4 Tips for Dealing with Overwhelming Anxiety

Dealing with Anxiety

If you struggle with anxiety, you’re certainly not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in our country, affecting an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (source: National Institute of Mental Health). Given that the NIMH also says that average onset is age 11, you might have struggled with anxiety for a long time. Maybe you have even started to believe that being a “worry wart” is just the way you are. While there’s some truth to that, there are lots of strategies for managing anxiety so that it doesn’t take a toll on your emotional and physical well-being (because yes, anxiety has a significant impact on your body!). Whether it’s generalized anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, or some other form of anxiety, here are 4 tips to help manage those emotions.

#1. Do some breathing exercises. Our bodies and minds (i.e., emotions) are highly interrelated and we can use that to our advantage. I’m not getting all new-agey on you; there is real science behind why deep breathing works. A quick explanation is that anxiety puts your body in fight-or-flight mode (remember that fun little phrase from high school biology?), and flooding your brain with oxygen basically tells it that everything is fine so that your sympathetic nervous system can calm back down.

#2. Stop the stinkin’ thinkin’. Though not always, our emotions are often triggered by our thoughts. Do you convince yourself that something is a catastrophe when it really isn’t? Do you worry about all the possible outcomes of a situation—usually all the negative ways something could turn out? Do you assume people are judging you unfavorably? Do you tell yourself you just won’t be able to handle if ____ (fill in the blank)? All of these are examples of what we call cognitive distortions because they are irrational thoughts that inevitably lead to anxiety and depression. Practicing more positive, realistic thinking can lead to healthier, more positive emotions.

#3. Get distracted. Ruminating—thinking obsessively about something—is rarely productive. It’s not the same as problem-solving and just ends up wasting a lot of time and energy. One of the best ways to break out of that circling-the-drain trap is to simply do something else, preferably something you enjoy! Get outside to soak up nature for a bit or call a friend. Do something kind for someone else. Engage in your favorite hobby. Wrap up in a soft blanket and sip your favorite drink. Whatever is going to soothe your spirit and refocus your mind in that moment, try that.

#4. If all else fails, try just accepting it. Accepting the anxiety sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But in certain circumstances, accepting rather than fighting something is a better route because the process of fighting can sometimes give that thing more power and control over you. It’s like being in quicksand… the more you struggle against it, the faster and deeper you sink. Anxiety is usually about self-protection, so acknowledge that and thank your anxiety for what it’s trying to do to help. Try saying something like this to yourself: “I actually have the skills I need to handle whatever might happen so I don’t need to focus on the anxiety so much anymore. It’s still there and that’s fine, but I’m moving on to thinking about and doing other things.” And then do!

There are other tips I can give about dealing with anxiety and I could even expand on some of these, but this is probably enough for today. If you have questions, though, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Be well,
Cherie_signature

Cherie Miller, MS is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.

3 Reasons Not to Deal With Your Issues

Dare 2 Hope - Living in Denial.png

Like me, I’m sure you’ve known people who have blatant issues, yet are completely unwilling to work on them. Sometimes, it’s just annoying to be forced to put up with someone’s “stuff” when they won’t deal with it. A few co-workers I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of knowing come to mind! In more serious circumstances, it might be someone we’re close to and really care about. Maybe it’s an alcoholic spouse or a controlling mother. In such cases, not only can it be painful to watch that person perpetuate their own misery, it is also more likely to impact us negatively, sometimes making us miserable, too. How close we are emotionally or how much influence that person has on our lives is directly related to how hard it is keep their issues from spilling over onto us.

But let’s get a bit more personal for a minute. Do you have issues that you don’t want to address? Perhaps you have a temper or a habit of overeating. Maybe your perfectionism makes you impossible to please. Or your insecurities sabotage your success in love and work. Whatever it is, why do you refuse to change, despite how it negatively effects you? Simply because, in many ways, it actually makes sense not to deal with our issues. Let me explain why this is true.

