Archives for Anxiety

Addiction

The Interpersonal Neurobiology Behind Making Habits Stick

Most of us walk around in this world in a trance with the delusional belief that we are only autonomous beings that are completely acting with free will. However, many scientists agree that we are interdependent with our environments and our brains are constantly making snap judgments based on internal and external cues. You have recall this quote by Albert Einstein: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” The notion of willpower, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, or manning up fails to take the psychological and scientific realities into mind. Alcoholics Anonymous has it right, if you're addicted to substances you need to get them out of the house and begin to change your relationships. This was certainly my experience with my own struggle with substances years ago. Considering the impact of our environments on our ability to be happy and make the changes we want to make, can drastically facilitate more adherence to whatever habits you're trying to break or create. Years ago, UC Berkeley Researcher Marian Diamond conducted a study where she randomly put mice in a few different cages. One had toys and playmates, one had playmates and one had neither. After a few weeks, they found that the brains of the mice that had toys and playmates had thicker cerebral cortices than the other two. This part of the brain is associated with higher order functions like cognitive processing. In fact, the one without toys and playmates showed the thinnest layer. This is just to say that our environments not only impact our behavior, but also impact our brains (which impact our behavior).

So what's the secret sauce?

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Anxiety

Mindfulness Can Help Us Break Our Bad Habits

There has been a growing amount of evidence that mindfulness can help us kick our bad habits. In a recent study, 63 participants who were addicted to stimulants received behavioral treatment for 12 weeks. Four weeks into the program they were randomly assigned to either one group received mindfulness training targeted at cravings and urges or another that received health education. At the end of 12 weeks, researchers measured changes in participants use of stimulants and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eighty seven percent of the participants who had major depression were not using stimulants at the end of the 12 weeks versus 67% of the health education group. One month later 100% of the depressed patients were off of stimulants compared to 50% in the health education group. How could this be? Change happens through experience and community support, not as much through cognitive education. Mindfulness helps slow us down and creates space from the cravings (desires) and urges (feelings) that can control our attention and decision making. The reality is the greatest "bad habit" we have is our thinking. The snap judgment of whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair all happens faster than the blink of an eye and then leads to the behavioral bad habit. Mindfulness trains awareness of this and over time the actual craving or urge becomes a "wake-up call" in the moment to choose a different response. A healthier response. After we practice and repeat noticing the urges and cravings that span from cutting people off while they're talking, to stress eating, to more intense and destructive addictive behaviors, our awareness starts to be more automatic. Our awareness of our choices also grows and so we actually expand our "cognitive flexibility" which is correlated with well-being. On top of that, when we feel better, we also tend to be more resilient and so the spiral goes up!

A Breaking Bad Habit Exercise - 5 Steps

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Anxiety

Relax Your Brain – You’ll Learn More and Be Happier!

I haven't met many people who say they wouldn't enjoy feeling more relaxed or even being able to relax-on-demand. The good news is that according to a study published in the journal Nature, learning how to get better at relaxing, not only feels good, but increases our brain's ability to remember new information (including strengths of mindfulness, compassion and joy). The researchers in this study recruited eight epileptic volunteers who were shown 100 photos and then 30 minutes later were shown 50 of the same and 50 different photos. They then had to tell the researcher which photos they had seen before and which they had not. While the participants were using their memory, the researchers used electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to record electrical activity in the area of the brain where memories are formed. The findings showed that recognition was highest when participants were in a relaxed state (referencing "theta waves"). Okay, it's not necessarily news that we learn better when we're more relaxed, so why does this matter? It matters because at this point in time, we happen to live in a petri dish of overstimulation and fractured partial attention on a daily basis. The way we're living right now stresses out our nervous systems making it really difficult for any new learning (mental or behavioral) to really stick. Some people think mindfulness meditation is the answer - a tool that is meant to actively relax us. But no, it's meant to help us cultivate awareness so we can make wise choices, which may be to
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Anxiety

