Archive: Anxiety Stress and Fear

Addictive substances – a good coping strategy?

Addictive substances

If you’ve ever been addicted to a substance – coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription or recreational drugs, for instance – you know how you grow to depend on that substance whenever you’re feeling anxious.

It’s a way of coping with difficult feelings – such as anxiety.  We have other ways of coping – some better than others, and addiction is one strategy that can have serious consequences.

I happened across an article by Dr. Joseph Troncale that specifically addresses the connection between drugs or alcohol and anxiety. He talks about how self-medicating with drugs or alcohol in order to calm down ends up generating more anxiety, culminating in a vicious downward spiral: we feel stressed, and medicate this feeling with drugs, which can often lead to feeling more stressed, leading to more drugs to dull that increased anxiety. In his words “This cycle of self-medication and rebound anxiety digs a deeper and deeper hole for the addicted person making treatment and breaking this downward spiral harder and harder as time goes by”.

Using drugs or any addictive substance or behavior generates a spiking pattern, where we swing between feeling high and feeling crappy, with no in-between.  In the normal pattern in a day, we go through a more gentle wave of experience: we notice something, decide to engage with it, engage with it, then withdraw when we notice something new.  The in-between is the connection and the gradual withdrawal.  In the spiking pattern, there is no connection or gradual withdrawal – it’s either all on or all off.

Using an addictive substance or activity lets us bypass any discomfort of contact or withdrawal, we bypass anything beyond the initial sensation, spiking instead to a high provided by the drug. Once the effect of the drug wears off, that feeling we’ve been avoiding – like anxiety – resurfaces and we spike to a low, and we avoid that feeling by engaging instead with the addiction.  The anxiety doesn’t actually go away, but remains suppressed until we stop the addiction cycle.

There are a few ways of stopping the cycle. Dr. Troncale prefers the monitored gradual withdrawal approach. Twelve-step programs offer a different approach that work for many people. A third approach is finding a spiritual path that inspires and supports you. What any one person chooses and finds works for them may not work for the next person.

The important thing is to know what is happening so that you can make an informed decision about how you want to live.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

The Rigid Character Structure

rigid character In the first part of the 20th century, Austrian Psychoanalist Wilhelm Reich developed a theory explaining how we respond both physically and emotionally to the challenges we meet in life, especially in early life.   For the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you, in broad terms, to Character Structures in general, and to the Masochist, or Endurer, the Oral, and the Schizoid.  This week I’ll introduce you to the Rigid body and character type.

The Rigid structure is sometimes depicted as square, or rectangular: squared shoulders, straight back. Somewhat military. When I try to imagine a rigid stance, I imagine someone like General Montromery, or Spock.

The main issue with the Rigid is early control: of being exploited by (usually) one parent – often unawares – to fulfill that parent’s own needs.  The father, for instance, who insists his son follow in his footsteps, or become a doctor, or go to a particular school – regardless of the child’s wishes and needs.  The child finds that they must swallow this parent’s beliefs, whether he believes them himself. To do so, he learns to separate his own feelings from his thoughts, developing a “stiff upper lip”, calmy and effectively doing what’s needed, regardless of what he may be feeling.

The Rigid, in separating feelings from beliefs, may find himself in dry long-term relationships and passionnate short-term ones, never reconciling his emotional needs with his life goals.  He’s the person who needs different partners for sex and for love.

At their best, the Rigid person is the righteous, clear-headed thinker. Reliable. Organized. Thorough. (And the best of all character types, according to my Rigid friend.)

The primary challenge for the Rigid is to learn to recognize, and then trust, his own beliefs and feelings.

Next week, I’ll introduce the Psychopath, or Challenger character Type.  If you find this series interesting, and want to know more, I along with my friend and colleague Jane Mactinger will be holding a workshop on Character Structures in the near future.  Stay tuned for a date and time.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

The Schizoid Character Structure

schizoid

In the first part of the 20th century, Austrian Psychoanalist Wilhelm Reich developed a theory explaining how we respond both physically and emotionally to the challenges we meet in life, especially in early life.   For the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you, in broad terms, to Character Structures in general, and to the Masochist, or Endurer, and to the Oral.  This week I’ll introduce you to the Schizoid body and character type.

The Schizoid structure is disjointed: one shoulder higher than the other, for instance; the person who has this structure is often much stronger, physically, than they look.

