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Calm Anxiety in 3 Simple Steps

Anxiety is Paralyzing

Anxious or Anxiety?

Are you feeling anxious or experiencing anxiety? What’s the difference? It’s been one of those damn days. You have a long list of to-do’s, but you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing because your wheels are spinning. You have two choices: Let it ride and go home frustrated and exhausted, dreading the stress of tomorrow because you know you’ll be playing catch-up, or learn this simple trick to gain enough traction to shift yourself out of worthless zombie gear and into productive badass mode! Old habits die hard, but the kind of stress we’re talking about here shortens your life span anyway, so you have nothing to lose by sticking around to learn this short formula for getting your shit together.

think you know the difference?

Most are familiar with the terms “anxious” and “anxiety” that we commonly use to describe certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It seems that the definitions of these two terms are understood, or at least our speculations of the actual definitions are pretty close, but they are often mistakenly used interchangeably. A better understanding of what is what sets the foundation for building a mental wellness framework of coping skills.

Read on to learn why anxious and anxiety are merely similar, followed by my short formula for snapping out of it early on, before the kind of paralysis that you see in that photo (above) occurs.

Take a look at these definitions according to Oxford University:

anxious

adjective  /ˈæŋkʃəs/ /ˈæŋkʃəs/

  1.   feeling worried or nervous
    • The bus was late and Sue began to get anxious.
    •  anxious about something I felt very anxious and depressed about the future.
    • He seemed anxious about the meeting.
    •  anxious for somebody Parents are naturally anxious for their children.

anxiety

noun  /æŋˈzaɪəti/ /æŋˈzaɪəti/(plural anxieties)

  1.  [uncountable] anxiety (about/over something) the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen
    • acute/intense/deep anxiety
    • Some hospital patients experience high levels of anxiety.
    • Waiting for exam results is a time of great anxiety.

2.  [uncountable] (psychology) a mental health problem that causes somebody to worry so much that it has a very negative effect on their daily life

  • Some people are feeling the pressure and suffering from anxiety and depression.
  • patients suffering from an anxiety disorder

anxious

Anxious (adj.) describes a feeling state which, most of the time, is situational – based on your thoughts about what is happening right now. It goes like this: Something happens. You have all kinds of different thoughts about what happened and why, and what’s going to happen next, and how it might’ve been prevented. Worrying builds up, which is focusing on a real problem and looking for solutions to that problem. Looking for solutions is a motivation that moves you toward solving the problem and is helpful.

anxious states come…and go

Eventually, a solution presents itself (you figure it out, get help, etc.). The problem is either solved or on its way to being solved. Anxious thoughts subside causing anxious feelings to subside, and also, the anxious feeling state dissipates. In short: No more situation/problem, no more anxious thoughts, and subsequent feelings.

anxiety is a thing

Anxiety (n.) is some thing (made up of biological, neurological, and psychological aspects) that affects thoughts, causing you to emote emotions (most likely a fear). The intensity of fear produces physical signs (e.g., increased heart rate, holding your breath, headache, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, even visceral sensations of dread, and all of that can go on at the same time). It feels like something you can’t shake and stays with you as today ends, and follows you as tomorrow begins. Anxiety is something a person has, is having, or has had – it’s something that afflicts a person (e.g., Julie has anxiety / is having an attack of anxiety/ has had several bouts of anxiety).

anxiety feels overwhelming

The term anxiety is more global, meaning it’s not the result of an incident, circumstance, or problem, but comprises everything (e.g., your self-image, marriage, job, health, kids. etc.,). It can go like this: You think about something (anything) and then your thoughts jump around- to what happened last time, to all of the hard times, to all of the stuff that never worked out, to all of the things that could go wrong, to consider all of the insecurity and instability in the world – your mind is showing you short movies (with accompanying feelings) where you vacillate between reliving past events and forecasting future scenarios.

anxiety distorts reality

You have trouble concentrating because now your head is full of things that are outside of your control. Since you are laser-focused in areas outside of your control, this type of worrying is unhelpful since it cannot be used to motivate you to look for and find a solution. The problem is not specific – it’s blown up into everything is a problem.