  • Healing is hard. Just like drug withdrawals are a necessary part of getting clean, healing usually involves a painful period where we are working through all that goes along with the issue. That can mean processing traumatic memories, learning to sit in uncomfortable emotions, having to own our mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes, and so on. The good news is that like drug withdrawals, it does get easier, but the only way through it is, well, just that—through it.
  • Growth requires sacrifice. Whether we recognize it consciously or not, our issues serve us somehow. Maybe your anger lets you feel powerful and helps you control others, or maybe food helps you cope with stress and loneliness. Dealing with things means we have to give up some attitudes or behaviors that in some ways do benefit us. The catch is that they hurt us in other ways (e.g., anger damages relationships and overeating leads to weight gain). Realize that you can get what you need in ways that are more constructive.
  • Change is scary. Anytime we are venturing into unknown territory, there is some fear. Oddly enough, we can be pretty comfortable in our discomfort because it’s familiar, and familiarity is a powerful force.

Honestly, I wish I could have written an article called, “3 Quick and Easy Ways to Deal with Your Issues,” instead of this one, but that wouldn’t have been realistic. I see it in the amazing clients I work with every day that growth is not quick or easy. I also know that personally because I worked hard to recover from an eating disorder, and healing was anything but either of those. It cost me deeply, and it was a choice I had to make every day for a long time… still do some days. But it was and always will be worth it.

So I leave you with this: Would it be worth it for you?

Be well,
Cherie_signature
DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MA is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.

7 Strategies for Surviving the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays - Dare 2 Hope Counseling

The holidays can be a wonderful time for many people, but for some, it can be a time of immense stress, anxiety, and even depression. Since Christmas is just a couple of days away, I wanted to offer some strategies for dealing with these emotional challenges, and also specific ideas for those struggling with an eating disorder.

Strategy #1: Put Things in Perspective and Prioritize
Sometimes, we simply take on too much. We want to be able to do it all and so we set ourselves up to be stressed and anxious. Decide what’s really important for you to do. Is it hosting a party? Decorating? Cooking for the family dinner? Making homemade gifts? Once you know what is most important to you, balance that with that you can realistically afford—both in terms of time and money!

Strategy #2: Take Time-Outs
It’s tempting to just go-go-go! all season long. Getting overwhelmed and tired makes us vulnerable to feeling stressed and sad, so take some time to slow down. Find some time to do things just for yourself that rejuvenate you like reading a good book, watching a favorite holiday movie, or whatever brings a few moments of peace to your spirit. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything (see #5).

Strategy #3: Get Support
Reach out to people you trust who can support you when you need it. A listening ear and encouraging word from someone who cares can make a big difference, so don’t hold whatever you’re struggling with inside. And if there are specific ways other people can help, let them! Relationships are built on reciprocity and while many of us are always happy to help others, we find it difficult to accept kindnesses in return. But rejecting people in that way isn’t good for you or those relationships.

Strategy #4: Grieve If You Need To
Unfortunately, the holidays can bring up a lot of emotional pain for some. Perhaps they are reminder of childhood trauma or they make the loss of someone special even more difficult. Whatever it might be, take some time to grieve the pain. By acknowledging and honoring it, it often feels less overwhelming.

Strategy #5: Put Up Boundaries
The holidays bring up many expectations from others, especially family. There can be a lot of demands for your time and attention, and sometimes, it’s just not healthy. Maybe because it’s simply impossible to please everyone since it’s not possible to be in two places at once (e.g. both you and your spouse’s mamas want to see the grandkids on Christmas morning) or maybe it’s because you simply don’t want to do something you’re being pressured to do. If your family is a dysfunctional mess and spending time with them is detrimental to your or your family’s well-being, it’s perfectly okay to put up boundaries and do your own thing. You really can say “no” to people, even family…just decide ahead of time you’re not going to board whatever Guilt Trip Express pulls up when you decline because you know it’s probably coming!

Strategy #6: Express Gratitude
Take just a few minutes to write down what you are grateful for in your life. It’s amazing how focusing on the good in our lives can help us feel happier. I had a professor in college that would always say, “The key to happiness is an attitude of gratitude”…and I think he was right.

