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Anxiety and the Big, Scary Dog

Anxiety and the Big, Scary Dog

When I was a small child, my family had several large German shepherds as pets.  I don’t remember the times those dogs jumped on me and knocked me down, though I have been told it happened.  I do remember growing up with an intense fear of large dogs.  Throughout my childhood, when I saw a large dog, my primary instinct was to run away.  

Unfortunately for the young-child-me, dogs enjoy a good game of chase.  By running away, and encouraging the “big scary dog” to chase me, I was reinforcing my own fear: that dogs were scary and should be avoided at all costs.  

Anxiety is often a “big scary dog”.  We feel the discomfort, and seek to avoid it by running away, or avoiding situations that cause anxiety.  When we avoid anxiety-provoking situations, we reinforce in our brains that those situations are unsafe, creating a cycle of fear and anxiety that grows the more we avoid specific situations.  

In order to retrain our brain, we have to confront the big scary dog.  This can be an overwhelming task, so it is important to have tools to draw from.  Three helpful tools are box breathing, positive affirmations, and challenging thinking errors.

Box breathing:

Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely while imagining moving your lungs in the outline of a square.  At each corner, pause and hold the breath for 4 seconds, then exhale along the next side of the square.  Breathing in this way helps to regulate your nervous system, increasing your sense of calm.

Positive Affirmations:

Words are powerful, and we tend to believe the words we tell ourselves.  A friend recently recounted her experience on a climbing wall.  “I was doing really well, until I looked down.  At that point I panicked and told myself, “I can’t do this”, I sat frozen for several seconds and then let go of the wall, letting the ropes catch me and return me to the ground.”  

If we constantly tell ourselves “I can’t do this”, “This is too hard”, or “My anxiety is too high for coping right now”, we are likely to give up early or avoid the situation entirely.  When those thoughts pop into our minds, we can replace them with a positive affirmation.  “I can do this”,“I am capable”, and “I’m stronger than I feel” are all positive affirmations that can help push back against the anxiety that is preventing us from reaching our goals or functioning in daily life.

Challenging Thinking Errors:  

Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that often come along with anxiety or depression.   As with positive affirmations, we can replace thinking errors by challenging them.  Common thinking errors include all-or-nothing thinking (where we view things in very black and white terms), mind reading (where we assume we know what another person is thinking), filtering out the positive (where we focus entirely on the negative, and ignore anything that might counter our current thoughts), and emotional reasoning (taking our feelings as signs, i.e., I feel scared, so I shouldn’t attend this event).  

Recognizing then challenging these kinds of thinking errors can help us confront our anxiety by reminding our brain that there are other ways to see the world and we do not have to be stuck in our anxiety.  

If you have tried utilizing these tools and need more support in confronting the big scary dog of anxiety in your life, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy can help retrain your brain to see the dog not as a snarling beast, but as something more approachable.  ERP therapy is effective in treating anxiety as well as obsessive compulsive disorder.  

If you are struggling with these issues, schedule an appointment with Alice in either the Bountiful or Cottonwood Heights office at (801) 944-4555.

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Misbehavior – A Form of Communication

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When a child misbehaves or exhibits behavior that becomes problematic, their behavior is telling you something, but what?
A child that misbehaves is trying to communicate that they have an unmet need, but how do parents determine what that need is?
Parents can look for clues that might tell them how the child is feeling. When parents figure out what is wrong or missing, they can then follow to assist the child to take care of themselves.
What are some of the reasons that a child might misbehave?
  • They may be hungry, tired, ill or bored.
  • They might not know or understand what is expected of them.
  • They might be held to expectations that are beyond their developmental level.
  • They may have experienced trauma or abuse.
  • They may be copying the bad behavior or their parents or someone else.
  • They may be trying to cover up feelings of pain, fear or loneliness.
  • They may be experiencing feelings that are overwhelming to them.
  • They may feel bad about themselves.
  • They may be experiencing bullying.
  • They may be experiencing dietary issues.
  • They may be trying to get attention from others.
  • They may be testing whether parents will set limits, boundaries and enforce rules.
  • They may be asserting themselves and seeking to be independent.
They may have an untreated disorder such as:
  • Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • General anxiety disorder.
  • Sensory processing disorder
It is important to remember that misbehavior does not mean that a child is “bad.” They should never be labeled as such. There is a difference between a child’s character and how they behave. What a child does is not who they are.
Maybe you’re frustrated and having difficulty determining why your child is misbehaving. Maybe you have an idea of why your child is misbehaving but don’t know how to approach the issue. Maybe you’re wondering if your child has an untreated disorder. If so, call us at Wasatch Family Therapy (801.944.4555) to schedule an appointment for a parent consultation with one of our trained providers. Mental health is just as important as physical health to a child’s well being.
Sue Hodges, LCSW

 

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Anxiety Disorders: Meditation is Helpful Medicine

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are affecting over 18% of the American population, making it the most common mental health issue in the United States (adaa.org). Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Alarmingly, little more than one third of the people suffering from any form of Anxiety disorder are getting treatment (adaa.org). Often the barriers to treatment include not knowing that treatment is available or where to find it, or not wanting to resort to medications. Some people may not realize they have a diagnosable disorder, while other people may know they have it but not want to have to “do therapy.” If you or someone you know is not getting treatment for whatever reason, some lifestyle choices could help, including a clean, balanced diet, appropriate exercise, adequate sleep, and something that’s getting more attention in scientific research, meditation.

In January 2017, Psychiatry Research, a peer reviewed scientific journal, published the results of a randomized study that found significant reductions in stress related hormones in those participants who practiced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as compared to the control group participants who did not (Hoge et al., 2017). Furthermore, when mindfulness techniques are combined with therapist guided cognitive-behavioral intervention the results are even more impressive and longer lasting (Evans, 2008). In short, working with a good therapist to learn healthy cognitive-behavioral habits and making good lifestyle choices—including practicing meditation on a daily basis—can go a long way toward helping you and/or your loved one overcome whatever form of Anxiety disorder you’re dealing with.

There are an abundance of free resources available to help you learn how to meditate.

  • YouTube offers countless videos of guided meditations. Some of my favorites are from Deepak Chopra.
  • You can download any number of meditation apps for your phone. I highly recommend Meditate Me, available only through the App Store for iOS devices.

Whatever resource you use, you’ll be glad you took the time and put the practice to the test!

Call us for an appointment with a skilled therapist.

Here’s to a peaceful life!

 

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., Findler, M., Stowell, C., Smart, C., & Haglin, D. (2008).

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 716-721.

 

Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Palitz, S. A., Schwarz, N. R., Owens, M. E., Johnston, J. M.,

Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2017). The effects of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in general anxiety disorder. PsychiatryResearch. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.01.006

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