Your Anxiety has Something Important to Say.

by Kristen C. Dew, LMFT

At Growth Therapy in Monroe, CT we focus our talents on helping people struggling with anxiety. Anxiety disorders are easily the most common problem therapists see. This post is part 1 of many blogs about managing anxiety.

Anxiety is everywhere.

America is just primed for anxiety disorders. Some of us work 40+ hours a week, some of us can’t get a job that will pay a living wage, there is political stress, medical stress, financial stress, all of this leads to family and interpersonal conflict, don’t forget there is a global pandemic…. I could go on but I’m sure you get the point. Anxiety is an emotion that can easily feel out of control since its primary job is to keep us safe and the reality is, the world is not always safe.

Your brain on anxiety

Just like all of the organs in our bodies, our brains have a job to do. When it comes to anxiety, brains are built to respond quickly and effectively to stress. We don’t sit around when there is an emergency thinking about what to do, we quickly assess that there is danger and leap into action to keep us safe. This used to be a straight forward thing when the only threats were natural disasters or animal attacks, but now there are many many things our brains see as “threatening” based on our experiences. This means almost every one of us have some situations that cause us to respond quickly and with worry and fear, they keep us up at night wondering what to do, or we try to avoid them at all costs.

Listening to anxiety

Anxiety is hard to manage because it’s a great and helpful emotion! You can’t just tell your brain to stop, that would be like telling your heart not to race when you’re on the edge of a cliff- it’s a primal and necessary response to move you out of danger. It is not in your best interest to shut off your anxiety responses. For the situations that you NEED to do that don’t pose a life threatening risk, you can change anxious responses that are unhelpful to you. This is done by befriending your anxiety and listening to it, validating it, and guiding it to a different response.

Here is what that sounds like and feels like in practice.

____________________________________________________________

*situation occurs, or you are thinking about a situation that might occur*

Body: HEART RACES, PALMS GET SWEATY, RESTLESSNESS, BREATH BECOMES SHALLOW, NAUSEA, HEADACHE, FEELS LIKE SOMEONE IS STANDING ON YOUR CHEST….

(signals of your body in fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode)

Brain: What’s going on? Oh no, it’s that thing again. Remember what happened last time? The FEELINGS will just be unbearable! It will be SO uncomfortable! You’ll be embarrassed. You can’t deal with this AT ALL. Everyone will judge you. You have to get out of this! Run away! Call in sick!

(Symptoms continue to get more intense and uncomfortable with that train of thought. I like to call it the hamster wheel: you’re running and going nowhere).

Body: You might have impulsive actions, rage at someone close to you, expect others to recognize your danger signals and save you, maybe even have a panic attack.

Brain: Ok okok, this is anxiety kicking in, thank you anxiety. I see what you’re trying to do here, getting me away from danger, and I appreciate you. Right now, actually, I don’t need your help getting away. I need to do the thing. I need to relax and then think of what to do next…

_______________________________________________________________

In the example above, the automatic way of thinking at a threatening situation is totally normal if there is an actual threat, like the house is on fire (that means your brain works, yay!). Many of our anxious signals, however, are just trying to avoid the discomfort in our bodies. The only way to move through anxiety is to learn to notice, acknowledge, and relax the body feelings of anxiety and tell your brain a different story.

To be continued…

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Rebuilding Trust after Betrayal

by Kristen C. Dew, LMFT

Many relationships experience a breach of trust at one point or another. It’s not just affairs that cause a loss of trust, it can be any secret-keeping, gossip, hidden spending, or what one partner thinks is a white lie. We may believe in theory that one type of betrayal (like an affair) may be worse than another, but our reactions tell us that any type of betrayal can harm the relationship and our sense of safety in all of our relationships. Our triggers are often reminders of past hurts or confirmations of our fears.

In my work with helping individuals and relationships rebuild trust after hurts, these themes always emerge:

