Today is a snowy day in Denver! As the wind blows and the temperature plummets, I am reminded of the gift of slowing down. When something comes up that takes us out of our regular routine (whether it’s weather, illness, unforeseen obligations, etc), we might have no choice but to S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. I greet this ‘slowdown’ with anticipation and also a bit of anxiety. What to do on a snow day? Play out in the snow? (did that, nose froze!). Read a book (yes, please)? Peruse the internet ? Have you ever felt this way?
As I noticed all of the feelings I was experiencing and the thoughts I was having, I brought myself back to the present moment and asked:
“What choices do I have with this experience?”
I realized that I have the power to choose acceptance of this moment, EVEN THOUGH I still might feel some anxiety (or whatever else). I became aware that this concept is something I have been working on with clients recently: finding a way to be with slightly uncomfortable feelings while making a choice that helps me to make steps towards being the person I want to be. And today I really want to be peaceful and embrace the cold and snow because I know that tomorrow the sun will come out again, the flowers will be nourished, and the birds will awaken. It will be spring once more.
Mindfulness can be effective in just a few minutes. What is mindfulness and how is it effective?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
A great book for introducing yourself to this concept is: Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Today, offer yourself the gift of slowing down, breathing deeply, checking in with your body awareness, noticing your thoughts but trying to not attach to them. This video is a great tool for experiencing the benefits of mindfulness — whether you have a snow day or a busy day – truly allowing us to feel our bodies and to follow their lead into our experience. I invite you to try it yourself — whether you have an hour to give or even just five minutes.
Have you ever had something on your “to-do” list for days….weeks…(in my case, months!)? And you keep saying, “I’ll do that later”, or “I’d rather do anything — even my taxes! — than do that”? I knew that I was certainly avoiding parts of my “to-do” list because I found myself cleaning everything in my house, office, car, instead of facing the looming elephant in the room.
That elephant, for me, was my professional video. I have made videos in the past, when I started my practice, but took them down because I didn’t feel like they represented “authentic Kate”. I tried again last year to film a video, with a new edge and twist to it, trying to be myself but instead getting emotionally overwhelmed. What was the deal?
So, this March I decided to truly look at what was keeping me stuck and to confront those factors. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an amazing type of behavioral therapy I was recently trained in, one of the guiding principles is to define what is meaningful to you and to pursue it, even if that means experiencing some uncomfortable emotions or feelings along the way.
I spent an afternoon writing about why I wanted to film a professional video. What did it mean to me? Here’s what I came up with:
I still was missing something. Those don’t seem too intense….why couldn’t I just map out what I want to say, and say it? With my meaningful goal in hand, I engaged in some “exposure therapy” (also an element of ACT), and tried to film some initial versions of my video. I was feeling quite uncomfortable. I reflected on a quote I recently heard: “I know that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I’m about to grow”. Hmm.
After about an hour of filming, viewing, grunting because there was something “wrong” with it, I took a walk and laid down on a patch of green, bright, vibrant grass and took a deep breath. I breathed into my body and tried to focus on what was my barrier to creating a video that was “showable”.
I realized my Perfectionist was rearing her hair-sprayed, curly, gum-smacking head and was telling me “IT’S NOT PERFECT ENOUGH!!! YOU CAN’T BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT!”.
Oh, man! How did I not see this before? I know my Perfectionist quite well…we have coffee sometimes and chat…and I thought I’d be aware enough of her nosiness that I would realize she was interfering. I guess she tricked me. I took another breath and told her: “You are not going to control my video. But, you did show me something very important.”
So, I went back to my office and filmed my video in no time. It is entitled “Perfectly Imperfect”. Sure, it gives me the shivers to ‘put myself out there’ like this, but why not be myself? Being authentic, human, and showing that I am not perfect is one of the most healing aspects I can offer my clients as they find recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or body image and self esteem issues.
My Perfectionist showed me that, while I’m not going to banish her, she is not always helpful. She can get in the way of me being myself, which then can build up anxiety and stress…to levels that I don’t always want to stay at. Getting to understand the times when she is and isn’t helpful has been important for me, and you can also find a way to gently (or not so gently) ask your Critic or Perfectionist or Judge or whomever you have to take a hike for now.
If you are so kind, please view my video and leave a comment with your impressions. My hope is to model that we are all perfectly imperfect and that, in itself, is freeing. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and view this!
