Saturday, August 25, 2012

Positive Spin Part One!

Just a quick tidbit of positivity for a Saturday evening...

This is just an excerpt from a discussion I had about medication for anxiety. I suddenly got the urge to share because I realized how much this helped me when I was in this person's shoes...

The medicine just helps to make it easier not to have anxiety or depression (ideally), but there's no "magic pill." You also have to change the way you live and the way you think. It's a tough challenge, but I think you'll end up feeling like a better and stronger person when you get through it. I mean really, as depressing as all of it can be at the bottom (I know, I've been there...), seeing how HUGE of an obstacle it all seems now... just about every test you're put up to in your life AFTER anxiety/depression will seem like a walk in the park. You've lost your life, but you're going to get it back. And when you do you're going to have so much more appreciation for it. The first panic/anxiety-less day will seem brighter, happier, and more full of possibilities than any day before... Sorry, I did not intend for my reply to be so full of cheese, but really some positive spin can go a long way.

Public Speaking: Oh My!

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld 

“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” ~ Mark Twain

Yesterday at work I was asked to give a speech. It had been a while since I had been asked to speak in front of a large group. I had kind of forgotten just how scary it can be! Having an anxiety disorder, I was definitely apprehensive. I was worried that I would forget my lines and look like a fool. I could say something dumb and be the joke of the workplace for weeks. As soon as it was announced that we all would have to give speeches, these thoughts started going through my head. My palms got wet and my mouth got dry. That familiar anxious feeling.

We broke for an extended lunch, giving us all time to prepare our speeches. Talking with some of the others as we left for lunch, I quickly realized that everyone was nervous about this, not just me. Some were even more nervous than I was. Oddly, this made me feel quite a bit better about it. Even the seemingly very outgoing and ultra-confident people in the group expressed that they were nervous as well. So if I stumble a little bit, it's not really a big deal. Other people are going to stumble as well, get a case of the "uhh"'s, or have the most witty, clever line they spent their whole lunch coming up with just float away into thin air as soon as they get up in front of the group. It happens.

Realizing this was a huge relief to me. I opted to scrap my note cards and just go a more extemporaneous route. The subject matter wasn't really tough. I got everything worked out in my head and was pretty confident in the material by the time I headed back to work. The anticipation however was another matter. As the time to start the speeches approached, the nerves got worse. My heart started beating faster. I started to sweat more. The lines that I had all worked out in my head began to blur together in my head more and more as time went on. I just wanted to get my speech over with. I had decided to go first, so that I could I relax with ease while the rest of the speeches commenced, but I was beaten to the punch.

The first person to go up did a great job. She still set the bar really high. Great. It was a tough act to follow, but I took a deep breath and stood up to go second. Most of the next few minutes is a hazy, distant, dream-like memory, even though it was just yesterday. I think anxiety is funny that way. It has an ability to dampen your perceptions. Although I don't remember it well, I know I did fine. I lost my train of thought at some points, but quickly picked it back up, without standing there looking like a fool. I got my point across. There was no laughter when I was finished, just the usual obligatory applause.

The feeling that you feel after you sit back in your chair after giving that ever intimidating speech is priceless! All the anxiety and nervousness just washes away. Everyone gets nervous about public speaking. Even people who you think don't appear nervous probably are. Stand-up comedians, ministers, actors, teachers, motivational speakers, TV personalities. We're all just people, and we all get nervous.

“I was sitting there hoping they wouldn’t call my name – because the idea of having to give a speech in front of everyone in the world is terrifying.” — Reese Witherspoon, on her anxiety before winning the 2006 Oscar for Best Actress for “Walk the Line.”

One of the main things that worries people about public speaking is simply the fact that their nervousness will show. We are afraid that other people will see that we are nervous. But everybody gets nervous about public speaking, so there shouldn't be any fear that somehow people will catch on your act and lose respect for you. They already know that you're nervous. If your audience was in the same situation as you, having to give that speech, they would be a nervous wreck too. We naturally tend not to realize that other people can feel the same way we do in these situations.

Anxiety has a tendency to distort our perspective on things. Generally, in public speaking situations, people tend to overestimate how apparent the symptoms of their stage-fright are to others, and to not really notice those same symptoms in other people. After a previous public speaking appearance, a much longer speech in front of a much larger audience, I was told later by many people that they could not tell I was nervous at all. I had felt like a complete wreck. I was kept up at night over the anticipation of this speech. My heart was absolutely trying to leap out of my chest all throughout the speech. I thought I must have appeared a fool, yet nobody was the wiser. That is how distorted my perception was!

