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Last Updated on May 9, 2019

How To Overcome Anxiety and Feel More at Ease (Part 2)

How To Overcome Anxiety and Feel More at Ease (Part 2)

As we’ve discussed in How To Overcome Anxiety and Feel More at Ease (Part 1), anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health challenge we face.

If you’re feeling anxious, you are definitely not alone. Anxiety is highly common, and it is highly treatable.

This is Part 2 of my series on how to overcome anxiety. And in this article, you’ll hear real stories from those who have been through anxiety, and expert tips and strategies from some incredible mental health professionals in the field.

Advice from Sibyl Buck, a Yoga Instructor and Therapeutic Yoga Practitioner

First, meet Sibyl Buck, a yoga instructor and Therapeutic Yoga Practitioner.

    Here, she shares her story and recommendations:

    I grew up moving between my parents’ houses, spending a lot of time alone at home until they got home from work, watching television to learn how to be, and developing some socially unacceptable behaviors.

    By the time I was a young adult, I felt decidedly weird, uncomfortable in my skin in social situations, and often even when alone.

    I developed anxiety, and especially when I felt I had made a mistake, that anxiety could be punishing and debilitating.

    When I moved to Topanga, California 10 years ago, finally leaving my urban jet-set lifestyle as a model and a touring musician, I studied to become a yoga teacher and found myself drawn to the more therapeutic aspects of yoga.

    As I learned all I could about yoga therapy, I read books on a number of different trauma healing techniques, and was especially moved by Waking The Tiger, by Peter Levin e on Somatic Experience healing, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction technique he developed for hospital use as patient therapy.

    I followed my intuition and guidance from wise minds and books, and ended up addressing my anxiety and what I believe to be mild, undiagnosed PTSD.

    I used lots of questions to learn to listen to a small, quiet voice from within me, who seemed to have all the answers I needed such as, “Where am I holding tension in my body?” and, “What am I avoiding feeling?”

    I learned recently, from Richard Miller who developed a trauma-healing modality called iRest (integrative restoration), that a big cause of anxiety is the separation caused when we try to avoid something we are feeling or noticing. His techniques are rooted in ancient yoga practices, and shaped by his medical background and a keen understanding of neuroscience biology.

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    The techniques I had intuitively compiled for my own self-healing were essentially the same as what he was using to treat veterans, victims of sex trafficking, and post-incarcerated populations who suffer from PTSD.

    Effective Yoga Technique

    Here’s a technique I used and still use regularly for myself and my students:

    Not much healing can happen to anyone actively suffering stress, since too much of the body’s resources will be being directed to larger muscles of movement for fighting and fleeing. This process will help you drop into relaxation response, or the parasympathetic nervous system.

    To get started, use blankets and pillows to prop up the body in an extremely comfortable position. Bend your knees, with your thighs and shins supported; your whole body should be supported anywhere it naturally lifts off the earth such as the neck, lumbar (low back) spine. Have a heavier folded blanket or pillow over your middle torso and lap, which helps to calm and balance the nervous system.

    Once you’re comfortable, follow this process by directing your attention to the:

    1. Earth under you. Start by feeling where your body is in contact with the floor and props. Really feel yourself being held up by the ground and the pillows and blankets, so you can surrender any way in which you’re holding yourself up.
    2. Breath moving through you. Notice the movement of breath, and the shape of it in your body; expanding when you inhale and flattening a little when you exhale.
    3. Brightness behind your eyelids. With your eyes closed, notice the brightness that’s visible there, especially noticing any color, shadows and layers.
    4. Sounds all around you. Open your ears to all the sounds around you. Instead of identifying the sounds, open to the whole soundscape.

    You can remember this by EBBS. (Think ebbs and flows.)

    Your attention will probably swing from noticing these sensations and being distracted by thoughts pulling you forward and back in time. Whenever you realize you aren’t noticing sensation, return to the four steps.

    Practice Breathing

    If you find your mind races or it causes anxiety to lie still, practice this breath:

    Take a short shallow inhalation through the nose, and exhale with a long sigh. Repeat this breath for as long as you are experiencing an anxious state. In my experience, this breath pattern is very helpful for calming anxiety.

