Sunday, December 27, 2009


I've been having a fair amount of anxiety this weekend & trying so hard not to struggle, but accept - invite - provoke the discomfort & symptoms. I find myself wishing this path was not one where you have to show up & jump first before you realize you can fly. My wings don't always seem like they can do the job and, really, the nest - while small and limiting - is pretty comfortable some times.

I did find my way to the other side of anxiety once again - as always. I'm just feeling a bit exhausted by the feelings & wishing a magic wand would sweep over me, fairy dust aglow and speak the magic word - cured!

Is that too much to ask? :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

30 Day Exposure Challenge Coming Soon!

So, we all know that the best way to knock down the anxiety bully is through exposure to the things you most fear. In January, I'll be starting a 30 day Exposure Challenge & I hope you'll join me for the ride. What will this look like? How do you fit exposure into a busy lifestyle? We'll be talking about that & more in the weeks to come.

While my husband, thankfully, does not deal with anxiety, he's joining me with a challenge of his own. His challenge - 30 days of exercise! So, consider getting your spouse, partner or a friend to challenge themselves in whatever areas of their lives need attention; bring the idea to your therapist; & jump in whenever you're ready.

If you're interested in ways to structure your exposure practice, I highly recommend these three books:

Facing Panic - Self Help for People with Panic Attacks

Don't Panic (revised edition)

Panic Attacks Workbook - a Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick

If you open the link to Facing Panic, you'll notice 7 charts below that are available to open & print out. These are great tools to accompany your practice. Check it out!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Turning the volume down on anxiety radio

Happy Wednesday! Yesterday morning I woke up with my head tuned into anxiety radio (a term coined here). No high anxiety, panic or anything, just the constant hum of relentless thoughts. "I wonder how I'll feel today - oh my God, I'm already thinking about my thinking - it's a habit - I wonder what my neural pathways look like - well, if I could only get off my butt and do more exposure - maybe I need to go back to counseling - this is ridiculous, I'm just tired & interpreting it as anxiety - shut up brain!"

Do you ever have days like that?

Well, I went along with my morning, the din of anxiety radio in the back ground. I brought my kids to school, had lovely conversations with friends in the hallways, hung out with my favorite teacher, ran some errands & then drove over to the botanical gardens with my two year old. After all this rain, we both needed some outdoor time to just be.

I decided to let my sweet girl lead the way. Holding hands, skipping at times and singing, we made our way down to the children's garden & up into the tree house. The gardens were practically empty, except for us. From the tree house atrium, you can look out over the lake and see most of the grounds. We looked out the windows, searching for any signs of turtles, fish or ducks in and around the water. I pointed out a tree with moss covering one side, woodpecker marks peppering the side of one of its branches.

There's been a lot of singing at our house lately with our oldest trying out for the school play. So, it didn't surprise me when my two year old starting belting out "Singing in the Rain" and knew most of the words. I joined her in song and we began dancing in the tree house atrium. After we would finish singing the words we both knew, she would smile up at me and say "Again, again!"

So, over and over again, we sang in unison. I began scooping her up at the end and twirling her little body around like a ballroom dancer. We moved around the wooden floor singing and dancing. If you could have seen us, we seemed to be performing in our own musical - with the smoothest of vocals, of course. It was so easy to be present with this child and I felt my spirits rise and the sound of anxiety radio being drowned out by the pure joy of being totally present in the moment.

After walking up the path, hand in hand, we got back into the car and went on with our grocery shopping and daily to do's. Did the barrage of thoughts completely go away? No. But, it didn't matter because all I was really noticing was the bright blue of my daughters laughing eyes, the feel of her soft, tiny hand in mine, and the beauty of our magical surroundings.

The wonder Wednesday song, then, has to be "Singing in the Rain". I hope you can find a space to turn down whatever mental radio station is playing for you and take a moment to try on your best Gene Kelly, even if it's just spinning around in the kitchen in your socks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wonder Wednesdays

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind . . ."

Hope you're up dancing with Gnarls Barkley! Moving your body - really dancing, jumping, moving - helps loosen up that stored adrenaline and shift our attitude a little.

Are you moving yet? Now, doesn't that feel better?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Face it Fridays!

Good morning! So, I have to admit that I did my face it friday challenge yesterday. We're heading out of town for a few days & I knew there would be no time today. Although, I should count (mostly) keeping my cool while we try to pack up the mini-van; negotiate. . .you know, who's way to pack is the "right way"; and three gorgeous, but wild and excited, children scream & run through the house.

"Mommy - she hit me! Mama - look at my slip knot - woohoo, I'm a cowgirl! Mom - did you pick up the 3rd Percy Jackson book yet? I can't clean that up - I'm too tiiired!" Thank God for a little PBS Kids in times like these!

Alright, so yesterday I chipped away at that bridge/roller coaster exit some more. I crossed the downtown bridge, took the first exit, came back across & then jumped onto the downtown expressway exit. I should videotape that for you - it really is a silly design - all loopy & rollercoastery right over our downtown area. Who thought up that design?

With exposure like this, I like to repeat it over & over & over again until I'm not getting rushes of adrenaline. Yesterday, I went in reminding myself of the attitude "I want this anxiety" & tried to increase symptoms. Turning around on the exit, I noticed that I, um, really didn't want to be anxious after all, and had to talk to myself again when the rushes came back, "I do want this anxiety. This is how I get over it. I can handle it."

I hope you have a wonderful weekend & take some time to get out there & stir up some trouble for yourself!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

(Stevie) Wonder Wednesday

Sometimes, nothing works better to shake up all those stuck emotions than getting up and dancing to your favorite music. Dr. James Gordon uses dancing as one of his techniques to help people with depression become Unstuck. Why not give it a try? Now, you may remember that I have a special place in my heart for Stevie Wonder . . . seeing how he was really there for me during postpartum. So, we've gotta start with some Stevie on this first Wonder Wednesday. If you're self conscious, wait until you're alone; close that office door; or better yet, invite people to come dance with you! At our house, dance parties can happen just about anywhere. Come on now, turn it up and start moving!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Face it Fridays!

