Anxiety & Panic are Ruining My Life

Heather Edwards anxiety

“I feel like I can’t breathe.” “My chest is tightening.” “I’m afraid I’m going to faint or die.”

You might be wondering if you’re having a heart attack, or other medical crisis. It’s uncomfortable, even frightening.

You don’t know what to do or how to make it stop. It seems unpredictable. You feel helpless. You’re avoiding certain social situations, or even leaving your home because of it.

Anxiety & panic are ruining your life.

The paradox is that the more you focus on it, the more you feed it.  And the more you fight it and avoid it, the  more you feed it.  

So what exactly is happening? And what can you do about it?

I’ll start by defining anxiety and panic, providing some statistics about each, and offering a few strategies for managing them.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by persistent unrealistic…

  • worry & unease
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • difficulty sleeping

It’s typically accompanied by an elevated heart rate and central nervous system activation sometimes triggering your fight or flight response.

It affects 6.8 million adults in any given year, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected.

Heather Edwards AnxietyPanic Disorder, it’s mischievous twin, is characterized by all the same symptoms plus…

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • sensations of smothering or choking
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • chills
  • numbness
  • abdominal distress
  • feelings of unreality
  • fear of “going crazy” or dying

About six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year. It typically develops in early adulthood. Women are twice as likely as men to experience it.

Over time, your central nervous system develops patterns, or habits that become harder to change because of chemical and neural networks that are self-reinforcing that anxiety & panic cycle. The only way to alter the way your body responds to stress without medication, is through awareness, non-judgement, and conscious intentional action.

Here’s what you can do…

  1. Start by Identifying a trigger. When you consider the times and places you experience the symptoms, notice the common threads. Is there a typical scenario, person, or place where you get triggered? Often, there is an element of uncertainty or unpredictability in the situation. 
  2. Intervene early with a calm awareness of your trigger before the symptoms are full blown. Be prepared to talk yourself down, engage your wise mind, use strategies like breath work, positive reframing, and self validation to calm and soothe the thoughts that lead to anxiety and panic.
  3. What did you say to yourself about the trigger? This is a basic cognitive therapy tool. Our thoughts affect our feelings, physiological responses, and behavioral reactions. Except in the case of life or death circumstance, situations in-and-of themselves don’t cause our reactions, our thoughts about them do. Notice your internal monologue and adjust it. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve experienced this and survived it.
  4. When there isn’t an easily identifiable trigger, there could be a subconscious negative belief coloring your experience. At your core, what do you truly believe about yourself? When you fill in the statement, “I am ___”. What words come to mind? What is the tone of that self statement? If you started with,“I am unworthy.”.  Can you change it to, “I am equally important.”?  If your belief is, “ I am helpless.”.  Can you change it to, “I am strong and capable of setting boundaries.”? Through noticing and reframing your automatic thoughts, you can begin to reclaim your life.
  5. Heather Edwards AnxietyOngoing positive self care is essential to your health and wellbeing. 
  • Eat balanced meals. They provide nutrients that improve mood and energy.
  • Exercise regularly (at least 3-4 times/week). It reduces stress hormones.
  • Get adequate sleep (for most adults 7-8 hour/night). This is when your brain cleanses itself of toxins.
  • Practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or walking. It develops the regions of your brain responsible for peace, calm, and compassion.
  • Maintain healthy relationships. We are a social species. We need people in our lives to feel connected and loved.
  • Indulge in inspiring activities where you get lost in the flow. This takes you outside of your head and into the moment.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are effective treatments for changing this anxiety and panic cycle. Both address the underlying belief system, often based in traumatic experiences, that are linked to your current distress.

In summary, through awareness, information, and massive action you can reclaim your life: You CAN feel better. Anxiety and Panic do not have to be a life sentence.

In the words of Rumi, “Remember, the entrance to the sanctuary is inside you.”

 

 

Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by stockimages, ambro, & nenetus.

Today I Cried During Meditation

Heather Edwards meditationAs I followed my breath, body, and the sensations of the moment in meditation, I noticed a warmth filling and illuminating my heart. It called to mind the hurt, trauma, and despair of so many in this sometimes devastating human experience.