    Letting yourself feel is a powerful healing modality, and the biggest challenge to it is setting aside the time to essentially do what is considered ‘nothing’ by our modern culture. However, this kind of slowing down can restore the natural healing capability contained within each body.

    Up next – strategies, techniques and insights from Mental Health Professionals…

    Advice from Dr. David Carbonell, The Anxiety Coach

      Anxiety disorders are counterintuitive problems; our common sense responses to them are likely to make problems worse rather than better.

      I rely on the Rule of Opposites, which states, ‘My gut instinct of how to respond to panic and anxiety is typically dead wrong, so I’m better off doing the opposite of my gut instinct.’

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      For example, people with Panic Disorder will avoid the circumstances they fear, only to see the fears grow worse, and will do better with progressive practice with, and exposure to, the feared situations.

      Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder will fear being judged by others, and come to avoid being in situations where they can be observed by others; they will actually do better by practicing with being around people.

      Overall, people will get better results by working with, rather than against, the signs and symptoms of chronic anxiety disorders. This is why exposure methods are the best available type of treatment.

      I want to direct your attention to two particular techniques, described in detail on my website

      1. Belly Breathing

      Note the centrality of the Rule of Opposites. People having panic attacks find themselves short of breath, and struggle to inhale, when they get much better results by first exhaling.

      2. AWARE Steps

      As an overall strategy, accept that it’s common and easy to get tricked by anxiety – to feel afraid in the absence of danger, even when you know there’s no danger.

      Work with that situation rather than struggling to “stop feeling afraid”.

      If you’re suffering from anxiety, please:

      • Don’t avoid things, locations, and activities you fear – find ways to approach them, one step at a time.
      • Don’t try to hide and keep your problems a secret from loved ones – find ways to discuss and undo the secrecy.
      • Don’t struggle alone without help or a knowledgeable plan – seek professional help because these problems are very treatable.

      I had one client, a woman in her late thirties, who had been almost completely housebound, afraid of all travel (local travel by train or car) and being in stores.

      She is a very bright and talented, gregarious person whose life was being stunted by the agoraphobia. She made a wonderful recovery, step by step, practicing with an expanding list of situations and activities, and ended up accepting a job as chief of the crossing guards in her hometown.

      She was able to travel cross country and visit relatives she hadn’t seen since childhood, and even had the experience, in her forties, of seeing a cow for the very first time.

      Advice from Marisa Peer, a Celebrity Therapist & Pioneering Hypnotherapy Trainer

        Marisa Peer is a celebrity therapist and pioneering hypnotherapy trainer. She shares that anxiety is most often caused by not feeling good enough, pressure to perform, or feeling judged.

        Here are her thoughts and recommendations:

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        One of the biggest symptoms is the feeling we’re not enough.

        The number one way to feel good about yourself is to believe in yourself and fill yourself up with positive thoughts. That’s why you won’t see small babies scared of flying, because they haven’t formed the words or pictures that create anxiety.

        Their only fear is of being rejected. This is the number one fear, which will definitely cause anxiety until you understand that no one can reject you but you.

        For those of you suffering from anxiety, I recommend:

        • Taking deep breaths, pushing down your shoulders and fill your mouth with saliva. It has an almost immediate effect.
        • Do not judge yourself harshly. Hurtful, critical words that you say to yourself on a regular basis will continue to cause stress, anxiety and unhappiness.
        • Take advice from professional therapists to make you feel calm and at ease.

        I once worked with a client who had tremendous stress and anxiety, and believed she had no coping skills. She was sensitive to noise and people and felt inadequate.

        She practiced saying, “I have phenomenal coping skills, I have extraordinary coping skills, I have exemplary coping skills.” She said this over and over and noticed a rapid and permanent change in her stress levels. And then, she began to feel calm and indeed able to cope.

        Your mind does not care whether what you tell it is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, true or false, it lets it all in regardless.

        When you tell yourself better things, you feel better.

        We make our own beliefs and our beliefs make us, so we might as well make better beliefs. Your mind acts on the words you tell it, that’s it’s job. Your job is to tell it better things that help you not hurt you, that elevate you not diminish you.

        Advice from Jennie Morton, MS Psychology, Certified Anxiety Treatment Professional and Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider.

          Jennie Morton is an Osteopath, MS Psychology, Certified Anxiety Treatment Professional and Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider.

