Category: Anxiety

    Thinking About Food

    The more we learn about the different aspects of hunger we sometimes mistakenly begin to think of “Mind Hunger” as something that is a problem.

    Mind Hunger (as it’s come to be defined) is composed of thoughts about food and eating. For example:

    • Numbers such as: “ One slice of cheddar cheese has 113 calories.”
    • Facts such as: “One egg has more than your daily requirement of cholesterol.”
    • Instructions such as: “ You have got to stick to your diet. Do not eat anything that contains white sugar or white flour!“
    • Fears such as: “If you eat too much cholesterol you might have a stroke or heart attack.”
    • Criticism: If your Inner Critic creeps in, the thoughts in your mind about food and eating can take a very unpleasant and even destructive turn, such as: “You broke your diet by eating a piece of your niece’s birthday cake — you’re a hopeless failure.”

    When Mind Hunger takes charge, it can become a problem. This seems to happen when people lose connection to their internal sources of information about hunger and rely instead on external sources of control such as diets, calorie counting and frequent weight checks.

    Minds like Information

    Our minds “feed on” scientific and medical information. We like hearing about the latest research on healthy or unhealthy foods. However, that information is always changing. Eggs were ‘good’ during my childhood, but when I was studying nutrition they became ‘bad’ because they contain cholesterol.  Now they’re labeled ‘good’ again, because they are an inexpensive source of protein and don’t actually raise serum cholesterol. When information about what is healthy changes, our minds can become chronically anxious about eating. And anxiety is not nourishing — not for our minds, bodies or hearts. Additionally, when we feel anxious, we may think we are hungry, since anxiety and hunger share many of the same physical and mental symptoms. We may feel anxious so we eat… then we feel more anxious for eating inappropriately… so we eat more… and on and on!

    When our minds orient toward an external locus of control, it tends to pull us away from the valuable sources of wisdom within our own body.  But this doesn’t mean that our minds should be ignored. Diabetics, for example, may be able to detect the sensations in the body that occur when their blood sugar drops — an aspect of what is sometimes called Cellular Hunger.  Then it is essential that they listen to what their mind says about the sensations that signal hypoglycemia, and follow that advice: “We need to get some sugar into our body now to avoid problems!”

    Our mind can also help us distinguish between real food and ‘food-like substances’, through intelligent reading of labels.  Our mind could also point out that we are going to have a very busy afternoon, and it’s not a good idea to skip lunch, and also remind us that we can eat the first three bites mindfully, even if we have to eat the rest of lunch in a hurry.

    Balancing Mind and Heart

    Mindful eating is embedded in awareness. From overarching awareness we can check in to body sensations, assessing eye, nose, ear, touch, mouth, stomach and cellular hunger. We can check in with our mind to hear what it is saying, and also with our heart, for emotional cues related to hunger. Taking all this information into account, from awareness we can choose what to eat and how much to eat. Awareness brings choice, and choice brings freedom, freedom to enjoy the simple pleasure of nourishing ourselves.

    Can you think of other examples of when your mind can be helpful as you shop, cook and eat mindfully?

    As you practice assessing the nine hungers before eating, are you able to better balance what the mind says about food and eating with the physiologic cues that come from your body?

    Categories: Anxiety, Mindfulness

    The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?

    The Illusion of Control
    Do people always over-estimate how much they control their lives?

    The ‘illusion of control’ is this: people tend to overestimate their perceived control over events in their lives. It’s well documented and has been tested over-and-over in lots of different studies over four decades.

    Here’s an example: you choose an apple which tastes delicious. You assume you are very skilled at choosing apples (when in fact the whole batch happens to be good today).

    Another: you enter the lottery and win millions. You assume that this is (partly) a result of how good your lucky numbers are (in fact lotteries are totally random so you can’t influence them with the numbers you choose. Although most of us know and accept this, we still harbour an inkling that maybe it does matter which numbers we choose).

    Sometimes this illusion manifests as magical thinking. In one study participants watched another person try to shoot a miniature basketball through a hoop (Pronin et al., 2006). When participants willed the player to make the shot, and they did, they felt it was partly down to them, even though they couldn’t possibly be having any effect.