As I attempted to gently escort my mind back, anchor myself and release the thinking, I noticed an urgency to project those feelings outward. I realized they weren’t thoughts, requiring effort to be quieted, tamed, or changed, but they were feelings and energies reflecting a genuine presence, atunement, and compassion.

As I connected with them, a tear softly rolled down my cheek. There was light, peace, strength, safety, trust, and connectedness. I meditated on this.  The tear wasn’t a cry of sadness or joy, but of wanting goodness and freedom from pain. Not for me, but for all.

My meditation room has an energy that is palpable. With an increasing mindful presence, the paper lanterns hanging in the window begin to dance. As I connect with the symbolism of the objects in the room, it comes alive.

Each item holds a personal meaning. I honor each and what it represents – the seashells from my visits to beaches around the world, the sand from my honeymoon, the heart shaped tray holding an homage to my late cat Tony, and finally the Guan Yin statue.

Heather Edwards meditationShe is Bodhisattva, enlightened being of compassion. There is something grounding, uplifting, warming and centering about her in that room. Those moments of expanding mindfulness and meditation materialize a unique visceral energetic experience there.

Along with my three cats, the incense and candles, the flooding natural light and atmospheric music, a spacious calm fills the tiny room inside the endless chaotic frenzy of New York City. It makes me small, insignificant, and expansive all at the same time.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses the oldest Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara (Guan Yin) statue. She is magnificent. At about 20 feet tall, she is a symbol of an enlightened being offering hope, passion, purity, and good fortune to those around her. She was believed to hear the cries of the world in the time of Buddha in the 5th Century B.C.

Heather Edwards meditationI met her not so long ago, the miniature statue version at a Manhattan holistic wellness center, and brought her home. She sits with me compassionately, always ready for an inward journey.

The paradox is that an outward healing is released seemingly by natural consequence of meditation with her. Call it metaphysics, religion, or spirituality. Whatever it is, she soothes the cries and opens up a universe of possibilities.

 

Audio Blog: Reclaim Your Life

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist and Coach

 

Is ego, fear, or someone else’s vision keeping you stuck?

You are the expert, master, and keeper of your life.

What are your guiding philosophies?  Are you functioning from a place of blame, entitlement, lack, fear, and greed? Or from a position of responsibility, abundance, wealth, courage, and charity? And I’m not talking about money – but rather about strength, purpose and meaning.

Maybe your mind is scattered and unfocused, or it seems too late to change course now.

Maybe you forgot to ask questions and push back a little along the way. Perhaps what you want seems unobtainable. Maybe you’ve never been a lucky person, or there’s too much burdening you to see the possibilities.

Our perspective is much like a camera lens.

Sometimes we need to stop to adjust the filter, focus, or breadth of what we see. When the inner critic speaks louder than the voice of reason, self doubt sounds like the gospel truth. When hopelessness reigns as the Queen of your mental castle, it’s time to step back and adjust the lens.

1. Focus. Adjust. Zoom.Heather Edwards Psychotherapist and Coach

Switch the lens.

If what you want is to be happy, focus your energy and attention on the people, places, and experiences that lead you to feeling happy.  Doing this for just 30 seconds, five times per day, can change your brain structure and chemistry so that it’s easier to see the bright side of things.

If what you want is to be free, adjust the expectations, to-do’s, and beliefs that imprison you. What can you take off your plate, delegate or reprioritize?

If it’s love you seek, look at the bigger picture. Reach for the wide lens. You could be missing something, or someone, who’s right in front of you.

2. When you hear your inner monologue sweetly sabotaging your dreams, question it and correct it.

Ask, “What evidence do I have to support the idea that I can’t do it?” Then, flip it around and ask, “What evidence do I have that I CAN do it?”.  And, “What information do I need to make that dream happen?”.

3. Start with a top ten list.

Name your top ten most enjoyable activities – where you get lost in the flow, 10 people who inspire you – who you’ve learned from or have felt something change in your life because of them, and 10 things you can do so naturally that you can complete them without even thinking about them.

