Anxiety Reduction Tips that Really Work

Earlier this month I had the privilege of giving a public lecture on the subject of anxiety. Here is the text of that lecture (complete with Power Point slides/videos inserted).

 

Let’s start by finding out if you are prone to worry. I have three brief questions for you; don’t need to answer out loud.

Question one. It’s 6 AM here on the west coast and your cell phone rings. Before you even look at the screen to see who’s calling, what is your first thought?

A. “It’s 9 AM on the east coast and someone’s calling to tell me I’ve won the lottery.” Or,

B. “6 AM?! Somebody’s in trouble!”

Question 2. You pull up to a red light in your car and you’ve got 15 to 20 seconds before the light turns green. Where does your mind wander?

A. Good thoughts about all the people you love, and those who love you, and how great life is going? Or,

B1. “How can I make sure my 4-year-old will someday get into a good university?” Or,

B2. “I’ve texted my teenager 6 times this morning, but they’ve only answered 5 times. What’s wrong?!” Or,

B3.“If a meteor the size of Montana lands in my front yard tomorrow, will I escape by taking the Guide or I-5?

Question 3: When you saw the promotional materials for tonight’s event, “Anxiety Reduction Tips,” was your first thought:

A. “Anxiety? What’s that?” Or,

B. “Yes, I could use those tips.”

If you answered B to any of these questions I’m glad you’re here. We’re going to offer FIVE practical strategies that reduce anxiety, worry, and fear and then wrap up by giving you two resources to help you on your journey.

The subject of anxiety is a great one because, as many of you already realize, feeling anxious feels yucky. Whether it’s that low-grade sense of dread that “something terrible is about to happen,” to a full-blown panic attack, when you’re in the anxiety zone it feels miserable. And Willow [Weston] and her team of volunteers here at Collide are dedicated to reducing your misery; or to say it the other way around, to increase your emotional and spiritual well-being. So, this is a great topic.

However, to be honest with you, giving a talk on this subject is a little bit tricky because I know there are certain topics, just the mention of which, can trigger anxiety. So, I’ll make you a promise: I’ll do my level best to avoid mentioning any trigger words. Which means,

  • I will NOT mention an 8-legged insect that start with “s” and end in “pider.”
  • I will NOT talk about R-I-S-K because I know that just hearing that word gives some people the heebie-jeebies.
  • I will NOT mention a certain, semi-dormant, volcano only 60 miles east of here….

Although I would like to show you this cool tee-shirt I found on the Internet.

So, I’m not going to mention those three topics.

On the other hand, I want to tell you stories of real people who’ve overcome real fear which means, I may inadvertently slip up and mention a topic that rubs you the wrong way. If I do I apologize ahead of time. This also gives me opportunity to introduce our first… Anxiety Reduction Tip.

And I call your attention to my right hand. Watch closely. It’s clenched and I’m going to tell it, “Relax.” It went limp. I’ll do it again, Clenched, “Relax.” It went limp. This tip is called the Limp Noodle exercise. This is also known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

It works like this. Get comfortable in your chair, both feet flat on the floor, and you’re going to do a body scan from top to the bottom looking for clenched muscles. Starting at the top of your head, look for tension in your scalp, forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, all the way to your toes. Every time you find a clenched muscle, make it go limp.

The reason this is such an effective strategy is b/c when your body is totally relaxed it’s impossible to feel the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

When you potty-trained your kids you taught them, “You’re the boss of your bladder.” In the same way, “You’re the boss of your muscles.” You can clench and un-clench them at will.

A word of caution: it’s easier to get into Limp Noodle Mode than it is staying there. I know, I’ve done experiments on myself to see how long I can stay totally relaxed. I do my body scan, get totally relaxed, and then at the 30 second mark, my brain gets bored and wanders off somewhere. At the 45 second mark I realize, “Hey! Some muscles tensed up again without me realizing it.” I start over, going from top to bottom un-clenching tense muscles. Some people do body scans 20 times a day.

I told a client once, “I can last about 30 seconds in relax mode and she said, “Ha! I’ve got you beat by a mile!” I said, “Really? What’s your secret of success?” she said, “I do YOGA!” which of course involves regulated breathing, which is another valuable skill.

