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When Anxiety Hurts: The Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

shutterstock_73995244Anxiety may be classified as a mental illness, but those who suffer from the condition know all too well that it can also take a physical toll on your well-being. The symptoms of anxiety reach far beyond mental anguish, leaving many to cope with its life-altering side effects. While anxiety will manifest itself differently for each individual, it is important to recognize the ways anxiety may be causing you to physically “hurt.”

A host of symptoms 

Anxiety won’t look exactly the same from person to person, but many of the common symptoms will reappear time after time. While it may be unrealistic to compile a list containing every possible physical reaction, typical ones include:

· Excessive sweating and clammy hands

· Difficulty swallowing

· Lightheadedness or dizziness

· Chest pains or feelings of heaviness on the chest

· Trembling

· Nausea

· Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

· Increase or decrease in appetite

· Headaches

· Substance abuse

· Muscle tension

· Blushing

· Increased heart rate

· Fatigue or insomnia

· Excessive foot tapping or foot shaking

· Inability to sit still, or the sudden urge to run

These symptoms, along with many others, can greatly interfere with daily living and productivity. In addition to the physical manifestations of general anxiety, many individuals must also endure the effects of frequent panic attacks.

Anxiety and everyday life 

If you are living with anxiety and its many physical symptoms, you may find it difficult to cope, and to live your life normally. Anxiety’s hold can be powerful, and learning to become the master of your own mind and body may take time.

If you are experiencing the above-mentioned effects of anxiety, you do not have to be a slave to your symptoms! In order to better live your everyday life with minimal influence from your anxiety, consider the following coping mechanisms:

· Meet with your doctor. If your anxiety interferes strongly with your ability to live life each day, talk with your doctor and mental health provider to evaluate your physical symptoms, and to consider different treatment options. Your doctor can help determine if your symptoms might be related to other, underlying problems—or if your anxiety is fully to blame.

If you suffer from moderate to severe symptoms, your doctor will also be able to monitor any potentially dangerous medical situations, or changes in behavior. Together, you and your treatment team can discuss medications, therapies, and at-home coping techniques that may be useful to you.

· Recognize and soothe your physical anxiety. Once you become aware of how anxiety presents itself in your life, you will be better able to take control of triggering situations when they arise. When you begin to experience your “typical” symptoms, or have urges you know are caused by feelings of anxiety, take a moment to process and work through the causes of your distress.

If you feel unable to control your symptoms, or make the discomfort disappear, take a few deep breaths and focus on remaining present. Minimize your reaction to your physical anxiety by repeating positive affirmations, meditating, taking a walk, journaling your thoughts and urges, smelling a candle, or by using other effective self-soothing methods.

· Take care of yourself. While feelings of anxiety may be truly unavoidable in your life, taking proper care of yourself can reduce the influence of your anxiety’s physical side effects.

To the best of your ability, eat well and often, get plenty of cardiovascular exercise, and set aside designated, screen-free periods of time for naps and nightly sleep. Your body needs to be well fueled and well cared for in order to function, and fight off anxious thoughts and behaviors.

When it comes to the battle against anxiety, give yourself every possible physical advantage.

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Finding Your “Yes” When Chronic Illness Says “No”

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 in Chronic pain | 0 comments

succulent gardenFor those who suffer from a chronic illness, even the day’s smallest tasks can feel unbearably difficult. If you or a loved one is currently dealing with this challenge, you understand the feelings of pain and defeat that can accompany everyday life. In the midst of this physical and mental anguish, it can seem daunting to attempt the search for hope and strength—but there are ways to move forward and press on.

Below are several suggestions for finding your “yes,” when chronic illness says “no.”

Take care of yourself

If you suffer from a chronic illness, the most important thing is to take care of yourself, first and foremost. It may sometimes be difficult to find your “yes,” but things will be that much harder, if you are trying to cope with extra and unnecessary pain. You may not be able to completely control your illness, but you can control many other aspects of your health.

Make sure to always stay on top of your medications, your doctor appointments, your therapy, your diet, your exercise, and any other areas required in your individual situation. Stick to your schedule, and always follow the recommendations of your doctor to help maintain the strongest, healthiest you possible.

Maintain the strongest possible support team

No matter your circumstances, you can find hope and courage from having a steady support system in place. Your chronic illness will inevitably impact multiple areas of your life, and you may find yourself struggling to accept, and cope, with these changes and disruptions. When you are feeling weak and unable to go on, you will need to pull strength from others in your life.

Seek to assemble the best support team available to you. Reach out to trusted loved ones, and surround yourself with individuals who can help fill your life with optimism, laughter, and hope.

Distract yourself and seek positivity

It will not always be easy to find your “yes,” when your chronic illness is telling your body and mind “no,” and you may often feel like you are fighting a losing battle. In order to combat the feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness that can accompany chronic illness, it is essential to try and distract yourself from the negativity each and every day.

As much as you are able, fill your life with activities that can distract you from your pain. Travel, attend classes, take up new hobbies, visit with friends and family, get involved with your community, attend church activities, volunteer—do anything possible to raise your mood and to lift your spirits. The more vibrant, positive energy you can fill your days with, the greater power you will have over your chronic illness, and the more alive you will feel.