Five Tried-and-True Ways to Increase Happiness in Daily Life

We all want to be happy, undeniably. For some people happiness comes easier than others, but what we're starting to understand is that happiness -- that sense of connection and ease of appreciating the good moments and being more graceful and resilient during the difficult ones -- is a skill and strength that we can all build. Here are Five Simple Ways to Increase Happiness in Daily Life (Note: Set all judgments aside when you read this, practice these techniques for yourself, and let experience be your teacher.) Practice happiness for other people's happiness - When you see others doing good things for themselves such as exercising, laughing with a group of friends, or experiencing an accomplishment, practice being supportive to them in your mind. Say things like, "good for you for taking care of yourself" or "glad you're having a moment of joy." Smile in your mind at them or just say, "Yes!" Practice non-violent communication toward yourself - We've known for a long time we're our own worst critics, and the way we talk to ourselves has a major impact on how we feel. Being a little self-critical is okay, but most of us experience it all too regularly. That has to be nipped in the bud. See if you can label any of that self-judgment, and in that moment flip it to actively thinking about things you like about yourself.
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Anxiety

A Classic Natural Anti-Depressant Practice

Everyone at some point in their life will be affected by depression whether it's their own or someone they are close to. Almost 19 million Americans alone have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest their usual activities combined with feeling tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope? Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing us to react to any sign of it. Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we've experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for thinking depression is about to set in again. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry "uh oh, that is how I felt when I was
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Anxiety

Stop the Glorification of Busy and Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy

It's as if someone from the outside has decided to play a cruel joke on a large segment of humanity. From the outside looking in they're saying, "Let's turn up the dial and increase the speed of life for these humans and see how much they can take before they naturally combust." We've fallen into a trance of sorts where there's some warped shared understanding that to be busy means we are productive members of society, needed and important. This is supposed to then make us feel good, but at  the end of the day it comes with a terrible expense - increased stress, anxiety, depression, cellular inflammation and less time, value for play and taking care of ourselves. The reality is, if we want to increase the general well-being of our culture we need to stop the glorification of busy. Can we begin to accept that it's also okay to lead a calmer and more joyful life? Can we practice and learn to see others who are doing this, taking time for themselves, playing and finding enjoyment in life and rather than meeting them with judgment, practice seeing their joy and being happy for their happiness? Ask yourself, what would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if there were more people who were encouraging of and genuinely happy for the good moments you experience in life? How would that make you  feel? And how would it make you feel if you felt genuinely happy for
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Altruism

The True Upside of Hard Times

I often say if there's two things in life that we can't evade aside from death and taxes, it's stress and pain. Suffering is a part of life, but the mindset we layer over it makes all the difference. I have so many examples in my life, and you may as well, where a difficult time was upon me and that very time was the seed which brought on the growth of the next moment. The reality is, we never truly know whether an experience in life is good or bad because we don't know what's going to happen next. In Uncovering Happiness I write about how the deepest, darkest moment of my life was exactly what inevitably opened my mind to seeking out support that led me to where I am today. It was this very experience, and many more like it, that led me to seek out mindfulness, which
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Addiction

Difficult People are Messengers for Our Unhealed Parts

We all have difficult people in our lives, it's part of the human experience. Typically, we tend to see them as a nuisance, individuals we have to put up with, or even avoid. This also comes with it's share of suffering. I'm not familiar with the author of the quote above, but the message is worth being curious about. What if we could change our perception to seeing difficult people as messengers or teachers who arouse something inside of us that needs to be cared for or loved? If we do this, might we become less reactive toward ourselves and other people? Inevitably, won't this provide a chance for more relationships to improve? Might it be easier to let go of bitter grudges and move toward strengthening mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness? This isn't Pollyanna, it's a practical approach that can help us focus more on what matters in life. Moreover, consider this: If relationships improve, might that support communities, regions and countries to improve? Is it possible to set off a spark in this way that leads to not only the healing of our individual being, but the healing of humanity? Whoa, that's a bit too large to imagine perhaps, so let's just begin with today and ourselves. Today, try this...
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Anxiety

How to Mindfully Deal with Difficult People (and Save the World)

There's a practice I've been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it's almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver's brain I think you'd see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high. One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car that seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO. In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars. That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important. My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, "What is it that I'm actually needing right now?" The word "ease" came to mind. So I said...
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Anxiety

STOP: The Surprising Power of Waiting

Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web. However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting. We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait." Easier said than done, why? We're not in control of our brains Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Using waiting for good
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