OK, let’s take a look at this picture of a kitty cat.

There’s a lot of fear going on in this photo. Scientists who study the biology of anxiety explain that when a cat sees danger adrenaline gets dumped into their bloodstream. And adrenaline causes many physical symptoms, the first of which is tight muscles (that’s where we get the phrase, “scared stiff”).

The cat also experiences rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. The cat is deciding, “Do I scratch his nose or climb a tree?” Fight or flight.

Humans have adrenaline also. This is good because it gives us energy when we face danger. But there’s a huge difference between cats and humans. If my cat Zelda is any example, she rarely gets anxious. To the best of my knowledge, there are only three situations when she gets a jolt of adrenaline.

  1. 4th of July when fireworks go off.
  2. New Year’s Eve when fireworks go off.
  3. When I cook, and the smoke alarm goes off.

That means in a year Zelda experiences anxiety only 6 or 7 times, max.

By my estimate humans get at least 20 jolts of adrenaline before lunch:

  • “what if I’m late for work?”
  • “What if my kid gets picked on at school.”
  • “What if that meteor lands in my front yard?”

And if you read the newspaper or listen to the radio you can double that number.

If you watch TV news, triple it.

Those jolts of adrenaline may not be as great as when a cat sees a dog, but the problem with all those jolts of adrenaline, unless we scratch a nose or climb a tree, we build up an excess of adrenaline in our system. And doctors tell us that’s not healthy. Which leads to anxiety reduction tip #2:

Go for a walk.

Next time you feel tense, put on comfortable shoes, go outside, and walk around your house a few times . This gets your heart beating, breath fresh air, and it flushes the adrenaline out of your system.

So, we’ve got LIMP NOODLE and GO FOR A WALK.

 Anxiety reduction tip number three is a fun one, my favorite: name your fear and talk back to it.

I call mine the Alien b/c when I was a kid I loved those cheesy sci-fi movies of the 50s. Movie makers created aliens from outer space attempting to terrify us little kids, but b/c the films were so low budget even I knew the aliens were just actors in dorky looking costumes.

So now, when I experience some anxiety I say, “Look here, Alien, I know that you’re trying to scare me. But I know you’re just an actor in a dorky looking costume. So, scram.” And that helps.

A guy in my office once told me when he wakes up in the morning he almost immediately gets hammered with “What if?” questions.

  • “What if something bad happens to my wife today?”
  • “What if something bad happens to my kids?”
  • “What if…?” “What if…?” “What if…?”

This is why anxiety is called the WHAT IF? Disease.

So, he named his fear, “Hammer.” He now tells hammer, “Quit hammering on me, beat it, scram, go jump in the Nooksack river.” And that helps.

I said to a lady in my office once, “If you were to name your fear, what would you call it?” she thought for a second and said, “I’m going to call him Jack.” I said, “That’s great, we’re going to talk back to Jack.”

Then I said, “Just out of curiosity, why Jack?” She said, “My preschooler has a Jack in the Box toy and when we turn the crank we never know when Jack is going to pop out and scare the willies out of us.”

I said, ‘Excellent. Next time Jack pops out to scare you, talk back to him and say, “Beat it, buster!” “Scram!” “Get your grubby mitts off the steering wheel of my life.”

Had I thought of it at the time, I would have suggested she say this,

“Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more!”

So we’ve got: LIMP NOODLE, GO FOR A WALK, NAME YOUR FEAR and TALK BACK TO IT.

I’m going to spend a little more time with tip number 4 because it is THE MOST EFFECTIVE. But it’s also the least popular. And you’ll understand why as soon as I say it:

Anxiety Reduction Tip Number 4 is called, “Face your fears”

I know that doesn’t sound fun. But it works.

People numb the pain of anxiety in a variety of ways, but the most popular strategy for dealing with anxiety is Avoidance. “I won’t look at it, I won’t think about it. I’ll pretend it’s not there and it’ll go away.” The thought is, “If I avoid fear it’ll decrease in intensity.”