4. Identify your hidden values.

Notice overlapping activities, skills, or interests in your lists.  Cherish this crucial information as the foundation for beginning to reclaim your life. Now you are building, growing, grounding, and changing. Set one micro-goal for each day to get closer to your dream.

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist and Coach5. Remind yourself you can do this.  Commit to staying THIS course.

When you commit to daily actionable steps toward your dream, you steadily move toward achieving them.  Envision your best self.  Embrace your unique strengths. Trust you have the drive and wherewithal to see them through. Clarify your intentions daily. Watch your life evolve.

“Your field of focus determines what you find in life.” T. Harv Eker

Where is Your Relationship Headed? What’s your love ratio?

Heather Edwards Relationship Oasis

Let’s begin with a simple checklist for a healthy relationship. How many of these exist in your love life?

  • acceptance
  • empathy
  • respect
  • honesty
  • compassion
  • compatibility
  • trust
  • understanding
  • vulnerability
  • safety
  • consideration
  • compromise
  • communication
  • shared vision and values
  • passion
  • play

Yes, life gets in the way sometimes. Take time out to nurture your love. There are evidence based ways to build healthy, lasting relationships. Here are a few of them….

Dream together. Create personal rituals of connection. Honor each other. Speak AND listen. Ask open ended questions. Be curious. Remain calm during disagreement & conflict. Own your feelings.  Take responsibility when it’s yours. Take steps to deepen your friendship and intimacy. Validate each other.

Watch out for the pitfalls that ruin relationships. If any these sound familiar, it’s time to make adjustments.

  • blame
  • criticism
  • belittling
  • stonewalling
  • contempt
  • defensiveness
  • withholding
  • avoidance
  • violence

Don’t fret. It’s not too late. As long as both parties are committed to make changes that benefit themselves, each other, and the relationship, it can work out! When you share a dream of better days ahead together, you can strengthen, rebuild, and rediscover your love.

Don’t wait. Time is of the essence. If you’re curious about how sustainable your relationship is, here’s an easy tally of it’s health… According to John Gottman, healthy relationships have 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative one. He refers to it as the 5 to 1 Ratio. It’s scientifically predicted whether or not relationships last. What is your ratio?

If the scales are tipped on the negative side and you want to turn it around, practice positivity toward your partner. Refer to the first list in this blog and put those into action. If you need professional help, seek it out.

“Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. ‘After all this time?’. ‘Always,’ said Snape.” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

photo of couple courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Sarge Bertasius Photography

Discover YOUR Greatness: Quiet the Inner Critic

Discover Heather Edwards CoachYou get so close and back away. You taste greatness. But it seems too good to be real.

You’re actualizing your core self, your feelings, your desires. You knew you had it inside and could share it with the world… to make this a better world. A richer one made with a tapestry of creativity, passion, and truth.

But there’s a voice telling you no one wants to hear you. No one could enjoy you. No one appreciates the greatness within you. It calls your attention to an acute awareness of the catastrophe of life, and your part in it.

Say hello to the mindless chatter of your self sabotaging fear, sadness, and doubt. It wants you to stay where you are – numb, disconnected, where you don’t want to be. But where you’re oddly comfortable.

It’s a familiar place. It’s predictable and safe. But it’s limiting. It grows small inside the walls of your fear. It’s lonely. One dimensional.

Heather EdwardsBust out of that tiny room in your head. Refuse compliance with anger, anxiety, and loneliness. Rebel against the tired old messages that no longer serve you. Engage the hungry mind. Indulge the thirst for connection, impact, and influence.

Only the flow of word, deed, and experience can feed the soul of passion and creativity. Nourish the yearning. Manifest an energy larger than you.

Yes, it’s big. At times it’s overbearing. But this is life force. It moves you to a place of disbelief. It’s a place of profound joy that you could really be this person. This complex, passionate, relevant human being. Your true self. Unleashed. Vulnerable. Strong.

