Wellness Activities for Anxiety (1-4)


All wellness activities on this site can be interchanged with various symptoms. I've listed them in these categories simply because this is what they are most often used for. That means that they CAN be used for other illnesses and symptoms! 

      Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you, my friends. Your readership and the time that so many of you have taken to connect with me on social media is humbling. I truly appreciate your kind words and support. Thank you. I would also like to let you know in advance that, because of everyone’s busy schedules this time of year, I will resume posting on the normal Thursday schedule on January 8th. I will continue to be on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I wish you all a happy holiday season.

       With the holidays in mind, I thought this would be the perfect time to cover how I quickly push through social anxiety. This is a time of year when many of us will be traveling and put into more social settings than we are accustomed to. Both of those can lead to social anxiety. Learning how to better deal with anxiety in social settings was crucial for my overall well-being and my ability to enjoy social gatherings. These three steps to overcome anxiety in those settings are fast, simple and they work.

       There was a time in my life when I was terrified to leave my apartment. Being around other people was simply overwhelming. I was over-stimulated by the sights and sounds of the outside world. Naturally, I felt that there was something horribly wrong with me. I felt like I was a failure and that I would never be able to be in the world, much less socialize. I am happy to report that I was wrong. I simply had to learn what social anxiety was and the steps needed to work through it.

       Learning that anxiety was a natural part of the human condition and that it was not something to be avoided was key. Anxiety is nothing more than our mind perceiving a danger and preparing us for it. It all comes back to the fight or flight response. Anxiety is key to our survival. For example, when we perceive danger our hearts beat faster to pump blood to our muscles, so that that we can fight or run away. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to dash from a burning building.

       Thousands of years ago, when we were staying one step ahead of wild animals, my heightened sense of danger would have been extraordinarily useful. However, we are living in a time when sights, sounds, glowing screens and hoards of people are constantly bombarding our senses. It is no wonder that anxiety can become overwhelming.

       There is good news! In most cases, using the following three steps makes it possible to push through those feelings of anxiety and go on about our affairs. There is nothing complicated to learn or fancy techniques to master. The best thing is they can be done in social settings in under a minute.

       Step 1

       The first step is to accept the feelings as completely natural. Realizing that there is nothing wrong with me, I am not a failure, I haven’t done anything wrong and that my body is only trying to protect me from a perceived danger is a huge step. I used to be convinced I was defective and that I was surely going to have a heart attack. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I get into crowds, often my body simply responds to what my mind perceives is a danger. By realizing and accepting that, I take the teeth out of the tiger.

       Step 2

       The second step is to take slower, deeper breaths while tensing and relaxing muscle groups that others can’t see or won’t notice. As soon as I realize that I am becoming anxious, I immediately begin slowing down my breathing while tensing and relaxing my leg muscles. While I am accepting my situation and realizing that I am simply over-stimulated, I start these techniques. They can, and should, be done simultaneously. Acceptance reminds me that these feelings are natural and nothing to be scared of, deeper breathing slows my heart rate and tensing and relaxing the muscles in my legs refocuses my attention on myself, instead of my surroundings. They work beautifully together.

       Step 3

       The third step is to realize that I won’t feel this way forever. It is easy to fall into the habit of thinking, when I am anxious, that I am going to feel that way forever. Quickly remembering a few of the times when I was anxious in the past will remind me that feelings come and go. I have survived 100% of the times that I’ve felt that way before, so the odds are in my favor that I will survive this situation too. Nothing is permanent. Knowing that, no matter what, my heartbeat will slow, my breathing will relax and the adrenaline will leave my blood stream is incredibly helpful. Realizing that there is an end in sight brings me the much-needed strength to push through.

       Simply accepting my feelings as evolutionarily needed for survival while breathing, tensing and relaxing muscles and realizing that these feelings will pass is all it takes to summon the courage to push through them and keep going. Courage is never the absence of fear; it is always the mastery of it.
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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:


       Occasionally, because of my conditions, I can become overwhelmed, filled with anxiety or so depressed that I can barely lift my head off the pillow. A month ago, in Creating A Mental Health Team1, I talked about how a medication change and bronchitis had knocked me down. Despite my best efforts, sometimes I run into problems. I don't care what any self-help guru or new age philosopher says, that is the reality of mental illnesses. Doctors and scientists agree that, as of yet, there is no cure, but many effective treatments do exist.

       I have found that overcoming the symptoms of my mental illnesses, and keeping them at bay for prolonged periods, boils down to taking the next step, whatever that may be. It is so easy for me to focus on the symptoms I'm facing that I can become immobilized if I'm not careful. That is a dangerous situation for me to find myself in. Slipping into the dark hole that can develop from the symptoms of my illnesses is scary. I must fight my way out of the darkness by taking action, however small that initial action may be.

       For many years, I had no idea what to do. The thought of taking an action step was terrifying because I never knew, for sure, what the right action was. The funny thing is, most of the time, I still don't. I've found that the actual step I take isn't nearly as significant as the fact that I forced myself to take one. Making myself take action, particularly when I don’t want to, is what creates the magic. Contrary to what I had been led to believe, I can't wait until I feel like doing something to do it. It's simple. I can't feel my way into action; I must act my way into a feeling. In other words, if I wait until I feel like taking action to work on improving my situation, I may never take any action at all. I feel better after I take a positive action step. I don't feel better and then take the step. The notion that I should rely on my gut to tell me what to does not apply when I am experiencing symptoms. I don't think or feel rationally when I am chemically imbalanced, so I can't trust every thought that goes through my head or every feeling that tugs at my heart. I MUST TAKE ACTION!

       Taking that first step is what gets the ball rolling for me. It may be as simple as writing down something I'm grateful for while lying in bed (see Gratitude and Mental Illnesses2). Sometimes it's forcing myself to get up and take a shower. I'm a big fan of humor, so many times the first step involves watching a funny clip on YouTube (see Humor and Exercise3). Other times I am able to get out the door and go for a walk or run. I have an extensive list of wellness activities and exercises to choose from, some of my favorites are already on this site (see Wellness Activities4 or The Benefits Exercise5 pages).

       The point is, when I am facing a problem due to my illnesses, I break that problem down into workable pieces by putting one foot in front of the other. I do it by taking small positive action steps. I don't have to know that what I am doing is the exact right thing. I don't have to figure anything out before I make my move. I love the saying, "Make your move before your ready." I repeat that to myself frequently if I am experiencing symptoms. I have to. If I don't, I can think about what I should be doing all day long and end up doing nothing at all. And whether I like it or not, I've come to realize that the dream of improving my mental and physical health is free, but the reality, the hustle, is sold separately. If it's to be, it's up to me. Others can certainly help, but no one can do it for me.

       One of my favorite things about forcing myself to take action when I am experiencing symptoms is that, no matter what activity I choose, something powerful always begins to happen inside me. I don't always perceive it at first, and I don’t know exactly what it is. Alexander Graham Bell explained it perfectly when he said, "What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists, and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it." Something is moved inside of me when, despite overwhelming odds, I fight back. The beautiful thing is, I don’t have to understand it to love and appreciate it.

       To start fighting back, sometimes it helps if I get angry at my illnesses. I love to scream obscenities at my symptoms when things have gotten bad. "You will not beat me you *** ****** ******* ********. I will show you what I'm made of. You picked the wrong person to mess with today!" [Your imagination is much better than anything I could write there]. When I get to that point, I am able to call forth my mental health team. I've got my symptoms on the ropes at that point. It's just a matter of time. I always like to point out when I talk about using this type of technique that I am NOT mad at myself because I am NOT my illnesses. I am also perfectly fine with using anger as a motivator so long as I use it correctly, as motivation to do the next right thing. Dr. Wayne Dyer said it best: "There is nothing wrong with anger, provided you use it constructively." Absolutely!

       Of course, that first step is the hardest. I've found they tend to become increasingly easier as I go. The gorgeous part of this equation is that each step I take begins to multiply on the others in ways that I could have never dreamed of when I began. But, I have to remember; I can never get to that dream if I don't take the first step. I remind myself of what Martin Luther King said about this. He said, "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." I have yet to come across any truer words in my life.

       What Dr. King's words mean to me is that I don't have to have things figured out through step 1,000 before I take action to treat my illnesses. In fact, I've found, if I’m focused on step 1,000 when I'm on step 1, I tend to trip over that first step. How could I not? I’m not focused on what’s right in front of me, so things go poorly. Besides, by the time I do get to step 1,000, it is always entirely different than what I had imagined it would be. I can’t tell for sure what’s going to happen in step 2, much less in the final step. The solution for me is simple, it's not always easy, but it's definitely simple. I take one step at a time, one day at a time because the next step is the one that matters.

       I’ve posted this YouTube clip before. However, there is rarely a morning that goes by when I don’t watch it, so it seems fitting that I post it again.


       I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It is one of the few that I carry with me everywhere I go. 

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” 
–Henry David Thoreau
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      As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:
questions@thementalrunner.org



      My brain has always been set on overdrive, constantly thinking and questioning. Because of that, I used to believe that meditation was something that was outside the realm of possibility for me. I am happy to announce that I was wrong. No one needs to be a reclusive mystic to benefit from meditation. I can honestly say that using guided meditations proved to be simple. They have had an enormous, positive impact on my life over the years. No one has to take my word for it either. The science behind meditation is as strong as it is wonderful.

      I’m going to cover the science first, because if someone doesn’t believe it will work, there’s no chance he/she will even try it. There has been many high quality, reliable scientific studies done on meditation. The way I see it, two problems have arisen from all the attention researchers have paid to this topic. First, some take the science and make inflated, ridiculous claims about it, which causes many to dismiss it outright. The sad thing is, the science doesn’t need to be embellished. It is astounding on its own. The second problem is that much of the research can be confusing due to all the technical names for different areas and functions of the brain. Many people’s eyes begin to glaze over when they hear about it. I’m going to bypass those two problems by showing exactly what the science says (no exaggerated claims) and by cutting out the technical jargon so that it makes sense.  One does not have to discuss the anterior cingulate cortex, gray matter, the prefrontal cortex, neuroplasticity,  the hippocampus, the amygdala or our default mode network to get the point across.

      The most important thing to understand is that, to a certain extent, we can change our brains fundamental structure and wiring. Thank goodness! I’ll take all the rewiring I can get. All kidding aside, this is fantastic news. Dr. Britta H√∂lzel, the lead author of the study Harvard University recently published, wrote: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”
      
      Dr. Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology was recently discussing their latest study when she said: “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.” In other words, when people are meditating they are not merely feeling better because they are participating in a relaxing activity. They are changing the way in which their brain is structured, thus improving the way in which they experience life.

      Meditation has been shown to slow thinking, ease anxiety and help relieve symptoms from depression. Racing thoughts and an overactive, wandering mind exacerbate the symptoms of many mental illnesses. Researchers at Yale showed in their study that meditating can dramatically cut those wandering, racing thoughts down. It appears that slow, steady, consistent thinking and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental and less reactive allows us to respond to our worlds instead of mindlessly reacting to them.

       Meditation isn’t limited to its effects on the brain. Many cardiologists have begun to prescribe meditation to their patients. Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School, was speaking of meditation when he wrote: “It appears to produce changes in brain activity. It also can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. I do recommend it, along with diet and exercise. It can also help decrease the sense of stress and anxiety.” The fact that meditation affects the entire body, and contributes to overall health, is fantastic news. Good physical health has long been associated with better mental health.

      While no researcher or scientist has claimed to cure any mental illness with meditation, they have validated the long-standing claim that meditation can work wonders at helping to reduce symptoms and improve overall wellbeing. There is no downside here. It can be done for free (or nearly free) and, if done properly, the only side effects appear to be better mental and physical health.
  
      Please notice that I said the only side effects appear to be better mental and physical health if done properly. That is a big IF! For those of us who experience mental illnesses, emotional issues, or those who have traumatic memories, meditation can be harmful if done incorrectly. There are two simple ways to make sure that the experiences are beneficial. The first is to work with a well-respected, experienced meditation teacher. The other is to use guided meditation. Personally, I have always used guided meditations, because they are free/inexpensive, and I can take them with me wherever I go.

      If there is a simpler and safer version of meditation, I haven’t found it yet. Having someone guide my thoughts and breathing throughout my meditation is a must for me. I can quickly spiral into over-thinking and negative places if I try to meditate without assistance. That can leave me feeling worse than when I started. That is NOT what I am looking for from meditation. With guided meditations there is no need to practice, no skills to master, no worries about becoming bored and quitting and little chance of having a bad experience.

      I have guided meditation CDs, podcasts, playlists on my phone and videos saved on YouTube. I can’t use the excuses that I don’t know how or don’t have the time. There are millions available in varying formats ranging in areas of focus, length and breathing rates. I went digging and found the ones that I like best. It was a simple process and has paid me back in ways I could have never imagined.