The main issue with the Schizoid is early rejection.  This differs from feeling abandoned (like the Oral): the Oral knows her parents love her but have abandoned her; the Schizoid doesn’t know this and feels rejected by her caregivers. Alone and afraid in a world they never made.  As with the Oral, the parents of the Schizoid may have done something unawares that created this lack for their baby, and sometimes it’s overt – like when the baby is the product of a rape. Covert or overs, the end result is that the child has a felt sense of not being wanted, and not having a safe place in this new and scary world.

The Schizoid is inwardly anxious, and armors herself in a way that protects whatever she feels is being attacked in that moment; as a result, the schizoid will tend to pull inward, away from her extremeties. To the external world she shows a calm demeanor; while inwardly she is trembling.

At their best, the Schizoid person is the visionary, able to see beyond the every-day mundane to the bigger picture. Creative and well-grounded, she is connected to her surroundings in multiple ways. The only true multi-tasker.

The primary challenge for the Schizoid is to learn to love herself – and know she belongs.

Next week, I’ll introduce the Rigid character Type.  If you find this series interesting, and want to know more, I along with my friend and colleague Jane Mactinger will be holding a workshop on Character Structures in the near future.  Stay tuned for a date and time.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

The Oral Character Structure

Oral Character Structure

In the first part of the 20th century, Austrian Psychoanalist Wilhelm Reich developed a theory explaining how we respond both physically and emotionally to the challenges we meet in life, especially in early life.   For the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you, in broad terms, to Character Structures in general, and to the Masochist, or Endurer.  This week I’ll introduce you to the Oral body and character type.

The Oral  structure is characterized as rounded: rounded shoulders, rounded breasts and hips. Often, an oral is generous in their proportions, but not always.  In the diagram above, you can see that the Oral body type very often holds themselves so that their chest is concave.

The main issue with the Oral is early abandonment. It might have been because they were born prematurely, or that their mother was ill, or any number of reasons; the end result is that the child felt abandoned and developed a neediness from that point onward for the connection they missed as a young infant.

Neediness isn’t something that’s encouraged in our society, so the Oral will often over-compensate for this need, they becone super independent, and the caregivers of others – giving to others what they crave from others.

At their best, the Oral person is the nurturer –  Earth Mother or Earth Father. Open-hearted and truly generous to others.  They tend to see things differently from the rest of us – a refreshing change and valuable addition to any group or team.

The primary challenge of the Oral is to learn to nurture themselves – to learn true self-dependence. When they are trudy self-dependent, any service they do for others is solely from their heart and not invested in developing dependencies form others.

Next week, I’ll introduce the Schizoid character Type.  If you find this series interesting, and want to know more, and I along with my friend and colleague Jane Mactinger will be holding a workshop on Character Structures in the near future.  Stay tuned for a date and time.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Letting go, pillar of mindfulness

letting go

Letting go takes practice.  It’s easy to let go of a thought or desire if it isn’t that strong or important.  Not so easy when it is.

The cause you’ve worked for all your life.  The son or daughter who wants to move to another continent. The issue at work that you fear might end your career.  These are the kinds of things that keep us awake, and that can take up every free moment in our day.

And yet, it’s by hanging onto them that we have the best chance of losing them – the child or lover who can no longer handle our neediness of them; the cause that needs a new and fresh approach that you can’t bring yourself to embrace.  The issue at work that makes you so stressed you can’t think straight and find yourself making big and bigger mistakes as a result.

Deep down, being unable to let go is about fearing to loose what is important to us.  The problem is that fear changes us, so that what began as something beautiful turns by that refusal to let go into something toxic.

Let go. Spread the love.

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thejoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

No time? How to reclaim it

How often have you said to yourself “What happened to the time? Where did it go?  I still have so much left to do!”  If it’s often, then you’re a lot like me. Every time I go away for more than a few days, the amount of stuff I have to get done before I go grows exponentially: I have to get the work I’d normally do the week I’m away done before I go; that office clean-up I’ve been planning for 6 months suddenly looms large in my mind; what about that sweater I began and never finished 2 years ago?  These things, reasonable or not, suddenly become imperatives, even if some rational part of me knows better.

My partner knows better than to argue and offer rational argument; he simply finds other things to completely occupy himself with while I go crazy and wear myself out needlessly.

It really is a compulsion, and as with all compulsions, sitting and thinking about it in an attempt to discover what’s really going on isn’t going to get me anywhere.  What’s needed is to take 10 or so minutes, and discover what my body has to tell me.  That’s right – my body.  It’s in our bodies that we store feelings and value sensations, and this compulsion is, for me, connected to my values and, possibly fears.