Welcome. Stay awhile. Keep your commitments. Dream big. Honor your inner greatness. Believe in your core self. Connect with your truest desires. Abandon judgement. Notice the intricacy, beauty, and complexity of this life as a living breathing human being.

ID-100362864You are as worthy as anyone else on this planet. Embrace that. When you do, you can only make this a better place for all.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

 

photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by nentus

Psychology Today – Better Grades

Heather EdwardsHere’s another Psychology Today publication with Dr. Mark Banschick. This was posted here on January 10, 2016. It’s chock full of simple tips for acing your semester!

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You are back from break, and school has been a problem, with too many distractions, friends, sports…sometimes a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a break-up.

It is not working.

If you’re in college or grad school, no one’s supervising, which is great, butwhen you get distracted, it’s all on you. Even if you are in high school, it’s best to be self motivated.

So, now as you pick up the pieces from last semester and committing to a program of success.

Consider some tips from guest blogger,Heather Edwards(link is external).

Create a Routine:

Establish a study time, place, and structure that works from the start of the school year. The earlier you begin a routine, the easier it will be to stick with it as a matter of course.

Set aside a specified block of time each day to review notes, complete assignments, prioritize your work, and get tutoring if needed. Avoid counterproductive behaviors like going on-line to social networking sites, texting friends, and leaving your study space.

Stop distracting behaviors – like checking emails, before they become habits.

Minimize Distractions & Obstacles:

What is getting in the way of your effective learning? Identify the pitfalls. Studies have shown that loud noises and flashing lights are a huge external distraction of focus and attention. Find a study space that reduces these.

Set up timed email and Facebook notifications, or turn them off on your phone and computer. Silence your ringer, wear ear plugs or head phones.

Are you distracted visually by other students in class? Are you feeling rushed or constantly late? Is your mind wandering when it needs to pay attention? It can help to sit in the front of the classroom, arrive early, and participate in class discussions. Take a deep breath. Focus your attention on your attention. Avoid getting caught up in thoughts about your friends or weekend plans.

Proactively identify and determine strategies to reduce these snafus.

Study Tips:  

Stay organized – know your due dates. Prioritize your time by being aware of deadlines.

  • Review notes immediately following class – it will help encode the new information, or otherwise make it stick.
  • Highlight what you don’t know so you can return to it for further exploration.
  • Study in peer groups – the discussion and support can improve retention.
  • Write notes on flashcards.  Review them in alternating order.
  • And, get adequate rest.  A wakeful mind is a smarter mind.

Believe in Yourself:

Remember that you can do it!

Self-discipline is the hardest part. Notice the other things in life to which you apply your full focus and intention – like watching a movie, playing a sport, or listening to a friend. You can apply that same dedication and effort to grades. It might not come as naturally, but with practice and reduction of avoiding behaviors you can develop a a strong study habit, and thus better grades.

Reward Yourself:

This is the foundation of Behavior Modification. It’s what inspires and strengthens behavior patterns. Study time is simply that – a behavior you want to reinforce.

Set a goal for yourself – and a special treat when it’s complete. When you finish reading a chapter or writing a page of a paper, call a friend, go for a bike ride, or have a tasty snack. You deserve a prize for your accomplishment. It will give you something to work toward in the short term and will payoff a hundred fold in the long term.

Audio Blog: Fear Sucks. Get Up.

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist, Coach, FearFor my subscribers… a new treat. Audio versions of your favorite blogs. Now you can engage with me in a more personal way. These are readings of my writings, by yours truly. Enjoy. Please post your comments at the bottom of the page. I’m eager to hear from you.

Fear sucks, doubt debilitates and stress kills.Loneliness isolates and worry permeates. Anger enrages and sorrow depletes. Yearning drives and hope transcends. Joy eases – all or most of the pain, at least for a moment.

Darkness and light. Greatness and shame. Brilliance and defeat. Ecstasy and despair. Two sides of the same coin, right?

They’re separated only by a the velocity of a spin or gravitational pull from our Mother Earth.Unavoidable. Unmanageable. Unimaginable. Or not?

