Anxiety and the Really Big Bad News

I have talked in past blogs about how to handle your anxiety when things get chaotic and interrupt your routine. Today I would like to discuss what happens when you get the really “big bad news”. A family member has cancer, the baby you are carrying has something wrong with it, you are getting a divorce. How do you cope? When anxiety goes from zero to warp speed and threatens never to leave, it feels like it may become a way of life. That terror that resides in your chest or the knot and nausea that come to dwell in your stomach are a constant reminder that your life may never be “normal” again.

The first thing to do when you get uncomfortable news is to focus on the felt sense of whatever emotion is evoked in your body. It could be that your muscles tense, you get a knot in your stomach, a tightness in your chest, or your breathing becomes short and rapid. Notice those symptoms, and actually do of the opposite of what your body wants to do. If you notice that it wants to tense up, then purposefully let your muscles go limp. If you tighten in your stomach, release the muscles and breathe relaxation into that area. If your breaths become short and rapid, make a point of taking slow deep breaths. This will help to stop that hormonal cascade that begins with a shot of adrenaline when you get upsetting news. If you intervene immediately it can prevent may unpleasant symptoms from taking root in your body.

Seeing emotions as literally being energy in motion in your body that want to be expressed (or actually squeezed out,) allows you to visualize allowing the energy to exist without resistance and to assist that energy in moving through the body in a way that minimizes the effect of those negative emotions. The key is not resisting the negative feeling. When a negative feeling is present we tend to tighten around it because we are afraid that if we allow it, it will get worse and become more unpleasant. Actually the opposite is true. When we allow the sensation to pass through like the lines passing across the screen of an EKG machine then we free our bodies up from become a home to that trapped energy.

Breathing properly is vital in this process. Slow deep nourishing breaths are in order. When “bad” things happen we forget to breathe. Slow deep nourishing breaths allow the energy to pass, and keep our bodies pH balanced.  A good balance of the in-and-out breath keeps the pH stable in the body.  Breathing in more increases acidity;  breathing out more creates alkalinity, as it gets rid of carbonic acid through the carbon dioxide we breathe out.  “Hyperventilating” means a lot of breathing out, so making us too alkaline, which has its problems like any imbalance (it may cause numbness or tingling in the extremities, lightheadedness, fainting); then one has to “breathe into a paper bag,” that is, breathe back in some of the acids we got rid of, to regain the proper balance of acids and bases in the blood. Paying attention to the body helps us balance the breathing.

 

Instead of receiving information as “good” or  “bad,” become curious about what you hear. It is easy to jump to conclusions based on what you have experienced in the past or by facts that you know or by stories that you have heard from others in your situation. Be curious about whether this situation HAS to play out like you would assume, with you “freaking out” and adopting a tragic story based on your negative feelings. Be curious if you have to freak out at all. Just because it is expected that you freak out, doesn’t mean that is the response that you have to have.  Instead, adopt a sense of wonder. “I wonder how this will change my life?” “I wonder what skill I will learn thorough this?” “I wonder what the gift will be in this for me?”

 

 I am not advocating denial of your circumstances, or a Pollyanna attitude, I am just stating that it seems many of us respond to unexpected news in ways that are reflexive, knee jerk reactions, in ways that we believe we are “supposed to” react. I wonder if we get centered and grounded by taking some deep breaths and focusing on feeling our bodily sensations for a moment (“I feel my feel on the floor, I feel the chair to my back, I feel the cool air in the room”) if we might buy ourselves the time to choose a different response? I wonder if choosing that different response might put us in that “road less traveled” place, a place that is more peaceful and honoring of the experience, and instead of bringing us a sure tragedy, might bring us a gift instead?

 

If you are having trouble coping with unexpected news, I am here to support you. Please call me at 770-789-0847, or see my website at www.carolyntuckertherapist.com to set an appointment.