Strategy #7: Get Outside Yourself
There’s nothing as uplifting as getting outside yourself. Try donating some time or money to a cause that you feel good about. Some ideas could be taking meals to shut-ins, adopting a Christmas Angel child in need of gifts, making and handing out blankets to the homeless…the options are endless because there’s a world of need out there and we each have gifts to offer! I promise, you can’t help but feel good after doing good.

Additional Strategies for Those With Eating Disorders:

  • Follow a structured eating plan
  • Find out the menu in advance
  • Determine where and when you will be eating
  • Identify a support person to help
  • Avoid “fat talk”, diet talk or food conversations that could be upsetting
  • Be assertive with people who pressure you to eat more/less
  • Get right back to structure if you engage in any eating disorder behaviors
  • Communicate feelings to support person
  • Have an “exit strategy” planned if things become too overwhelming
  • Suggest and develop family traditions that do not involve food (caroling, games, and activities)
  • Plan a variety of foods to help prevent bingeing on “Forbidden Foods” (from Best Practices for Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays)

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Much love,
Cherie_signature

Maybe It’s Time to Break Up

Mirror Fasting - Dare 2 Hope Blog

Last week we talked about the importance of paying attention to and guarding against things that work against eating disorder recovery (or recovery from anything for that matter!). Today I want to talk specifically about our time in front of the mirror.

Ah, the mirror. So many have a love-hate relationship with it. We often dislike what we see, but we can’t seem to go without it either. Many people with eating disorders and body image issues spend a lot of time body checking in the mirror. There is nothing about standing in front of a mirror for long periods of time or multiple times a day and inspecting your appearance that is helpful. If you spend a significant amount of energy focusing on the things about your body that you wish you could change, you will inevitably feel bad about yourself.

One of the sad things about that is that no one is perfect, and each one of us could find flaws to obsess over. I read an article a while back in which Jillian  Michaels admitted that she has cellulite on her rear, and there’s nothing she can do to change that. Considering that 100% of the human population is physically imperfect, how sad is it that we can become convinced that our individual flaws mean we’re not beautiful? And even worse… our self-perception is often spoiled by flaws that aren’t even there.

See, that’s the problem with mirrors. They are not accurate reflections because it’s all about how our eye, and ultimately our brain, perceive an image. And that is highly subjective. Ever met someone that you thought was plain looking but after you got to like them, found them attractive? Or on the flip side, met someone attractive and then after discovering an atrocious personality, didn’t find them so physically appealing anymore? Our perceptions—even the ones that seem trustworthy, like our eyesight—can be very skewed based on our emotions and attitudes.

Body checking in the mirror is about more than just seeing if you look okay. You’re wondering on a deeper level if you’re okay. But a mirror can’t tell you that. If it can’t give you an accurate reflection of your physical self, it certainly can’t give you a reflection of your inner self worth.

So I’m throwing out a challenge to stop believing what the mirror tells you. Commit to reducing the time you spend body checking, and no matter how strong the urge to, definitely don’t stand there and pick apart your appearance. Decide there are more important things that you’d rather spend your time and energy on. How about doing something fun instead? What about doing something kind for someone else who needs it?

And here’s an even bigger challenge…consider getting rid of your body checking mirror altogether. You don’t necessarily need to fast from all mirrors, but I’m guessing you might have a full-length one that you use for body checking and not just doing your makeup and hair. It sounds impossible, I know. I did it when I was in recovery, and I thought I wouldn’t make it. My anxiety was sky-high at first because I’d become addicted to the mirror. But after a week or two, I adjusted…and actually felt freer than I’d felt in a long time. I also realized how much more time I had because I wasn’t wasting it searching for answers that a piece of glass could never really give me anyway.