These are the feelings you will inevitablyexperience as a living, loving, breathing, growing, evolving human being.They’re scary. They’re jarring. They’re life changing. They’re normal.

At times, they force you to look them in the eye and realize the limits of your comfort zone. They reveal the distinction between being passenger and being driver in this ride called life.

Take the wheel. It’s high time we get off our seats and do something to catapult change.

A revolutionary personal change. Hardship isn’t fair, negativity is a travesty, and staying down – well that’s just not an option.

Get up. Notice what lies between the extremes – calm, happy, relaxed, comfortable, satisfied, confident, belonging. Gratitude, appreciation, generosity, affection, sadness, hurt. Disappointment, rejection, insecurity, and confusion. The list goes on.

Welcome to the midrange of your emotional experience. Give those feelings your undivided attention. Place them center stage.

Extremes steal the show. But they’re only one act. Make room for other players. Open the stage door to a full accompaniment of roles. Ones that ground, balance, andcompliment the full catastrophe.

This big, beautiful, complex experience deserves your full attention. In doing so, you can become mindful of the moment to moment realities – good, bad, or neutral.

Catch your internal monologue and bring those extremes down a notch – or up. Practice using less inflammatory words to describe your experience and see what happens. Notice how that feels. It can improve your tolerance, modulate your emotions, and open you to a fuller, richer life. Stop wasting time idling and reacting. Put it in drive.

Retrain Your Brain – Better Stress Management

Heather Edwards stress“I can’t take it anymore!”

“I need a vacation!”

“Maybe I’ll sell everything and move to an island!”

Have you had similar thoughts?  I know I have.

This. Is. Stress.

We ALL experience stress. It’s NORMAL in our highly opinionated, fast paced, multi-tasking, master of all domains world.

In fact, I just had a perfect storm of stressors in my life that created exhaustion and overwhelm. But I’ll spare you those gory details.

What is stress??? The dictionary definition is: A state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

Sound familiar?

Your nervous system is activated.

This is your fight or flight reaction.

All functions aimed at survival take priority.

And stress kills, right? Wrong!

Research is demonstrating that it’s what we do with stress that kills us.

When there’s a perceived threat in our environment, stress happens – and then our bodies resume normal functioning when that threat is gone.

In the case of poor coping, that stress response lingers, leading to an extended activation of your nervous system and potential health consequences – like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

It’s imperative that you hit the reset button after the stress trigger has left the building.

The catch is that our brains are evolved with a negativity bias.Heather Edwards stress

We naturally scan our environment for potential danger.

It’s kept us alive as a species since early man.

And It makes our brains function like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good, according to Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain.

In other words, the bad sticks and the good slips away.

Since We don’t face the same physical threats to our survival as early man – like being chased down 5th Avenue by a rhinoceros- we must work harder to hold onto the good and let go of the bad.

Here’s one way to do it…

It’s a technique using the neuroscience of retraining your brain.

We know that our brains are very plastic and can be shaped, literally by the way we think.

When you spend time focusing on the good, you begin changing your brain’s physical structure.

You develop new neural pathways, that naturally notice the good unfolding around you.

It’s just like taking a walk in a meadow.  Imagine a winding pathway through the grass. The more you walk that path, the deeper and wider it becomes.

The neural pathways in your brain develop the same way. The ones you travel most often become the most ingrained.

So travel the ones that bring you health, positivity, and peace.

My favorite way of doing this is by writing in a 3 step journal.

1.The first step is – what I’m feeling today. Check yourself and write about that.

2.The second step is – what I’m grateful for today. Take stock of what you already have. This creates an abundance mindset.

3.The third step is – my intention for today. Focus on what you want and walk that pathway into the fresh day ahead.

Heather Edwards stressIt takes about 5 minutes. When you commit to this it  jump starts positivity.

Your neurons fire in ways that feel good. The pathways to happiness are reinforced.

It’s uplifting, empowering, and grounding.

And Despite the happiness saboteurs around and within you, it invites THE GOOD to stick around longer, and for peace and calm to become your pathway of choice.