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Anxiety, Authenticity and Getting Naked

anxiety |aNGˈzī-itē|
noun ( pl. anxieties )
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome: he felt a surge of anxiety.

authenticity |ˌôTHenˈtisitē|
noun
the quality of being authentic: the paper should have established the authenticity of the documents before publishing them.

naked |ˈnākid|
adjective

2 [ attrib. ] (of something such as feelings or behavior) undisguised; blatant: naked, unprovoked aggression | the naked truth.

It seems anxiety symptoms are skyrocketing these days. People come into my office tied up in knots and paralyzed by symptoms such as fear, tension, shakiness, describing a lump in their chest or stomach and feelings of dread. Anxiety is a very unpleasant feeling, and yet it is pervasive in our society. We are overworked, underpaid and we barely have the time to do the things we “must” do, the things we “like” to do are a mere fantasy.

We do not have time anymore to cultivate supportive relationships in which we feel “safe.” We rush from work to the soccer game to home in time to throw dinner on the table and clean up just in time to go to bed and start all over again. Conversations at work are superficial, and soccer games are hardly times to deeply connect with people. We run around with our social “masks” on and lie and say we are doing fine as we juggle our responsibilities and we ache and are all alone on the inside.

Anxiety and Authenticity. What do the two words have in common you ask? Authenticity allows us to remove the mask, to share the fact that we struggle, to allow that we are not perfect and that we long for things we are not experiencing, that we are not happy or that we feel alone or that we are afraid we are not enough. To be authentic we must feel safe taking off the mask and sharing ourselves with others knowing that we will not be judged. In all of our busyness, we have neglected as a society to cultivate these safe relationships. We wander around thinking “If they REALLY knew me, would they love me?” And there is where the anxiety comes in.

We are afraid we will be found out. Afraid it will be discovered that we are not who we say we are, not who we wish we were. Afraid we will be rejected, neglected and abandoned if we share what our true needs are. Afraid to ask to be accepted and known, and to be loved anyway. Anxiety is the sense of inevitability that we will be found out, to be discovered, to be known, and that we are “not enough.”

How do we combat this eternal longing to be known, and to be loved anyway, to banish that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, when they finally figure out that we are a sham, and that what is on the inside is just a pile of broken pieces, not nearly as attractive as the package we have been presenting? We start engaging in purposeful revealing. I propose we get naked with one another.

Seeking out people that feel safe is key here. Develop one relationship at a  time where you can remove the mask and share your true thoughts and feelings and inadequacies. It is a risk, it is scary, but what if it enables you to drop the mask, and along with it to find out that you are acceptable just as you are? Imagine the honor you will feel when the other person takes off their mask too and becomes real before you, just as the velveteen rabbit became real. What if we stood before each other naked, with no defenses, in all of our ugliness and insufficiency, and just loved each other? Can you imagine how that might feel?

I know this sounds utopian and lofty, but if we start small, like actually stopping our busyness and listening and caring about the answer when we ask someone “How are you?” and providing a place of warmth and acceptance for them to share their true response, I think we will start to see a change in how we are seen and received. When you provide a safe loving place for people to exist, they can’t help but want to provide that back for you, and BAM! you have created a moment. String a series of moments of authenticity together and you have created a lifestyle. Get rid of the question “if they truly knew me would they love me?” and many of your feelings of anxiety would fade away.

Sometimes we have learned to be inauthentic from past hurts and events that have taught us our world is not a safe place. Before we can take that step towards removing the mask some of us may need a little guidance and help along the path. Counseling can help you reframe thoughts that are keeping you trapped in inauthenticity and anxiety. If you long to develop authentic, supportive relationships but feel you need to work through a few things before you get there, then counseling may be something you want to look into. Please find a qualified counselor if this is the case. You can reach me by phone at 770-789-0847, email at carolyn@growhealchange.com, or via my website at www.carolyntuckertherapist.com if you would like a consultation. The feelings of relief you will have when you are finally able to take off that mask and BREATHE are so worth it! Get naked today!!

