Mind Align: Anxiety

July – Anxiety

Did you know elephants get anxious?  Cats have been known to exhibit behaviors similar to those with OCD.  There was even an orangutan that struggled with addiction.

Feeling anxious or stressed is healthy and normal for both humans and animals.  These feelings often serve as a motivator to get things done.  But, chronic anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on your health.  Symptoms of anxiety are not always as obvious as a fainting goat or a pacing elephant.

Typical symptoms:

  • Stomach pain, nausea
  • Headache, muscle tension
  • Rapid breathing and heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and dizziness
  • Frequent urination, digestive issues
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Panic or nervousness, especially in social settings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irrational anger
  • Restlessness

I know this will sound lame, but I like to whistle when I am feeling anxious or stressed. For me, it’s self-soothing and therapeutic. Pick a good song and whistle along is my life motto- haha. – Alfredo

I’ve found that whenever I am feeling stressed by a situation, there is usually a basic underlying cause that I should address first. A good way to create self-awareness in the face of stress or anxiety is to ask yourself: “Am I hungry, tired, angry, or lonely?” I’ll usually try to take care of those first.

  • hungry= eat a snack/meal
  • tired= take a nap or mentally plan to go to bed earlier that night
  • angry= take a few breaths in a quiet space away and decompress. Let the feeling come and go before responding to anything
  • Lonely= reach out to a friend or family member and talk or make plans to see them

Once I take care of my basic need(s) first, usually, I can handle a bigger problem a little bit better, with more clarity. Practicing mental checks is very important to being more self-aware.  – Angelina

I noticed when I cut back on alcohol and sugar my anxiety significantly decreases and I sleep a lot better. I also noticed a huge difference in my mood/sleep when I increased my healthy fat intake and started taking Omega 3 supplements. Fun fact: studies have shown that increasing your Omega 3 fatty acids has been known to cut risks of post-partum depression and anxiety!  – Katie

During my Grad program at state I found the following to bring me mental calmness.

  1. Rainy Mood (look it up on good ol’ Google it’s an infinite loop)
  2. YouTube (Fireplace – take your pick – works well for audio, or visual as well)
  3. YouTube Miles Davis (easy jazz) – (Coltrane, Chet Baker, Debussy, Chopin, etc.) or personal music preference
  4. Play all simultaneously

There’s no hard and fast setup here, but the collective presence of these three items help to reduce stress and anxiety, and will help with sleep. – Brian

Find a hobby with achievable, but not repetitive, goals. It should be something available whenever you need it, so that any time you are in need of a win, you can turn to the hobby and feel accomplished.

-Robert

 

When I am feeling stressed or anxious, my favorite way to remedy that is to get all the snuggles I can from my dog, Cruz. There is something about playing, petting or cuddling a puppy that can just make everything better. Unless he is being a complete psychopath and causing stress.. then I usually opt for a nice $5 bottle of Rosé from Trader Joes. – Cari M.

I remember being in my teens, sitting at a TGI Fridays having lunch with my dad. It was relatively quiet for a Saturday, when suddenly, there was a loud “pop!” My dad yelled out and within seconds he had jumped under the table. When I looked at him, I saw terror in his eyes, and he was as white as a ghost. It took several minutes for the color to return to his face, and there was definitely no way he was going to eat the burger that was brought out shortly after.

The “pop” sound had been a balloon popping a few tables away. My dad explained that he thought it was a gunshot, which at the time seemed possibly like an overreaction, but I didn’t question it. My dad was always a very stoic, non-reactive person, so although it was out of character for him, it wasn’t until years later that I started to understand why his reaction was so extreme – PTSD.

My dad has never been officially diagnosed with PTSD, nor would he ever identify with that classification; however, as someone who has been fascinated by psychology and especially anxiety for over a decade, the symptoms that he suffered seemed to be from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There were other symptoms that I had noticed throughout my childhood: night terrors, fear of crowded places, panic attacks. His symptoms were relatively mild compared to many combat veterans, but they were there lurking, nonetheless. My dad is a veteran of the Vietnam War, which brings him great pride and a sense of identity, but with that comes a much darker side that he rarely discusses.

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder and is extremely common among combat veterans. There are many situations or events that could cause PTSD, but typically it comes after a traumatic or terrifying event. Symptoms usually show themselves immediately after, but some can surface months, or even years down the line.

PTSD is treatable, and some individuals do experience a complete resolution of their symptoms with treatment. Below are three of the most common types of treatment for PTSD, or more generally, anxiety:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very effective type of therapy that works to change negative thoughts and behaviors with coping tools provided by a therapist. Therapists encourage patients to re-evaluate thoughts that lead to negative thinking or circular thought patterns.