Strive to gain perspective and remain positive 

As you combat chronic illness, it can be extremely tempting to give into your negative thoughts, and spend time dwelling on things you cannot change. While it is okay to acknowledge the bad, and to wish your situation was different, self-pity and negativity will ultimately only leave you feeling worse. Strive to remain positive and to gain perspective on what’s happening.

Things may not be ideal, but they could always be worse—and chances are, you still have much to be thankful for. It may be helpful to keep a positivity journal, and to verbally express your gratitude to others daily. While you may indeed be limited by your illness, remain grateful for the abilities and opportunities you do have. Your attitude has the potential to make a world of difference, either for better or for worse.

Moving forward and finding hope 

Struggling with a chronic illness will change your life forever, and it is normal to feel afraid and uncertain of what may lie ahead. Remember that you never need to face this fight alone, and that you always have people and resources that can help you. If you are uncertain of how to find your “yes” in the midst of your suffering, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional today.

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6 Steps to Calm Anxious Thoughts

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

Anxiety moves into every part of your life. It fills your nights with nightmares and worry and your days with distracted thinking and fear. It keeps you jumpy and distrustful. It damages your health in a number of ways: high blood pressure, stomach upset, headaches, achy joints and muscles, dizziness, and numbness. If your anxiety is prompted by a specific event, it likely will end on its own. However, some people – actually, a lot of people, 40 million in the U.S. alone – become trapped in their anxiety and the effects of that perpetual anxiety become worse unless treated.

Fortunately, anxiety does respond to treatment. Seven of the top things you can do to ease your anxiety are:

1Practice relaxation: You’ve heard the advice, “Just breathe.” It applies beautifully to anxiety. Deep breaths naturally ease tense muscles and flood your body with oxygen; gone is the sensation of choking. Sit comfortably, draw a deep breath into your abdomen and release it slowly. You can do this anywhere. Adding in aromatherapy (lavender is great for this) will enhance the relaxation. Another effective technique is progressive muscle relaxation. Beginning with one foot and then the other, tense the muscles for a count of 10 and then relax them completely. Work you way up your body.

2. Meditate: A technique called mindfulness is very helpful for anxiety. The discomfort of anxiety prompts you to seek escape, but mindfulness asks you to simply experience the anxiety without judging how it makes you feel. Mentally step back and notice if your hands are sweaty, which muscles are tense, how your breathing feels. By distancing yourself from the sensations, you rob them of their intensity. 

3. Think differently: Become your own private investigator. Examine when you worry and what, specifically, you worry about. Consciously turn on your rational mind and examine each worry. How realistic is it? What can you do to reduce the likelihood? If you’re afraid of fire, invest in a reliable smoke alarm and a window ladder. Acknowledge to yourself that you have taken steps to address that remote possibility. 

4. Find support: You’re not alone in your anxiety (remember the 40 million figure). There are support groups in almost every community and thousands more that meet online. Sharing your experiences with others and exchanging ideas for relief can go far to ease your symptoms. Individual therapy can be very effective in helping you understand why you are anxious and what you can do to defeat it.

5. Exercise: Moving your body encourages the release of the chemical serotonin, which improves your mood and helps you relax. Studies have shown that exercise is as beneficial as medication, is immediately effective, and is much better for you over the long run. Exercise also distracts you from your worries and, if you exercise with friends, you get the benefit of social interaction. Yoga and tai chi are particularly helpful for relaxing a stressed body.

6. Go to a peaceful place: Get as comfortable as you can, close your eyes and visualize a place where you feel safe. Focus on that place, the smells, the view, the textures and sounds. Make it whatever you want it to be. Stay until you feel relaxed and comfortable. 

If your anxiety persists, find a therapist who can help you examine what’s going on and how you can banish unrealistic worries.

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Understanding Mindfulness Meditation – The Basics

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

Zen bunnyIt’s instinctive to flinch from pain, to tense our muscles and grit our teeth and clench our fists. It’s instinctive to try to escape from unpleasantness, to run or have a drink or pretend it never happened.

Mindfulness meditation asks us to do the opposite — to stop, to pay attention to whatever is making us uncomfortable, to spend time just being in the moment, and to observe how we’re feeling without judgment. It instructs us that the attempt to evade pain ensures that we will remain in the pain and sitting with it robs the pain of its power.

Mindfulness is an outgrowth of the ancient Buddhist vipassana meditation, based on transforming the self through attention to the physical and its affect on the life of the mind.

Today, mindfulness meditation is used to treat a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. A study involving soldiers preparing for deployment showed Mindfulness improved memory capacity lost due to stress. Another study found that mindfulness meditation allowed practitioners to put aside emotionality to focus on mental tasks. Other research indicates mindfulness increases mental flexibility and improves relationships because practitioners are skilled at identifying emotions without losing perspective.