If you are looking to improve self-esteem or overcome destructive eating behaviors, I offer a FREE consultation so please give me a call at 720-340-1443!
When something feels out of your control, what do you do? How do you respond? Do you avoid or deny? Do you get angry? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Do you turn many of these feelings inward on yourself? I have worked with many people on managing unpleasant or painful experiences and today I got to delve into this very thing myself when I encountered a situation that was out of my control. I then had to decide how I was going to cope with it, and let me tell you — my first response wasn’t pretty. I learned so much about myself during this process; I learned that I have a tendency to internalize, self-blame, and worry. All of those things getting stuck inside of me doesn’t feel great.
BUT, the experience also gave me an opportunity to practice some skills I have learned using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I recently attended a workshop presented by two colleagues Brenda Bomgarder, MA, NCC (whose has a counseling and coaching practice, Creating Your Beyond) and Christine Allison, MA, LPC (www.ChristineAllisonTherapy.com) who are trained in ACT principles and therapeutic methods and who help both professionals and clients in following ACT’s message on coping with emotions.
ACT’s core message embodies “accepting what is out of your personal control (such as emotions, feelings) while committing to action that will improve your quality of life”. What did I learn during this training? Using mindfulness as a guide, three of the basic ACT concepts include:
1) defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
2) acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle
3) contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity (taken from The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris).
Applying these techniques to the way that we manage emotions allows us to “deal with painful feelings and thoughts effectively” while “helping us to clarify what is truly important and meaningful to us - ie our values – then use that knowledge to guide, inspire and motivate us to change our lives for the better.”
So, because I am a human and swim in the same sea of emotions as every other person, I practiced what it would be like to sit with the worry and distress without pushing it away. I realized as soon as I tried it that the practice of acceptance and open awareness was much less exhausting than trying to avoid or contain feelings that I believed were “not okay”. It’s okay to worry and to really feel it. But I needed to check in and ask myself: what does the worry accomplish? I noted that the worry about this situation kept me away from the bigger thing that I really valued in the grand scheme of things — spending time with a loved one. By accepting the worry and anxiety, it didn’t have such a hold over me and by letting it sit, I was able to move forward and focus on valuable experiences that create a full and happy life.
I am reflective on how ACT can be helpful to those who are struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or loss. In working to accept and sit with painful or unhelpful thoughts or feelings, my clients have noticed that they do not feel the need to “cope” in a destructive way — i.e. cutting, disordered eating, purging — and that it is easier to allow the feelings to be felt. By diffusing thoughts that seem unhelpful and by distancing themselves from identifying strongly with these thoughts, clients feel more empowered to make choices that create a life they desire.
Find out more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science or The Happiness Trap. You may be surprised how stuck we get in the struggle — and how easy it is to move forward from that place!
Here’s a great metaphor for ACT:
Today, nearing the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I am pleased to offer a guest post from Lauren Bailey, a freelance writer who has an interest in eating disorders and psychological complexes:
Understanding Disorders Comorbid with Eating Disorders
Eating disorders and those who suffer from them have always had misleading and misunderstood coverage in the media. The public image of anorexia is often simplistic and reductive—we have an idea of most people with anorexia as teen girls with self-esteem and body issues who have developed their disorder in response to media glorification of extreme thinness. While this is certainly part of the issue that exacerbates eating disorders, there’s so much variety to the disorder that ascribing one culprit as the source is downright disingenuous.
Although there are many people who suffer from an eating disorder alone, it’s very common for a sufferer to have additional psychological disorders as well. In fact, almost all psychological disorders have the potential for what is called “comorbidity”—having two or more disorders at the same time. Advancement in the study of comorbidity has helped many suffering from various disorders to receive equal, across-the-board treatment when in the past, one disorder was treated and, still, the sufferer suffered.
In terms of eating disorders, the most typically comorbid disorders are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Just as with eating disorders, many of these other disorders do not have a single source or cause. More often than not, genetics plays a large role. While many who suffer from depression or anxiety develop the disorder in response to a specific set of traumas, there’s really no telling why you or a loved one may suffer from a string of separate disorders that can affect your entire life.
With obsessive compulsive disorder, those who suffer from a comorbid eating disorder will be very particular about their eating behaviors. Many will ritualize eating to an extreme extent. According to an OCD Chicago article:
“…anorexic individuals are much more likely to have a predisposition to acquiring anorexia nervosa from pre-existing OCD and in fact, almost 37% of anorexic patients have OCD. According to Yaryura-Tobias the cerebral functioning and the primitive brain which contains the basal ganglia, is in particular, related to motor compulsive behaviors…The true manifestation behind the compulsive ritualistic behaviors, tendencies and excessive thought processes are a result of a combination of higher cortical decision making melding with the primitive brain’s compulsive motor movements.”