It’s very hard to stop these wheels once they get going like this because the more you need control over what you can’t control so that you can feel better, the more aware you become that what you want and need to happen are not happening. You are uncomfortable, you even hate knowing that you can’t make things happen or prevent them from happening.

anxiety is persistent

Your inner world is in chaos and your outer world begins to reflect this: A friend asks “What’s wrong?” and you might say, “The economy is crumbling. I’m broke and there is no relief in sight.” The friend responds, “But we have plenty of orders and plenty of employees to fulfill the orders! We’ll be fine!” You respond, “Oh, those damn employees, they don’t even do their jobs right and they want too much money. We’ll never get out of the red this year.”

anxiety is “stubborn” on steroids

If your friend doesn’t disengage from the conversation, I’m surprised. No, you can’t blame this on you being “stubborn”, the root of this is much deeper. You see? It doesn’t matter what your friend says, your train is stuck on that track and you will resist anything and anyone trying to point out facts that could help you flip your switch. In mental health, we look for “stable, persistent patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that cause the individual impairment in functioning in one or more life areas” (APA, 2013).

Anxiety likes to partner with depression

The above is the persistent part of anxiety, it just goes on and on. It stabilizes when a person usually responds this way. Unless you know how to throw a wrench in that gear early on to prevent that spin, you’re going for a ride. With generalized anxiety, living each day feels like a burdensome disappointment and typically seeks to pair up with its favorite partner: depression.

…here’s your wrench

throw a wrench in those gears

Now that you understand what is driving those gears of yours a bit more, we can get to how to throw a wrench in there to shift ’em. It helps to make a List of Priorities for the Day to help you map out where you’re headed, and to also assist you with re-focusing should you get blind-sided by either anxiousness or the beginning stages of an attack of anxiety, panic, etc.

Take Frequent Breaks to Check Your Pulse

To help you stay a few steps ahead of the wave. Stop and close your eyes if you can – it limits distractions. Does your chest/ribcage feel constricted? Is your breathing shallow – or are you catching yourself holding your breath and exhaling deep sighs? Do you feel like you have to get every single thing done right now, and that there aren’t enough hours in the day? Why do you feel like something is chasing you? Aren’t you curious about this? It has to do with brain chemistry, but that’s in another post.

Take Note of Who is on Your Chopping Block

Who isn’t doing it your way? Are you criticizing others for not doing their job that way that you could? Are you having imaginary arguments in your head? Is your brain assassinating people? Ok, now, you have to choose to let them go. If you are doing this to yourself, you must let yourself off the hook! Seriously, the more you look for proof that you are a victim, the greater the intensity of anxiety.

Your Breath is Your Anchor to Sanity

Learning how to breathe expands your sense of serenity or peace. I know you’ve heard this before, but do you practice it? Do you stop, close your eyes, take a gentle, deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs all the way, hold it at the top for a few seconds, and then slowly release it through your mouth? Do you allow yourself to do this more than once, take several breaths like this over a whole two minutes? I didn’t think so. (Gentle, Hold, Slowly, and Two Minutes are the key points in that otherwise, you’re just letting out a sigh of exasperation, which isn’t the same thing – it doesn’t produce the chemicals in your brain that can stop and reset those gears).

you get what you give

This takes practice just like everything else. Set a timer to do the checks. Pay attention to your thoughts and if everything and everybody has you grumbling, it’s time to stop and shift.

It’s important to catch it early. Don’t expect too much if you let it build and build before doing this exercise, you’ll be fighting a losing battle against chemistry and physiology. Just go to bed.

The first two steps detail a process of introspection and intention, which are an important set-up process before doing the breathing. You’re intending on letting go, releasing, breathing, and shifting by going through that thought process. So no short-cuts, you’ll miss out if you don’t tee it up!

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A Daily Plan to Cope with Isolation

More than ever, this is when you have to place the care of your mental health as your first priority.

