anxiety

Stopping the Runaway Train – Taking Back Your Thoughts and Emotions

by Jason Pogue, PLPC

When I was a young boy I took piano lessons for a number of years. In the early years, many of the songbooks I’d work through at my teacher’s prescription contained songs that were fun and also built crucial fundamental skills. One song I remember so clearly was called “Runaway Train.” This song was composed of two chords you played back and forth that sounded like a steam engine chugging, with an occasional whistle blow. The notes became shorter and shorter so that the pace of the train seemed to be getting faster and faster as if it were running away down a mountainside. Eventually, I mastered the pacing and finger control of this song, but initially I remember the more I attempted to increase my pace – as ‘the train ran away’ – the more I actually lost control until the song just became a muddled mess of noises.

Often in the fears, anxieties, and letdowns of our day-to-day lives, we can begin to feel like our entire world is like trying to play “Runaway Train.”

Everything seemed to start out okay, but before we knew it our hearts, minds, and actions became a frantic, out-of-control succession of muddled noise. In this series, I want to share with you some tools I use personally and with clients to help stop the runaway train that our thoughts and emotions can become. You can read the first post in this blog series here.

You may be reading this saying, “Jason, I feel like a runaway train but it isn’t because of my thoughts and emotions – it’s because all this stuff crumbling around me!” Let me begin by saying the last thing these tools mean is that your trials aren’t real. Life is comprised of the most breathtakingly beautiful and desperately dreadful moments and everything in-between, many of which we have far less control over than we wish or pretend. The control we do have in the midst of the trials is how we want to “be” in them and respond to them. When we don’t think about, exercise, and work toward consciously being the way we choose in the face of tough circumstances, within no time our negative thoughts and emotions will have us on the runaway train to anger, despair, loneliness, and numbing.

However, with some tools in our belt and intentional practice, eventually we can exercise our control so that – though the ‘train’ is speeding up and forcing us to uncomfortably keep up – we aren’t overwhelmed by it, and we can get through the trials without things escalating into a mess of muddled noise.

I hope you will join me in the coming months here as I walk through these tools and how to practice them. If you’re wanting a jump-start, or wanting some help learning these tools and practicing them, why not grab a friend and meet weekly to try them out? If you want a more in-depth experience putting these tools into practice today, give me a call or send an email and we can setup an appointment so you can begin taking back your thoughts and emotions, and living a more present and less frantic life.

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

by: Melinda Seley, PLPC

Sometimes life’s greatest teachers come in the smallest of packages. After recently returning from maternity leave, I have been reflecting on some life lessons my newborn has been teaching (or re-teaching) me over the past several months.  Below are the top five:  

Silence the “always” and “nevers” and work to be present here and now.  

Caring for our newborn is one of the most demanding “jobs” I have ever had – it’s physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. In those first weeks with our boy, I found myself so afraid that this would be my new normal – being trapped in the house with a tiny little person who could only communicate via hangry crying and who needed something from me for what seemed like every minute.  I would never get to have friends again, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, attend church, or do anything beyond being at my boy’s beckon call.  This is always how it was going to be.  I found myself saying a lot of “always” and “never’s”.  And the only place they led me was to despair and fear. They made me miss the joy and uniqueness of that finite season and a season I had so longed to experience.  

Do you find yourself saying a lot of always and nevers about where you are in life?  If so, what would it look like to, instead, be present in this moment, right now? To be honest about and grieve the unique challenges, losses, and hardships you are experiencing, but to not forget to look for and savor the good. Right here and now.

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Some of the most significant growth in life comes through hardship or struggle. Don’t avoid it.

Pediatricians recommend that by 2 months of age, infants spend 30-60 minutes on their tummy.  Until he could successfully lift his head, my boy hated “tummy time” and was quite vocal about his dislike of it.  It would turn our happy, easy-going baby into a crying mess.  I wanted to avoid it; I didn’t want to subject my own son to struggle; and honestly, I didn’t want to subject myself to additional emotional exhaustion from needing to soothe him afterwards.  But the only way for him to grow and be able to hold his head steady was for me to allow him to struggle. To give him opportunity each day to face what he didn’t like with support so that he could grow.  Is there anything in your life that seems like it would be easier to avoid but really what you need most is to get down on the mat and spend time learning to lift your head – through the tears and grumbles?  What are you missing out on because it’s easier or more appealing to avoid the struggle?  

Value “being” rather than “doing”.  