Although OCD and eating disorders are the most closely related, other disorders mentioned above can impede full treatment for the patient suffering from comorbid ED. PsychCentral cites a study which found that about 14% of people with bipolar disorder have a co-existing eating disorder. And a study published on the National Institutes of l Health website notes that many eating disorder patients have reported a variety of childhood anxiety symptoms before the onset of bulimia or anorexia as young adults.
In the final analysis, the growing body of research on disorders comorbid with EDs demonstrates the importance of anyone suffering from ED to be fully assessed by a trained professional. If there are other unusual or bothersome symptoms or behaviors exhibited in conjunction with eating behaviors, it’s essential to bring up with your doctor the possibility of a disorder hiding underneath the ED to get the full treatment you or a loved one deserves.
This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99 @gmail.com.
Today I am pleased to feature a guest post written by Ryan Rivera who has personally experienced the symptoms of anxiety and now through his website the Calm Clinic, aims to help others identify these symptoms and decrease their impact on their lives. He was gracious enough to write an article for my blog and include some of the ways that anxiety affects eating disorders and how eating disorders can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. I felt that this would be helpful information for those dealing with anxiety, eating disorders, or both, as these issues are commonly experienced at the same time or trigger one another.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety Discussed by Ryan Rivera
As distressing as anxiety might feel, this mechanism was created for a purpose. All organisms are endowed with this flight or fight response to help protect and preserve them from all that is threatening and dangerous. It serves as an adaptive function to ensure man’s survival.
When a danger or threat lurks in the shadows, this flight or fight response sets off to pump adrenaline and other stress hormones into the body to arm it for action—the heart races, breathing shallows, and muscles tighten. After such rush, these incapacitating symptoms lose their sting and bring the body back to its normal, undisturbed motions.
So, why do these symptoms happen?
For those taunted by anxiety and panic attacks, their parasympathetic system, a sub-part of the peripheral nervous system, seems to be not working in proper order. This system which mainly functions to restore the body back into the normal state after experiencing an anxiety jolt fails to work promptly. No one is clear as to why it fails to conduct its job, however one thing is for sure: people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks remain keyed up as there remains a high level of stress hormones pumping throughout the body that have not yet been extinguished.
With adrenaline scorching the brain and body into an overwhelming state, the cardiovascular system is activated. This “red alert” status produces an increase in the beating action of the heart, leading to physically felt heart palpitations. This effect is crucial for the preservation of the body because this helps to rapidly pump more blood to areas of the body that needs it. Vital areas where blood needs to be transported immediately are to the muscles of the biceps, thighs, and legs. The flight or fight response is also designed so that the blood supply in the distal areas of the body, such as the toes and fingers, can be diverted to the vital areas to prevent the loss of too much blood in case injury happens. With the rerouting of blood, cold, clammy skin, and tingling sensations in the toes and fingers are obvious as well. Trembling is noticed in the lips and legs, too. These uncoordinated, clumsy movements are side effects of the increase in the sympathetic nervous system activity.
Alongside the activation of the cardiovascular, the respiratory system is also stimulated to complement the former’s effects. The breathing is accelerated to help send more oxygen to the tissues of the body. Oxygen is needed to fuel the activity of the cells. Without this element, the cells will not be able to operate properly, leading to further bodily harm. Some side effects brought about by the increase in respiratory cycles include the sense of suffocation and tightness in the chest. And because heavy breathing decreases blood supply to the brain, dizziness can be manifested by the sufferer.
The mind is also affected by the changes applied by the flight and fight response. People who are experiencing an attack become more focused on their surroundings. Their senses are keener as well to better see, hear, and feel incoming danger. Because of this change, difficulties with memory and performing chores and errands during an attack are reported by those suffering from anxiety.
Another anxiety symptom is that of the sweating mechanism. Sweating prevents the body from overheating while in action. It cools off excess heat to stop the body from burning itself.
Anxiety is indeed complicated. When left untreated and unmanaged, it can lead to serious problems, for example, obesity or malnutrition (bulimia and anorexia nervosa). People with anxiety disorders are more likely to eat more and gain weight or to deprive themselves with food. Eating disorders can extremely aggravate anxiety symptoms. In addition, anxiety sufferers are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases, diabetes, liver and gallbladder problems, etc. as complications of their eating problems.