We're off to our second Face it Friday!

Even though it wasn't Friday, I've been up to some exposure this week - driving some fun interchanges & working on telling people that I've been feeling worse lately. You know, being open about what I'm really feeling. For you non-anxious people out there, this might not seem like such a big deal. But, for the anxious person who really doesn't want to talk about what's bothering her & would rather sweep it under the carpet . . . it's big. Personally, I count that as interpersonal exposure. And, you know what? When I talk about how I'm feeling, it makes me feel better. Novel, right?

Alright, enough resting on my laurels. Today's challenge & moving into the weekend:

*Driving: Crossing the downtown bridge, taking an exit, turning around & coming back on over.
*Interpersonal: Whenever appropriate, sharing what's going on in regards to my anxiety. Not making a big deal of it, just disclosing.
*Professional: I'm teaching this weekend - working with whatever comes up during this time.

Something that's really important about exposure is that success does not mean entering a feared situation (or working with fearful thoughts) and not feeling anxious. Success means showing up and accepting how you feel, maybe even inviting more symptoms. Whatever happens, you can handle it.

So, I had a nice drive across this bridge this morning. This is the second time in a week that I've done this route & it felt much better this time. I did use one crutch by calling my husband beforehand. We had a nor'easter here the night before, and I (rationalized) thought it only appropriate to call & make sure nothing was flooded out downtown. And, just in case you were wondering, the bridge was bone dry & the flood wall seemed to hold up just fine.

I'd love to hear if you've been inspired to do any exposure work! Have a great weekend stirring up trouble for yourselves!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Face it Fridays!

I'd love to say that I've been conquering my every fear these days, super hero cape flying in the wind . . . but truth be told, I've taken to struggling with my anxiety lately & even feeding that sly little gorilla when no one is looking these past few weeks.

I know, struggling and resisting and avoiding (oh my!), make anxiety SO much worse.

So, when I start feeling like I've slid down that slippery slope & am looking at an uphill battle I do one of two things. Sometimes, I jump right into lots of exposure & it makes me feel worse at first & then so much better as I realize that I've been tricked by fear again. What we fear might happen - our worst what if's - never truly come to light. And, even the uncomfortable stuff, is still manageable.

My second route is to hide it, don't tell anyone & quietly freak out a little while going on with my life. Sure, I'm still showing up, but all the while hoping that anxiety stands me up. People with anxiety frequently have the super power of an amazing imagination & this can get us into trouble as we see and feel the terrible things we are SURE will come true.

After I've felt bad for a while, I start opening up and talking to people, and, slowly, it doesn't seem so terrible. Then it's time to do some more exposure work.

So, what a perfect opportunity to begin "Face it Fridays!" Every Friday I'm going to set an exposure goal for myself, write about it & hope that others will join me for the adventure!

Today I chose a driving exposure goal -- to drive downtown through harrowing interchanges, take a bridge-like exit onto the expressway & come out alive on the other side! This is not part of my daily driving life & I really don't like how this particular exit feels like a roller coaster. So, first thing after dropping my older children off at school, my toddler & I set off for adventure. I wore my cowgirl boots for added spunk & confidence. As I approached the exit, I did feel my heart beating faster & a rush of adrenaline. I remembered Dr. Wilson's advice of asking your anxiety to make your symptoms worse. "Come on anxiety, give me your best shot!"

The excitement was short lived - the exit was no big deal & I wasn't able to physically make myself more anxious. I called my husband to tell him the news.

Me: "Babe, so I just drove over the roller coaster exit & I lived to tell the story."

Him: "Seriously? You made it out alive?"

Me: "Yeah, and I know this may come as a surprise, but it was really no big deal at all."

Him: "Wow, that's shocking."

So, maybe my superhero cape was flying a little bit today and maybe, just maybe I'm really an adrenaline junkie at heart.

I'd love to hear about how you've been inviting your fears this week!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What would you do if you had no fear?

I've been skimming through this book & wondering, dear reader,
"What would you do if you had no fear?"

Knowing that most of what we fear is really not dangerous. . .

If you could free yourself from the constraints of fear & what if's, what would you do differently today? Next month? With your life?

I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Aimee's TV debut

Check out Aimee from the blog "The Reality of Anxiety" as she makes her online TV debut. Aimee shares her experiences with social anxiety disorder, the symptoms and what's helped her to this point. Way to go Aimee!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dr. Reid Wilson's Three Principles to Address Anxiety

"The Three Principles*"

"Can I down what I have learned over the last 30 years into three basic strategies to address anxiety? That was my assignment recently, and here, briefly, is what I came up with. I’ll write this as though I am talking directly to those who struggle with their form of anxiety."

"#1. Focus solely on a new frame of reference, not on techniques.

#2. Create an offensive strategy—seek to be clumsy, awkward, uncomfortable, and uncertain.

#3. Believe you can cope with failure."

Click here to finish reading Dr. Wilson's fantastic article as he delves into each of the three principles & consider signing up for his mailing list at the bottom of the page. Enjoy & let me know what you think!

And -- here's Dr. Wilson's workshop schedule, including weekend treatment groups coming up in November for clients & some great trainings for anxiety professionals.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Anxiety Coach has got a brand new bag

If you haven't been on Dave Carbonell's site recently, head on over and check out the new look! His newsletter is fantastic, as well, and I encourage you to sign up and enjoy the information and inspiration. Here's the email I just received from his website:

"You may recall that I suspended publication of my Anxiety Coach® newsletter this summer in order to upgrade the website. I'm now ready to resume publishing the newsletter. If you want to receive it, please visit the site at and sign up again.