I am a “doer”. I like lists and I especially like to check them off. Life with a newborn doesn’t allow for many lists other than feed, change diaper, soothe, repeat (with the occasional change clothes and spray with stain remover mixed in!). In the first days of being home all day alone with my son, I texted my husband, “I’ve showered and done a load of laundry…today is already a success!” And in doing so, I realized that my definition of success was based merely on how much of my “to do” list I could accomplish…instead of savoring just being with my new, precious child who relied on me for everything and who I had longed to have.  Do you struggle as I do to find your identity in what you do rather than just being?  What would it look like to keep the to do list, but give it a whole lot less weight in determining your worth?  You are not what you do. You are not the boxes you check off. You are you and that is enough.

The first time will be the hardest…the important thing is to lean into the fear and do it.  

After 3 weeks with our little guy, I felt like maybe I finally had the hang of this whole parenting a newborn thing. But I still had not left the house with him alone. I was afraid – what if something happens when we’re out and I don’t have what I need or worse yet – I look like I have no idea what I’m doing as a mom?!  My fear kept me stuck in the house and unable to move forward.  And then I read somewhere an encouragement to do something I feared as a new mom each day.  And suddenly I felt a resolve within me that I would not let fear rule me. I had to name the fear and walk through it. After leaving the house for the first time and realizing that I could survive it (and more importantly, our little one could survive it!), it got easier. I had concrete experience to learn from.  What is fear keeping you from doing? What do you need in order to move through that fear and do something for the first time?

Stop comparing.

Being a first time parent is hard. There are so many unknowns, big adjustments, differing opinions on how you should care for your little one, exhaustion, and fear. Every parent is different and every child is different. I found myself looking around me at friends who are on their second, third, fourth child and thinking, “They are handling life so much better and they have more than one child! I can’t even manage {fill in the blank} and I only have one kiddo!” So much shame. And insufficiency. And failure. But my comparing isn’t fair. Those friends of mine have walked through the challenge of adding their first child to their family and they had to do and experience all these things for the first time, too.  And they questioned themselves, felt unsure, and were overwhelmed just as I have been.  And they learned along the way how to do it.  Comparing myself to others in different seasons or places in life discounts their journey to get where they are and the journey I have not yet walked.  And experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. When I stopped looking around to compare and gave myself grace to navigate this completely new role with my unique child and my unique strengths and weaknesses, I found so much more joy in the process. Do you find yourself making endless comparisons?  Are they fair? What would it look like to acknowledge that you have unique strengths and weaknesses and experience is a great teacher?  Would that make a difference in your joy?  

Do you need to learn (or apply) any of these life lessons along with me?  What are you learning where you are on this journey of life?  

 

Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

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There are several different ways in which Anxiety can manifest itself.  One way is through Panic.  It is usually referred to as a Panic Attack.  Panic Attacks occur when we experience real or perceived danger that is overwhelming to us – it can cause you to feel as though you are out of control.

Have you ever experienced any (or all) of these symptoms?

  • Loss of breath and it feels hard to breath
  • Deep heaviness and pain in your chest as though an elephant were sitting on you
  • Dizziness
  • Spotted vision
  • Nausea
  • Heart beating quickly
  • Body shaking
  • Sweating

Has there been a time in your life when you felt fearful of something or someone to a debilitating degree and you experienced these symptoms? Or maybe nothing particular happened and you scratched your head wondering why that happened to you.

Have you answered yes to any of the above?  If so, then it seems safe to say you had a Panic Attack.  Panic Attacks tend to not last longer than +/-10 minutes, but the aftermath isn’t quite so quick.  Your body is exhausted, you’re wondering if you are okay, and you are probably confused and disoriented.  You may find yourself asking the question,”Am I CRAZY?!”person-41402_640

Take comfort in knowing that although you feel crazy, feeling like it doesn’t make it true.

Panic Attacks are treatable and preventable.  You can learn relaxation and meditation techniques, meet with a counselor who can help you learn how to think through your panic in new ways and regain control over your thoughts (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), and you can take anti-anxiety medication to help with your short-term and long-term needs as you learn to manage your anxiety.

Over time as you utilize some of the above mentioned methods for anxiety management you will begin to feel less out-of-control and more in-control of your anxiety.  The key to managing your anxiety well is to practice, practice, practice anxiety reducing techniques when you don’t have any anxiety at all.  Why?  This way you form habits and when anxiety strikes again the techniques you practice will be easier to recall.

Need help to develop your anxiety management plan?  Contact our counseling center and we will assist you.

A Tool to Manage and Reduce Your Anxiety

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Today I want to share with you a tool I have found helpful to manage and reduce anxiety.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor and a human being who struggles with anxiety, I am continually looking for ways to help manage and reduce anxiety in my own life, as well as in the lives of my clients’.