I have bad news for you; it doesn’t work that way. Avoiding fear only makes it stronger. It’s like the old joke, “Avoiding fear expecting it to decrease in intensity is like throwing meat to a lion hoping it becomes a vegetarian.”

So, instead of avoidance we’re going to face our fears.

I learned this from an award-winning physician from California. He said, “Yes I’ve won awards, not because I’m the world’s greatest doctor but because I used to work 100 hours per week. And the reason I worked so many hours is b/c I had social anxiety.” He said, “My safe place was my examination room in the hospital where I work.”

He said just the thought of walking into the crowded lobby of his hospital and onto the crowded sidewalk loaded with pedestrians gave him a panic attack. So, he’d work in his office until 1:00 or 2:00 o’clock in the morning and leave when the lobby and city streets were empty.

Well, he got so fed up being held hostage by fear he decided to do something about it. He said, “I’m going to quit avoiding and face my fear once for all.”

So, he took the elevator down to the lobby midday, (which was a big deal for someone with social anxiety) and stood there as long as he could. He lasted 15 seconds.

And he says they were a terrible 15 seconds. His muscles were tense, rapid breathing, heart pounding. He said named his fear part BOO! And BOO! was hollering in his ear, “This is stupid! Get out of here! This place is dangerous!”

So, the doc went back up to his office after 15 seconds.

But he was determined. The next day he came back down and lasted 20 seconds. Then the next day , a little longer. He did this every day for a couple of weeks until he got to about the ten-minute mark and then discovered, “These crowds no longer triggered fear; they trigger boredom.”

He wasn’t done. The next stage of this gradual exposure therapy was to walk across the lobby and stand near the glass window and look at the pedestrians outside on the busy sidewalk.

His heart was racing, “Boo!” was shouting at him. And again, he only lasted about 15 seconds.

But he came back the next day and stayed for 20 seconds. And then longer and longer. He was habituating himself to the crowds. Again, at about the ten-minute mark he realized, “These crowds no longer trigger fear; standing here is a waste of time.”

He said, “I think I’m ready to stand on the busy sidewalk. As I walked to the revolving door, Boo was screaming in my ear, “Don’t do it! This is bad! It’s stupid! Those people are going to think you’re crazy!”

And the doc said to Boo, “SHUT UP! You told me the lobby was going to be a catastrophe, and it wasn’t. You told me standing near this glass window was dangerous and it wasn’t. I’m going out on that sidewalk and you can’t stop me.” His two victories gave him courage.

He walked through the revolving door and planted himself on the busy sidewalk, which, again, is a huge deal for someone with social anxiety. Pedestrians had to navigate around him. It was hard at first—stiff muscles, rapid breathing. But he was determined NOT to leave.

At the five-minute mark something amazing happened. He actually felt his anxiety drain away and he said to himself, “That actually was not so hard.”

I referred to this as “gradual exposure therapy.” You can GOOGLE this and watch people overcome all sorts of fears. It’s fascinating to watch.

I know facing fears works; I used it to overcome my fear of heights.

Let me tell you a couple of stories.

But when our kids were little we took them to the Puyallup Fair and I rode a Ferris Wheel. I’m embarrassed to admit, I was terrified! When I got off that ride I was relieved but also irritated with myself, “Where did THAT come from?”

Sometime later I attended an event in the Space Needle. If you’ve been there you know the elevator is on the outside and it’s made of glass. Riding the elevator I couldn’t look out the window. I was avoiding! Inside the Space Needle I huddled near the center and there was no way I was going to walk near the edge. I was 600 feet in the air!

A while after that I was on the 30th floor of a high-rise office building in Seattle attending a workshop. At break time they opened the sliding glass doors, so the attendees could walk out on the balcony and look over the edge. I couldn’t do it! My feet turned to cement.

This was not a debilitating fear because there aren’t a lot of sky scrapers in Ferndale.

But this story has a happy ending. In 2013 I faced my fear. I was visiting my home state of NY and was wandering around downtown Manhattan among the sky scrapers. I said to myself, “Today I’m going to face my fear and go to the top of one of these sky scrapers and look over the edge.” I was by myself and had all day.