Please do this now, so you don't miss any issues. If you don't want to receive the newsletter any longer, just discard this e-mail and you will no longer be on the list.

I also want to invite you to stop by the new website, at <> . There is a lot of new material, including more articles about panic and worry.

Feedback about the site, suggestions for articles, and reporting typos are always welcome!

Dave Carbonell, Ph.D. <>
A self help guide for recovery from fears and phobias"
My anxiety self-help videos on YouTube

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On my bedside table

Sometimes I feel like a graduate student in anxiety & it's many treatments! I'm usually reading more than one book at a time (I like choices) & these are some of the books I picked up at the library & currently have on my bedside table (ok, within reach, but scattered on the floor):

The Worry Cure - by Robert Leahy, Ph.D.
*I love the introduction titled, "The Seven Rules of Highly Worried People" -- read it over & see how many of these with which you can identify. I'm still making my way through this one, but so far it's a great read!

What Would You Do If You Had No Fear? - by Diane Conway
Sweet interviews and stories of courage and a great question to ask yourself? What would you be doing if you had no fear?

Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy -- by Steven Hayes, Ph.D.
I love the mindfulness approach already & it's value for those dealing with chronic anxiety, depression, emotional pain. This workbook helps you look at your anxiety in a new way & provides great experiential exercises.

*Non-anxiety related: Bend the Rules Sewing; The Sisters Grimm; The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt and Repairing the World.

Happy Reading & I look forward to hearing your reviews!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slow & Steady Wins the Race

So, I've got a pretty big birthday coming up this fall - the big 4-0! As it approaches, I've wondered what I could do to mark this milestone. Should I take a big trip? (did that this spring), throw a party? (maybe) and then I came across a calendar of summer triathlons & an idea sparked in my head.

Before having children, I completed a handful of sprint distance triathlons & LOVED them! Truth be told, I'm really pretty slow in all areas of the event, but I love the thrill of completing such a goal. I also love the feeling of being fit & strong. Looking back at pictures, I was always the one with a huge goofy grin on my face as I, first and foremost, made it out of the water alive, cruised along on my bike or leisurely brought it home with the run, sprinting a bit at the very end. Slow and steady wins the race is definitely my motto!

My goal this summer, then, was to complete an all women's, sprint distance triathlon in early August; get fit in time to transition to 40; and have fun doing this with a group of fabulous girl friends.

What a great experience this has been!

In some ways, this training made me feel like a kid again & at the same time reminded me of my age. Floating on my back after a good swim & looking at the clouds go by; jumping on my bike & catching up with a girlfriend while we fly down hills (and creep up them); feeling strong with my 12 minute mile "run" pace (yes, I could probably walk faster). I'm also reminded that I'm getting older with an overuse muscle tear that doesn't want to go away and how I'm always checking in with my body to make sure I don't over do it. I gotta tell you, though, I was at a triathlon this summer to cheer on some friends & saw an 84 year old woman out there competing. It reminded me that despite the fact we can't turn back the clock, we can choose how we take care of ourselves and respond to aging. I want to be that fit 84 year old woman, out there participating fully in life.

Since this is an anxiety blog, I was also curious how the increased exercise would affect my mood & anxiety levels in general. What I noticed was that when I skipped a day or two of workouts, I felt more edgy and irritable. I think regular exercise can be a powerful part of anxiety treatment, but that it needs to be part of a more holistic plan with nutrition, rest, spirituality, healthy relationships and some good cognitive behavioral work. I've known people who aren't doing their exposure work and are avoiding anxiety provoking situations while they pray that their morning yoga will cure them that day. I wish it were that easy, but we all have to do the work.

The triathlon was really a fantastic experience - I highly recommend it to those interested. A sprint distance is just long enough to make it an accomplishment, something you have to work toward, but not so long that it takes over your life. The race was hot & hilly, but manageable & so much fun! As this was an all women's triathlon, the volunteers were all men along the race course wearing t-shirts that said, "Triathlete chics are hot!" (Now, who wouldn't want to go a little faster when they were cheered on with that kind of enthusiasm?) And, the camaraderie from all of the amazing women in our group was energizing as well.

Am I happy about turning 40? Sometimes it gives me pause (ok, freaks me out), but other times I realize that slow and steady is a good way to move forward through life. It gives you time to appreciate the accomplishment this life is, connect with those traveling alongside and enjoy the view.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fortune cookies

Driving away from a surprisingly smooth dinner out with 3 children, we open our fortune cookies and read them one by one. Mine says:

"Don't play for safety - it's the most dangerous thing in the world."

My husband winks over at me and smiles, "How perfect is that?"

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Recipe for "Anxiety Stricken Chicken Soup"

Ok, so I saw this video on Paul's Anxiety Guru blog & had to re-post it here. It's laugh out loud funny & Nadia G. is my new favorite anxiety super hero!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Travelogue Part Three - Island Mama/ Adventures in Paradise

So, now for the good stuff.

After planes, taxi's & ferry boats, we arrived in the sleepy, little island of St. John and made our way to the Maho Bay Campgrounds where we stayed for a whole week. Now, some of my girlfriends laughed when I told them we stayed in a tent cabin, had to walk to the common bathhouse and fill water jugs every day. But, they have no idea what they were missing. There's something to be said for simplicity and being so close to nature.

I gotta tell you, every anxious moment was worthwhile when I walked into our tent cabin & realized that we could sit up in bed & see the Caribbean ocean. Seriously - right from our beds!