Exposure Therapy can be done as a part of CBT, or as a separate, stand-alone treatment. The VA website notes the four main aspects of Prolonged Exposure Therapy:

  • Education– Prolonged Exposure therapy starts with education about the treatment. You will learn about common trauma reactions and PTSD. Education allows you to learn more about your symptoms. It also helps you understand the goals of the treatment. This education provides the basis for the next sessions.
  • Breathing– Breathing retraining is a skill that helps you relax. When people become anxious or scared, their breathing often changes. Learning how to control your breathing can help in the short-term to manage immediate distress.
  • Real world practice– Exposure practice with real-world situations is called in vivo exposure. You practice approaching situations that are safe but which you may have been avoiding because they are related to the trauma. An example would be a Veteran who avoids driving since he experienced a roadside bomb while deployed. In the same way, a sexual trauma survivor may avoid getting close to others. This type of exposure practice helps your trauma-related distress to lessen over time. When distress goes down, you can gain more control over your life.
  • Talking through the trauma– Talking about your trauma memory over and over with your therapist is called imaginal exposure. Talking through the trauma will help you get more control of your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You will learn that you do not have to be afraid of your memories. This may be hard at first and it might seem strange to think about stressful things on purpose. Many people feel better over time, though, as they do this. Talking through the trauma helps you make sense of what happened and have fewer negative thoughts about the trauma.

Despite my dad not having the diagnosis of PTSD, he has been open to therapy and has adopted certain CBT exercises such as journaling and breathing into his daily routine. These two simple exercises have had a lot of impact on my dad.  His nightmares and panic attacks are less frequent, and he is able to breathe through his anxiety with large crowds.

Anxiety of all kinds can be scary and debilitating to experience, either first-hand or in our relationships with our loved ones. But there are treatments that can help manage, and sometimes even resolve these symptoms. Each of these therapies (CBT, PE, and EMDR) can be used to treat all types of anxiety disorders, not just PTSD. So, if you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD, or any anxiety disorder, know that there is treatment out there, and more importantly, feel empowered to seek help.

– Jenna

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): Not many people have heard of this type of treatment, but it is especially effective for those that have anxiety disorders related to trauma.  It involves re-visiting the traumatic memory with a therapist while following specific eye movements or with use of vibrations.  These tools and guidance help the brain re-process the memory to lessen the anxiety and pain associated with it.

Jonny Justice was rescued from a traumatic life of dog fighting.  With therapy, love, and support, Jonny adjusted to life as a typical pet.  In 2008 he found his true calling as a therapy dog and spends much of his time offering love and support to terminally ill children.  Jonny has participated in programs for children to practice their language skills by reading aloud to him.  Jonny had an inspirational comeback from the horrors of dog fighting to work as a therapy dog and was named the 2014 ASPCA Dog of the Year.

One of the major symptoms of stress and anxiety is trouble sleeping

 People with insomnia tend to have difficulty falling asleep (onset), staying asleep (maintenance), and/or they wake up too early in the morning.

Tips for trouble sleeping: 

Try a weighted blanket: https://www.health.com/anxiety/weighted-blankets

Weighted blankets create deep pressure that may dampen your fight-or-flight response and encourage relaxation.

Bluelight blocking glasses: https://www.amazon.com/GAMMA-Glare-Harmful-Computer-Glasses/dp/B00WT59ARS

Blue light in the evening tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, which inhibits the production of melatonin and reduces both the quantity and quality of your sleep. These glasses effectively block all blue light. Thus, your brain doesn’t get the signal that it is supposed to stay awake. 

Melatonin: Research suggests that melatonin supplements might be helpful for sleep as hormone melatonin plays a role in your natural sleep-wake cycle.

Blackout Curtains: Quality blackout curtains block everything from streetlights to sunlight allowing the pineal gland to optimally produce. This is important since melatonin secretion influences and regulates our sleep cycle.  These are very necessary for those with babies.

Chamomile Tea: chamomile tea is a natural remedy to reduce inflammation, decrease anxiety and treat insomnia. It is commonly regarded as a mild tranquilizer or sleep inducer.

Light changed alarm clock: This type of alarm uses light to wake you up slowly and lulls you to sleep by mimicking sunlight rather than being jolted awake by a loud noise.  https://www.health.com/home/best-wake-up-light-alarm-clocks

Making a list: If you have too many thoughts such as things you need to get done make a list.  Keep a notepad by your bed and write it down so you can worry about it later.

“Sleep” lotion from Lush is amazing for sleeping if you’re stressed or anxious. Any sort of blue light in a diffuser can also help.  And lastly, I like playing music by R. Carlos Nakai which doubles as sleep music for toddlers. – Breanna

I bought an old school alarm clock to leave my phone in the living room. This allows me to wake-up without going to bed/waking up to a screen.  I also enjoy having hot water and lemon in the morning before my coffee. It helps cleanse and keep me hydrated throughout the day. – Annelise

I like to put my phone on airplane mode/ DND at 8pm so that I am not tempted to look at it and start relaxing for bed! – Maddie

I like to meditate and use essential oils for better sleep. – Sarah O.

Two excellent movies that illustrate the importance of sleep: Fight Club and Tully