Archive: Anxiety Stress and Fear

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


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


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 or contact me directly at

5 things you can do when you’re overwhelmed

The endless refrain of the overworked, stressed-out, modern-day man and woman. It produces in us a feeling of emotional overload, of being overwhelmed. In fact, it’s so prevalent, that society has adopted a new noun to cover it – overwhelm.

I live in Toronto, a fast-paced city loaded with the chronically stressed.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen or done the crazy driving, running between appointments. Knowing that this is crazy, and doing it anyway.

When we feel overwhelmed with too much to do, we often end feeling anxious – attempting to do something that’s actually impossible – pleasing everybody by wanting or trying to somehow miraculously get everything done. And done well!

In fact, what happens is – if we get everything done, or even if we don’t – we do a mediocre job and it isn’t appreciated. That leaves us feeling not only anxious about any future possibilities, but depressed about our present circumstances.

Overwhelm leads directly to anxiety, mediocrity, and eventually depression.

Erika Andersen and Marie Forleo suggest this:

  • Do only what you can. Too often we spend valuable time on activities that someone else can do equally as well.  And that’s assuming the task is important. Learn to delegate when you have a full load.
  • Learn to do things only once. How often have you left an hour-long meeting and then rehashed it all over again later that day or week.  Or discovered that the person you’re meeting with isn’t prepared. Really a waste! Ask yourself: how would I feel if I knew that every meeting I go to will either be productive or rescheduled? Relieved, I bet! This is something you can learn to expect of yourself and of others.
  • Focus on what’s important. It’s a fact that we spend more time that we know doing things that don’t matter.  Some of that time is necessary – we need down time, need to rest our brains.  The rest of that time we aren’t even conscious of.
  • Take time out.  Speaking of down time, make this deliberate.  It may seem like a foolish thing to do if you’re busy, but even 10 to 30 minutes – a walk, meditation, making lunch and enjoying it, will do something that mimics sleep: consolidation and integration.
  • Learn to say “No”. Everything takes more time than you think. Is it a priority?  Can someone else do it? Is even thinking of it exciting or draining?  Inside each of us is a voice of wisdom that knows when to say “No”. Source that inner voice and learn to use it.

Then, when you say “Yes”, you can give it your all.

Juan Felipe Herrera – What to Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Quote of the Week

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.
– Dan Gilbert

Risk is Scary!

Risk is scary, especially today when we feel, for the most part, so insecure.  Few well-paying jobs, more real unemployment (no matter what the GOP tells us – their measurement methods are outdated), more and more old enough to retire and unable to, or young enough to wonder how to continue to live reasonably well with shrinking opportunities.

For some who have secure jobs, it may seem they have it all; but secure jobs come at a price, and that price might be more than they’re willing to pay.

And yet, these days if we want to live well, more than ever, we need to take risks.  It takes courage to take a risk – older person, younger person, secure job person – because it means stepping into the unknown.

I’m thinking of a friend who left a cushy joy to do something that means a great deal to her.  Of another friend who lost all his savings and in his 50’s, chose to begin a venture that would not replace what he’s lost, but would make him feel he was contributing to making a better world. Of a young woman just starting out, willing to live with almost nothing in order to pursue her art.

What can these people teach us about taking a risk?

Free yourself up for change – time spent working and living could take up all the energy you have.  Before you go ahead with the change, make time for it.  Take a look at how you use your time and see what can go, then dedicate that freed-up time to your pursuit.

Small steps – taking a risk is stressful – you are stepping out into who-knows-what, so none of your former learning can help, or so you think. Most new things can be accomplished in steps. For instance, when my friend lost all his savings, he chose a new venture by first preparing while he continued to work, then trying it out nights and weekends.

Re-purpose what you have – Just because you’re taking on something new doesn’t mean all the skills and wisdom you’ve accumulated, and that have supported you so well in the past, won’t work in this new situation.  They probably will!

Don’t do this alone – You don’t have to! When you invite others to join you in whatever capacity, you’ll be surprised at the response.  That young woman had the support of her family and community. It made a huge difference to her.

Stay true to your dream – or what moved you to make this leap.  You may need to adjust things and try different routes before you get to where you want to go. And for those of us beginning something new later in life, be kind to yourself – you aren’t 18 anymore and to start something new means you aren’t the expert.  Be willing to start as a newbie. It’s all part of the journey.

3-minute Meditation
This meditation was developed by John Kabat-Zinn to help you get through a tough moment, wherever you are.