How do I do this? I do a body-scan, then sit quietly and meditate on what comes up for me. That’s all.  A body scan is a mindfulness technique where we breath into our body and be with whatever physical sensations come up.  We begin at our toes, then move up our legs, into the pelvic area, then up the torso to the shoulders, then from the finger tips up the arms, finally breathing into the neck, the face – jaws, mouth, nose and eyes, forehead and ears, the top and back of the head. By doing this, we not only become familiar with what is going on physically for us, we also get to know how those sensations are connected to our values and beliefs.  And for most of us, this is an unfamiliar feeling.

Here’s a real-life example from my own life: I’ll take my compulsion to multiply tasks before I leave for more than a few days.

While thinking about the impossible list of tasks on hand and my sense of urgency over getting them done, I scan my body.  I’m looking for discomfort and numbness.  When I discover these, I take note and continue my scan. In this case, I might notice a tightening at my solar plexus, a hardening at the back of my head, and a clenching of my back shoulders.

Now, for each sensation, I ask what it’s doing and how it’s helping me. For instance, if I breathe into my solar plexus and the tightening there, asking it why it’s there and how it’s helping me, it might respond with something like “I’m holding things together”, and “I’m helping by enforcing calm”.  This helps me understand that what’s really happening is panic, only what I’m feeling is tightening – tightening me up so that I can keep doing all those things on my list.  I’ve fooled myself into believing everything is A-OK.

The hardening at the back of my head and the clenching of my shoulders are similarly, helping me dull down the panic, so that I can finish everything.

Knowing this is the first essential step to changing this approach into something healthier and less driven. It isn’t the answer, but it is a huge start.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Hurt People and Free People

hurt people hurt people and free people free people – anon

I first heard that phrase in an interview with Sarah Jones.  I thought it perfectly captured the dynamics of both sets of people.  When I’m hurting, I’m miserable and all my focus is on my misery. When I’m feeling great, the exact opposite is true: anything that happens during that time is completely workable.  There is nothing that really gets to me.  I’m generous with myself and others, helpful in a real way, and generally positive and energized.

I’m really no different from anyone else in this way.  To prove my point, if you’ve ever wanted something really badly – say, a red VW Beatle (are there any of those outside Mexico anymore?) – then all of a sudden, you will – guaranteed – begin to see an amazing number of red VW Beatles, or at least red cars.  Every time a red car is in your line of vision, it will literally grab your attention.  It’s like being in an auditorium and hearing your name: you may not have heard anything else, but you will hear your name.

Whatever I’m focused on is what I’m going to notice.  So, when I’m miserable, I’ll notice things that make me more miserable.  And even more, I’ll want subconsciously – or even unconsciously – to be with others who are miserable.  That old saying “misery loves company” should really read (as a psych prof of mine once said) “misery loves equally miserable company”.

And, when I’m feeling great, my focus is on that great feeling. And I want everyone around me to feel that great.

It reminds me of what I heard many different inspirational people say: if you’re simply surviving and not thriving, there is no way you can wish anything better on others.  The focus must be solely on survival. I don’t know if this is a law of nature, but it seems so. Sometimes, however, we only feel we are surviving; and simply feeling this will make us act as if that’s all we’re doing: surviving.  There may not be anything we can do when we are truly barely surviving – all our resources really must be focused on survival – but we can do something about our mindset if we’re beyond that point but don’t know it. Like the relative who has a million dollars in the bank but still rummages around garbage bins looking for cast-away produce (yes, I have known people who do this) – not because they believe in not wasting anything, but because they believe they are barely surviving.

For me, the way I got myself out of feeling I was only surviving, was understanding what I was doing to those I cared about.  I was making them as miserable as I felt, without realizing this.  I simply couldn’t help it! As long as I was focused on surviving, this was bound to happen.  For me, that realization snapped me out of the survival mindset, creating a crack in my armor, and I was able to see the truth of my situation.
Today, I don’t have a million dollars in the bank, but I can still feed and shelter myself. I’m careful with my money so that I can use it to live well and happily. Instead I spend a great deal of my time volunteering and finding ways of helping those in my community.

I love what I do, and a big part of why I love it is my focus.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Pastor Rick – Surviving isn’t thriving

hurt people

Quote of the Week

If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow in their capabilities.
― Barbara Bush

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Personal Power or Stress? One thing you can do to regain your Power

These days, I often hear people saying that stress is good – that there’s a difference between “good” and “bad” stress, and that they want more “good “ stress in their lives.