Here is a plan to help you cope with Isolation: Daily practice of what I am about to write for you produces significant changes in the lives of many people who have worked with me. The timing feels right to share it with you, especially since most of us are sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get out of bed. Open the curtains and let the light come in. If you can, open the windows to allow some airflow, so your room, apartment, your home doesn’t feel like a dark cave. Resist the subtle seduction of your bed, blankets, and pillow, telling you that things are just too heavy to face right now, that you should sleep the day away. Ignore the lies. You can find a purpose for your day today and there is plenty that you can do with the time that you have available today. Feed your mind. Grow your spirituality. Help others wherever and whenever you can. There’s plenty to be thankful for…you woke up didn’t you? Take a little time to nurture your spiritual connection so that you’re not relying solely on your own power today. YOUR SHOULDERS ALONE ARE NOT BIG ENOUGH. Meditate. Pray. Send healing “vibes” to your loved ones, your community, Mother Earth, the Universe. You can choose your own path for your spiritual expression. Take a moment to hold a vision of all of this passing by…because it always has..and always will. Oh, and stop using the words locked down.

I’m not suggesting that you can hide from reality and attempting to run from our inner experiences only makes it worse. However, there are things you can do to minimize your habit of destructive meditation (i.e., rumination). You can practice catching fearful and anxious thoughts as they come in by acknowledging that they are there and then saying (out loud!) “But right now, I am safe”.

Become aware of what you are allowing yourself to focus on. What you let in through your ears, through your eyes, and out of your mouth influences your thought processes. Your thinking influences how you feel. If you feel like crap, take a minute to notice your thoughts. I don’t subscribe to escapism or “pollyanna” type methods of awareness, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that the way you feel (e.g., your mood, your energy, your level of motivation) has a lot to do with what you are thinking about. A good friend of mine says, “It’s okay to drive-through, just don’t park there.”

So, for God’s sake, turn the damn COVID-19 news off. You don’t need the death-toll ticker running all day long. How is that helping you? All of the updates will still be there for you to catch up on later, maybe after dinner. Be careful not to sponge up Facebook or news first thing when you wake up or right before bed, unless you want to set yourself up to increase feelings of anxiety and depression, or anger and hopelessness. Don’t listen to the whispers of your comfy chair or your favorite spot in the couch, it will only suck you down into fear, self-loathing, and then self-pity. It’s a set-up to give up!

You can sit down later this afternoon but for now, get moving! Go for a walk…take the dog. Don’t avoid going outside, get into nature. Wear a mask if you think you should. Notice the trees filling in and the flowers blooming. Look at the older couple holding hands as they stroll down the sidewalk. Take a minute to love their LOVE. Feel the sun on your face, on your skin. Connect with other walkers by saying “good morning” and waving from the safer distance.

If the weather is inclement, turn on some upbeat music. Dance with your children in the living room. Do body weight exercises. Check out yoga. Clean the house. Organize the garage, the closets, the Tupperware cabinet. Start a project or a craft. Read a book. Better yet, write that book! Resist the overconsumption of alcohol, sugar, and drama; all of them are high-powered depressants. Watch an inspiring movie, not one that increases your fear and anxiety, unless you’re into self-inflicting an increase in your mental health symptoms. Which in that case, reach out for mental health help right away by calling a hotline. RemedyLIVE is one of my favorites. They can help you 24/7 via text message. Stay connected with people who are coping better than you are, so you can be encouraged and empowered. Only then can you pass strength on to someone who needs it.

If you are in recovery for mental illness and/or substance use, connect with resources online that hold regular meetings or groups, and read about how to reinforce coping skills that will help you with a more productive outlook. When things ramp up, it’s tempting to think that your medication isn’t working. Stay with your medication. Don’t stop abruptly without talking to your doctor first, unless you want to risk the deterioration of your mental stability, psychosis, or a full-on 5150 trip. Please call your provider first and discuss what you’re experiencing. Request your refills long before you run out to allow time for mail delivery.