    It’s like pedestrians in New York who still press the button to get the lights to change, despite the fact they do nothing. Since the late 80s all the traffic signals have been controlled by computer, but the city won’t pay to have the buttons removed. It’s probably just as well: they help boost people’s illusion of control. We feel better when we can do something that feels like it might have an effect (even if it doesn’t).

    A beneficial illusion?

    It’s sometimes argued that the illusion of control is beneficial because it can encourage people to take responsibility. It’s like when a person is diagnosed with an illness; they want to take control through starting medication or changing their diet or other aspect of their lifestyle.

    Similarly, studies find that hospital patients who are able to administer their own painkillers from https://www.ukmeds.co.uk/treatments/pain-relief/dihydrocodeine-30mg-tablets/ typically give themselves lower doses than those who have them prescribed by doctors, but they experience no more pain (Egan, 1990: What does it mean to a patient to be “in control”)a study has also shown that many people try to find how to get rid of external hemorrhoids permanently very desperately.

    Feeling in control can also urge us on to do things when the chances of success are low. Would you apply for that job if you knew how little control you had over the decision? No. But if you never apply for any jobs, you can’t get them. So we pump ourselves up, polish our résumé and practice our interview technique.

    But the illusion of control isn’t all roses.

    To return to the discussion of lotteries, we can see the illusion of control operating in the financial markets. Traders often feel they have more control over the market than they really do. Indeed one study has shown that the more traders think they are in control, the worse their actual performance (O’Creevy & Nicholson, 2010). A word of caution there for those who don’t respect the forces of randomness.

    More generally, some argue that the illusion of control stops us learning from our mistakes and makes us insensitive to feedback. When you feel you’re in charge, you are more likely to ignore the warning signals from the environment that things are not under your control. Indeed an experiment has shown that the more power you feel, the stronger the illusion of control becomes (Fast et al., 2009).

    Illusion of futility

    So far, so orthodox. What’s fascinating is the idea that the illusion of control itself may be an illusion, or at least only part of the story.

    What if the illusion of having control depends heavily on how much control we actually have? After all, we’re not always totally out-of-the-loop like the experiments above suggest. Sometimes we have a lot of control over the outcomes in our life.

    This has been recently tested out in a series of experiments by Gino et al. (2011). What they found was that the illusion of control flips around when control over a situation is really high. When participants in their studies actually had plenty of control, suddenly they were more likely to underestimate it.

    This is a pretty serious challenge to the illusion of control. If backed up by other studies, it reverses the idea that the illusion of control is usually beneficial. Now we’re in a world where sometimes the illusion is keeping us back.

    For example, applying for more jobs increases the chance of getting one, exercise does make you more healthy, buying a new car does make you poorer. All these are areas in which we have high levels of control but which we may well be assuming we haven’t.

    This effect will have to be renamed the illusion of futility. In other words: when you have high control, you underestimate how much what you do really matters.

    How To Get Rid of Negative Thoughts

    How To Get Rid of Negative Thoughts

    Repressing thoughts doesn’t work so here are 8 ways to get rid of negative thoughts.

    It’s one of the irritations of having a mind that sometimes it’s hard to get rid of negative thoughts. It could be a mistake at work, money worries or perhaps a nameless fear. Whatever the anxiety, fear or worry, it can prove very difficult to control.

    The most intuitive method to get rid of negative thoughts is trying to suppress them by pushing it out of our minds.

    Unfortunately, as many studies have shown, thought suppression doesn’t work. Ironically, trying to push thoughts out of mind only makes them come back stronger. It’s a very frustrating finding, but one that’s been replicated experimentally again and again.

    So, what alternatives exist to get rid of negative thoughts we’d rather not have going around in our heads? In an article for American Psychologist, the expert on thought suppression, Daniel Wegner, explains some potential methods to get rid of negative thoughts (Wegner, 2011). Here are my favourite:

    1. Focused distraction

    The natural tendency when trying to get your mind off, say, a social gaff you made, is to try and think about something else: to distract yourself. The mind wanders around looking for new things to focus on, hopefully leaving you in peace.