Quote of the Week

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
-T. S. Eliot
For a set of free 3-minute mindfulness meditations, visit my website . Each one focuses on one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness. It’s a great way to start or end your day.I’m re-opening enrollment to my program, Burning the Candle at Both Ends this Fall, and working hard on planning a webinar, also in November called Three Brief and Unusual Ways to Live Stress-Free. I’ll keep you informed as things unfold.

Common Trauma Misconceptions

I’ve been speaking this month, quite often, about trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are many misconceptions associated with PTSD both in the medical field and everyday society.

Rashish, a healthy living website, recently published the story about Rebecca, a 23 yr. old who never suspected she had issues related to trauma. The article states, “Before her diagnosis this past summer, Rebecca says she didn’t know much about PTSD. “I knew it was something serious that veterans dealt with, but I never had a reason to research the subject,” she says. “I thought there was some scale or level of degree of trauma that caused PTSD. I didn’t think my issues were comparable to a veteran’s, so I thought I was just weak.” Rebecca had struggled with depression and anxiety before, but she knew she was dealing with something else.” You can read the entire piece here:

I think what bothers me about misconceptions of trauma and PTSD is that we always think of someone ready to “snap” versus the daily struggle. Most people with trauma are like Rebecca. They feel anxious. They have panic attacks for that they think as “no reason”. They feel like laying down in bed all day or they can’t bare to stay home, they have to stay busy.

People deal with trauma in many different ways, often thinking they are fine- and often suffering from a multiple of subtle symptoms. Not everyone with trauma and PTSD is sitting at home, shaking, hallucinating, are being directed to commit a crime. Those cases are very rare. In fact, trauma victims are usually so confused about the subtle ways they feel, they end up being more of a harm to themselves than society- which is where I feel the misconceptions are birthed.

Another misconception is the cause of trauma or PTSD, which is often (and correctly) related to sexual abuse as a child or war. Well, these are not the only causes. Falls or sports injuries, Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life),
the sudden death of someone close, a car accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, or the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition can all lead to the same feelings of anxiety, depression and withdrawal.

So, what are some of the more subtle emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma or PTSD:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
    Anger, irritability, mood swings
    Guilt, shame, self-blame
    Feeling sad or hopeless
    Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    Anxiety and fear
    Withdrawing from others
    Feeling disconnected or numb
    Insomnia or nightmares

Of course, this isn’t the complete list. People respond to different circumstances with a combination of these symptoms or symptoms not listed above. I can tell you that if you have been feeling anxious or depressed for the past three months and you find a life event on the causes I listed above, you should start to speak with someone about not only how you’re feeling, but how you’re coping.

I also offer free consultations and a free 7-Day Mediation program, which you can find here:

Children with PTSD

Some of you may be sitting there this Friday wondering what you have to go home and face. I get it, the weekend is supposed to be relaxing but for many – the opposite can be true. Life is hard and terrible things happen, sometimes to children. It is hard enough to be a parent with a child suffering from PTSD, but then to be a working parent – well, you have a battle ahead and I hope some support. If not, please contact me. I do offer FREE consultations to get you started in the right direction.

If you have a child with PTSD, don’t feel different. Many people have children with challenges as a result of uncontrollable circumstances or violence. You are not alone.  If you are not sure if your child is suffering from PTSD, please know that they act differently than adults with PTSD.

For example; many children will refuse to do things which remind them of what happened, for example refuse to get into a car if it was a car accident.

Many children have sleep problems – they find it scary to go to sleep, and have lots of nightmares or shaking during sleep.

Children with PTSD do have separation problems – not wanting to leave their parents, wanting their parents to be with them at night (even older children and teenagers) and they do ‘regress’ in their behavior, losing skills they recently learned (such as wetting the bed, not being able to talk).

More so, children become irritable, easily upset, easily startled and have panic attacks – usually they are always  on the watch for something bad to happen.

If you know something is wrong at home, and there has been a traumatic life event or change in your life with your children or within your child’s life, please seek help. There is no shame in seeking help for you and your child and no reason to be weary of what you will face at home during this up and coming weekend.

What Is PTSD?

The myth around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is that only those who have been to war or beaten and abused as children can end up with it in life. In fact, there are many people who don’t even believe that PTSD is real.

Yes, it is real and NO you don’t have had to go war or have been the victim of childhood physical abuse to suffer from PTSD. Thus, I want to clarify a few things about PTSD in today’s post.

First, let me repost the clinical side of PTSD. PTSD symptoms are grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions.

