Paging Dr. Friend, Help the Anxious and Depressed Women In Your Life
This month is Women’s History month and we wanted to share some important information about anxiety and depression in women. To start, did you know that women experience both anxiety and depression at a higher rate than men?
There can be various reasons for this, but most likely we see this come about due to hormonal changes and societal expectations placed on women in today’s family units and workplace environments. Women are widely praised as being “superwoman” and while that title can be flattering, it bears an amount of pressure that is often unbearable.
The women experiencing anxiety or depression can be our closest friends, family members and ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard for us to speak up and tell someone how we are feeling, which is why when we find out that someone close to us has been suffering, it can appear to be surprising. The good news is that we can check on our friends and check in with ourselves to make sure that we are all okay.
Here are a few quick tips to help women who struggle with anxiety and depression. Let’s help each other out this month and for the years to come!
- Make a list of your closest friends who are women or identify as women (and family members as well!).
- Set a day and time to check in with them and catch up on their lives at a time convenient for the both of you. To schedule this can be a challenge, we are all so busy. Try this format: Monday- send a quick text message to the friend/family member and see what days and times are usually best for a call to catch up (in person is great too, if you both have the time- the key here is to help feel better not stress either of you further). Send a quick calendar invite so that it isn’t forgotten. Have your call or meet up!
- During your check-in call or meeting, practice active listening. A good rule of thumb is no nearby phones or distractions. This could be after the kids have gone to bed or on the weekend when they are at a friend’s house.
- Set a time to follow up with your friend or family member! The relationship doesn’t end here, set some reminders to check in with them and make sure that they know that they feel valued and loved.
- Explore how you felt after the call or meeting. Did what they say resonate with you? Did you feel you wanted to take your own advice? Make one last appointment for self-care to take care of YOU as well.
This practice is not just helpful for your friend, but it can be helpful for you as well. If you feel as though people don’t reach out to you as much, this will help to connect with them and often a little effort goes a long way. Your friend may be encouraged by you reaching out, and want to make more of an effort as well. Relationships are work, and so is lifting each other up! The more that we connect on the phone and in person, the better we feel mentally and spiritually. Who will you reach out to this month?
Do you ever find yourself saying…’It’s their fault for ruining my day today’ or ‘If they didn’t do this I wouldn’t feel this way’? What about when someone else gets mad about something and you think “I shouldn’t have done that.”
One of the more challenging issues that come up in therapy is learning to take ownership for your stuff and to stop taking ownership for someone else’s stuff.
We think of this as a necessary boundary that can dramatically improve your mental health.
Depending on how you were raised and the relationships you had over the years, there is often a blurred line between somebody else stuff and yours. Sometimes people take ownership for everything that happens between them and others. Other times people take no ownership for their behaviors.
We could create an entire list of the reasons why some people own too much and others don’t own enough of their stuff. Everything from anxiety/control to past trauma to family dynamics can play a role. Here are some simple steps to learning to own your own stuff:
- Understanding your why can be important in developing this boundary of your stuff/my stuff. Why do you take on others stuff or why do you not take on others stuff?
- Becoming more aware of when you take on others stuff or are unable to own your own stuff. Awareness is half the battle in this work.
- Learn to communicate what’s your versus theirs.
Here are some simple ways to differentiate between your stuff and someone else’s:
- Identify if you actually played a role in the event, situation, emotion, etc. If you didn’t then you cannot own (or feel responsible for it- that doesn’t mean you won’t feel empathy). If you did play a role, what was your exact part of the incident? Did that part contribute to the outcome?
- Are you feeling overly responsible because that’s who you are, someone made you feel that way, you have some underlying guilt, or it was a triggering event that brought up your own stuff? (If its the latter- that then becomes your stuff to own but only the part that is triggering your unresolved stuff.)
- Sometimes the part you play is your deeper stuff that you haven’t dealt with yet. It’s okay that this happens but consider going to therapy or having a strong support person to help you talk through those deeper issues.
We are in unprecedented times and it has been nice finding resources that cost little to nothing. Many of the ones listed below are only active during the time of COVID. We will update the list weekly until our current crisis is over.
Feel free to try one or all. Let us know of ones you have found as well.
- Tara Brach, a leader in radical acceptance work is offering several drop in sessions on mindfulness and meditation. Check out her website here and navigate to the calendar.
- Sacred Acoustics offers binary beats for free during this crisis.
- Free Mindfulness through mindful.org.
- Free YMCA classes
- Free meditations through UCLA
- Free online courses through Coursera. Try the one on the science of well-being, its really cool.