During our vacation, we learned how to snorkel & saw the most vibrantly colored fish. It was like putting your face into a salt water aquarium. The first day we tried snorkeling, I felt a little tense, a bit nervous and then I remembered -- it's normal to feel nervous when you're trying something new. Oh yeah. OK, let's jump in then. On our snorkeling adventures we had the exciting pleasure of swimming with a few big & stripey barracuda, a big orange starfish, a friendly sea turtle, and a few nurse sharks. We met the most amazing people along the way and spent time in engaging conversation during breakfast and dinner each day, overlooking the Caribbean & British virgin islands from the dining pavilion. Our first full day there, we spontaneously decided to take a sunset sail with a couple we met at breakfast. There was also lots of time for hiking, napping, and for you parents out there - we were able to complete FULL sentences. We saw iguana's & lizards in all shapes & sizes, ate delicious food prepared graciously for us all week long, sipped a variety of rum drinks here & there, and felt the weight of responsibility slide away for a while. Every night, we fell asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping gently at the shore; to doves who sang. all. night. long.; to singing frogs; and, most nights, a nighttime rain storm.

I did have moments of real anxiety during the vacation; nights were I felt on the verge of panic going to sleep, feeling very far away from my 3 precious children; creating images of a plane taking off & feeling dread that the only way home was through the air; and times where I just had an underlying feeling of tension. But you know what? I was able to handle those moments when they came up & I still had a fantastic time. Reid Wilson quotes Helen Keller at the end of his "Facing Panic" book & it stayed with me the entire trip & even back home. She said, "Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."

The real truth for me is that anxiety is uncomfortable, it feels like something terrible is going to happen, but it's not dangerous. On the trip I remembered a poignant moment when I was pregnant with my 3rd baby. I had a particularly intense panic attack the night before (intense for me, but my husband said that from the outside I just looked a little tense). After tossing & turning & having trouble falling asleep, I finally drifted off. The next day was one of those amazingly gorgeous January days where it almost felt like spring. I was working in the yard outside & looking up at the clouds, feeling the breeze across my hair & face, and it hit me - for as bad as I felt the night before, nothing bad had happened. It didn't last forever; I didn't go crazy; my panic was barely visible to the person I'm closest to; I was still able to fold laundry & talk during this attack which I perceived as intense; and, here I was standing in my back yard gazing at the clouds and almost forgetting that it had occurred. Huh.

I can't believe how many weeks it's been now since we came back home. If I didn't have the pictures, it might feel like a lovely dream. If you're considering an adventure, something that you know is safe, but scares you a little, why not try? People with anxiety disorders have a hidden well of courage they rarely acknowledge.

When you think about it, what amazing things have happened for you when you've been able to live a life of daring adventure?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Travelogue Part Two - In Flight Adventures

So I'll be honest with you. I was not happy to be sitting on that first plane before 7am in the morning.

As the aircraft sped up to takeoff speed & gradually lifted off the ground, soaring upward towards the clouds, I felt waves of anxiety coursing through my body. I figured that I had two choices: freak out the whole way to the Carribean or do my best to accept that I was going to be 35,000 feet in the air for a few more hours and get as comfortable as possible.

I thought about my tool belt of coping skills and started saying to myself, "I want this anxiety. I want it to get stronger." And, you know what? It was working. I couldn't make the symptoms any stronger than they already were.

Then, I thought about Dave Carbonell's "Rule of Opposites" - doing the opposite of what feels "safe" in an anxiety provoking situation. So, instead of pulling down the shades & pretending I wasn't on a plane, I started looking out the windows. I found that I really do like to see the tree tops, little tiny houses, and the outline of roads. Who lives in those homes & what is their story, I wondered.

Something else that really helped was the Truth Based Technique I read about in David Burn's book. I wrote in my notebook:
*How many times have I gotten so anxious that I ran down the aisle of the plane screaming?
*How many times have planes had to land for me because I absolutely couldn't handle symptoms of anxiety?
*How many times have I curled up in the fetal position under my chair & cried until it was all over?
Ahem, I think we know the answers to all of the above.

There were more moments with waves of fear and extended periods of time where I felt that pit in my stomach , but it was all manageable & my skills came in handy. Before I knew it, we were in Atlanta & preparing to board our second flight.

For our second flight, the longer flight, our seats were in the back of the plane. I'm not sure why the back of the plane is worse, but I kinda feel more claustrophobic back there. Our flight time was 3 hours & 12 minutes (but whose counting) & in my head I felt like a 2.5 hour flight would be so much easier. Isn't it funny how our brains make up rules about what's safe & what's not?

Once we found our seats, we looked at each other at the same time -- we were definitely in the "party" section of the plane. Three babies were in the back with us & some rowdy folks were starting the party early with cocktails. I wondered if some of them were drinking to cope with their own anxiety. A moment before take off, the 5 year old cherub behind me started to giggle & said, "Hey Mom! What if the plane catches on fire & we crash? Wouldn't that be cool?!"

Hey kid - who asked you? Huh?

Finally, we landed in St. Thomas, USVI - just a ferry & a few taxi rides away from our final destination, St. John. The whole plane cheered & clapped at the successful landing. Steve & I stepped off the plane, walked down the roll away staircase out onto the tarmac & just kept grinning. This was going to be a blast.

So, let's recap. What helped?

*Showing up & being willing to try something that creates anxiety
*Paradox/Bring it on mentality/Make the symptoms stronger
(Reid Wilson, Don't Panic - newly revised)
*Truth based techniques (David Burns, When Panic Attacks)
*Rule of Opposites (Dave Carbonell, Panic Attacks Workbook)
*Supportive mate
*Engaging with others/humor
*Being ok if none of these worked

Stay tuned! The next installment will be about our adventures in paradise!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Travelogue Part One - Getting on the plane

Friday night before the big vacation takeoff:

I am feeling excited, shopping for last minute beach towels & sunscreen, packing into the wee hours of the morning. I write little notes for my girls and fight the urge to say things like, "If we don't make it home, I want you to know. . ." and fill up their journals with memories and dreams for their futures.