Do you like to color?  Maybe that is a hard question for you to answer since you are likely to be an adult or teenager reading this and haven’t colored in many years.  Perhaps I should ask:  Are you willing to try coloring as a way to manage and reduce your anxiety?

Recently, I ordered a mindfulness coloring book which has been designed to be used as a tool to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and to literally slow you down from your busy life.  Pictured below is the specific book I ordered from Amazon and one of the pictures I have been working on.

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IMG_2126As you can see from the picture attention to detail is a must.  Concentrating your thoughts on the area you are coloring is a must.  Allowing time from when you begin coloring a picture until it is finished is a must.

Slowing down, concentrating your thoughts on what is specifically in front of you, and allowing yourself to be present in what you are doing brings peace into your current moments.

Do you ever experience…

-racing thoughts?

-panic attacks?

-pains in your chest due to current stressors in your life?

-negative thoughts?

-repetitive thoughts?

If you find yourself answering “yes” to the above questions then grabbing one of these coloring books for yourself may be helpful for you as you learn ways to cope with your stress and anxiety in life.  This is just one tool among many that you can try.

If you do decide to find a coloring book for yourself be sure to get colored pencils.  Crayons make it really hard to color within the lines!

Say Goodbye to Life-Sucking Fears

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Learning to acknowledge the fears we have within ourselves and with others is the first step to becoming free from them.

Perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt was onto something when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Having a fear of something isn’t bad.  In fact, sometimes our responses to fear can save our lives.  We sense danger, so we run.  We are swimming and running out of breath, so we get to shore.  Fear itself isn’t the problem.  It is what becomes of our fear that matters.  Once our fears begin to control us – limit our life, change our thoughts/beliefs about ourselves, irrational behavior surfaces – this is when a fear becomes problematic.
A fear not dealt with has the potential to overcome us to the point of robbing our joy in life.
Anything can become a fear.  Nothing is too far from its reach.
Oftentimes I find people hating what they fear yet, unwilling to change.  I can’t say that I blame them.  After all, even though they hate what they fear and want so badly for it to change, it is also known to them.  Theoretically, they have already lived with their fear for a number of years, and have become accustomed to how it limits their life and restricts their happiness.  Asking someone to take the risk learning to let go of their fear, is one of the scariest risks I ask of people to try in my job.  Asking people to give up the known for the unknown requires much trust, courage, and vulnerability on their part.  Asking them to believe change is possible is the first step.
What are you fearing?
-Not being good enough?
-Letting people down?
-Being abandoned or rejected by those you love?
-Being a bad parent?
-Not having enough money to pay your bills?
-Not being liked?
-Loosing your spouse?
-Never being happy?
-Something bad that happened in your past?  
-(insert your fear here….)
Are your fears limiting your life?  Are they altering your beliefs about yourself?  Are they causing you to act in ways you normally wouldn’t?  
If you answered yes to any of the above questions then seeking help is your next step.

What do we do when ours fears begin altering how we live our lives?

1.  Acknowledge your fear is controlling or altering the way your think and live.
2.  Seek help.  Ask friends for support. Find a trusted counselor to help you.
3.  Believe change is possible.
These steps may sound trite, but believe me they are not!  These initial steps are hard and require courage and vulnerability.  You are choosing to step out into the unknown and say, “I want something better than what I currently have.  I want to take back control of my life!”  This is no easy task to begin engaging in.
Some of the common fears I see people struggling with actually have nothing to do with something outside of themselves.  Usually, I find people most fear something having to do who they are, how they perform and how they perceive the need to measure up to others, or being good enough or perfect enough to be loved.   If I just described you, know you are not alone in your struggle.  I hope you will reach out for help because freedom from your fears is possible!

We Are Anxious People

We Are Anxious People

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Sometimes when I am spending time with friends (or even in a work meeting!) I want to stand on a chair and shout (sheepishly), “Hi guys… it’s me…Lianne, and I’m an anxious person.  In fact right now I’m an anxious mess on the inside while on the outside I look normal!”

If I actually did this, my friends would probably laugh.  Not because I struggle with anxiety (in fact if I did do this they would care greatly for me!), but I would imagine them laughing because it’s something they would expect me to do.  I don’t hide my anxiety-ridden self from others.  As a matter of fact, something I had to learn to do when I realized I struggled with anxiety was to begin accepting it as part of who I am.  I am an anxious person.  There, I said it.  And I’m okay with it.  The truth is if I did announce my anxiety to a group of people I know I would not be alone.  I know there would be others in that room that would be feeling the same way.  In fact, I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not alone in my anxiety.