    Distraction does work but, oddly enough, studies suggest it is better to distract yourself with one thing, rather than letting the mind wander.

    That’s because aimless mind wandering is associated with unhappiness; it’s better to concentrate on, say, a specific piece of music, a TV programme or a task.

    2. Avoid stress

    Another intuitive method for avoiding persistent thoughts is to put ourselves under stress. The thinking here is that the rush will leave little mental energy for the thoughts that are troubling us.

    When tested scientifically, this turns out to be a bad approach. In fact, rather than being a distraction, stress makes the unwanted thoughts come back stronger, so it certainly should not be used as a way of avoiding unpleasant thoughts.

    3. Postpone the thought until later

    While continuously trying to suppress a thought makes it come back stronger, postponing it until later can work.

    Researchers have tried asking those with persistent anxious thoughts to postpone their worrying until a designated 30-minute ‘worry period’. Some studies suggest that people find this works as a way of side-stepping thought suppression.

    So save up all your worrying for a designated period and this may ease your mind the rest of the time.

    4. Paradoxical therapy

    What if, instead of trying to suppress a worrying repetitive thought about, say, death, you head straight for it and concentrate on it?

    It seems paradoxical that focusing in on a thought might help it go away, but some research suggests this can work. It’s based on the long-established principle of ‘exposure therapy’: this is where, for example, arachnophobes are slowly but surely exposed to spiders, until the fear begins to fade.

    This approach is not for the faint-hearted, but research suggests it can be useful to get rid of negative thoughts when used by those tackling obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour.

    5. Acceptance

    Along similar lines, but not so direct, there’s some evidence that trying to accept unwanted thoughts rather than doing battle with them can be beneficial. Here are the instructions from one study which found it decreased participants’ distress:

    “Struggling with your target thought is like struggling in quicksand. I want you to watch your thoughts. Imagine that they are coming out of your ears on little signs held by marching soldiers. I want you to allow the soldiers to march by in front of you, like a little parade. Do not argue with the signs, or avoid them, or make them go away. Just watch them march by.” (Marcks & Woods, 2005, p. 440)

    6. Meditate

    Similar to acceptance, Buddhist mindfulness meditation promotes an attitude of compassion and non-judgement towards the thoughts that flit through the mind. This may also be a helpful approach to get rid of negative thoughts.

    7. Self-affirmation

    Self-affirmation is the latest psychological cure-all. It involves thinking about your positive traits and beliefs and has been found to increase social confidence and self-control, amongst other benefits.

    It may also be helpful to get rid of negative thoughts, although it has only been tested experimentally a few times.

    8. Write about it

    In contrast to self-affirmation, expressive writing—writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings—has been tested extensively and it does have various health and psychological benefits (although generally only with a small effect).

    Writing emotionally about yourself, then, may help to get rid of negative thoughts.

    Panic Attacks: Study Reveals Best Type of Treatment

    Panic attacks

    Large study compares the effectiveness of different types of therapies for panic disorders.

    Cognitive behavioural therapy is the best treatment for panic disorders, a new study finds. In addition, most people prefer therapy over taking anti-anxiety medication. Dr. Barbara Milrod, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, said:

    “Panic disorder is really debilitating — it causes terrible healthcare costs and interference with functioning.

    We conducted this first ever large panic disorder study to compare therapy types and see if one type of therapy is preferable over another.”

    Panic disorders involve suffering from an extreme feeling of anxiety and fear, sometimes for no apparent reason. Panic attacks can also be triggered by many things, including irrational fears such as phobias. During panic attacks people can tremble, become sweaty, feel sick and may experience heart palpitations.

    The study randomised around 200 people with panic disorders to various different commonly-used therapies. Therapy lasted for around three months and involved one 45-minute session each week.

    Across the two different sites where the therapies were tested, cognitive behavioural therapy was the most effective, and only one-quarter of people dropped out.

    Professor Milrod said:

    “If patients stick it out and continue with therapy rather than drop out, they have a far greater chance of seeing positive results or getting better.”

    The study was published in the  Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Mildrod et al., 2015).