All well and good.  But what, exactly is “good” stress?  When I ask, I almost always get some variation of the following:  it’s the kind of stress that gives you the drive to get something done; it gives you energy instead of taking it away; it’s when you’re in the “zone” and everything is moving like a knife through butter.

I get that – most if not all of us have experienced those moments of pure productivity in our lives.  And they are truly wonderful.  But this kind of stress is only “good” if it happens periodically.  These days, many of us expect ourselves – or are expected by others – to be that productive all the time.  When that happens, this “good” stress turns “bad”, and we end up feeling overwhelmed and powerless.

So the question of interest for me is: How can I determine when I’m moving from “good” to “bad” stress? The answer: by attending to my knowing, another way of saying trust my gut.  This is another phrase used a lot these days – it’s so easy to talk about and yet so hard for most of us to do – because it’s something we have spent most of our adult lives eradicating.

Those times when you didn’t feel like staying up late, but were talked into it; or when you were uncomfortable walking into an elevator with an angry-looking stranger but did anyway; or any number of situations you found yourself in where your gut said I don’t like this and your head said It’s OK – you’re imagining things, Gut! Those times added up into a disconnect between you and your knowing.  And that disconnect led to you losing your personal power, because personal power resides in your knowing.

We have personal power when we are sure of ourselves, when we trust ourselves to know what’s good or bad for us, and then always go for it.  Every time we ignore that wise part of us, we lose a bit of our own personal power, sending us into increasing self-doubt, increasing overwhelm.

Why? Because what’s in our head is knowledge we’ve collected from others = our parents, teachers, community leaders and friends.  This kind of knowledge is useful but not something that should ever replace what we know for sure.  And what we know for sure is in our gut, not our head.

If you’re uncertain of this, try this out: On a day that might rain – that looks possibly like it might and the forecast is uncertain, stand for a few minutes, eyes closed, and see how you feel about the weather. I don’t mean emotions or judgments, I mean sensations, because that’s the language of the gut.  Your body knows better than your head – or the forecast – whether or not to take an umbrella.  Then whatever your gut says, simply go with it.

Whether it rains or not, you’ve just taken care of yourself. Whether it rains or not, notice how you feel – relaxed or stressed? Relaxed or uncertain? Relaxed or in doubt?

You can relearn to do this in any situation. This is Personal Power.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Three Steps to Cultivate your Authentic Power

Quote of the Week
You are more powerful than you think
It’s bigger than you
Leaders are made, not born
Leveling up is a choice
They say you can’t, we know you can
Dance with fear
See, assert, change
Overwhelmed is temporary
Out loud, in public
Hard work is far better than busy work
The crowd is wrong. The critics are wrong. Useful feedback is precious…
Management matters. So does leadership…
“Here, I made this.” Or possibly, “Here, we made this.”
See the end before you begin the journey
Culture defeats everything
It’s personal
-Seth Godin, 17 Rules for the New World of Work

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

 

How to get from underneath anxiety

The fast-approaching holiday season is a time of heightened anxiety for a lot of us.  It used to be for me too. There are so many expectations we put on ourselves, or others put on us, that the build up to that one day can be incredible.

It’s a scary time – who might we offend? is what we’ve done enough? or too much? If we’re alone, we may feel a longing for family at this time like no other.

This is the darkest time of the year for people in the Northern Hemisphere.  A time for hot chocolate, sitting by a roaring fire, looking inward.  It’s a perfect time for quiet introspection – an activity best done alone.

It’s also a time for welcoming the day back, because this is when daylight begins to increase. A time of gratitude, and good will.

Introspection and welcoming gratitude – both lend themselves to meditation. Deepak Chopra believes this is the perfect time to meditate.  He reminds us that meditation helps us through our fears, reducing them to a manageable size, re-focusing our thoughts on the beauty of the present instead of worrying about the future.

Fear is a natural reaction that’s built into us, called our fear-response. It warns us of a possible danger; and once that possibility is over, so is our fear.  The problem is that there can be so many expectations, that our fear-response doesn’t have a chance to calm down.  When that happens, it can become general, mysterious, seemingly unattached to any particular fearful thing.