Remember that thoughts, emotions, behaviors, including anger, crying, seething resentment, and constant worry, all take up energy. Reduce your engagement in conflict. Reduce your exposure to conflict. Your mental and emotional resources (energy) are already being siphoned by just trying to cope day-to-day. I’m not talking “ju-ju” energy stuff here, although I do believe there is much to be said of matters that are phenomenal in nature, such as meta and quantum physics. I mean energy as in just basic physics, including biochemical reactions in the brain and body. So don’t risk wasting precious energy by jumping in the ring at every invitation. You can sit this one out. This means avoiding petty arguments with your spouse or partner, be mindful that your children are going through their own painful process – get off their backs. And your parents have their own ways of dealing with things, stop trying to force them to think and feel like you do. Love your siblings and be considerate of the cashier at the grocery store.

Be aware that mental and emotional stress, as well as physical pain, often come out sideways. You may not even be aware of this, but your feelings of not being able to control what is happening can be expressed as fighting for control with other people, because something in you just needs to remember what it feels like to have control, to win. This serves no one, especially YOU. Conflict just increase the likelihood of a three-day emotional hangover and possibly a bout of deep depression afterwards. Why choose to go down there? The risk isn’t worth it. Fight to keep yourself from opening your mouth. Fight to walk away. Whatever you have to do to maintain a sense of calm in your mind and prevent yourself from causing harm to someone else. Let it go.

Create a routine at night that sends signals to your mind and body that it is time to slow down, shut down and recharge. Be careful not to impede your process of rejuvenation by eating a big meal right before bed or sleeping with the television on. Get comfortable. Read a book before bed. Binaural beats are a wonderful way to take advantage of the always-awake parts of your mind (best to use headphones) and I’ve known it to help even self-proclaimed ‘hopeless’ insomniacs. Review the last 24 hours like you are watching a movie on the screen of your mind. Avoid re-feeling it; just watch it. Gently note areas of your thinking, feeling, and behavior that need improvement, without casting callous judgment on yourself and others. Let the swirling criticisms of others float away from your mind. Release all of your concerns by imagining them floating up and out of your mind, and up into the night sky, where something bigger than you can tend to them, for now. Set a mental goal (an intention) to wake up to a new day with the simple gratitude of being given Life. Before you fall sleep, say out loud: “In the morning, I will know just what to do.”

With each sunrise, you have a new beginning.

When you wake up, go to the beginning of this page and repeat.

Share with those who might need the help.

Comment about your experiences below. I’d love to hear from you.

– Mia

Pandemic: a wake-up call

Pandemic: we’re coming up on the ninth week of the shelter-in-place order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom, to flatten the curve of COVID-19 here in California. The heaviness of fear and sadness is palpable along with the fear of infection. Let me ask you this though, can you feel a shift? It’s a different kind of energy. The kind of energy that reminds us that good changes often come alongside difficult challenges. It feels like an awakening.

We’ve all seen the Facebook memes about the shelter-in-place orders being a test of relationships and marriages. Many are wondering if it’s possible for partners to get along with such restricted movement? What happens when you can’t escape from your spouse? Believe it or not, I’ve actually heard of couples getting closer. Maybe they can now work out those kinks that have been backburner-ed in favor of attending to professional schedules and soccer practices. I heard a friend say that every night is movie night, even date night, that his marriage is no longer crumbling. It’s fascinating for me to witness the curiosity of friendship resurfacing between them, to see their romance become again.

Many parents were aghast when they realized they would be home with their children all day. I mean, we love our kids, but alllll dayyyy??? For the first couple of weeks, it seemed as if every parent was scraping their elementary school-aged kid of off the living room ceiling only to stuff them in a beanbag chair with some electronic device. Lately, I have seen families walking together around my neighborhood. One of my neighbors lives with her adult son and daughter and she typically asks me for advice about how to quell the strife between the siblings. She told me just this morning that the three of them are working on do-it-yourself home interior projects and that her home is harmonious. I know of several parents who became quite anxious when they heard that they might be required to home-school their kids. Then, after they were told to stay home from work, they realized that the connection between you and your child in those teaching moments can be absolutely magical. Some of us have adult children that are busy doing exactly what they are supposed to do at their age – staying busy as hell doing their own thing. You know, the ones that usually call you because they need something? With busy schedules and social lives, which means that sometimes you have to wait until the next birthday or holiday to see them. Enter COVID-19 and now it’s been months since some of us have hugged our older kids. When we finally get to hold them it will be hard to let them go all over again.