For the reasons mentioned, people who suffer from anxiety must soon seek professional care and advice: first, to maintain the function of the brain and its nerves; and second, to prevent from going down the road of emotional and psychological distress. Whenever discussed symptoms are experienced, it’s imperative that a doctor’s visit be prioritized. Another important thing to remember if you are dealing with anxiety is to avoid self-treatment, especially with medications. Drugs for anxiety should only be taken upon a doctor’s recommendation. Most of the time, they are considered as the last option, more so now that natural and alternative methods are known to have an equally positive effect with less to no side effects. Not everyone responds equally to the same type of treatment. We respond to treatment quite differently, so it’s vital that there is proper guidance.
Ryan Rivera went through these same anxiety symptoms. He suffered for 7 years and only recovered through natural means of treatment. To learn about these methods and techniques, visit www.calmclinic.com.
The holidays are upon us and while they are meant for celebrations of family, friends, and love, they also can be full of stress and anxiety about food and weight. What should I eat? What should I NOT eat? How do I avoid guilt about eating a big meal on Thanksgiving?? How do I release the anxiety so I can actually enjoy eating delicious holiday food with my loved ones?
These are choruses that may ring familiar to you. Does this tape run through your head as you think about the upcoming family gatherings, holiday parties, pot-lucks, and holiday bake sales? It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig into all of the delicious offerings. It’s also challenging to let go of the fear of food that many of us identify with. If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or if you have experienced emotional stress over eating during the holidays, do not fear. You can still enjoy the holidays AND enjoy the food!
I have struggled with eating disorders and know all too well the anxiety about what types of foods will be at holiday events and not being able to trust myself to healthily enjoy them. I have been able to find peace with the season, and can enjoy in moderation all of the foods that I love! For me, one of the biggest keys to this freedom is self-compassion — allowing myself to be present, find joy, and not dwell in self-judgment or guilt.
Here are ten tips for getting what you want out of the holiday season, keeping the food anxiety at bay, and truly enjoying the value of this special time of year.
Eight Tips for Overcoming Food Anxiety During the Holidays:
1.) Don’t go to any gathering too hungry. If you have a few stops to make at holiday events in an evening, have a little something to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive amidst all of the delicious food. When you arrive, check out all of the options and then decide which ones will make you feel good, satisfied, and happy. Eat those in moderation.
2.) Have a buddy in the know. Whether it is a partner, family member, friend, or colleague, find someone who you can feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with. Let them know what you hope to accomplish during the event and let them know what your worries are about. Have them be a buddy for you as you focus your attention on enjoyment and not on fear.
3.) Try not to label foods “good” or “bad”. Labels are not healthy for any of us, as they can confine us into a place where we might not feel free to be who we are. Foods feel the same way! Sure, there are some foods that are healthier for you than others, but to truly overcome food anxiety it is important to not separate foods into groups. You can eat anything in moderation. If there is a food that you really love that you might label “bad”, try it anyway. Try to have a small portion and eat it without judging yourself or the food. See what happens!
4.) Know where you can go and what you can do to release holiday anxiety in a healthy way. Keeping active is an easy way to help your mind and your body feel in sync and energized. Go to the park and take a walk around the lake. Practice mindfulness or meditation. Breathe. Or perhaps you find peace listening to music or talking with a friend. Before you enter a potentially stressful situation, identify your personal outlets for stress that you have known to be effective before. Keep those close and plan them into your schedule.
5.) Give yourself a BREAK! The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and to be a break from your regular routine. Allow yourself to ease up on rules or expectations and try to truly be in the moment. Family might be in town that you have not seen for a while. Be present with them and don’t let food take that precious time away from you. The same thing goes for work: leave it at the office!
6.) Come prepared with what you need in order to feel at peace. At some family gatherings, family members may pressure you to “just eat!”, or “don’t you want more??”. Before you enter this atmosphere, know what your personal goals are. Perhaps they are to eat until you are satisfied and then stop. Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or need to, despite what others say. Etiquette experts say that it is ok to say no, so follow what your intuition tells you.
7.) Ask for support. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with any form of emotional eating, there are many places you can go to find others who understand what you are feeling. There are numerous local support groups for eating disorders (local Denver ones are found here), or you can reach out to a therapist or friend who can provide empathy, understanding, and supportive tools for helping you get through the stressful times.