Public speaking is tough. No matter who you are, it's tough. That's why more people list glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) as their number one fear than do necrophobia (the fear of death). But it's a fact of life and an obstacle that most of us have to overcome at some point in our lives. You just have to realize that it's not that bad. Your worst thoughts about it aren't going to actually happen. Your speech won't be the talk around the water-cooler for weeks to come. It will be fine, and you will feel better and stronger for having done it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Anxiety Resources


 Many anxiety sufferers report feeling extremely alone and confused. This contributes greatly to the problem. The fact is it is not as uncommon as you probably think. Everyone thinks they are the only one because nobody ever talks about it. Approximately 6 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 2.7 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have panic disorder. There are many more out there like you. People who can relate to your experiences. People who can help.

Being able to talk about my anxiety has been key to my recovery. I am fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive family. I started there. Anxiety disorders can often be hereditary in nature. By discussing this with my family, I found that my mother had battled with the same thing throughout my childhood. I had no idea. She was able to offer me great insight into this. I consider that day, talking with my mother about this, to be a turning point.

I have also found help online. The Anxiety Zone is a great forum for people with anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD, phobias or depression. Daily Strength also offers discussion forums. There are many blogs, websites, books, and even videos on YouTube sharing personal experiences with anxiety disorders. Many areas even have anxiety and panic groups who gather to discuss and share.

 Help is out there, so don't give up.

Here are some suggested resources:

A Life Less Anxious

The Charles Linden Method
Stigma Smash on Facebook
Panic Facts


I once read a book (Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Dr Claire Weekes) that talked a lot about acceptance as way of conquering anxiety. It's a great book, I highly suggest reading it if you are struggling with any form of anxiety or panic disorder. I read this book a while back and I got a lot from it. It wasn't until just pretty recently though that I fully grasped what she meant with her bit about acceptance.

I was heading to a job interview on a Monday morning. I thought I had entered the route into the GPS that would avoid the interstate, as I had plenty of nerves about the interview and did not need to pile on one of my classic highway driving panic attacks on top of it. But of course I was mistaken. When the lady came on with her silly voice telling me to merge right onto I-85, I had to obey. I told myself I could do it, and that I would be fine, the usual pep talk. That old familiar anxious feeling started to well up in my chest nonetheless as I drove up that on-ramp. As I got closer to the point of merging into traffic, the anxiety intensified and I was sure I was about to have a panic attack. I had just reached the point where I had had enough. I was so weary of running from these panic attacks that this time I just relaxed my body hoping to just "get it over with". I mentally told that panic attack to just go at it. Let me have it. Get it over with so I can get on about my day and put myself back together for this job interview. But it didn't happen. It just passed. I cruised the remaining 6 miles until my exit without a problem. As I realized that I wasn't going to panic after all, that I couldn't even if I tried, I became ecstatic! It was a great feeling. By accepting the panic attack, I was able to conquer it.

In this type of moment there comes a point where the anxiety either starts to subside as you realize there is no real danger, or it explodes out from your core in every direction with such speed that you'd swear steam is actually coming out of your ears. This is the point where either that second-fear (the fear of the panic attack itself rather than the perceived trigger that caused the anxiety to begin with) gets the best of you or you get the best of it. Panic is like a playground bully. It gives you trouble only so long as you react to it. When you stop fearing that panic attack, it moves along and looks for an easier target.

Road Trip!

Driving, particularly on highways, has been my biggest challenge since I began dealing with panic disorder. Although my first panic attack happened at home while I was getting ready for work, almost every one since has happened while behind the wheel. At my worst point, I would even start to panic in the drive-through or while sitting at a traffic light. I've had full-blown panic attacks while driving down streets with no traffic at all.  Going to and from work was a daily challenge and I did not venture anywhere if it was not absolutely necessary. This was just a few months ago.

Since then, thanks to medication, and with the help of lifestyle changes and changing the way I think, I have made tremendous strides that I am excited to share here. I made the 3.5 hour highway drive to go the beach the other day! Only people who have experienced anxiety and panic or been close with someone who has could understand how big of a feat this could be. Having once spent months taking the scenic route to work every day to avoid a 2 mile stretch of Keystone Avenue, driving 215 miles on interstate highways is a major step for me!