Many people my age are still raising children and even making room for the arrival of grandchildren, which means…our parents take a back seat for awhile because there are only so many hours in the day, damn it. When our parents get older, their worlds get smaller; imagine how small it is now. My mom likes to talk about all of her interactions with people in her small town and sometimes she gets so detailed that I gently remind her that I don’t know them. I listen because I know she is excited about it, but there have been times that I looked at my watch, or haven’t given her 100% of my attention in some other way. I promise you, I will think twice about letting that ever happen again.

What happens when money makes the world go ’round and then all of a sudden the economy stops? Will employers finally get it that having one individual do the jobs of three people, while plumping up the title, just isn’t going to cut it anymore? Maybe hiring four people is the answer to distributing the burden in a way that is more efficient, even if it costs them more money. Will this time be an opportunity for us to see that imposing unrealistic expectations on anyone or anything only causes stress? Will we realize that we have become so hyper-focused on maximizing human output and upgrading our devices that the things that really matter are being neglected? Is this what it takes to slow us down enough to reflect on our lives and realize what it is that truly brings us joy?

I am certain that all who emerge from this will never be the same. Maybe in some ways, at least for me and maybe for you, that is actually a good thing.

Life Coaching FAQ

Overtime and Out of Our Minds


My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Italy just before his 21st birthday; chasing the American Dream. To my grandfather, in that era, that meant he was looking forward to finding a good job, getting rich, and sending money home to Mama to help her care for his 8 younger siblings. The term American Dream takes on a different meaning for Americans and is used to describe the hope that current generations have for the wellbeing of younger generations (Acs, 2011). A big part of that wellbeing is financial because living in America is not cheap. American workers have their noses to the grindstone more than ever (Shabner, 2006). Personally, I have seen the amount of hours people work evolve into an obsession. I’ve been guilty of this myself. This is typical for business owners, but I know of some who work 60 hours per week just to make ends meet. There are numerous explanations for this, but the overarching American definition of success is one variable that is constant (de Botton, 2013).


The definition of success in American culture goes to prove that the old adage “money isn’t everything” is entirely false. That is, unless you would be absolutely content living on a park bench with no schedules to keep, no belongings or dependents to care for, and a clear mind, like Eckhart Tolle, who’s experience seemed to be a pseudo-buddha awakening described in his book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Namaste Publishing, 2004). Eckhart did this for two years and only as an experiment as opposed to Buddha who refused to budge, hence my use of the prefix “pseudo”. We need money. Even if we, as individuals, do not particularly allow money to identify our concept of self or define our character, there is no way around it, we as a society need money to pay for shelter, food, transportation, insurance, medication, clothing, communication devices, and I could add to the list ad infinitum.

These examples illustrate the practical aspects of income, but there are other forces that drive us to work (e.g., internal narratives, social comparisons, attachment to rewards, noterity, or prestige, and materialism) (de Botton, 2013). In the history of my working years, I have been asked to take on enough job duties to fill three separate job descriptions for a wage not even equal to just one of them, which makes any opportunity for over-time attractive, turning my 8-hour days into 12. Arnett & Jensen (2016) describe a set path regarding the working years of human development that is confining, in my opinion, and exclusive of many real-life circumstances that affect all generations today, including the high prices of fuel, groceries, and health insurance.

Young people are saddled with stress. Couples both work full-time jobs and split second-shift responsibilities (e.g., cooking, cleaning, laundry, budget, bills) on a rotational chore calendar (Arnett & Jensen, 2019; Shabner, 2006). Long hours and exhaustion can reduce the quality and duration of the time that couples spend together, adding to relational strain.