I found myself standing at the foot of Rockefeller Center. It was so tall I couldn’t even see the top. Just standing there made my heart pound. But I was determined to face my fear and get to the top of the building.

My plan was to go slow, visit the first floor, look over, come down. Second floor, look over the edge come back down, and work my way to the top. That plan flopped when I learned they don’t let tourists get off on each floor. So, I bought the express ticket from the ground floor and went all the way to the observation deck.

Well, I’m happy to report, I did it successfully. I looked over the edge. And I don’t mind telling you, that was a proud moment for me.

Guess what?

When I was on the observation deck I made a 3 ½ minute video of me looking over the edge and I want to show it to you.

If you have issues with heights, you have no complaint from me. I get that. But let me reassure you. You’re safe in this room. You’re only two feet off the ground. I made it back safe and sound. There’s nothing scary in this film, if you don’t count my facial expressions. If you’re tempted to close your eyes and look away I won’t think less of you. But here’s a gentle challenge: keep your eyes on the screen and if your muscles tense up, go limp noodle. Remember, you’re the boss of your muscles.

Okay, let’s take a deep breath….and (to the sound booth person), “Hit the play button.”

 

 

Anxiety reduction TIP NUMBER FIVE is “TRUST.” The opposite of fear is not limp noodle; it’s trust.

In an audience this size there may be some here who’ve never been in a church before or who’ve never attended a meeting run by Christians before. If that’s so, it’s great, we’re glad you’re here.

Something you should know: followers of Jesus take his words very seriously. Even though he spoke a long time ago, he had a lot to say about reducing fear, anxiety, and worry. I’d like to recite for you a portion of his famous Sermon on the Mount where he encouraged his listeners—and us—to put our trust in God. He said this.

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 

 Look at the birds of the air;

They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than birds?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 “And why do you worry about clothes?

 See how the lilies of the field grow.

They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the plants of the field, which are here today and gone tomorrow, will he not much more clothe you—oh you of little faith? 

“So, do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 

Others run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

              I can think of no better source of inspiration to trust God than these two paragraphs of Jesus in the New Testament, Matthew chapter six.

Okay, time for review. The next time you feel anxious…

Quick Review

1.      Limp Noodle

2.      Walk

3.      Name it and talk back to it

4.      Face your fears

5.      Trust

I received the invitation to speak here last July which means I’ve been waiting 6 months for this moment:

I want to give you a free gift (NOTE TO READERS: Amazon offer expired, sorry. e-Book available for $2.99 by clicking here):

a 100-page booklet with cartoons called YIKES! 48 common fears; 48 uncommon cures. It’s free on Amazon for the next 2 days only. You’ll need the Kindle Reader APP on your phone or tablet which is also free. If nothing else, if you scroll through those 48 fears you may identify with, say, three of them. Do you know what that means? It means you don’t have 45 fears! YAY!

One final resource for you.

A Collide “NEXT STEPS CLASS” where I’ll be discussing how anxiety affects families.

The Teeter Totter Family: How Anxiety Throws Everybody Off Balance

  • February 13, 2017 6:30 PM
  • Cornwall Church
  • Find info on www.WeCollide.com web site

Thank you.

 

 

Silencing The Voice of Anxiety

That alien voice in our heads that drives us to worry, fear, fret, and wring our hands usually exaggerates. And yet that voice has amazing influence over our peace of mind.

Want a quickie rebuttal to this alien’s fear mongering? Try this. Give that voice a name (not your own name b/c it’s not you badgering you). Poke your finger into the phone book at random and pick a name (hopefully you won’t pick a name of anyone you know).

Let’s say you pick the name Jack (as in you never know when the alien Jack in the box is going to pop up and terrorize you).

Next time Jack pounds you with “what if ___ happens?” talk back.

“Jack, what evidence do you have that this terrible thing will happen?”

“Jack, have you considered how slim the odds are that such and such will happen?”

“Jack, if such and such a thing happens, I’ll get through it with the help of family and friends, faith, and my own inner resources.”

“Jack, will you kindly shut up?”

“Jack, if you keep pestering me I’m going to throw you into the Nooksack River, so please shut up.”