To anyone out there sitting at the bottom, feeling trapped, scared, and hopeless, please realize there is hope out there! You just have to be persistent and keep a positive outlook and you will beat this thing!

If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you'll die a lot of times.  ~Dean Smith

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Drop Those Vices!

OK, maybe not all of them...

Most of us have some sort of vices that we often turn to in times of stress. While they seem to be relieving pressure, they often can be contributing to anxiety. A strong step toward living more stress free can often be to replace some bad vices with healthier ones. Smoking or drinking are ones that I have dealt with, and felt a lot of relief by cutting down on these things and turning to exercise as healthier alternative.


Many people turn to smoking during times of stress. It does seem to offer temporary relief during stressful situations, but that relief quickly fades away after that cigarette is out. Shortly thereafter, it begins to actually cause stress as your body begins to crave another one. That stress will persist until you smoke again.

What you have to realize: Smoking only gives stress relief to those who are addicted. The first time you smoked a cigarette, it likely gave you more of a rush rather than a feeling of calm (after all, nicotine is a stimulant). It was not until you became addicted that it began to offer you stress relief. The reason for this is simple, the nicotine craving is the cause of the stress. You simply feel relief from the nicotine craving. Over time, this causes you to falsely associate cigarettes with stress relief because the only time you don't feel the stress of addiction is when you are smoking.

The first step to quitting, for me, was this realization. I realized that once I got over a brief period of withdrawals, and no longer craved nicotine, I would feel the same level of stress relief that came from smoking a cigarette ALL THE TIME. I will talk more later about how I quit and what that did for my life later, but for now want to get on onto the next vice.


Drinking a beer can be a great stress reliever. Drink a bunch of them and you won't have a care in the world... until the next day. Alcohol dehydrates your body. This is why you feel that horrible hungover feeling the next day. Your body reacts with extreme anxiety when dehydrated. Water is one of the main things your body needs to survive, so when faced with a deficit of it, it reacts with high levels of anxiety. This is your body's way of telling you to drink less alcohol and more water.
I have had some of my worst panic attacks the day after heavy drinking.

I'm not saying you should cut out alcohol altogether, but just be aware that if you already suffer from anxiety or panic attacks alcohol hangovers can be much worse for you. I drink a few beers on a regular basis. Tequila Tuesday is a regular tradition in for my family and I. Moderation is key, though, and so is hydration. Most people overlook this one major factor when they drink. Try to order a glass of water with every drink. You will feel much better the next day if you do. And avoid drinking heavily if you have anything potentially stressful to do the next day.


Caffeine is a stimulant, so it's probably no surprise that it can increase stress and anxiety. Cutting back on caffeine and other stimulants can drastically help someone with anxiety. Small amounts of coffee can actually reduce stress, but if you drink lots of coffee in the morning and then caffeinated soda all day long as I once did, it can be less than helpful. It, like alcohol, dehydrates your body. When I look back on some of worst bouts with anxiety, some form of caffeine was usually present. Dropping coffee, pop, tea and even cutting back on chocolate helped me out a lot.

Now that all of your favorite vices are gone what can you do? Replace them with healthier obsessions. Working out can be an awesome stress reliever and makes a great replacement for some of those vices. Focusing on getting healthy will make you feel much better about quitting smoking. Cardio workouts in the morning can also give you increased energy, much like that cup of coffee and this energy will last further into your day without the crash. Exercising causes your body to release elation-producing endorphins, increasing your sense of well-being. Make sure that you hydrate well while exercising to avoid anxiety from dehydration.

Healthy eating is also a great alternative. The healthier your diet, the better your body will feel. Poor eating habits such as skipping meals can cause anxiety to increase. Much like dehydration, hunger is stressful to your body. Eating well can also give you something to be positive about, and along with exercise can contribute to your overall sense of well being.

Cutting out unhealthy habits, eating healthier, and exercising will also just help you feel better about yourself.
You will feel better about the way you look. You will feel more capable of doing things and you will feel more confident in your everyday life.

Your body will react negatively to anything that it perceives as a threat. That's what anxiety is. Your body's self preservation mechanisms cause negative reactions to things which are harmful to it and positive reactions to things that are good for it. Live your life with this general understanding and you may find other ways to live a life free of anxiety and panic. Good luck and feel free to share them here with me!