I crawl into bed & the anxiety steps things up a bit. Adrenaline becomes my bedmate & I know I'm not going to get much sleep. I remind myself that this is to be expected. I expect to sleep terribly and feel anxious, even panicky. I haven't flown in almost 3 years & I'm leaving my children behind for a week - something I've never done before. Next to my bed is a pad of paper for notes & I write down, "I want this anxiety" - just in case I forget when the alarm goes off. I snuggle up to my man & try to ride the waves while he snoozes with ease. Thank God only one of us runs anxious!

Saturday morning - 4:30am:

I wake up with a real sense of dread. I feel nauseous & panicky. I look down at my "I want this anxiety" note with a smiley face & say "screw that - what a stupid thing to write"! In the shower, I'm weepy and yell out to my husband, "I changed my mind. I don't want to go. I just want to stay home. I feel terrible."

It's so hard in that moment to believe all those coping statements and truths - that flying is much safer than driving; panic always goes away with time; panic & anxiety are uncomfortable, but not dangerous; it's very likely that I'll be able to relax into the flight once we get going & if not, I will survive.

The first step is making it out the door. Then, driving to the airport where I take .25 mg of xanax & review my options - "If we get to our first connection & I feel terrible, we can always come home, right?" Walking into the airport feels familiar - it's been a while, but I've done this before. After going through the security lines & randomly having my shoes checked (are my Keens too stinky? I ask) I rush over to the gate attendant, tell her about my flying fear & ask for seats closer to the front. At first she says that the plane is full, but at the last minute I am called up to the desk & the lovely Miss Tina from Delta changes our seating to bulk head. I think I love her.

As they call our flight to begin boarding, Steve & I wait & I take another .25mg. The funny thing about many anxiety superheroes & meds is that we're actually a little afraid of taking them. From the extremes of -- "What if it's too much & I stop breathing?" to "What if I take it & it doesn't work?"

Finally we take make our way through the line and warm tears roll down my face as we board the plane. As we buckle up and they seal the doors, I close my eyes and remember where we're going.

More to come:
*Travelogue Part Two: In flight adventures
*Travelogue Part Three: Island Mama

Monday, May 4, 2009

Coping with matters out of our control

Here's a comment I received a few days ago & the impetus for this current post:

"I would love for you to do a post on the swine flu and how to handle anxiety symptoms related to something that's so out of a person's control. I'm having difficulty with it, with the situation in and of itself, but it also brings up symptoms related to the general fear that I've got no control over the future."

What's an anxiety super hero to do when the world feels out of control and scary and it seems like there's nothing you can do to protect yourself? And, I don't mean all the scary scenario's we regularly create in our brains - rather, things like terrorism, global warming and the swine flu.

I remember hearing about the avian flu a few years back and feeling terrified. Every time I turned on the news, there was another frightening report of how it would spread to a pandemic level. Newspapers printed full page stories about supplies you should have at home in case we all had to be quarantined. Picking up my children from pre-school, the avian flu was a hot topic among parents & many of us felt afraid. My husband & I talked about what we would do if a pandemic were to occur, thinking through how we could keep our family safe. (There's still a box of unwrapped, protective masks in our basement.)

So what can we do when life feels out of our control? How can we take smart precautions without going off the deep end and building a bomb shelter in the backyard - just in case? How do we sort out the necessary information from the fear messaging so prevalent in our world, threatening to limit and suck the joy out of our lives?

Here's what I do & some links that I find helpful:

*I greatly limit the amount & type of news I take in. Dr. Andrew Weil writes about going on a news diet in his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health & I take it to heart!

*When something comes up that's bothering me, I might freak out a little bit first, to be honest. After I'm done with that, I find a trusted source or two & go to it for information. If I find myself anxiously surfing the web for every little article - any piece of information that might help me protect myself & my family - I recognize that for what it is - a symptom of anxiety. When anxiety arises, you know what to do - check out this & this. Scheduling a worry time each day also helps to decrease that feeling of constant worry weaving through your thoughts day & night.

*I try to plan and take control of what I can. With the swine flu, I talked to my kids last night at the dinner table (in age appropriate terms) and reminded them how important it is to wash their hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, when the come home from school, etc. It's such an easy, but extremely effective tool for keeping healthy. My husband & I have gone through what steps we could take if this flu became pandemic. Looking fears in the face & finding potential solutions can feel very liberating.

*I try to keep up with the basics -- exercise, a good night's sleep (I'm not so good there), & a healthy diet.

*Meditation, prayer/spirituality, progressive muscle relaxation, & yoga are all essential tools.

*And, finally, it's easy to take a healthy dose of humor each day when you live with a toddler. I try to laugh with my family, cuddle them up & be as present as I can when I'm with them. Life feels like it's going so quickly & I don't want to waste their growing up time preparing anxiouly for the "what if's".

I hope that helped as you strive for a balanced response to the craziness in the world. I'd love to hear from readers what works for you, too!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Get out your social calendars!

If you have Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, OCD or a fear of flying check your calendars! There are a few great opportunities coming up!

*Reid Wilson is holding a weekend treatment group for folks with Panic Disorder & Social Anxiety Disorder the weekend of May 2-3, 2009 & again August 29-30, 2009. His offices are in Durham, North Carolina & pretty accessible from the highway. He only takes 8 people, so give him a ring & see if the group is a good fit for you.

Dr. Wilson's weekend treatment group for OCD is going to be held May 16-17, 2009 & again September 12-13, 2009.

*Dave Carbonell is "preparing to start another class for people with a fear of flying this spring. The class, which includes a group flight, will meet weekly in Rolling Meadows for five weeks, so it's suitable only for people who live in the Chicago area." For information, send a blank e-mail to:

Know of more great resources like these? Share them!

America's drug of choice

I've been experimenting with caffeine lately & feeling wistful of the days when it could give me a lovely pick-me-up with none of the anxiety producing side effects. I remember going to student health after my first panic attack & being told to give up the bean. Give up caffeinated coffee? How was I going to finish grad school without caffeine? Dutifully, I switched to decaf, still loving the flavor of a dark french roast with generous amounts of cream & letting the ritual of it help wake me up in the morning.

Since then & for years, when I've tried drinking anything caffeinated I've definitely felt my heartbeat speed up & feelings of anxiety and dread seep in. It's amazing how strong the effects of caffeine can be after not consuming it for years. I just resigned myself to being a decaf girl & it came in handy during years of pregnancy and nursing.

As I draw close to 40 & am still a sleep deprived mother, I've started experimenting with caffeine again. Many of my friends swear by their morning coffee & afternoon tea to get them through the day. Maybe I would have more energy, be more efficient if I jumped back in?

So, I've given it a shot here & there. Green tea is lovely and doesn't seem to bother me at all, even giving me a small boost in the afternoon. Sometimes a friend will have brewed regular & I'll have 1/2 a cup. Other times, I'll make coffee at home 75% decaf, 25% caffeinated. The results have been mixed with no seeming rhyme or reason. Every once in a while, I'll try it & feel the euphoria that makes caffeine America's (legal) drug of choice. And, other times, that little bit of caffeine will make me feel edgy into the afternoon.

What's the answer? I'll still experiment now and then, knowing that it's a toss up how I'll feel. But, I think the days of loading up on coffee & enjoying the extra energy are gone. What Grandma always said about a good nights sleep, healthy diet & plenty of fresh air/ exercise will have to be my prescription for now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just see how it goes

I was reading a blog post a few months back & a phrase popped out at me, "Let's just see how it goes." What a profound life lesson - why not give it a try, just see how it goes. I hear myself saying this to my 8 year old on mornings when she doesn't want to go to school. I hear me saying it to myself when I'm trying something new, a new challenge, something that feels uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to cajole the parts of us that demand to know how everything will turn out before taking a risk.

Just try. . . see how it goes. . . watch your life blossom. . .

Monday, March 9, 2009

Learning to fly

I'm preparing for a trip & am choosing to fly after not flying for almost 3 years. Here I am a few months out & I'm starting to feel the anticipatory fear already. You know, some images here & there of the plane going down in a fiery ball & me thinking - Oh no, if I knew this was going to happen I wouldn't have come - it's not worth my kids being raised without their parents! Yikes!

Luckily, it's not consuming, but it is somewhere in the background of my mental landscape & comes up when I start to think about the trip. Rationally, I know that it will alright once we're off the ground and the flight is underway. I am really looking forward to getting away with my handsome man. And, I know that air travel is much safer than driving a car. But anticipatory anxiety & an active imagination team up to get me into trouble sometimes. So, I'll be writing about this current anxiety & how I'm preparing. I'd love to hear your feedback about what works for you when it comes to anticipatory fears or flying.

Here's my prep plan so far:

*Write down affirmations
*Take time to listen to my fear of flying CD
*Plan as much as I can to be comfortable on the flight
*Talk to my doctor about an Rx to relax (I don't love taking meds, but flying is an exception!)
*Begin sitting with the anxiety - not spiraling into the what if thoughts, but sitting with & inviting the anxious symptoms that accompany the thoughts.
*Use my imagination to call up images of having fun & thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

Friday, March 6, 2009

This one wild and precious life

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

*How are you living this one wild and precious life - right now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is there a boggart hiding in your closet?

Have you ever noticed that when your worries are stashed away in your brain where no one can see them, they always seem scarier? I know that when I talk about them & state my fears out loud, they often sound silly, a little embarrassing and lose some of their power. For the past year or so, my kids have been obsessed with Harry Potter (an understatement). In the third book, there is a chapter where Professor Lupin teaches the young witches & wizards how to face their boggarts. A boggart is a “shape-shifter that takes on the form of its intended victim's worst fear”, but it is only an illusion – a trick. Once the person looks it in the eye, finds the humor in their fear & uses the spell RIDDIKULUS with courage, the boggart turns into a humorous shape & the fear melts away. Laughter and calling your fear out for what it truly is are essential.

How do you use magic in your everyday run ins with fear? How are you able to distinguish between real danger & what’s simply a boggart hiding in the closet?

Monday, February 16, 2009

4 - 7 Minutes of Fame - YouTube Style

Wow - are you concerned about the dramatic rise in babies born by cesarean? I firmly believe that every woman should have the informed choice to birth how ever she wants. I also firmly believe that we are lucky to have this medical miracle to help save the lives of mothers and babies in emergency situations. But did you know that cesarean rates have surpassed 30% nationally and the US ranks 29th in the world for infant mortality rates? Something needs to change. Here's an exciting opportunity - pass it on!

Birth Matters Virginia announces a birth video contest!

* 1st place prize: $1000 * 2nd place prize: $500 * Honorable Mention: $100 * Deadline for Entry is 11:59pm on Mother's Day, May 10, 2009*

As the national rate of c-sections surpasses 30%, it is more important than ever for women and their partners to be educated about the options they have during pregnancy and birth. Our organization works to improve the culture of birth in Virginia by promoting an evidence-based model of maternity care and supporting care providers who practice mother and baby-friendly care.

A series of feature length films (starting with the Business of Being Born). have inspired women to make decisions about their maternity care as carefully as they make other consumer decisions. Demand for evidence-based models of care is rising, and there is hope that we can turn the tide of medically unnecessary surgeries and interventions, saving them for when they are truly needed for the safety of the mother or baby.

As a step toward our goal of educating women about their choices and options, we are soliciting short videos about evidence-based maternity and delivery care. We want videos that will appeal to and inspire new audiences that may not have previously been exposed to any model of childbirth other than the version we see on television and in movies: dangerous, uncertain, excruciating, and usually in need of extensive and often emergency medical interventions. Birth doesn’t have to be this scary, and people need good information in order to make good choices.

We are thrilled to announce guest judges:
Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, acclaimed producers of The Business of Being Born.
Sarah Buckley, M.D., international birth expert and author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.