I know this sounds corny, but it’s a proven strategy to capture all those random and unbidden thoughts in our head and counter them with truth, faith, information, and if necessary, muscle power. If you want more info, here’s a 3 page freebie called a Crash Course in Anxiety Reduction.

Crash Course in anxiety Reduction

 

 

Meet the Sages (and Get A Free Poster!)

how-are-you-thinking-today-13by19
In recent years there’s been a surge of interest in ancient philosophers. Three of my favorite books in this vein are Expect the Unexpected Or You Won’t Find it: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger Van Oech, Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith, and The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m going to add to this growing body of literature by introducing the ancient writers of Hebrew wisdom literature. These sages said many interesting and often astonishing things, especially given how long ago they wrote. For example, two millennia before Freud and modern psychotherapy the sages wrote, “Many are the purposes of a person’s heart; one with wisdom draws them out.” There are things that go on in a person’s psyche about which we are simply unaware. In 2011 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about this in Thinking Fast and Slow (read my summary here). Over one hundred years before that (1902 to be precise) William James said this about consciousness and perception, Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different, ” (Varieties of Religious Experience). These are all fancy ways of explaining what we mean when we say…
  • “Perception is reality”
  • “Appearances can be deceiving”
  • “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
  • “There are two sides to every story”
  • “Life is not always as it appears to be”
Woe to the person who doesn’t know that their consciousness can be altered an a variety of ways or that our minds can play weird tricks on us. Even neuro-scientists remind us that feelings of being right are not necessarily right. Click here to read an interview with Robert Burton, author of the fascinating book, On Being Certain. Which brings me to a free gift I have for you. The sages were preternaturally aware that things like emotions, health, hunger, sleep, and other factors trick us. I’ve collected (and drew faces for) thirty of their sage warnings that remind us that we can’t always trust our thoughts. You can download a free 8.5″ x 11″ color printout of this poster by clicking here. (Signed 13″x 19″ color posters are available for $30 (+$4.99 shipping in USA) on Amazon; small size posters are free to readers of this blog). The brilliance of these sage warnings is that being skeptical of our cherished beliefs will lead to open mindedness, mental flexibility, and a willingness to contemplate alternative ideas. This is often our focus when doing mediation or therapy–when emotions or other mood altering factors hi-jack our brains we don’t think rationally or clearly. I hope this handout (poster) will inspire careful self-reflection.

Get Creative with FLOW (2 of 7)

Creative.Funnies.2

Don’t let the foreign name of the man who describes FLOW deter you. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the genius who came up with the following info-graphic that has been a source of inspiration to many for years. Here is a brief summary of FLOW.

anxiety.boredom FLOW

When the challenges in life exceed our skill level we get anxious. To get out of the anxiety zone we simply increase our skills.

When our skill level exceeds the challenges in life we get bored. To get out of the boredom zone we simply increase our challenges.

When our skill level and challenges meet we enter the creative zone where time vanishes, we forget to eat, and ideas and productivity flow effortlessly.

When I first started blogging I was overwhelmed by all the details behind the scenes (dashboard stuff). This lead to mild anxiety. To “cure” my anxiety I increased my skill level by learning about blogging. Anxiety gone!

Now that I’ve gotten the basics down I can (almost) blog in my sleep. But this leads to boredom. To “cure” my boredom I increased my challenges by tackling new challenges (drawing my own graphics, cartoons, etc). Boredom gone!

For a longer description of FLOW see previous blog posts by clicking here:

Anxiety

Boredom

For a very long description of FLOW here is more info.

Mihaly

Next: Get Creative with Cool Apps

Get Tough: Distinguish Real from Perceived Danger (5 of 8)

 Danger

The best time to evaluate danger is when we’re calm. Once the fear juice adrenaline starts flowing we don’t think clearly. So, if you’re not calm, get calm. Click here to see HOW TO RELAX.

Once calm fill out this chart.

Danger

An exploding sun would certainly have a negative outcome, but how likely is it? Hearing a critical comment is certainly probable. But is it really that bad? This chart helps us be objective as we evaluate risk, danger, and perceived threat.