- Apps like Insight Timer, ACT Coach, ACT Companion, Oprah & Deepak meditation, Stop Breathe Think (great for kids), Headspace.
- Scribd is offering 30 day access to free reading.
- You may have seen the long list on social media of free educational activities for kids. Here it is again. Or the list of free museum tours, check it out here.
- How about attending a live session on meditation.
- Does coloring help you find calm, check out this website for a daily mantra based coloring page.
- Resources for individuals with OCD during these times, check this website out.
Check us out here for more information.
Have you ever heard a friend joke that they have OCD because they like things organized or clean all the time? Most humans like routine and order at some level, so it is an easy disorder to relate to. Therefore, being somewhat OCD on some level is oddly common. In addition to being neat and organized, another common symptom of OCD is having unwanted intrusive thoughts. This is simply a thought or images that you find distressing.
If you have had an intrusive thought, you may feel like you were not “normal.” These thoughts could seem very odd and alarming. It could be that you know that you have no intent to act on them, but they are disturbing nonetheless. In fact, the content of the thoughts can be flat-out weird and come with no warning at all.
Furthermore, the media often makes light of OCD and it’s symptoms, which can cause it to be misunderstood. The prevalence of true Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is about 2%-3% of the population which is approximately 1 in 50 people (http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts). Do you wonder sometimes if you are one of these people?
The unwanted imagines, or pictures in your head can be frightening and you may wonder if you are the only one having them.
The things that come to your mind would not be something you intend to do, but they are distressing nonetheless. Examples of unwanted thoughts could be the following:
- You are sitting in a quiet place and you have the thought that it would be crazy if you got up and started screaming
- You are on the balcony of a hotel and you wonder if you will jump off the balcony
- Thinking that everyone is looking at you and laughing or talking about you
- Images of violence or sexually assaulting someone. You know that you could never actually hurt someone, so these are particularly disturbing images
- Thoughts you may accidentally hit someone with your car at night while driving
As you can imagine these can be very disturbing images. According to Medical Daily (2014) a study shows that 94 percent of people experience intrusive unwanted thoughts in their daily lives. Therefore, you can take comfort in the fact that these cognition’s are very ordinary occurrences! If you are still wondering if you have OCD look at this informational link. Remember, OCD can range from mild to serious in how it affects your life.
Intrusive thoughts can be linked to Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Unwanted thoughts can start to produce extra anxiety in your body because you are ashamed or fear the reason that you are have the strange cognition’s. Do you really want to act on them? Will you truly accidentally hurt someone? You may even feel the need to try to stop these thoughts by doing things that you think will reduce your worry.
Intrusive thoughts can raise your anxiety to uncomfortable levels. This is where compulsions can start to happen. When someone wants to control their anxiety, they will perform rituals that they think will help them get rid of these thoughts. Additionally, ritual habits can be the reason that people get caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions because they are trying to deal with unwelcome cognition’s that cause great anguish.
In other words, OCD is not necessarily what is portrayed on TV. It is not always someone checking if they locked the door, cleaning all the time, or checking if the stove is turning off. The cycle of OCD is having the obsessive thought, feeling intense anxiety, and performing a compulsive behavior that brings temporary relief. There can be many ways that the unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, or urges can start to activate compulsive behaviors, then this can become a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Are you the driver of your thoughts?
Thoughts have less meaning if you don’t pay attention or get too involved with them, but that is easier said than done. Some thoughts are hard to ignore or keep coming up in your self-talk. If you start to notice which thoughts are hard for you to detach from that is a good start to getting the power back in your internal dialog.
Picture yourself as a bus driver who is driving around a bunch of rowdy kids.
The bus represents your mind and the kids represent your thoughts. The kids are the unpleasant or interfering thoughts that are keeping you distracted and could possibly take you off course if you pay enough attention to them.
Let’s say one of the kids asked to drive the bus so they could be in control instead of you. Imagine if you said yes to the child who did not know how to operate the bus, what would happen? If the kid took over the bus, then it would probably crash. Just like if you give too much weight to an unwanted thought, your life gets out of control.
Letting your thoughts take over or giving too much value to them could be like letting a child drive the bus – it may not end well. Your thoughts, like the loud kids on the bus, would be hard to ignore; however, if you stay in control of the bus the outcome is much better.
In other words, most of us can relate to the fact that our mind goes where we don’t want it to at times. Problems become more pressing if we feel trapped in our thoughts or act upon them in unhealthy ways. As an example, this is when our anxiety can become high and we avoid situations, or excessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behaviors.
A hostage situation
There may be times in your life where you feel totally held hostage by your own mind and this can be very distressing. You may even know your cognition’s are irrational or intrusive, but you feel powerless to fight against them. It could feel like you have no control.