Second, PTSD can come from any type of trauma. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse, childhood bullying, witnessing a violent crime, being a teller at a bank that has been robbed, etc. We all have different levels of tolerance, which impacts how we cope (or don’t cope) with various scenarios.

Now- on to the symptoms:

Intrusive memories

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:

Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

Negative feelings about yourself or other people
Inability to experience positive emotions
Feeling emotionally numb
Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Changes in emotional reactions
Symptoms of changes in emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:

Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
Always being on guard for danger
Overwhelming guilt or shame
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
Trouble concentrating
Trouble sleeping
Being easily startled or frightened
If you feel that you have more than half of these symptoms, it is time to seek out help. No, pills are not the full answer. Prescriptions can help with sleep or help with anxiety, but cognitive therapy is a very important element of recovering from PTSD.

Stress- Is It Healthy or Unhealthy?

There isn’t a single person on planet Earth that doesn’t have stress. Stress is a normal part of life. However, there are times when stress becomes too much, becomes unhealthy, and requires intervention. But do you know when this time is? Can you tell when job stress goes from normal to unhealthy?

When I speak at seminars for employers and to employees, I use the following three tips to help my audience understand when normal stress turns unhealthy and intervention is needed.

1. Check your blood-pressure. Stress releases chemicals within our body. Short periods of stress may slightly elevate your pulse rate or blood pressure, but when long periods of stress leave you with hypertension, something is wrong!

2. Increase use in booze or use of drugs. Most people try to self-medicate pain and stress without realizing that is what they are doing. If you’ve noticed an increase in booze or that you’ve started using drugs or relying on prescription meds a little too much, you may be experience unhealthy levels of stress.

3. Bad attitude. Are you extra angry these days? Are you snapping at family, friends and other loved ones? If so, you may be experiencing way too much stress and find yourself taking it out on anyone and everyone. has a great article on how stress also impacts your body. You can read it here:,,20642595,00.html

Want to know which one of my programs can help you? Check out all my programs here:

3 Signs You’re Depressed

You don’t have to sit in bed all day, wearing a worn out robe, to be depressed. There are many cases of “walking depression” among the general population. People tend to have a skewed view of depression, too. They think it causes you to sit in a dark room for hours on end without showering. While this can be true, the noted symptoms aren’t aligned with walking depression.

People who are truly depressed and functioning throughout life may not realize they are depressed because they are functioning throughout life. They may feel like they are going through the motions and faking it- when, in fact, they are walking around depressed.

Loss of interest is a sign of depression. Now, you may not love going to work everything – that doesn’t mean you’re depressed. But, let us say that you love to bake, and suddenly you don’t feel up to baking… well, this could be a sign. Not feeling engaged with activities you love to participate in can and may be a problem.

Anxiety is a sign of depression. Yes, anxiety can be its own diagnosis but it can also be a symptom of something bigger going on- like depression. Women tend to have more anxiety symptoms than man when it comes to depression. Men react differently. Research shows that in addition to irritability men may display symptoms not typically associated with depression, like escapist or risky behavior, substance abuse, or misplaced anger.

Emotional issues. Yes, if you’re happy and sad and then angry and then sad and then happy and then angry…. well, the fluctuation can be caused by depression. Don’t forget, depression does impact the chemicals within your brain and can cause issues when it comes to your emotions. You can be depressed without being in a state of flat sadness all of the time.

Interested in receiving more help and insight? Please contact me here:

The #1 Way to Stay Positive

Life is hard. Add in depression, anxiety, and so forth and it becomes very hard to stay positive. And, there is something to staying positive. People who are more positive have better outcomes, they are healthier, they have long-lasting relationships. While staying positive can be very hard for anyone dealing with life and health issues, it still is possible with effort.

I am asked all the time, “how do I remain positive?” Well, it isn’t easy, but there is a single trick that will get you moving in the right direction. Positive affirmations. Now, don’t smirk or think about the Mr. Smiley skit on Saturday Night Live. Positive affirmations really do work!

Even Entrepreneur magazine is talking about the power of positive affirmations within the business world, so imagine how they can work in your personal life. According to the magazine, ” As any politician or advertiser knows, the more often you hear a message, the more likely you are to believe it. The same goes for messages about who you are and what you are capable of doing. By repeating positive affirmations with conviction several times each morning, you are training your brain to believe them.”

I encourage you to make small, simple changes. The smallest step forward can lead to an incredible journey. Even if you say “It will get better”, you are headed in a better direction!