 

photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by nenetus, vectorolie, dan.

Happy Holidays! From Me, to You.

Heather Edwards Happy HolidaysHappy Holidays! During this season of joy, celebration, and bonding take a moment to notice what are you grateful for…

Create a life of abundance by practicing gratitude everyday.

Pause. Breathe. Drop into this moment. Who is with you? What pleasures are in your environment? What lies in front of and around you? Where are you headed? What do you hope for?

As 2015 comes to a close, count the gifts of abundance that presented themselves to you during the year. Focus for a few moments each day on what you already have.

Make time to reflect on the changes, people, activities, or creature comforts that helped you evolve into a wiser, kinder, more gracious person. There are many things you may have overlooked in your busy schedule.

Give yourself credit for being open, diligent, and ready to receive those gifts.

If you focus on what you don’t have, you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll continue aiming at a moving target, perpetually out of reach. You’ll continue existing in a mentality of scarcity and deficit.

It can keep you stuck there – even though there are many things unfolding around you that nourish, support, and uplift you.

When you shift that focus…Heather Edwards Psychotherapist Coach

Suddenly you’re surrounded by wonderful people, things, and events. What if you didn’t have the things you already have?

Start with the basics – you have running water and a roof over your head, you have special plans with special people, the winter solstice brings us longer days… and so on.

What will 2016 bring? That’s up to you.

Be deliberate. Make it what you want. Don’t live by default. Take control of your life. Design 2016 with intention and purpose.

It’s only one week away. Get clarity. Start with gratitude. Focus on growth, prosperity, and positivity. Imagine the next steps to creating an exceptional year!

Cheers to you and yours! Wishing you a peaceful and enlightened holiday and a flourishing new year!

With love and gratitude…

xxoo

 

Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by OZPhotography and Serge Bertasius Photography

Turn Toward the Enemy – Mastering negative emotions

Heather Edwards Psychotherapy Coaching EmotionsYou feel stuck. Trapped. Immobilized. When in the therapy and coaching room, conversations about fear, regret, disappointment, and frustration arise and take center stage. 

It’s easy to fall prey, be guided and controlled by negative emotions, even feel consumed by them. It’s an uncomfortable place. It’s dark, heavy, constricting. It can hold you hostage. And it can intensify before it dissipates.

Recognize negative emotions not as your enemy but as your informant. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Be open to them. Question them. Break them down. Look those unsavories in the eye. Release their grip.

Identify the building blocks of negativity. Uncover the hidden messages. Initiate a plan designed for empowerment.

When you turn toward your anger, fear, and sadness you validate the experience of the pain. You soothe and comfort, rather than avoid or deny the screaming, stomping, crying, demanding, desperate attempts of that negativity to grasp your attention. Now you are responding instead of reacting.

In turning toward those negative emotions you accept them as real. In that paradoxical open space, you relieve them of their power and control, and master them. You define them, rather than allowing them to define you.

Heather Edwards Oasis CoachingBreak them down into tangible parts. Clarify. Question. Seek answers. What is this fear about? Where is this anger stemming from? What does this sadness represent? From an open, enlightened place you can develop a plan for addressing what’s underlying those feelings.

That big amorphous blob of negative emotions is overwhelming, and stifling.  Make it tangible, definable, understandable, conquerable. Get professional support, if needed.

Dig deep. Do you need more knowledge, tools, information, time, or help? Do you need to let go of tired messages? Get to the root of it. How might your life change if you break through this? Identify what you need for success and move toward it.

Heather Edwards Psychotherapy Emotions CoachingStand up to the challenge. Embrace your unique strengths and power. Know that fear, anger, resentment, regret, sadness, disappointment and anxiety will at times be your companion. But they need not stifle you.

“Yield and you need not break:

Bent you can straighten,

Emptied you can hold,

Torn you can mend”. – Lao Tzu 300 B.C.

 

Grow. Evolve. Achieve. You are not stuck.  Feelings are your allies illuminating less obvious truths. Notice them, understand them, and respond proactively. From this point, real change can begin.

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by stockimages, nenetus.