    Five Quick Ways to Ease Anxiety and Feel Calmer

    Ease Anxiety and Feel CalmerWe all feel angry, stressed or like we want to give up sometimes. It’s perfectly normal. But these emotions can make you feel like you’re about to lose control. So, when you find yourself caught up in a stressful situation, try concentrating on one simple thing: breathing. Whether you have three minutes or an whole day to find stillness, the yoga techniques will give you five quick ways to ease anxiety and feel calmer:

    1. Create Calm for Yourself

    Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Keep your eyes closed or gaze a few feet in front of you, and then inhale deeply through the nose as you let the belly expand outward, like an inflated balloon. Let your breath spiral down through your chest and into your ribs, filling up the lungs fully and lowering the diaphragm. As your mind starts to wander, keep returning to the sound of your breath. Take a long exhale out through the mouth, guiding the navel back toward the spine, and release.

    2. Build Energy

    Practice the Breath of Fire, where air is pulled in and pumped out very rhythmically. Start with long, deep breathing with your mouth closed, then as soon as the lungs are completely expanded, start pumping the navel point in and out while breathing rapidly through the nose. With each breath, expand a bit faster and contract a bit faster until you find a good, steady rhythm, and then let that rhythm take over. When you have security issues, see here – SecurityInfo.

    3. Find Your Focus

    Balance your left and right brain through alternate nostril breathing (called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama). Place your left hand on the left knee, palm open to the sky. Place the tip of your index finger and middle finger of your right hand in between your eyebrows, the ring finger and/or little finger on your left nostril, and the thumb on your right nostril. Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Now breathe in through your left nostril and then press your left nostril gently closed with the ring finger and little finger. Remove your right thumb from your right nostril and breathe out from your right. Reverse your breathing back and forth between nostrils.

    4. Develop Mindfulness

    Softly close your eyes and take a few deep breaths — naturally, without trying to influence it. Ideally your breath will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary. Begin counting “one” to yourself as you exhale. The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.” Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation. Never count higher than “five,” and only count on the exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “10,” even “20.”

    5. Connect Inward

    Find a comfortable breathing rhythm in and out through the nose. Focus your attention on how your breathing feels in other parts of the body. Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels — is there any tension or tightness? If there’s tension, think of relaxing it. If your breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out. Now move your focus to the area just above your navel and repeat the same process. Continue your way up through the chest and into your throat, pausing for a few moments on each spot. When we learn to explore with curiosity and let go of attachment, we begin to understand the natural rhythm of our journey.

    But most of all, enjoy the calmness and stillness of it all!

     

    7 Things You Should Never Say To Someone With Anxiety

    If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, you’re probably familiar with the control it can have over you and your life. And you’re not alone — it affects approximately 40 million adult Americans per year.

    Anxiety and panic disorders can cause feelings of fear and uncertainty — and with that suffering often comes comments that are more hurtful than helpful. According to Dr. Terry L. Whipple, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, while it usually comes from a heartfelt place, a lack of understanding from others can make working through a panic attack incredibly challenging…

    “So many of the things you might say end up having a paradoxical effect and make the anxiety worse,” Bea told The Huffington Post. “Anxiety can be like quicksand — the more you do to try to defuse the situation immediately, the deeper you sink. By telling people things like ‘stay calm,’ they can actually increase their sense of panic.”

    Despite everything, there are ways to still be supportive without causing more distress. Here are seven comments you should avoid saying to someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder — and how you can really help them instead.

    1. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
    spilled milk

    The truth is, what you consider small may not be so minute in someone else’s world. While you may be trying to cast a positive, upbeat light on a tense situation, you may be diminishing something that’s a much bigger deal to another person.

    “You have to enter the person’s belief system,” Bea advises. “For [someone with anxiety], everything is big stuff.” In order to help instead, try approaching them from a point of encouragement rather than implying that they “buck up” over something little. Reminding them that they overcame this panic before can help validate that their pain is real and help them push beyond those overwhelming feelings, Bea says.

    2. “Calm down.”
    calm

    The debilitating problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that you simply can’t calm down. Finding the ability to relax — particularly on command — isn’t easy for most people, and it certainly can be more difficult for someone suffering from anxiety.