Consequently, a hostage situation is when anxious thinking takes over. You have given the disturbing or negative thought more power than it should have. These negative thoughts will be driving your bus, whether you like it or not. This is the point where you can feel very out of control and overcompensate to get back into the driver’s seat.
It may feel like a tape is continually playing in your head and you can’t turn it off. Humans can have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. What is more alarming, is that of those thoughts, 80% where found to be negative (The National Science Foundation, 2005).
If you are feeling extremely overwhelmed by your self-talk, it may be time to get help. You don’t have figure out everything alone.
How to handle intrusive thoughts when they are on the attack
When unhelpful thoughts attack, first remind yourself that you are normal and that 94% of people deal with this problem on some level. If you try to over control your mind, then that is when you can get into the OCD cycle. Giving less power to the thoughts by finding them less interesting and confusing can help them fade into the background. It is just a fact that sometimes our brains create meaningless junk thoughts.
Follow these steps:
- Notice and label unhelpful thoughts as “intrusive.”
- Give yourself a pep talk that these mental images are automatic and not up to you. The cognition’s are not due to anything you did, but just a normal occurrence that happens to most everyone.
- It is okay to let these thoughts into your mind, they have no power to hurt you, they are just thoughts that you have no intent to act on.
- Try not to attach any “meaning” to the thoughts. They have no meaning, they are random, and most people experience intrusive thoughts.
- Expect the thoughts to come back again and remind yourself that you can handle them.
Acknowledge the thought for what it is, intrusive and unhelpful. Simply tell your mind “thank you mind for that thought but I am going to detach from it now.” In comparison, your thoughts are like the kids on the bus in the metaphor. The more attention you give them, the more they will continue to act up. It is healthy to accept that you will have these disturbances, but so will most everyone else. You are not alone!
In addition, to help with intrusive thoughts try not to resist the thoughts that come to your mind, but don’t give them power either. Do not engage with the thoughts but be okay with the fact that they may pop up from time to time. Basically, the content of some thoughts can be irrelevant and unimportant.
In conclusion, not all thoughts are created equal.
Some are nonsensical, repetitive, and negative. In other words, these thoughts are not helpful. In contrast, focus on giving weight to the thoughts that empower us and make us feel good. Building the skills to discard and filter out useless unimportant cognition’s will make you feel better in the long run.
Check us out on www.turningstonecounseling.com
Do you remember playing hide and seek as a kid? Someone starts to count down and the hunt for the perfect hiding place begins. As the counting continues, you must be hidden by the time the other player comes to find you. What if your hiding spot is not good enough? Specifically, the game can make your heart pound and give you a rush of adrenaline which mimics the anxiety we have every day.
Whether you realized it or not, starting in childhood, things like anxiety can start with a simple game of hide and seek. The panic of needing to find the perfect spot so that you don’t get caught too fast by the seeker. The worry of when you will be found, or what if you are never found? Will I get lonely here? You are only a kid but find the game both fun and scary. We may not have realized it as child, but anxiety was already showing itself, and anxiety does not hide for too long.
OVERWHELMED AND OVERTHINKING
As we become adults, the presence of anxiety can be overwhelming in our lives. In other words, we do not have the courtesy of a countdown to take cover, it’s just there… ALL. THE. TIME. It is telling us we are not enough, we are never enough. It removes us from our lives, giving us endless to do lists in our heads. You can never really accomplish these tasks because once something is done you have 100 more tasks after it. Consequently, you are running and running but getting nowhere. It can feel frustrating, overwhelming and heavy.
First, let’s try to understand why we feel so much anxiety.
Why we worry so much?
Anxiety arises from the flight-or-fight response to threats in our lives. These threats can come in the form of a bad boss at work, being a stressed-out parent, illness, or even the good kind of stress such as falling in love.
Furthermore, the good stuff can also be scary because what if we lose it? We see a threat in our lives and we try to protect ourselves. Our minds are always coming up with solutions of how we will protect ourselves or “fix” problems. This can cause us to overthink and even carry substantial pain in our bodies.
PULL FROM YOUR STRENGTHS
So how can we find a safe space to go when our brain is on overdrive?
We all have strengths we can pull from. Think back to a time where you were successful in reducing your anxiety. What were you doing? How did your social circle help or not help? What comforts you? What activities can help you take a break from your thoughts in a healthy way? Take some time to explore your strengths and write them down. You DO have strengths!