Other studies have found lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol, more robust immunity and reduced cold symptoms, improved heart health, and lowered blood pressure. Research shows mindfulness provides protection against mental illness, reduces feelings of loneliness in elderly practitioners and depression in teens, improves sleep, and eases digestive problems.

Although it is the work of a lifetime, it’s easy to begin practicing and enjoying the benefits of the meditation. The simple first steps include:

  • Create a space for your meditation. You will have your eyes open during meditation, so consider whether you want to focus on a blank wall, a photo, a shrine, or a plant. Reduce distractions like a television or computer screen. Find a location or time when external noise is minimized.
  • Decide how you want to sit – a cushion on the floor or a straight-backed chair that lets your feet rest solidly on the floor (use a footrest if necessary to feel stable and grounded). You should be comfortable to sit for several minutes with a straight but relaxed spine. Sitting straight improves the flow of energy to your brain. Let your eyes rest gently on a spot about six feet in front of you. Take a few minutes to inhabit your body, to become aware of your bones and muscles and skin.
  • Notice your breath as it enters your body and flows out again. Keep it natural and relaxed. The breath comes in, the breath goes out at its own pace. Don’t obsess or attempt to control your breath, simply notice it with part of your attention.
  • Allow thoughts to rise into your consciousness. Follow but don’t direct or suppress them. If the thoughts are painful or frightening, step back. Accept what they are, observe your reaction to them without investing emotionally. Let them go without trying to solve anything. They simply are thoughts passing through your mind. If you become lost in your thoughts, gently remind yourself to save some of your attention for your location, your body, and your breath.

Remember that the point of mindfulness meditation is to peacefully accept who you are in this moment, not to change anything about yourself.

Simply sitting and relaxing into the moment doesn’t sound very rigorous, but you may find it difficult to maintain that accepting and calm space for long. It’s important that mindfulness meditation not become a chore or something you strain to accomplish. At first, 10 to 15 minutes may be enough. As you become more practiced you can extend the time to 25 or 30 minutes. Short sessions a couple of times a day work well.

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The Physical and Emotional Effects of Trauma

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Trauma | 0 comments

If you have recently been through a severe trauma, it is normal to experience a whirlwind of emotions and physical responses. Although trauma takes many different forms, most traumas affect both the body and the mind. It can leave you feeling confused, hurt, and exhausted.In order to recover from and move forward after a trauma, it is helpful to understand the process the body undergoes after a traumatic-event. Below, the physical and emotional effects of trauma are explained in further detail:

The Physical Effects of Trauma

Depending on the type of trauma you experienced, you may be left with real, very tangible damage to your body. Personal injury, rape, natural disasters, car accidents, fights, or illnesses are all examples of trauma that typically leave the body negatively altered in some way. Whether your body was damaged as a result of your trauma or not, most traumatic incidents affect the body physically even if no obvious injuries were sustained. Traumas that are severe enough in nature can also lead to the development of PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder.

Even without the presence of PTSD, it is very normal to experience disruptive physical side effects after enduring a trauma. There are many negative effects of trauma, the most common include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Increased perspiration
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Nightmares
  • Daytime flashbacks & memories
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Heightened response to sights, sounds, or smells that were present during the traumatic event
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of color/paleness
  • General soreness/aches and pains

While some of these effects can be mild and sporadic, many trauma survivors experience symptoms that are constant and severe. Short-term effects can last for several months. Long-term repercussions, however, can manifest themselves for much longer—perhaps for years.

The Emotional Effects of Trauma 

The emotional effects of trauma tend to be subtler, and therefore more difficult to diagnose and treat. Traumatic events can leave mental scars that last for years, with some never healing at all. Different types of trauma will affect different people in unique ways, but all traumas tend to leave people feeling vulnerable and afraid. If you find yourself feeling mentally out of whack since your traumatic experience, it is possible you have sustained a substantial emotional injury as a result of the event. Common emotional effects of trauma include:

  • Increased anxiety/fear
  • Feelings of confusion
  • Isolation
  • Shock/disbelief
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Guilt/self-blame
  • Numbness
  • Sudden episodes of sadness or anger
  • Depression

While they are often less obvious than physical effects, the emotional effects of trauma can wreak silent havoc on your mind and overall well being. If they are not dealt with, the memories and emotional wreckage left behind by your trauma can become heavy burdens you’ll carry for years to come.

Healing and Moving Forward

Physical and emotional changes are the body’s natural response to traumatic experiences. While the effects to your mind and body can be difficult to deal with, they are nothing to be ashamed of—and it is possible to find peace and comfort.

Therapy, conditioning, medication, and time are all key components that can help you continue to recover from your traumatic experience. While there is no universal way to deal with the pain that trauma leaves behind, recovery is possible with hard work and patience. While most people will experience trauma during their lifetime, some scenarios are far more damaging than others and will therefore require more time to heal.

As you attempt to move forward from your negative experiences, be patient with your loved ones and with yourself. Recovering both physically and emotionally is a complex process and judgment or guilt will only hinder your progress. Be kind, do not get discouraged, and never be afraid to ask for help. In time, you will be able to leave your trauma in the past and move forward with your life.

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