This is generalized anxiety.  The good news is that it need not last, and one way that helps is to learn to meditate.  Here are three steps to getting out from underneath anxiety:

  1. Get out of your mind and into your body. Close your eyes, and feel your body.  It helps to bring your focus of attention to a part of your body that you notice, breathing into that area, until the sensations you experience shift and change. Then, move to another part of your body, and breathe into that part, noticing and getting interested in your own physical sensations.
  2. Let go of the fear Once you begin to relax through breathing, become interested in any physical sensations you continue to experience that come from fear – shaking and chill, shallow breathing, tension.  The idea is to let these sensations go a little at a time, by doing something that counters it.  If you’re cold and shivering, get under some warm blankets or take a warm bath.  If you’re breathing is shallow, take slow deep breaths.  If you are tense, say in your shoulders and back, stretch from side to side, loosening up the back muscles and reducing the tension.
  3. Calm yourself into natural relaxation. Once you are able to let go the fear, relax and allow your body to heal.  Lie down, have a relaxing tea, listen to calming music.  Take time to recover, honoring your body’s need to this time.

You can free yourself from anxiety and stress, even during the stress of holiday season.

I want to invite you to my free webinar, 3 Brief and Unusual Strategies to Manage Stress on January 5, 2015. You’ll be able to use these short, yet powerful, techniques anywhere to transform your day from stressed out to super, freeing yourself from that rock you might be stuck under.  If you’re interested , click here to register.

Ted Talk – How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed
2015-12-14_0816

 

Quote of the Week

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

 

Retraining ourselves to focus when we’re overwhelmed

There are many reasons for feeling overwhelmed.  One of them is fear of losing.  When I’m working on a project, I begin by listing everything I need to do or have done that will make the end result a success.  Then I prioritize, making sure those things that must be done, or done first, are highlighted.

So far so good.  Then I dig in, delegating whatever I don’t need to do, or that could be done better by someone else, if I can afford it.  Now, all I have left to do are a few major priorities.

Still good. And this is where things begin to unravel for me. For you, it might be a different spot in the process.  Wherever it is exactly, will be that point at which we begin to worry about the outcome. Why?  Because we are at this point diving into uncharted territory.  Because even after paring down our part of the do-do list to what seems manageable, there’s still too much to do.  Did I mention the rest of my life that continues with or without the project? If you don’t happen to have a project, you still have a life, and with today’s super-fast and super-available ways of sending us demands, requests, appeals for some of our time, there is always too much to do. And if you’re like me, after a while, I begin to panic that I’ve bitten off more than I can handle and it’ll all come crashing in on me any second.

The one thing we lose when we get overwhelmed is our ability to focus, or in Martha Beck’s words, we become attentionally blind.

We need to redevelop our search imaging ability.  When animals in the wild search for food, they do it by attending only to a particular search image that helps them ignore anything else that might otherwise get in the way.  We do that too.  Remember the last time you fell in love? Then for the next few months found it remarkable the number of people resembling your new love? In today’s packed world, we have too many choices; and if we allow any number of them to make space inside us, we lose our ability to focus, and end up attentionally blind instead.  When that happens, we simply stop and sink into overwhelm.

Last week, I shared 5 things you can do to avoid overwhelm.  Today I’m going to expand on one of them: focus. To relearn this major survival skill, I suggest you take yourself somewhere away from your computer and smart phone, from the usual elements that demand your time.  A coffee shop, or local event. Even a local shopping mall. Somewhere filled with competing demands that you aren’t particularly tied to.

You can think of this exercise as a kind of mindfulness meditation – in fact, a concrete application of mindfulness, with the element of fun added.

  • Close your eyes: Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
  • Chose and focus on a search image: Once you feel your heart rate slowing, and your breath slow and even, chose one thing to focus on – blond heads of hair, the color red – anything that simply takes your interest. Notice the numbers of things that fill your vision that are blond or red, and that everything else fades.
  • Chose a second search image: close your eyes once more, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Then open them and find a second element to focus on – women with children, or single men, for instance.  Notice how these then become prominent, and everything else fades. If you find you’re getting distracted with other things going on around you, relax and repeat the name of the search image to yourself – “women with children”, “single men”.
  • Now chose a practical search image: if you’re a good driver, you’ll know that it’s largely because you know what to look out for while you drive. This time, do it consciously – looking out for anything that moves.
  • Apply it to your particular problem: At home or at the office, chose your focus.  For me, that would be dividing the new priorities into small bites. That way, they go from overwhelming to doable. Then really putting everything non-critical in the rest of my life on hold till I get what needs to get done, done. I can give myself a level of comfort about this by letting my friends and family know what I’m doing, so that they don’t begin to worry about my absence. In other words, I’ve freed myself from anything but what I need to focus on.

If you aren’t convinced that your power of focused attention is huge, watch the next video.

Selective Attention

Quote of the Week

He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.
― Robert Jordan, New Spring

Announcements

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations.  For more information, visit my webpage www.thejoyofliving.co/programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co