  1. Expect that this will take time and hard work. Recovering from betrayal is a difficult process and requires lots of work. Time helps! In the case of affairs, it typically takes 18 months from the time the affair is discovered to start really feeling better.
  2. Begin healing as soon as you can. Lashing out or being defensive is normal, but largely unhelpful in moving forward. All people involved should begin taking steps to repair the relationship.
  3. Take a step back and decide how you want to show up in your relationships- including this one. Most people I talk to do not enjoy being angry and resentful. If you take time every day to nurture your relationship, seeking reassurance, and seeing the positive then you are well on your way to recovery. Choose to let go of negative feelings and anything that holds you back from happiness. A great relationship can prevail. It is possible and highly rewarding!
  4. Take responsibility for your contribution to the betrayal. Although there is sometimes a “victim” in the case of betrayal, there are often dynamics of the relationship that contribute to betrayal existing. For example, are you difficult to talk to? Have you flown off the handle when someone was honest with you and you didn’t want to hear it? Have you been neglectful in your relationship? Betrayal is never “okay” but it helps to make sense of how it was allowed to happen. 
  5. Own your emotions and feel them. You can feel anger, jealousy, blindsided, embarrassed, and grief. It will feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Here are some ways to deal with feelings when they come up:
    • Know your triggers. Some will be internal (your own thoughts, worries, and feelings) and some will be external (places, conversations, situations, sights, smells, sounds, etc.) Remind yourself that the trigger is just that- a trigger. It is not the actual situation happening again.
    • Try to minimize triggers to the best of your ability. For example, driving a different way home, communicating and asking the person you are feeling betrayed with to share who they are texting with, or take a break from social media. Also know that you can’t control all of your surroundings.
    • Try reading this template to yourself for validating your feelings: “I am feeling anger, I feel it in my chest and stomach (or wherever you are feeling it in your body), it is ok for me to feel this way.”
    • Use deep breathing
    • Take 30 seconds as you breathe in say the word “let” and as you breathe out say the word “go”
    • Use visualization to imagine the situation going differently
    • Progressive muscle relaxation
    • Write it down- instead of lashing out, write when you are angry. When you are feeling calm, decide if it’s worth sharing or not.
    • My favorite coping skill for betrayal- depersonalize. You will be okay regardless of how this relationship works out or doesn’t. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a person or your worthiness for good things.
  6. Don’t do this alone. Seek supportive support (reading books or blogs, support groups, therapists). Sometimes friends and family members mean well, but they can influence how you feel about the relationship and make it more complicated to heal. Use your judgement and check in with how you feel to decide who is a true support to you. 

You may not be able to prevent feeling betrayed, but you can decide how to respond to it. Seeing your response as a bigger picture for how you want to respond to events in your life can help you to deal with the feelings that will inevitably come up, and choosing where to focus your energy can help you regain a sense of control.

Resources:

Affairrecovery.com

Infidelityhelpgroup.com

Marraigeadvocates.com

Deepak Chopra’s Advice

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

Favorite Apps for Mental Health and Relationships

by Kristen C. Dew, LMFT

According to a quick google search, most of us spend over 5 hours a day on our smartphones and check them around 63 times per day (Deyan G., techjury.net, 7/2020). It only makes sense to add a few apps that can improve your health and relationships! The apple or android store produces hundreds of results for anxiety apps. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Superbetter – Free – This app is great for gamers and anyone who feels fulfillment from achievements. You choose your goals, which include friendships, health, and well-being, then it gives you quests to level up IRL! A very fun way to self-improve.

SAM (Stress and Anxiety Management) – Free – SAM helps you to learn your triggers and find evidence-based coping skills that can help you feel better in the moment. Download this app if you can see yourself feeling stressed or anxious and seeking real-time help while struggling since they have a crisis assistant (SOS).

PTSD Coach – Free – This one was created by the VA to help veterans, but is a great app for anyone working through past traumatic or super stressful experiences. The app includes a good amount of psychoeducation, or how to understand how trauma impacts you as FAQs, and offers well-known helpful coping skills including seeking professional help, crisis management, distraction techniques, visualization, grounding, and more.

Calm – Free Trial / Subscription – The Calm app is a great way to ease into a meditation or mindfulness practice. Mindfulness and meditation have shown to improve anxiety, depression, trauma, and focus when practiced regularly. Most of us have trouble just turning off our brains, luckily Calm offers guided meditations at all different skill levels and specific meditations for all types of struggles such as anger, focus, stress, food, and more.

Mindshift – free – Mindshift uses CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) techniques, which are widely regarded as first line treatment for most anxiety and depression, to help you learn and practice coping skills. The app offers small steps, coping skills, helpful reframes of your thinking, and feelings identification and tracking.

Gottman Card Decks – free – This app was created by The Gottman Institute, who are lead researchers in the field of what makes marriages successful. These cards can help you in your relationships by learning more about each other and starting difficult conversations that can improve your interactions and intimacy.

Alarm Clock App – Your phone’s included alarm clock likely has a function to set a daily or weekly alert and to edit what pops up on your screen. Many of my clients have found it helpful to set an alert to practice self-care, remember important tasks, do something nice for a partner, or to have a relationship check-in conversation.

All of these apps can be helpful when combined with therapy as well. It can keep you on track to practice skills you have learned during sessions with your therapist or to track instances of depression/anxiety/conflict and what triggered them to discuss later with your therapist.

Do you have a favorite app that helps you to manage your mental health?

References:

https://techjury.net/blog/how-much-time-does-the-average-american-spend-on-their-phone/#gref

Links to apps

Photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash