by people in a room with closed doors.  When I walked into the conference room, however the door seats were all taken.  The room was already full, with about 200 people jammed in there.  I scanned my surroundings for a seat.  The only one available was smack dab in the middle of the crowd.  I shuffled my way to the seat, brushing knees with my colleagues along the way.  Already I could feel my face becoming flushed.  Just as I sat down,  something happened that put my anxiety over the top:  they closed the doors!

My heart started to pound.  My breathing became quick and shallow.  My throat started to constrict.  My legs went to jelly and my hands began to shake.  Everything around me became surreal, like I was in a fog.  My mind raced, “I have to get out of here or I will die!”  Logically, I would later realize that nobody ever died from sitting in a crowded room.  However, when that panic set in, there was no convincing me otherwise.  I just had to get out of there!

I went back to my hotel room and waited for it to pass.  I had experienced panic attacks before so I knew the routine.  First that aura of impending doom.  Then the actual panic attack, lasting about five minutes and slowly subsiding, leaving me feeling weak and exhausted.  But this time was different.  After about an hour of pacing the floor, wringing my hands and crying, I started to fear that the feeling…..anxiety…..would never go away.  I was doomed to live my life with a never-ending feeling of fear, or at least that is what I thought at the time.

Over the next several months, things that I took for granted became monumental tasks for me.  I could not go to work.  I could not go shopping or even get my hair styled.  I was even afraid of being left alone to take care of my kids.  My future looked bleak and hopeless.  Eventually, I gave in to my doctor’s pleas and saw a psychiatrist, and that was the beginning of my recovery.

I had resisted medication, fearing that I would become addicted or turn into a “zombie”.  However, this doctor educated me on a then “new” type of medication, SSRI’s, which were gentle and non-addictive.  After about three weeks of taking them, I felt the anxiety slowly subside.  More important than the medication however, was the anxiety reduction techniques that I put into practice.  As a psychologist, I already knew about these techniques and had used them with my clients.  However,  just like a surgeon cannot perform surgery on him or her self, I needed that expert to guide me. The combination of medication with these techniques really worked!  I have not taken anxiety medication for about 15 years, but I continue to use my anxiety reduction techniques on a daily basis, and I have never felt better!

So what are these “magical” techniques that I speak of?

-Cognitive restructuring

-Mindfulness

-Deep relaxation exercises

-Abdominal breathing techniques

-Building and strengthening the neural pathways for relaxation

It sounds complicated, but really these techniques are easy to learn and to incorporate into your daily life.  About 90% of the clients I see in my psychology practice have issues with anxiety, such as panic attacks, OCD, self-harm, or just constant worry.  Through a program called Mindful Mood Balance, I help them to manage stress and anxiety and find peace of mind.

On Saturday, Feb. 4th, I will be offering a free session in St. John’s for anyone who would like to try out these techniques.   I also hope to offer a free online session.   If you would like to register, please indicate whether you are registering for the St. John’s session or the online session. 

Here is the link to register:  https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops

Peace out!

Mindfulness

frog-pond-trail

“You are the cause of about 90% of your own mental anguish and suffering!”

When I make that statement at one of my group therapy sessions or stress management presentations, I usually get the evil eye.  But by the end of my session, every head in the group is nodding in agreement.

Look around you right now.  Are you safe?  Are you comfortable? Is there anything happening to you right at this moment that is causing you mental anguish?  At least ninety-nine percent of you will answer “no” to that last question.  When you think about it, NOW is a good moment.  In fact, most of your moments are good moments.  Yet you suffer from worry, fear, frustration, sadness, regret, guilt and a host of other unpleasant emotions and mental suffering. 

Why?  Because most of the time, you are not truly in the present moment.  Most of the mental suffering that you experience is not caused by what is happening in your life right at this moment.  It is caused by you allowing your mind to go to the past:  recalling that cancer diagnosis; reliving your divorce; replaying the fight you had with your sister; or going back to your dysfunctional childhood.  Or, for many of you, mental suffering is caused by allowing your mind to go to the future: what if the cancer comes back?; What if my son gets into a car crash tonight?; What if I can’t pay the bills next month?

Living in the past causes depression.  Living in the future causes anxiety.  Only in the present moment can you find peace.

So how do you bring yourself back to the present moment?  The best way I have found is by tuning in to my senses, a technique which is known as mindfulness.  Stop what you are doing right now and take one moment to look around you.  Notice everything you see in your surroundings.  What grabs your attention?  Now take a moment to listen.  Just be mindful of what you hear.  Next, if you have a nice body lotion, apply it slowly and mindfully to your hands, just enjoy the sensation of touch.  Now, if your lotion is scented, take a deep sniff and savor the smell.  Finally, if you have a small food item, such as a candy, eat it, very slowly and very mindfully, enjoying the sensation of taste.  (Every time I do this session with a group of students, one of them will say, “Miss Strang, that is the best Skittle I have ever eaten!”   That is true because most of the time we are not mindful of eating and so we miss out on the pleasure of our food.)

The exercise you just did is a technique I use to demonstrate HOW to be mindful.  Practicing mindfulness however, does not mean sitting down with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of hand lotion to tune in to your senses for five minutes. Mindfulness is really all about using your senses to bring you back to the present moment in your everyday life.  For example, you can be mindful of taking a shower, just by turning off your thoughts for a few minutes and really paying attention to the feel of the water on your skin and the smell of the soap.  Practicing mindfulness just means having more mindful moments during the day; more moments where you get out of your head and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.  

I once had a client who came to me because she was a constant worrier.  She worried about her children, she worried about her health, she worried about her husband and so on.  I think if she didn’t have something to worry about, she would make something up!  I suggested that during her lunch break she take a walk around a beautiful trail that was near her work, since spending time in nature is such good medicine for the soul.  The following week however, she reported that it did her no good.  She spent her entire walk worrying and overthinking.  I suggested that on her next walk she just listen and come back to tell me everything she heard on her walk.  The next week a very different client came to my office.  She was smiling and very eager to tell me all that she had heard on her walk:  children laughing; rocks crunching under her feet; the wind in the trees; the water lapping on shore; birds singing; cars driving by; etc., sounds that she had never before been aware of.

“Was your mind occupied with your worries?”  I asked.

“No”, she laughed, “I was too busy listening to worry about anything.”

That is mindfulness. 

Not every moment is going to be a good moment. If you recently experienced a loss you can’t just eat a skittle mindfully and make it go away.  But if you find that you are spending much of your mental energy in the past or in the future, it will cause you suffering.  Peace can only be found in the present moment. 

I wish you a peaceful day, filled with many mindful moments!