The first-place winner will receive a cash prize of $1000. Second place: $500 and Honorable Mention: $100.

For rules and to see how to enter, please visit

You can also join our Facebook group (whether or not you intend to make a video) to get updates about the contest and exchange ideas with other participants at

And if you have questions, email Sarah at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Untapped Creativity

After writing my last post, I was thinking about how people with anxiety - who have lots of "what if" scenarios - may have an untapped source of creativity. Think about how quickly an anxious brain can go from, "My husband should have been back by now" to "How will I raise the children on my own? Will the baby even remember him?" If you scroll through just a few of your "what if" scenarios, I bet you'll find a rich pool of material.

Imagine all of the unpublished authors out there, just waiting to put their imaginations to good use! And, what would happen to all those obsessive worries if they had a place to be unleashed? Imagine the healing. And, thinking about Dr. Wilson's paradoxical approach - when you invite the worry and doubt - even encourage your brain to go down that rabbit hole of worry & create a story, you can't help but get better. Need inspiration to get writing? Try this or this and when the final draft is complete, check out Lulu!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What if?

One morning, after dropping my two "big kids" off at school, I was walking to the car holding my baby. "Whashat?" she babbled and pointed to this large, gray, generator looking thing outside of the school. It was noisy and seemed to have seen better days. As I scanned my brain for the name of it to tell her, the thoughts calmly enter my head and start to build, "What if it blows up? Oh my God, I've got TWO children in there." The frames come quickly now - the building in flames, rescue workers on site, rushing up to the building to find my babies. Now, I'm not getting worked up, but I am realizing that I'm allowing myself to entertain this improbable occurrence as if it was real. My brain is asking the question, "Is this safe?" and scanning for ways to get them out if that ever happened.

Most people who deal with anxiety like to know how they would handle any situation imaginable if it happened to them.

"Babe," I said to my husband the other night, "What would you do if you heard someone down stairs breaking into our house?"

"What? That would never happen. I guess I'd . . ."

"Well, I tell you what I'd do. First I would call 911, quickly in a whisper; then I'd keep them on the line, so that the police could not only here what was going on, but could trace the address and get there faster."

"Wow, you've really thought this through," he says looking stunned.

"Yeah, then we'd grab the girls and lock ourselves in the room, open the window and scream loudly as we climbed out. Our neighbors are pretty aware & would come running. Haven't you ever thought about what you'd do?"

"Uh, yeah, no. My brain just doesn't go there."

Tell me, superheroes, does your brain go there? Do you experience normal anxious thoughts, but take them a bit too far when it comes to planning elaborate escapes & daring rescues? I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Acronym for the day

When you're dealing with a return of anxiety or depression, or maybe an upswing of stress in your life, here's a helpful acronym to remember:


Nourishment - be mindful of what you're feeding your body - fresh veggies, fruit, water, whole grains - you know the list.

Understanding - name the beast for what it is & acknowledge that you're feeling funky for the moment, day, week.

Rest - it's amazing how good it feels to catch up on your sleep & how sleep deprivation can really mess with our mental states & ability to handle stress.

Spirituality - whatever grounds you, be it religion, mindfulness, being in nature - access that power & calm now.

Exercise - Dr. Oz recommends 30 minutes of walking every day no matter what. Why not experiment & see what happens when you incorporate something like that into your life? How does your perspective shift?

from: Women's Moods: What Every Woman Must Know about Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health: by Deborah Sichel & Jeanne Watson Driscoll

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dave Carbonell talks about "The Panic Trick"

Have you checked out Dave Carbonell's workbook yet? It's fantastic - go grab one! You can also see him here as he talks about panic as an insidious trick. True, the video quality is not fancy, but the message is really good. This video is part one of two. What do you think?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Drop in the Ocean

What an inspiring week it's been! No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, you have to admit that the collective strength of people working together has been powerful! From witnessing hundreds & thousands of service projects to seeing people of all backgrounds gathering together on the mall to cheer on our new President, it's been amazing & inspiring.

It can also be powerful to daydream about how you are using your life to create a little magic in the world. About how the thing that makes you happiest may just be your gift to the world. How even if you are house bound with agoraphobia, you can still reach out and be of service from working on a heartfelt cause on your computer; to knitting caps for newborns (check out more sites like this); to even baking cookies for the unsung, under appreciated heroes in our lives. Hey, and delivering cookies to the public school's lunch ladies (and making eye contact) could be exposure practice for folks who don't leave home much.

Frederick Buechner said, "the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet. When you are doing something you are happiest doing it must also be something that the world needs to have done."

Stretch, dream, grow. You have a beautiful life and gifts to share. It doesn't have to be big. In the words of Mother Theresa, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'm a little bit country. . .

Who grew up in the 70's and doesn't remember watching "The Donny & Marie" show? Love him or not, you have to admire the man for making his struggle with panic & social anxiety public in an effort to educate and normalize the disorder. Here's an interview with the anxiety super hero in 2000, but the information is still relevant today.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What are you willing to risk?

So, I've been talking about this weekend treatment group I attended in November with Reid Wilson – a world renowned psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Something he asked right from the beginning was, what have you avoided or given up as a result of your anxiety? And, now, what are you willing to risk to gain those things back?

So much of the work is a change of attitude and asking the question every time anxiety arises – what am I willing to risk? If I’m feeling anxious one day & someone asks to meet for coffee – am I willing to risk that I might feel anxious & that they might notice? Because, choosing NOT to go because of something that MIGHT happen will only strengthen the anxiety. Choosing to have someone else join us or having an out is still avoidance and strengthens the anxiety as well.