Click here to see THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT RISK AND WORRY

next: Get Tough with 14 Mental Images

 

Three Paintings, Three Stories, Three Soothing Moments

The treatment of choice for anxiety and depression is called cognitive therapy, which as the title suggests, means thinking about what we think about. But there’s another way to influence our moods besides thinking. It’s called art. Painters, graphic designers, and art therapists have known this for years. Here are three of my favorite paintings I turn to when grappling with unwelcome emotions.

hicksPeaceable[1]

I’ve known about this painting for years but saw it in person at the National Gallery of Art last December (2013). It depicts the millennium, a time of universal peace and prosperity. It was painted by a peace-loving Quaker pastor named Edward Hicks in 1826. Stare at this brilliance for a while and see if it doesn’t assuage grief and inspire hope.

06_childrenslit_wyeth_snowdrop

I partially credit my love of art to this painting. One of the few works of real literature I enjoyed as a kid (when not reading comic books or MAD magazine) was the Anthology of Children’s Literature illustrated by one of America’s greatest artists,  N. C. Wyeth. This painting illustrates Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Snow White. When I stare at those scary animal faces I am (still!) comforted that Snow White is safe. I guess fairy tales are supposed to have this effect!

the-sleeping-gypsy1

I first fell in love with Henri Rousseau in an art history class in 1981. This particular piece, “Sleeping Gypsy” reminds me one can be in a state of repose even when possible danger lurks close by. We were expecting our first born at the end of the term and I was somewhat panicky about missing the test if Vicki went into labor.

I asked the prof, “May I postpone my final exam until after our baby is born?”

He said, “Is it your first?”

I said,”Yes.”

He said, “I will excuse you from having to take the final exam; you first time expecting fathers aren’t good at taking tests.”

I was speechless with gratitude.

What are the works of art you turn to for fun, relief, and emotional nourishment?

When Loved Ones Draw Near Don’t Panic

what she heard

In a previous blog post I talked about the pursuer who panics when their partner pulls away. Today I talk about the distancer who panics when their partner draws close.

If you’re a distancer you may think your partner is clingy, desperate, or excessively needy when in fact the problem might not be them. It could be–brace yourself–you. People who fear intimacy will interpret their partner’s bids for closeness as a threat, an imposition, and an irritation.

We all bring expectations into marriage. Your partner’s expectation to connect with you is normal. They married you in good faith hoping you’d be there for them. But if your expectation is to be left alone, well, how do I say this nicely? We’ve got trouble.

If you cut off a person’s oxygen supply they’re going to gasp for breath. If you cut off your partner’s love supply they’re going to gasp for emotional connection. They’re not being needy, you’re being stingy.

Clues of emotional stinginess (also known as a “dismissive attachment style” or “fear of intimacy”):

“If I meet my partner’s needs I’ll be obligated to fill their bottomless bucket the rest of my life.”
“If I keep my partner starved for love I will have control.”
“My partner’s need for closeness isn’t as important as my need for space.”
“If I lower my walls I’ll be hurt.”
“I simply don’t want anybody needing me.”
“I can live without connection, why can’t others?”
“The mark of responsibility is to have no needs. My partner has needs and is therefore irresponsible.”
“My anxiety peaks whenever my partner says, ‘Let’s talk.'”
“I keep my partner at arm’s length because that’s who I am.”
“If I don’t keep my emotional distance I’ll get hurt.”

If it’s hard for a married couple to blend their differening needs for closeness and space, intimacy and individuality, freedom and connection, “I” and “we” we suggest the following.

1. Don’t blame a pursuer for wanting to be close. That’s why they got married.
2. Assume responsibility for being a distancer. If you’re uncomfortable with getting close, admit it.
3. Review how connected you felt to your primary care givers growing up. If you were abandoned, disappointed, or hurt as a kid no wonder getting close is now hard.
4. Get in touch with your unacknowledged need for relationships.
5. If you have no need for relationship, your partner has some very difficult decisions to make.
6. Overcome fear of vulnerability by making small steps toward honesty and transparency.
7. Remind yourself you’ve got more than two options, dependence or independence. There’s a third option: interdependence.
8. Identify the things you’ve substituted for closeness: amassing wealth, hobbies, workaholism, addictions, anger, perfectionism.
9. Find someone you trust with whom you can slowly take the lid off stuffed emotions.
10. Reconsider your decision of depriving others of your close friendship.