Some good resources on the benefits of exercise as stress-relief:

Mayo Clinic- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress
Natural News: How Exercise Relieves Stress and Anxiety 7 Ways Exercise Relieves Stress 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine
Men`s Health: The Best Workouts to Relieve Stress
Panic Away: Water Helps Ease General Anxiety 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Quit Talking Yourself Into Fear!

It probably sounds pretty simple, right? Duh! We don't enjoy feeling scared, anxious, or panicked so why would we talk ourselves into feeling this way? But the truth is that many of us do. Think about it. What usually happens just before (or often during) a panic attack? Negative thoughts. "What if..? Thoughts. "What if I do something embarrassing?" "What if I bomb this test?" "What if I forget the lines to my presentation, I lose the client, get fired from my job, my wife leaves me, my car gets repossessed, and I have to hold one of those signs saying "Cash 4 Gold" on the street corner?" Those negative, fearful thoughts fool your mind into thinking there really is something to fear, triggering a fight-or-flight response throughout your body. Your heart starts racing, your mind spins, and you spiral into the terrifying experience of a panic attack, and it all began with thoughts. Who created those thoughts? You did!

In most instances, there is no legitimate outside force causing you to panic. Look back and reflect on the times that you have experienced panic attacks and ask yourself "what was the cause?". Sure, there probably was a trigger. Maybe it was a large crowd at the mall, or a traffic jam that you were stuck in. Maybe you had to get up and speak in front of a group. A stressful day at work. A tough conversation with someone you love. Different things trigger panic attacks for different people. But the root cause is always the same: You. It's your reaction to the situation that causes the panic. You feel anxiety brought on by the triggering situation, which is perfectly natural. It is what happens after that initial anxiety that becomes a big problem. You start to fear the anxiety. When the fear kicks in and you become afraid that you are going to panic, you do.

This is all happening solely inside you. The external trigger no longer has anything to do with it. You are simply doing this to yourself. There is an awesome power that comes with realizing this. If you are the one causing yourself to panic, all you have to do is STOP! Stop feeding yourself negative thoughts. Replace them with positive ones. Take a deep breath, mentally step back and you'll realize that whatever is causing you to freak out is really nothing to worry about. Most of the time these triggers are things that we've done many times before, even once considered to be mundane. Unless you are actually being chased down by an angry bear, then you can give yourself permission to calm down.

It's easier said than done, I understand. I have struggled with panic myself for years, and it's still tough at times. I'm not trying to minimize it, just simplify it. If you pull back and give yourself a wider perspective on the situation, you'll see that there's literally nothing to fear except for fear itself. So you have to give a big speech in front of a class. Think about the times you've had to do this in the past. You were likely nervous then too, but you got through it. Is it a major life event that you reflect upon regularly? Do you recall specifics of any of the speeches given by your other classmates? Probably not, and they probably don't remember yours either. If you were all sweaty and nervous or stumbled over your words, it wasn't printed in the history books yet. And this time will be no different. You will be nervous, but you will get through it. Life will go on.

So quit beating yourself up, because it's just not that bad. Your worst "what if.." scenarios won't actually unfold. How many times have you actually seen someone freak out on a plane and run up and down the aisles at takeoff screaming their heads off? I have, but only in my head while I was sitting quietly in my seat with my eyes closed. They're just thoughts in your head. Most people don't act on them. You know those what ifs aren't actually going to happen. A good coping tool is to embrace them. If you're in line for a water slide and just petrified that you're going to embarrass yourself by chickening out and making the walk of shame back down all those stairs, then go with it. Imagine yourself just going absolutely looney toons, running down those stairs, arms in the air, screaming bloody murder, and knocking down little children left and right. Laugh it off and you'll feel a little better.

By realizing that you are talking yourself into fear, you give yourself the power to stop it. The next time you are feeling anxious and those what if thoughts come around, shoo them away and try replacing them with good what ifs. What if I amaze them at this interview and get the job of my dreams? What if everything goes right on this road trip and I have the time of my life? Or even simply, "what if I just get through this and then go eat some Zebra Cakes afterward?" Think of all of the opportunities that can come to you when you rid yourself of that fear and start thinking about possibilities!

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” -Ghandi