Concerning student debt in America: not every kid can depend on parental resources to sustain him or her while attending college for 6-8 years so they can move up to a higher socio-economic classification and fulfill the parents’ vision of the American Dream, or lives at a poverty level that makes them eligible for financial aid (Aces, 2011; Grinstein-Weiss et al., 2016). Even with financial aid, tuition prices for a college education are insane. I just paid $3600.00 for my previous 12-week term. Our country needs to make every effort to allow equal access to higher education, extra-curricular enrichment, top-notch schools, and social, as well as, work opportunities, to every individual, not just the well-connected elite (Grinstein-Weiss et al., 2016). The bottom line is, now lean into me here, wealth is not a bad thing, but if it is used to ascribe value (or lack of value) to human beings based on their earning ability and capacity, that is an injustice.

We need a movement to make wages more commensurate with the overall costs of living, or vice-versa. We also should do away with the “global phenomenon of snobbery” and stop asking each other which golf course is closest to our residence (true story, here in California) (de Botton, 2013). We should teach our children how to exhibit true empathy instead of how to perform good one-up’s when their social status’ are threatened. If we are in a terrific financial position, we should model charity for our children. We should take half of NFL players salaries and disperse the money amongst our teachers (just half, they’ll be ok!). If we invested as much in the characters and educations of our people as we do our entertainment, possessions, portfolios, and prestige, the ripple effect would be incredible.


In contrast, the people of Greece work less, rest more, stress less, and live longer (Pervantes, n.d.). The cost of living and wages are lower, earning a woman with my job a monthly income of about $1900.00, but groceries are cheap, the coffee is amazing, and your employer is required to care about your stress-level and how it affects your spouse and children when you get home. Greece has laws that prevent work from interfering with private life. That’s right, Greece has laws to protect people from being overworked and unavailable to their families. “Double-shifts” don’t exist in Greece, because workers must have 11 hours of rest between shifts.

Greeks continue the ancient tradition of “Mesimeri” or quiet time, which occurs daily from 3 to 5 pm (Pervantes, n.d.). Towns become silent as cars, music, and businesses stop to recharge. If employees are at work, their lunch break starts at 2 pm, goes through mesimeri, with work resuming 5pm until 8 pm (Pervantes, n.d.). Which is why Greeks eat dinner between 930-10 pm. Implementing quiet time would never fly in America, it cuts into night life and healthy diets far too much. But changing business hours so that employees have four 10-hour work days and 3-day weekends might go over quite nicely!


If you need help coping with the effects of stress and burn-out, schedule a counseling session with me here https://live.vcita.com/site/MiaVivone/online-scheduling

References

Arnett, J. J., & Jensen, L. A. (2019). Human development: A cultural approach (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Acs, G. (2011). Downward mobility from the middle class: Waking up from the American dream. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/reports/economic_mobility/pewpollprojectfinalsppdf.pdf

Cummins, D. (2016). If you grew up poor, your college degree may be worth less. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/if-you-grew-up-poor-your-college-degree-may-be-worth-less/#

De Botton, A. (2009). A kinder, gentler philosophy of success [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread

Eurofound. (2019). Living and working in Greece. Retrieved from https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/country/greece#background

Grinstein-Weiss, M., Perantie, D. C., Taylor, S. H., Guo, S., & Raghavan, R. (2016). Racial disparities in education debt burden among low- and moderate-income households. Children & Youth Services Review, 65, 166–174. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.04.010.

Pervantes, E. (n.d.). Live longer with the Greek lifestyle: Take naps. Olive Tomato. Retrieved from: https://www.olivetomato.com/live-longer-with-the-greek-lifestyle-take-naps/

Schabner, D. (2016). Americans: Overworked, overstressed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93604&page=1

Tolle, E. (2004). The power of NOW: a guide to spiritual enlightenment. Pbk. ed. Vancouver, B.C. : Novato, Calif.: Namaste Pub..

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