I like to view anxiety as my body’s way of saying, “hey you, something isn’t right, here!”  I’ve learned over the years what my body’s signs are and how to continue to live and thrive within my anxiety, and I know you can too.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.  They say that it affects nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older – that’s roughly 18% of our population!  These findings are exactly why I know I am not alone in my anxiety no matter where I go and no matter what I am doing.

The good news for the nearly 40 million Americans’ is that anxiety is highly treatable.

Margaret Wehrenberg wrote a book called, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. Personally I tend to stay away from any book that claims to be “The Best-Ever ______.”  I guess it’s due to my own cynicism where anyone claims to provide the “best-ever” anything, but this book actually IS helpful.  If you *think* you struggle with anxiety or know that you do, I would highly recommend this book.  Her writing has shaped many of the thoughts I am sharing with you.

So what is anxiety?  Simply put, it is our body’s response to unresolved distress.

If we look at anxiety from the micro level it typically starts with something called Stress.  We all know what it means to be stressed, don’t we?  It is important to note that not all stress is bad.  Sometimes our stress is the very “thing” that propels us to solve big problems or create something new.  Stress can take what we have already started and expand our ability to make it better.  Stress becomes problematic for us when it leads to being distressed.  Wehrenberg defines distress as “when we are faced with something too challenging or even overwhelming, causing us physical tension and mental anguish.”  Over time this unresolved distress turns into anxiety.

Anxiety is what happens when ambiguity (uncertainty) exists.  Anxiety is what’s happening when we start asking ourselves a lot of “what if” and “if only” questions.  “What if I can’t pay my bills this month?”  “What if I get divorced?” “What if I am alone forever?”  Or the “if only” questions – “If only I had ___.”  “If only I were ___.”  Both of these anxiety responses, which serve as our human way of trying to resolve the unresolved distress we are experiencing, keep us from actually resolving anything, and further, keep us out of the present time and place we are in.

So now what?  Now what do you do with your anxiety?  I’d suggest, first and foremost, that you don’t pretend you’re not an anxious person, if you are one.  Trying to deny its existence to yourself or trying to hide it from others will only make it worse and perpetuate that idea that something is intrinsically wrong with you.  Also, don’t embark on this journey alone.  Surround yourself with people who can help you and support you as you begin leaning how to manage your anxiety.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider as you begin your journey…

  1. Learn about YOU.  It’s important to learn about the situations, people, places, and topics that tend to make you anxious.  Learning these things will also help you to learn what your bodies (your physiological) response cues are when you are becoming anxious.
  1. Learn to Deal with Ambiguity.  Sadly much of our culture does not allow for ambiguity to exist.  Here’s an example – our culture would say you are either brave or you are a coward – people would like us to believe that there is no fear in being brave.  Well this simply isn’t true.  An essential part of being brave is acknowledging your fear while you are acting bravely.   In my opinion, bravery without fear is stupidity. To be alive is to have ambiguity. The key to living with it is allowing the ambiguity to exist while trying to find the resolution you so desperately desire.
  1. Strategies and Exercises.  There are many strategies and exercises out there to help you.  Identifying the right ones for you and practicing them regularly are important. This can often take some time to figure out so don’t loose hope if some of them aren’t working right away! To accompany her book mentioned above, Margaret Wehrenberg also wrote The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques Workbook. This workbook contains many great strategies/exercises, which will help manage your anxiety. But remember, it’s important to not do this alone so let’s move to #4 of my suggestions!
  1. Find a Great Therapist.  Finding a great therapist is essential to not trying to do this journey alone.  A therapist who understands and knows anxiety will be able to help you assess your anxiety, identify your triggers, bring some resolution, and help you find strategies/exercises that will be helpful to you long-term.  Your therapist will be an objective person in your life as you learn about your anxiety, grow and become free from it, and offer you support along the journey.
  1. Learn to Not Fear your Anxiety.  Struggling with anxiety does not mean you have failed as a human or that something is wrong with you.  It simply means you are a human being and this is a struggle you have.  Remember, it is a treatable, and manageable struggle.  Learning to embrace it is essential to your growth.
  1. Explore Taking Medication.  Not everyone who struggles with anxiety has to take anti-anxiety medication, but to be honest with you, most do. Choosing to begin anti-anxiety medication while going to therapy will better enable you to implement the strategies/exercises you are learning.  Beginning to take medication does not mean you will be on it for the rest of your life!  It also doesn’t mean that taking it will alter your entire personality.  It will simply help you to be able to manage your anxiety while you learn the strategies/exercises that work best for you.  I take anxiety med’s and I am SO THANKFUL for them!
  1. Have Hope.  You are going to be okay and you are not alone!
  1. Begin Your Journey.  Choose NOW to make a change in your life.  Choose NOW as the moment you began to take control over your anxiety and no longer allow it to control you.