Anxiety and Coming Out For the Lesbian

Coming out, for the lesbian, can be a time of intense stress and anxiety. Once the decision is made and action taken,  quality of life seems to increase. Several studies point to higher self esteem, higher levels on happiness scales and greater social support than their heterosexuals report. Making the decision to come out is difficult for some, and for others, not so much. The key seems to be plugging into a supportive community where authenticity is supported and valued.

The more widely a woman disclosed her sexual orientation the less anxiety, more positive affectivity, and greater self-esteem was reported in recent research. Degree of disclosure to family, gay and lesbian friends, straight friends, and co-workers was related to overall level of social support in a recent study, with those who more widely disclosed reporting greater levels of support. Participants who more widely disclosed their sexual orientation were less likely to engage in anonymous socializing, had a larger percentage of lesbian friends, and were more involved in the gay and lesbian community.

A study found lesbians reported equally strong levels of mental health as their heterosexual sisters and higher self-esteem. While it’s not clear why lesbians displayed higher self-esteem, the authors speculate it may be that lesbians are more educated and mobile than their heterosexual sisters. As a consequence, the lesbian sisters may be more likely to join supportive communities that allow them to bolster their self-worth, the authors hypothesize.

Another study reported in the January 2001 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Vol. 71, No. 1), tested a structural equation model related to “outness” on 2,401 lesbian and bisexual women. In this work, researchers found that the more “out” lesbians and bisexual women were–as measured by self-identification as a gay or lesbian, number of years out and level of involvement in the lesbian or bisexual community–the less psychological distress they reported. These findings held true for a range of racial and ethnic subsamples including African-American, white European, Latina, Asian-American, Native American and Jewish women.The study–conducted by Rothblum, Jessica Morris, PhD, a private practitioner in Northampton, Mass., and Craig R. Waldo, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies and AIDS Research Institute–is the largest on lesbian mental health to date and is one of the only to look at the relationship of being out to lesbians’ mental health, Rothblum says.

Getting to “out” can be a time of stress and isolation. Supportive mental health therapy that allows the lesbian to process beforehand what her options are and how coming out will affect her in the long term is healthy and helpful. Such positive findings in research invalidate older assumptions that lesbians and gays experience a higher level of mental health problems than heterosexuals. This research is affirming and encouraging that lesbians who go through the process of coming out authentically can experience a high quality of life, plug into a supportive community and obtain happiness. The findings also support the idea that therapy that facilitates the coming-out process is good for lesbians’ mental health. “Such affirmative psychotherapy, provided during the coming out process, may prevent or buffer against subsequent mental health problems,” the authors write.

If you are struggling with coming out and are in need of the support that would help you live a more self actualized life, seek counseling with a qualified mental health professional. In my practice I provide warmth, support and a vision of the life that could be ahead of you after you take the step to come out. If you need that extra support please call me at 770-789-0847, email me at carolyn@growhealchange.com or see my website www.carolyntuckertherapist.com to make an appointment.

Anxiety and the Infertility Roller Coaster

Infertility can be devastating and the accompanying anxiety debilitating.

 

 

Many people in the Atlanta area are struggling with infertility. Infertility can a silent hell. People do not talk about infertility issues like they would if they had a physical condition or other stressful circumstance in their life. Many times a couple choose to walk the road of infertility alone, discussing it only with their doctor. There are a myriad of feelings that go along with infertility and its treatment that can be hard to manage, and difficult on the couple as a unit. The anxiety of not knowing can be excruciating, and hard to understand for anyone who has not walked the road before.