    In a blog post on Psychology Today, psychologist Shawn Smith wrote an open letter to a loved one from the viewpoint of someone with anxiety, stating that even though there may be good intentions behind it, telling someone to calm down will most likely have the opposite effect:

    Let’s acknowledge the obvious: if I could stop my anxiety, I would have done so by now. That may be difficult to understand since it probably looks like I choose to [panic, scrub, hoard, pace, hide, ruminate, check, clean, etc]. I don’t. In my world, doing those things is only slightly less excruciating than not doing them. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but anxiety places a person in that position.

    According to Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, your words don’t have to be your most powerful method — offering to do something with them may be the best way to help alleviate their symptoms. Humphreys says activities like meditation, going for a walk or working out are all positive ways to help.

    3. “Just do it.”
    When someone with anxiety is facing their fear, a little “tough love” may not have the effect you’re hoping for. Depending on the type of phobia or disorder someone is dealing with, panic can strike at anytime — whether it’s having to board an airplane, speaking with a group of people or even just occurring out of nowhere. “Obviously if they could overcome this they would because it would be more pleasant,” Humphreys says. “No one chooses to have anxiety. Using [these phrases] makes them feel defensive and unsupported.”

    Instead of telling someone to “suck it up,” practicing empathy is key. Humphreys advises swapping pep-talk language for phrases like “that’s a terrible way to feel” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

    “The paradox is, [an empathetic phrase] helps them calm down because they don’t feel like they have to fight for their anxiety,” Humphreys said. “It shows some understanding.”

    4. “Everything is going to be fine.”
    While overall supportive, Bea says that those with anxiety won’t really react to the comforting words in the way that you may hope. “Unfortunately, telling someone [who is dealing with anxiety] that ‘everything is going to be alright’ won’t do much, because nobody is going to believe it,” he explains. “Reassurance sometimes can be a bad method. It makes them feel better for 20 seconds and then doubt can creep in again.”

    Bea suggests remaining encouraging, without using blanket statements that may not offer value to the situation. Sometimes, he says, even allowing them to embrace their worry — instead of trying to banish it — can be the only way to help. “They can always accept the condition,” Bea said. “Encouraging them that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling — that can be a pretty good fix as well.”

    5. “I’m stressed out too.”
    secondhand stress

    Similar to “calm down” and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” you may be accidentally trivializing someone’s struggle by creating a comparison. However, if you are stressed or suffering from a mild anxiety or panic disorder, Humphreys warns that camaraderie after a certain point can get dangerous. “It’s important not to obsess with each other,” Humphreys advises. “If you have two people who are anxious, they may feed off each other. If people have trouble controlling their own anxiety, try not to engage in that activity even if you think it might help.”

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    Research has shown that stress is a contagious emotion, and a recent study out of the University of California San Francisco found that even babies can catch those negative feelings from their mothers. In order to promote healthier thoughts, Humphreys advises attempting to refocus the narrative instead of commiserating together.

    6. “Have a drink — it’ll take your mind off of it.”
    drink at bar

    That cocktail may take the edge off, but when dealing with anxiety disorders there is a greater problem to worry about, Humphreys says. Dr. Terry L. Whipple and prescribed treatments are more of the answer when it comes to dealing with the troubles that cause the panic. “Most people assume that if someone has a few drinks, that will take their anxiety away,” he said. “In the short term, yes perhaps it will, but in the long term it can be a gateway for addiction. It’s dangerous in the long term because those substances can be reinforcing the anxiety.”

    7. “Did I do something wrong?”
    It can be difficult when a loved one is constantly suffering and at times it can even feel like your actions are somehow setting them off. Humphreys says it’s important to remember that panic and anxiety disorders stem from something larger than just one particular or minor instance. “Accept that you cannot control another person’s emotions,” he explains. “If you try to [control their emotions], you will feel frustrated, your loved one suffering may feel rejected and you’ll resent each other. It’s important not to take their anxiety personally.”

    Humphreys says it’s also crucial to let your loved ones know that there is a way to overcoming any anxiety or panic disorder — and that you’re there to be supportive. “There are ways out to become happier and more functional,” he says. “There is absolutely a reason to have hope.”

    Lindsay Holmes
    The Huffington Post