8.) Don’t focus on numbers. I don’t like numbers. They can “tell” us what to feel about ourselves. In terms of weight and food amounts and calories, numbers can be quite damaging. During the holidays, try to feel what your body needs through its internal signals to you, not through counting calories or fat grams. Your body has a voice and it wants to tell you exactly what it needs. It intuitively will guide you to eat until you are satisfied physically and emotionally. So leave the calculators at home and go out with a mission to eat intuitively, to enjoy the food, and to not control it. Don’t allow the word ‘diet’ into your vocabulary! The intuitive eating approach is guaranteed to help you overcome struggles with holiday food anxiety, eating disorders, and emotional stress.
I am hosting a workshop: ”Are you WEIGHTING for freedom from holiday emotional eating?” at my office on Tuesday, December 13th at 5:30pm. Contact me for more information!
Have a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday season!
Lots of things have been said to be able to help you sleep: warm milk and tea before bed, a bubbly bath, or even a glass of wine. With our ever-demanding and relentless jobs and lives, it’s a wonder that any of us sleep at all! Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article entitled Sleep Medication: Mother’s Newest Little Helper, sparking a conversation about why women tend to have trouble sleeping and what this means for their mental health. The women interviewed for this article described the tape that keeps them awake at 3am: “I need to call that guy about fixing the car. I think I’ve run out my daughter’s favorite snack. Should I change the batteries in the smoke alarm?”. Sound like a tape that might run in your mind? I certainly own my own version.
Nearly one in three women in America admits to using some kind of sleep aid to help them sleep at least a few nights a week – the most common being Lunesta or melantonin, and some forms of anxiety medications and antidepressants are also used to help numb the mind. Medications like Xanax can be addictive, causing some women to “lay off” them for a few days and risk a sleepless night. Tylenol PM also runs the same risk of dependency, and as Chris Baldwin laments, “the mornings after I stop taking them for a bit, I get a hangover.” How’s a woman to win?
Is this sleepless life new for women? Certainly not. Women outnumber men significantly as patients in sleep clinics, causing clinicians to ponder if they suffer from insomnia more than men do. Women in today’s society constantly struggle with making daily decisions and often feel as if they are ‘barely afloat’. Many women, both partnered and single, may feel pressure to be both the breadwinner in the family and also the primary caretaker of children. New motherhood is commonly a cause of sleepless nights — nearly 84% of new mothers report insomnia when they have an infant — but why does insomnia extend past the infant stage?
Many parents are ‘trained’ to keep one ear open to see if their children need them in the night, even if the kids are sleeping soundly in their beds. This habit of wakefulness can persist unless the parent consciously takes steps to cease the pattern and to get more sleep. In a study performed by Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, three out of four patients were women and 80 percent of the women reported ‘being just too stressed or worried to turn out the proverbial lights.” The article cites a myth that is all too commonly believed: that children are the cause for a parent’s insomnia. The truth is that it is mothers who keep themselves awake, as they struggle with defining when and how they can ‘turn off’ for the night.
In addition to the constant tape of “I should, I need to, I have to remember…” that keeps us awake at times when our bodies want to naturally begin the sleep process, sleep clinicians are pointing to the ever-accesible presence of technology that stimulate our minds.
Do you have the itch to check your email just one more time before turning out the light? Do you read an iPad or brightly lit digital reader right before bed? Do you keep your smartphone by your bedside? These highly animated and active devices also leave your brain activated and dancing around — never to be truly ‘turned off’.
Some women have noted that their perfectionist mentalities — the same drive that makes us want to “be everything to everyone” can keep them awake. Thoughts of “how am I going to create a five-course meal after working all day and helping the kids with homework??” can increase anxiety not just at night but during the daytime as well.
One of the interesting points of the article that I took home, both as a therapist and as a woman, was that for some women the ’3am worry hour’ may be the only time they get to themselves. At 3am, no one is demanding anything of them or needing them to do something — they are left to their own devices. It’s a ‘break’ from the waking day, a time when there might not seem to be enough hours to get everything done. A child psychiatrist from New York notes that she was able to study for her board exams during the 4am-6am hours when no one else was awake and she couldn’t sleep.
Stress, anxiety, and “worrying and then worrying about the worry” can plague us all. They can rob us of our sleep and our well-being. What helps you to sleep? And does it come at a cost?