      The beautiful thing is that now I have so many saved that I can quickly find the right one for whatever the occasion may call for. I have meditations that range from a few minutes to two hours. I can find a few minutes in my day to take deep breaths, refocus and improve my mental health. It’s that simple.

      Below is an example of a short guided meditation. It's three minutes long. I am not saying this is the perfect meditation for anyone. It is simply a quick and easy meditation to use as an example.



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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:
questions@thementalrunner.org


       There is a growing body of evidence that supports what many have always known instinctively. Music can change people's moods and help reduce many of the symptoms of mental illnesses. While that news is probably not shocking to anyone, the degree to which music can affect our moods, and even our bodies, is. What was initially unclear was how strong of an effect music could have on our lives. The results that are coming in point to it being far greater than most had originally predicted.

       We have been playing and listening to music for at least thirty-five thousand years1. The first written record of music being used as a form of therapy dates back over three thousand years, to the reign of King Saul2. Using music as a means of therapy is a well-established means of lifting symptoms of depression and anxiety. So, what does modern research have to say about it?

       The American Psychological Association published an interview3 several years ago in which neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin, PhD, states, “But the direction that it’s going is that in the last five years, people are increasingly conducting controlled experiments with proper controls and with proper methods…early evidence says that music can alter pain thresholds. It can increase immune system functions. There’s stronger evidence that it can affect mood and heart rate and respiration rate. So, fast stimulating music stimulates the production of adrenaline and other hormones that get your heart racing faster and your pulse increases and blood pressure increases and then soothing, relaxing music has the opposite effect." It doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

       Researchers have begun to quantify those effects and see just how powerful of an intervention music can be. The results are astonishing. For example, in a randomized controlled study4 (one of the most powerful tools in clinical research) done to assess the strength music could play in relieving anxieties, it was found that music actually had a more powerful effect than Midazolam (a pre-surgery benzodiazepine). Since anxieties tend to run high before surgery, and there was a way to compare music with a potent medication, that is where the researchers focused. They state, “Relaxing music reduced anxiety to a greater extent than midazolam.” Anxiety scores were significantly better in the music group compared to the benzodiazepine group. This was not only a self-reported assessment; the participant’s heart rates and blood pressure readings were actually lower in the music group. In addition, there were no adverse side effects in the music group. The benzodiazepine group experienced a wide range of unwanted symptoms. “On the basis of these findings we suggest that the use of preoperative relaxing music instead of Midazolam, as well as the involvement of music expertise in the care of surgical patients.”

       One study5 wanted to see if there were actual physiological changes in the body while listening to relaxing music. Participants with latex allergies were given a small injection of latex into their skin and, of course, a large red bump appeared. They tried the same test at a later time while the same participants listened to Mozart and they found a significant (30%) reduction in the reaction from the previous test. However, this led to a troubling question. Could listening to Mozart actually suppress the immune system? Obviously, the researchers ran more tests to find the answer. Thankfully, they found that was not the case. The music only suppresses the pathological allergic reactions and not the entire immune system. Of course, no one understands how that can be yet, but they are working to figure it out.

       In another study6, that took the opposite route, researchers played upbeat fast tempo music to see how much of an effect it could have on perceived enjoyment during stressful exercise and if it could improve performance. They found that indeed, music did improve the participant’s perceived enjoyment and improved their performance. Music was shown to improve performance to such a significant degree that in another study7 of well-trained athletes the researchers stated that it is the best way known to improve performance, which is legal. Improving perceived enjoyment during stressful times and significantly improving the body’s ability to perform is no small feat. I like the way Bob Marley phrased it in one of his songs when he sang, "One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain."

       I often use music during my exercise. I have found that there is often a significant difference in the benefits I receive between when I use music and when I do not. For myself, the combination of music and exercise makes a potent elixir for the symptoms of depression, anxiety and mania.

       Below are two examples of the many videos that I have bookmarked so that I can access them quickly when I need them. I understand that music is subjective, and what may be soothing to one may be agitating for another. Some may love them, and some may hate them. The point is that if symptoms creep back up it is easy for me to forget the simplest of things, so I like to be prepared. In addition to having videos bookmarked, I have different playlists saved with titles such as Overcoming Depression, Overcoming Anxiety, Running Off Adrenaline, etc. They have proved to be invaluable to me on many occasions.
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As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:
questions@thementalrunner.org
If I am feeling depressed and need a motivational lift to fight back I often turn to something like this.

If anxiety or racing thoughts have taken over my brain, I turn to something like this.