Go for it! Break up with your body checking mirror, even for just a month, and see what a difference it makes in how you feel! I know you can do it.

much love,

Cherie_signature

We Are What We…

You Are What You Think - Part 2 - Dare 2 Hope Blog

We’ve all heard the expression, you are what you eat. I think something else is much more defining for us…and we’re actually a product of what we think.  Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about most,” and the Bible teaches us to “Keep vigilant watch over your heart because that’s where life starts” (Proverbs 4:23 MSG). This is an overlooked truth for people with eating disorders that can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining recovery. If you continue to obsess over things that reinforce eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, then you’re climbing a very steep uphill battle!

That means raising your awareness about what you think about and putting up some boundaries against things that aren’t constructive. Fashion and fitness magazines are one of the biggest offenders. I have a background in marketing and using Photoshop, so I thought understanding that the images were airbrushed made me immune to their power…but I eventually had to be honest and admit they affected me negatively. I still compared, still wished, still felt not-good-enough after looking at them. Pinterest fitness pins can be another serious problem. So can all the pins of ridiculously good-looking foods. And honestly, Facebook can be pretty triggering too.

If you’re serious about recovering, it’s time to take stock of the things you surround yourself with that are undermining all the hard work you’re doing to get healthy and get rid of them. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll be so amazed at how much freer you feel! Wouldn’t it be so much better to read a book or talk with a friend or do something else pleasant that makes you feel happy and peaceful inside?

But there’s one more thing…these messages don’t just come from the outside. They also come from within, and those need to be guarded against as well. Standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time and picking apart your body fills your mind and heart with destructive thoughts that feed the eating disorder. Next week, I want to talk more about that, and to give you a challenge. Until then…start noticing all the obsessing you might be doing that is completely counterproductive.

What are the worst offenders for you that work against your recovery? Could you possibly quit them cold turkey or start weaning off of them?

Much love,

Cherie_signature

How to Stop Dwelling on Things – Part 1

 

Ruminating - Part 1 // Dare 2 Hope Blog

Do you ever get stuck for hours or even days on something that went wrong or upset you? Maybe it was a fight with someone, or making a mistake at school or work, or something not working out the way you hoped it would. Whatever it might be, your mind plays it over and over like a song on repeat.

It’s called rumination, and it means that we over-think or obsess about situations… and it’s incredibly destructive. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D, a psychologist and professor at Yale University found that “when people ruminate while they are in depressed mood, they remember more negative things that happened to them in the past, they interpret situations in their current lives more negatively, and they are more hopeless about the future.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While you’re replaying the event over and over, you’ve also replayed a ton of other unpleasant memories in your mind, not to mention gone down the list of everything currently wrong in your life. No wonder you feel worse than you did after the original event!

Everyone does it occasionally, but people who frequently ruminate are much more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, and those problems are hard to overcome without changing ruminative thought patterns. Sometimes, people try to deal with rumination with eating disorders, addictions, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, but these just create their own problems.

Or sometimes, people keep ruminating because they believe they’re gaining insight from it. They believe if they analyze the situation thoroughly enough, they’ll figure out a way to fix it. While it’s true that thinking it through should lead to coming up with solutions or making improvements, most of the time our problem-solving abilities get shut down because we are too caught up in how upsetting the situation is. We end up feeling helpless, frustrated, or depressed.

Denying or avoiding our feelings is one unhealthy end of the spectrum, and rumination is on the other. The goal is what Nolen-Hoeksema calls adaptive self-reflection. This involves processing your emotions so that you don’t ignore or get stuck in them, and also focusing on the concrete parts of the situation and the improvements that can be made. Effective problem-solving asks answerable questions that lead to a useful decision or plan.

Do ask concrete, helpful questions such as:

  • What can I control in the situation?
  • How can I respond in a way that honors myself and others?
  • How can I grow from this?
  • What are the potential positives of this?

Don’t ask abstract, self-defeating questions such as:

  • Why do things like this always happen to me?
  • Why are things so unfair?
  • Why can’t I handle things better?

Next week I’ll talk about the next step in overcoming the rumination habit. (Update: Check out How to Stop Dwelling on Things – Part 2.)

What was the last thing you ruminated about? Did ruminating make you feel better or help the situation, or make things worse?

much love,

Cherie_signature