FIND YOUR TRIGGERS
In addition to finding things that have helped you in the past, look at what has been unhelpful. Maybe after that 3rd cup of coffee you find your anxiety creep up. Actions like limiting alcohol and caffeine can be helpful because these substances can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Or maybe calling certain family or friends doesn’t help calm you down but only gives you more to worry about. Find what your triggers can be, whether it is low blood sugar or a toxic person in your life. Write your triggers down and start to plan for the best ways to avoid them when you can. What can you get more help with?
Have you ever tried to play hide and seek alone? Seems impossible right? It can also feel impossible to change how we think and to control our thoughts.
Consequently, it may feel daunting to change the way we think by using our mind to combat anxiety. We can help control our minds by creating mantras, or positive statements, that we say to ourselves when we see negative thoughts coming in. An example of a mantra would be “I AM” statements. List all the things you aspire to be. Below is an example list to help you get started.
“I am calm”
“I am loved”
“I am abundant”
“I am grateful”
“I am connected”
In the words of Taylor Swift… “shake it off.” Our body often uses our anxiety to create tension that builds up in our bodies. So how do we get rid of this excess stress? First, start with a quick body scan. Next, begin from the top of your body and go down, can you can tense up your face and then let the tension go, tense up your shoulders and let them go, and so on. Move all the way down to your toes letting most of your body parts tense up and then letting the tension go. This is a good way to start to evaluate how much stress and anxiety you are holding in your body.
THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Just as the game of hide and seek is beautifully simple, so is taking a breath. The breath is the bridge to the mind-body connection. Therefore, it is the starting point to reducing anxiety and feeling safe. Try to take a 90 second break and breathe deeply, fill your belly up with breath – take it in for five seconds and out for five seconds and see if you feel a little better afterwards. As you breathe in you can think of words like “peace,” and as you breathe out you can think of words like “love.” Do you feel safer, more relaxed and connected?
THE GOOD NEWS
Here is the good news – anxiety is not all bad! We NEED some anxiety in our lives because it helps keep us safe; some threats are real. Change is always present, and the goal is to be able to move through change in the healthiest way we can so that anxiety does not get out of control. So, give thanks for your anxiety and tell it to not hide too much because it is needed at manageable levels. Moreover, if you are getting to the point where it is unmanageable, it’s okay to ask for help, seek counseling, or take time to plan for ways to reduce your anxiety.
Ready or not, I am going to count down from 10 to the top things you can do to help your anxiety:
Take 10 with your 5 senses
When you are fixated on a problem that you can’t stop thinking about, take a 10-minute break to reset and come to the present. The best thing to do is use your five senses to get into the present moment.
- LOOK– Look around the room and notice what you see. What colors and patterns do you see?
- SMELL – Find something in your space like scented lotion or a flower that smells pleasant. Notice the way it smells and see where it takes your mind and body.
- FEEL – Touch different textures and notice how they feel on your skin to connect to the present moment. Go for a walk, notice how you body feels with the brisk movement.
- HEAR – Listen to your favorite song, podcast, or simply listen to the sounds that are around you in the space you are in.
- TASTE- Enjoy a food break and eat each bite slowly. Truly taste the texture of the food. Enjoy tasting the different flavors.
Limit your triggers
Are you in a bad mood if you go too long without eating, or if you talk to a co-worker you don’t like? There are times when you cannot avoid things that put you over the edge but knowing what your triggers are and trying to minimize them with a proper plan will go a long way.
Get enough sleep
We all stay up too late sometimes or find ourselves looking at our phones right before bed. If this is happening all the time and you find you are in a bad mood because of your lack of sleep, it may be time to change your routine.
Move your body
Find a way that you like to move. You don’t have to call it exercise if that sounds like a punishment. Maybe just put on your favorite song and dance a little or go for a family walk to connect and move.
Take deep breaths
Go back to the basics and breathe when you are feeling out of control with worry. Deep breaths turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which helps create a sense of calming.
What makes you laugh? Is it a funny cat video or your favorite comedy TV show? Invite more laughter into your life.
Find your self-compassion
No one that I know is perfect, so cut yourself a break and forgive yourself for mistakes you make along the way. Use mistakes as learning tools instead.
Find the evidence
Having major anxiety over an upcoming flight? Research how safe flying really is and see if the evidence helps you feel better.
Don’t take yourself so seriously
Be silly with your kids, friends, and family. Let go of your worries of what people will think of you and just be goofy sometimes! It feels good to let go around people you feel safe with.
Think about what you enjoyed a kid
What made you happy as a kid? Did you like to draw or play games like hide and seek? Maybe invite some of those activities back in your life by getting an adult coloring book or buying a new game.
Check us out at Turning Stone Counseling for more information!