          One of the great relievers of anxiety is information. My first approach is to provide education about what is actually going on in the body when we experience anxiety.

          The brain is simply running a software program based upon previous experience, but the fear response is now likely to be inappropriate or disproportionate to the current level of threat.

          What we need to do is create a new software program that removes the “unsafe” label from the trigger. However, when the amygdala responds quickly and seemingly irrationally to an event, this response exists beneath the level of the logical, thinking part of the brain.

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          It is not something we can necessarily talk our way out of. The response must be reprogrammed through experience, not by cognitive logic. The tricky part is that the amygdala has to be ‘online’ in order for any changes to be made.

          To do this, we can use a form of exposure therapy where we are placed in the presence of the trigger and allow our anxiety to rise to a level of 50-60/100 (where 0 equals no anxiety and 100 equals panic). We then need to stay with this anxiety experience until the level drops by 50% (to around 30/100).

          Use deep slow breathing to calm the heartrate, but do not try to rationalize or minimize the situation (as this will rob the amygdala of the opportunity to learn a new outcome). Eventually, the anxiety response will lower and the amygdala has learned that the situation poses no threat. If you always avoid the triggering situation, it will never have an opportunity to learn a new experience and therefore response.

          If you suffer from more acute anxiety, it is recommended to work with a mental health professional to guide you through this protocol.

          There is a wealth of other strategies with a proven track record for managing anxiety including yoga, breath work, exercise, mindfulness practice, somatic experiencing, and EMDR therapy.

          Our brains have an amazing capacity to be rewired given the right conditions. If you constantly rerun the same programs in your mind or avoid triggering situations, you will simply reinforce the perception of danger.

          This doesn’t have to be a Herculean task. Studies have shown that eight weeks of daily mindfulness practice can actually shrink the size of the amygdala. Science proves that we have the capacity to get back in the driving seat of our anxiety responses.

          I urge you to reach out to find a practice that works for you.

          Conclusion

          Thank you to the incredible experts who contributed to this article. You might have noticed they share a similar sentiment – anxiety is common and highly treatable.

          Your next step? Take a step forward — any step. That may mean trying one of the techniques you’ve read here or reaching out for help.

          There are many forms of fantastic therapies that can support you – but they can only work if you do.

          I know it may be hard, but if you can summon up the strength and courage to take a few steps out of the darkness, you will find light.

          As you may have read in Part 1 of this series, when I was suffering from anxiety, I tried everything I could get my hands on. I kept what worked for me and let go of what didn’t.

          It was a very challenging time but I was able to work through my anxiety, and my experience has helped me evolve into the more conscious, thoughtful, connected and compassionate person I am today.

          For those of you facing anxiety on any level, my hope is that these stories and recommendations support you in working through your process too.

          Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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          Tracy Kennedy

          Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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          Last Updated on August 20, 2019

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

          Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

          I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

          You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

          Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

          When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

          I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

          Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

          Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

          Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

          1. The Inner Critic

          This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

          • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
          • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
          • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
          • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

          The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

          Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

          2. The Worrier

          This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

          The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

          3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

          This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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          This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

          The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

          4. The Sleep Depriver

          This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

          The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

          • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
          • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
          • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
          • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

          How can you control these squatters?

          How to Master Your Mind

          You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

          Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

          There are two ways to control your thoughts:

          • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
          • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

          This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

          The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

          Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

          For the Inner Critic

          When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

          You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

          For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

          You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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          “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

          If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

          • They rile up the Worrier.
          • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
          • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
          • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
          • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

          Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

          Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

          For the Worrier

          Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

          Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

          You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

          • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tense

          Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

          If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

          Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

          “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

          Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

          If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

          Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

          Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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          For example:

          If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

          “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

          Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

          “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

          Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

          For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

          Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

          The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

          • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tension

          I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

          Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

          Breathe in through your nose:

          • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
          • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
          • Focus on your belly rising.

          Breathe out through your nose:

          • Feel your lungs emptying.
          • Focus on your belly falling.
          • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

          Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

          Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

          One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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          Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

          For the Sleep Depriver

          (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

          I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

          Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

          1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
          2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

          When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

          From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

          For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

          If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

          You can also use this technique any time you want to:

          • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
          • Shut down your thinking.
          • Calm your feelings.
          • Simply focus on the present moment. 

          The Bottom Line

          Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

          You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

          Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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          Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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