Comments are welcome.

When Loved Ones Pull Away Don’t Panic

feeling smothered cartoon

Some people panic when a loved one pulls away. Fear of abandonment, loss, and loneliness prompts them to do desperate things. They pursue, they give gifts, they nag, and they pressure. In some cases they lecture, they stalk, or they sulk. And some even consider harming themselves or the loved one who distances themselves.

Since none of these are helpful or effective, we suggest the following.

1. Make your one time request for closeness without threat, desperation, panic, or excessive clinginess. Few people find needy dependence attractive and most find it smothering.
2. If that request is ignored, accept it. Don’t pester, repeat yourself, nag, or threaten. You can’t force a person to voluntarily get close to you. It’s both logically and psychologically impossible.
3. Brace yourself to live with the emotional, sexual, romantic void. Hopefully it won’t last. Learn how to sooth yourself in healthy ways. Calm yourself. Get a hobby. Enlarge your identity to include more than “spouse.” Become a better parent, adult son/daughter, friend, civic minded citizen, musician, or athlete. If your partner died you’d figure out a way to survive. Practice those skills now.
4. Identify the things in you that trigger their withdrawal and eliminate them immediately. It’s likely the withdrawer has told you about these things for weeks, months, or years so asking them to repeat them to you now only convinces them that you’ve not been listening. Ransack your memory and recall what it is they’ve asked you to stop doing and stop doing it.
5. Be alert for opportunities to meet their, not your, needs. It was your need-meeting character that drew them to you in the first place. Focus on improving their life, not yours. Love means being kind and generous even when there’s no guarantee you’ll receive anything in return.
6. While you’re waiting for your spouse to reengage, be patient without anger, gritting your teeth, murmuring, pouting, or walking around depressed. Playing the wounded martyr may coerce some partners to return out of guilt or shame but that isn’t love. It’s manipulation.
7. If your loved one is pursuing a third party don’t let jealousy rule your life. Learn to grieve in healthy ways, get counseling to handle the betrayal, and be responsible to maintain your job, health, friendships, faith, and other family connections.
8. As agonizing as a withdrawing partner is, others have survived it and you can, too.

PURSUERS TEND TO:

1. React to anxiety by seeking greater togetherness in their relationship.
2. Place a high value on talking things out and expressing feelings, and believe that others should do the same.
3. Feel rejected and take it personally when their partner wants more time and space alone or away from the relationship.
4. Pursue harder when a partner seeks distance, and get panicky when their efforts fail.
5. Overlook their blind spots as “too dependent” or “too demanding” or “too nagging” in their relationship.
6. Criticize their partner as someone who can’t handle feelings or tolerate closeness.
7. Approach their partner with a sense of urgency or emotional intensity when anxious.

DISTANCERS TEND TO:

1. Seek emotional distance via physical space when stress is high.
2. Consider themselves to be self-reliant and private persons—more do-it-yourselfers than help-seekers.
3. Have difficulty showing their needy, vulnerable, and dependent sides.
4. Are accused of being “unavailable,” “withholding,” and “emotionally shut down” from their spouse.
5. Manage anxiety in their marriage by intensifying work-related projects or withdrawing into hobbies, kids, friends, jobs, technology or sports.
6. Give up easily on their partner (“It’s not worth trying to discuss things”) and have a low tolerance for conflict.
7. Open up most freely when they aren’t being pushed, pursued, or criticized by their partner.

“Never miss the opportunity to make someone happy—even if you have to leave him alone to do it.”

People pull away when they:

1. feel smothered
2. want privacy
3. are exhausted from propping up another’s feelings
4. realize how out of balance the relationship has been, giving endlessly and receiving little in return.

One final suggestion: explore the roots of your dependence. Past betrayals? Anxiety? Fear of abandonment? Primary care givers who weren’t there for you as a child? Fearful or preoccupied attachment styles from childhood? This is hard work but if you can’t stop the distancer from distancing you can at least stop your counter productive pursuing.