Do you ever wonder why anxiety is happening to you? Are you the only one experiencing such intense fear and worry?
Anxiety has no barriers
Anxiety is like a cold, everyone has it at one point or another. And there are some who have it for longer periods of times and at different intensities.
Anxiety happens across all ethnic groups and every culture. It just looks different on each person.
Anxiety has a physiological presence
Ever notice how your body responds when someone pulls out in front of you or when your late to work and know your boss is going to say something. Maybe you have heart palpitations, or feel sick to your stomach. Perhaps you went straight from the physical symptoms to the thoughts- ‘I almost died’ or ‘I’m going to get fired.’
Anxiety is based in our flight and fight response (There is also a freeze response but we will save that for a different post). This acute stress response comes out of our sympathetic nervous system; reacting to a perceived attack.
This is not our only reason for our anxious reactions but it plays a huge role. Hormones and neurotransmitters play a role too.
How our autobiographical memory plays a role in our physiological response
Autobiographical memory is how we recollect our experience mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s our file cabinet in our brain of our own experiences.
When one has had an negative experience that produced the above flight/fight response- The autobiographical memory calls up that previous experience and reminds your body there is danger. So repeated negative events may increase our anxious responses.
Environmental Factors that play a role
Situational factors can play a large role in anxiety- financial stress, work pressure, transitions in life, even loss. Social media and the news are some of the biggest factors in anxiety in individuals today! Living in areas where the weather does not produce enough daylight hours or altitude changes can impact our oxygen levels enough to create anxiety.
Certain medications and/or medical issues can create anxiety. Using illicit drugs can create anxiety as well. The parallel’s between many medical conditions and anxious responses is documented in numerous medical journals.
Were your parents or guardians anxious? Any modeling of anxious behaviors onto another person can lead to learned anxious behaviors especially with repeated exposures.
Is it Normal Anxiety or Anxiety Disorder?
Everything above contributes to anxiety but what translates over to actually being a disorder. When the anxiety disrupts everyday life including things like work, home life, relationships it can often fall into the category of an anxiety disorder. Sometimes it impairs those parts of our life dramatically and sometimes just enough.
To truly be diagnosed one should talk to a medical provider or therapist. From there triggers and causes can be explored along with the best treatment interventions.
Self Care to reduce Anxiety
Life gets busy, often leaving no time to pay attention to our bodies. Engaging in some simple self care strategies can help even just a little bit.
Checking in on yourself each day, paying attention to what’s going on in your body is a simple self care strategy of just noticing.
Finding a calm place to be when you notice your anxiety is higher can be helpful.
Simple Action Steps
Here are some simple action steps you can take to learn to notice yourself and reduce anxiety:
- Take a look around the room you are in: Remember to breathe while doing this exercise. Start with just noticing a shape throughout the room (i.e. circle, square, rectangular). Look around the entire room for just that shape. Now move onto one color (i.e. blue, red, silver). And just notice that one color within the room. And lastly just look around the room for an object (i.e. picture, pen/pencil, rugs). Just notice them.
- 4 Square breathing: Visualize a square with 4 quadrants or look at a picture frame and divide it into 4’s. Now the first quadrant you focus on breathing in, second quadrant-out, third quadrant-in, and fourth- out. It’s super simple but feels really good. Here is the trick with breathe work, you need to learn how your body handles certain breathing experiences. Some people cannot handle deep breathing, some cannot handle short or the longer breathing activities. Go with what feels good and what does not increase your anxiety.
How to scale and self soothe
- We want to find something that you can self soothe with: Think about your 5 senses and what one do you enjoy the most. Could it be that you really love the smell of a good candle or awesome lotion. Do you like texture on your skin like a blanket or pillow? Do you find sucking on a lollipop or a cough drop soothing? What about watching the waterfalls or animals in the wild? Take some time and maybe create a list of those things that you find soothing. Then fill yourself up with them when your not anxious as well as when your anxiety is increasing. The trick is to do it enough when things are somewhat normal for you so that they are easier to remember when you really need them.
- Learn to scale how you are feeling throughout a given day: So the scale should be 0-10 with 0 being no anxiety and 10 being extreme anxiety. Now I want you to think about what can you tolerate. Can you get to a 3-4 without needing to do one of the above? What number do you start to forget the tools? Once you figure this out, now you need to think about scaling yourself throughout the day, even if you have to write it down (i.e. 6am-0, 8am-4, 10am-7, 12pm-3, 3pm-8). This can be so helpful because it will be the catalyst to helping you notice where you are with your anxiety and where you want to be.
Check us out at www.turningstonecounseling.com for more information.