 

Frequently there are communication breakdowns in the couple during infertility due to feelings of fear of blame, guilt, and worry of “talking about it too much.” Many times the man becomes overwhelmed because the woman “can’t talk about anything else” and shuts down because he is unable to “fix it”, leaving the woman on her own to navigate the monthly rollercoaster alone. Often the woman will obsess over every body sign and signal and her life becomes a barrage of online tools, thermometers and ovulation predictors. Her quality of life becomes wrapped up in where her body is in its cycle, and what information about the potential of pregnancy she can gather at that point. Constant disappointment can take its toll on the couple, especially if the journey has been a long one. There is a sense of shame that goes along with infertility that many of my clients express. Shame that their bodies have let them down, shame that good things are not happening to them (feelings of not deserving to get pregnant, blame at lifestyle choices made in the past such as abortion or other choices that can be extrapolated to have negative effect on becoming pregnant.).

 

Well meaning friends and relatives asking “when are you going to have a baby?” and an onslaught of baby pictures on Facebook and shower invitations can cause a couple to isolate and cut off socialization, compounding the pain and loneliness. The biggest toll of infertility, however, is the anxiety. At every turn having to exist with the unknown and the lack of control is exhausting and stressful. Having to work and function in the daily grind seems unthinkable, especially to the woman, who is focused on every twinge in her body.

Getting through infertility and actually thriving takes some special skills. Learning to exist in spite of not knowing if you are pregnant or not is the toughest part. Mindfulness goes a long way towards helping preserve sanity and quality of life. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. Often our suffering is made more intense by remembering past suffering and worrying about future suffering. If we can stay in the moment and focus on what is happening in the here and now, our suffering will be greatly reduced.

Focusing on bodily sensations instead of thoughts helps get you off of the obsession wheel. “I feel the floor beneath my feet, I feel the sofa against my back, I feel the cool breeze in the room” are ways to center and ground yourself and help remain in the moment. When anxious thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgment “oh, there is a thought” and allow the thought to float away as a leaf would fall from a tree into a stream.

 

Doing a body scan and addressing anxiety symptoms there is important. Close your eyes, and starting with toes and moving slowly up your body, ask yourself “Where am I tense?” When you discover a tense area, exaggerate it slightly, so you can become aware of it. Be aware of the muscles in your body that are tense. Then, for example, say to yourself, “I am tensing my neck muscles…I am creating tension in my body.” At this point, be aware of anything that is creating tension in your body and what you might do to change it.

 

Distress tolerance is another tool that can be very helpful. Learning to distract yourself by engaging in fun or meaningful activity is beneficial. Volunteering to help someone less fortunate goes a long way towards helping develop perspective and keeping your mind occupied. Learning to self-soothe by engaging in comforting activities like a bubble bath or exercise or a massage can engage the senses and lower anxiety.

Using imagery, you can create a situation or a scene that is different from the one that you are now in. In a way, you can leave the situation. Envision in your mind a place that you would like to be – a safe place, a relaxing place, a beautiful place.  Focus on this place.  Relax, and let yourself feel that you are in this place. It usually helps to notice details of the place that you are in. See that safe place, maybe a room, that is fixed up just the way you want it. Or imagine that spot along the ocean, or being with a good, safe friend.

Imagine things going well for you. Imagine that you know how to take care of the situation you are in. If you practice doing this, you will find that it begins to work for you. Things DO go better, and you CAN cope better. You can deal better with the crises in your life, if you practice feeling like you can take care of things.

Create a safe, comfortable place for yourself. It will help if you do this in a quiet room or a quiet spot outdoors. Try to relax, and close your eyes if you feel safe. Settle into this comfortable, safe, beautiful place. Let your hurtful feelings drain or wash out of you, relieving you and making you more comfortable. Breathe slowly and gently as you do this.

Infertility is a virtual minefield of emotions. It is possible to navigate these emotions and to maintain emotional regulation with practice. Good communication as a couple is vital. Sometimes individual or couples counseling can really help process everything that is going on and help turn a stressful situation into a growth and learning opportunity. If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional. You can contact me at 770-789-0847, by email at carolyn@growhealchange.com or through my website at www.carolyntuckertherapist.com for a free consultation on how I can help you thrive through your infertility journey.