If you can’t change your partner, change yourself.

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Exposing the Alien That Invades Marriages: Anxiety

invasion COVER

Being happily married is a challenge. Being tormented by anxiety is a bigger challenge. Being in a marriage tormented by anxiety is a gargantuan challenge. But being in a marriage tormented by anxiety without your knowledge is the biggest challenge of all. It’s like an invisible invader has infiltrated your relationship wrecking havoc and nobody knows how it got there, who is responsible, or how to get rid of it.

That’s what Invasion of the Marriage Snatcher is all about. Here are practical tools for couples to identify and combat this alien invader. I’ve collected 101 of the best interventions couples have used to quit seeing each other as the enemy and attack the real enemy instead–anxiety. Instead of fighting your partner you can fight a real alien!

Four Tips to Slow Down the Constant Traffic in Your Head

overly active brain

 

Compulsive worriers, obsessive thinkers, and anxious fretters share a common trait–the brain they are trying to reign in goes with them everywhere.  It’s one thing to walk away from a tempting doughnut; we can’t walk away from an over active mind.

If the traffic noise and congestion of thoughts, worries, and “what ifs?” are distressing, if you find it hard to let go of ruminating, mental hand wringing, or replaying the same tapes over and over, and if you need help slowing down the constant traffic in your head, here are four tips that may help.

1.  Access the amount of traffic in your head. Many worriers already know how much they worry and if this is true for you, go to step two. But if you’re unsure of how much time and energy is wasted in rumination pay attention to the following. Where does your mind wander when you’re waiting at a red light, and how often does it wander to the same place? How long does it take you to fall asleep and do you stay asleep or does the traffic in your head wake you up at two AM? Are your inner dialogues so well rehearsed you can quote them from memory? Do you find it hard to concentrate on tasks or are you distracted by regrets, anger, or replaying scenarios and imaginary conversations? Are your inner monologues positive and cheerful or negative, self critical, depressing, or anxious? If you were to keep a worry journal, what patterns, common triggers, and regular times and locations of your worry would you notice?

2. Practice a rumination free moment. Set the timer on your phone and sit silently for one minute during which time you discipline your mind to relax. Deny intrusive thoughts entry into your head. If 60 seconds is too long, shoot for 30. Since it’s impossible to turn our brain off completely, it’s okay during that time to repeat soothing words. Christians find the Jesus prayer helpful in this regard. Non Christians find other mantras a good antidote to obsessive thinking. This forced silence decreases the amount of adrenaline in your brain and with constant practice you will soon wean yourself from adrenaline addiction. Many compulsive worriers would never bungee-jump or watch a horror flick, but they don’t need to. They keep their brains on high adrenaline with constant rumination. Increase that 60 seconds to two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes or longer. As your skill increases at some point you’ll be able to schedule a daily 30 minute worry break where you allow yourself to worry like mad for 30 minutes and then enjoy the next 23.5 hours worry free. Then reduce that 30 minutes to 25, 20, and so forth.

3. Identify and combat the fearful thoughts that lead to compulsive worry. Here are some popular culprits:

  • If I worry I will avert disaster.
  • If I worry then upsetting things won’t be as upsetting when they occur.
  • If I don’t worry bad things will happen.
  • I was born to worry and cannot change.
  • If something bad happens I will not cope.
  • If I don’t worry I’m being irresponsible.
  • Worrying demonstrates how nice, how caring, and how responsible I am.
  • If I ask the “Why did this happen?” question long enough I will eventually get an answer.

These are, not to put too fine a point on it, lies. While they may feel true they are not. Replace them with true statements and the compulsion to worry decreases. There’s truth in the old saying, “The truth shall set you free.”

4. Get out of your head and do something physical. Instead of indulging the habit of brooding change your location. Get out of the chair, out of the room, out of the house. Get your heart pumping. Tackle a project. Clean something. Organize something. Call someone. Distract your brain with physical tasks that require your full attention.

Since our brains are problem solving machines we’re wired to think. But there can be too much of a good thing. I hope these tips that others have found helpful help you.

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