The second piece of that attitude shift is learning to love my anxiety – to get excited that I’ll have another opportunity to practice with feelings of anxiety and doubt/uncertainty. That’s a hard attitude shift, but the only way to win. As Dr.Wilson said, we’ve been worshipping at the altar of anxiety for far too long – We bow down and plead – “Please anxiety, I’ll do anything – just please don’t make me feel edgy & out of control – I can’t bear it”. The shift also encompasses changing your relationship with anxiety. When you begin feeling nervous – perhaps the adrenaline is flowing through your chest, your heart is pounding and you’re telling yourself that bad things are about to happen - you can talk to your anxiety & ask it to make the symptoms stronger. If you’re going to feel symptoms anyways, why not surprise the bully and invite anxiety to take it’s coat off and stay a while.

Something I loved about the weekend was Reid’s “Anxiety Disorders Game” that we played during lunch and night time breaks. We all got score cards and were able to earn points by doing some of the following:

*Deciding what anxiety provoking event we would enter and following through.
*Truly wanting anxiety to show up and asking for more when it did (with an understanding of why we were practicing this way).
*Extra points could be scored for every minute you asked for more anxiety and you got your wish.

A fly on the wall might have overheard people planning their practices like this:

“Well, I think I’m gonna go to lunch, keep changing my order & maybe spill my drink on purpose. I hate drawing attention to myself, so that should make me really uncomfortable. Afterwards, I’ll probably ride in the big elevator and try to make myself hyperventilate.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go driving around the city, try to get lost & then find my way back. That should get me good & panicky. You do have your cell phone on, right?”

“I’m going to ride in the back of someone’s car with the windows up, heat on & the music blaring. I think that will trigger my claustrophobia and earn me some bonus points.”

On Sunday, during our lunch practice, I drove myself on the downtown expressway for a meal at Elmo’s Diner (delicious!). Reid reminded me that once I got to my destination, and knew where I was, I would probably feel comfortable. Since the weekend was about working with anxiety, discomfort and doubt, he encouraged me to try & think of ways I could make myself more uncomfortable. I was also looking for ways to score more points in the game.

So, as I sat down at the counter, ordered and found myself happy and making small talk with local folks, I remembered what Reid had said. Then something came to mind. Part of my anxiety is feeling embarrassed about it. Oh shit, I thought, as I pulled out my “Self Help for People with Panic Attacks” book and read it at the counter while eating my lunch. As I read, I made sure that the cover was very visible to all those sitting at the counter and to those waiting in line. I thought about how I had encouraged a person with social anxiety to skip through the mall as a practice and how this was just as hard for me.

I put the book down at one point, asked the couple sitting next to me at the counter for advice on the menu. Scoring a few more points, I thanked them and decided to order something else, letting go of the thought that they might be thinking, “Why did she bother asking?”

Coming back from lunch, I put my points on the board, grabbed a prize out of the basket (scotch tape!) and settled in to talk about my experience and learn from the experiences of others. The signs posted around the room reminded me that these were my road maps for the anxiety journey ahead.

I want this anxiety.
I want this doubt and uncertainty.
I can handle this.

What's holding you back? What are you willing to risk in your day to day life? And, what are your road maps?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I heart anxiety

Happy New Year!

I've been wondering what to write lately. I thought I'd be bursting with prose after the workshop. The busyness of the holidays hasn't helped, either, but as I read recently, we all make time to do the things we really want to do. You know, like thinking - if only I could find time to keep my house clean and exercise as I plunk myself down to check email.

I think I've been avoiding fully processing what I took in that weekend and what I have to do from this point forward. I know I went in having an unrealistic expectation -- the hope that I would drive to North Carolina early that Saturday morning a person with an anxiety disorder and come home Sunday night cured for life. The truth is, as Dr. Wilson said, anxiety disorders span the life cycle - which means, much can be done to cope with anxiety and it's very treatable with the latest techniques & research, but it will always ebb and flow throughout our lives. That's not what I wanted to hear. He also emphasized that the best way to conquer anxiety is to choose to enter anxiety provoking situations on purpose; want to get anxious; want the symptoms to be intense; and want the symptoms to stick around for a long time. Basically, you've got to learn to love your anxiety. On top of that, you gotta drop all the crutches you use to protect yourself from feeling anxious and just feel it all .

I had a chance to practice this provocative approach when driving to my Mom's recently - a nice opportunity for regular practice. It was raining cats & dogs & sideways. I thought about taking the back roads, but picked up the girls from school and began driving on the highway toward my favorite bridges in West Point. Adrenaline surged, went away and came back again in concert with tired old thoughts and images of freaking out on the bridges. It's so easy to ride around in circles on those well worn thought grooves. I just kept chanting in my head, "I want it. I want it." I didn't employ my usual crutches of favorite music or engaging conversation - I simply expected the anxiety & tried my best to want it to come, be intense and stick around. I also tried to drop the need for certainty and just reassured myself with, "Whatever happens, I can handle it."

When I finally approached West Point, I saw the first bridge and crossed with no problem except for anticipating the bigger one. As I came up on the ascent of the second, the rain pounded against my car and, this may sound crazy, but I greeted my anxiety, like Reid suggested, and asked it to make my symptoms stronger ("Anxiety, I'm so glad you could meet me here! I need more adrenaline and pronto!"). I looked straight ahead, added the mantra "More" over and over again & remembered "I can handle this". It wasn't easy, but I did feel proud afterwards. A few months before, I wouldn't even consider driving over these bridges on a sunny day without my cell phone within reach and Stevie Wonder cranking on the stereo. And, now, here I was, crossing them with my 3 kids on a dark & stormy afternoon.

Ok, so maybe this work never gets easy. But whatever happens, I can handle it. And, if you're reading this and struggle with anxiety - you can handle it, too.

As we step into 2009, I invite you to look at what's holding you back in your life. How will you work with what ails you, whether it's anxiety or something else? Who will you share this with and who will walk by your side in community or as support?

This is the year to not let yourself off the hook. Don't spend another moment living a smaller life than you dreamed.

**Something fun & new for 2009 -- "Anxiety Gear" on Cafe Press. Let me know what you think!