Reality Check: A Way to Test Your Anxious Thoughts

Anxious Thoughts“How we see it is how it will be.” (Anonymous)
We most often suffer more from what we FEAR than what actually HAPPENS, so it’s important for you to learn how to evaluate what you are thinking. Things always look less fearful when we face them head on vs. running or distracting ourselves into TV, alcohol, food, or work.
Spend some time in your journal with your anxious thoughts, asking yourself these questions:* Continue reading

The Intentional Yes – A Way to Simplify Your Holiday

While most of us can boast of very busy schedules year round, the holiday season is even worse.  There are pressures coming from all sides, end of the year deadlines at work, holiday parties, the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone in your life, family obligations, traffic…the list could go on and on.

Rather than putting our heads down this holiday season and plowing through it let’s try something different.  Let’s slow it down, let’s take some time to enjoy it, revel in it and actually be merry!

How do we do this? Continue reading

Creating an Upward Spiral

We’re all familiar with the idea of the downward spiral, right?  Where one bad choice can lead to another which can lead to another which leads to another and so on…but did you know the opposite is also true?  Good choices can lead to more good choices which lead to more that lead to more and more and so on.  We call that positive momentum an upward spiral.  It’s a positive impact on our heart and mind, a collection of successes and positive choices we have made along the way.

creating an upward spiralLet’s look at a few simple strategies you can take to begin your upward spiral! Continue reading

Kill Switches of Happiness – Adjusting Expectations

Are your expectations hitting the kill switch to your happiness?

Throughout the years of working with couples and individuals struggling with interpersonal relationships, addictions, anxiety, depression, or simply adjusting to their ever changing lives I have witnessed the turmoil caused by unmet expectations placed upon themselves and others.  People tend to be strongly connected to their expectations, regardless if the expectation is positive or negative. In addition, many individuals will often times gravitate more consistently towards negative or positive expectations.

What is a negative expectation? Expecting the worst or expecting too little from an individual or situation.    The development of this thought process is often times constructed as a protective shield. For example some protective negative expectations are:

  • They will probably leave mepessimist.optimist.realist
  • This diet won’t work for me
  • I bet the cancer has gotten worse
  • My child will never be able to excel

These thoughts are often times justified with, “if I expect the worst I will be prepared and if the worst doesn’t happen I will be pleasantly surprised.” On the surface this appears to be a solid plan of attack. However, while expecting the worst to happen in the future we live in present despair of what may or may not happen, which may cause:

  1. Isolation and limited support – this negative outlook can often times push people away (aka Debbie Downer).
  2. Chronic irritability – moodiness is a natural emotional response of constant negative thinking.
  3. Limits potential and possibilities – people may not try or give up hope if they continually assume they cannot achieve or overcome an obstacle.

What is a positive expectation? Expecting perfection or too much from an individual or situation. This thought process is also often times developed as a measure of protection. Unfortunately behind this protective shield is a mountain of significant avoidance. For example some protective positive expectations are:

  • I have the perfect child that could never disappoint me
  • You are going to be great, with so many treatment options cancer is not a big deal these days.
  • Because my spouse truly loves me, they will understand and meet my needs (i.e. child rearing, frequency of intimacy, household chores, gifts, etc.)
  • Since I’m making such a big financial investment in this weight loss program I won’t cheat or struggle with staying on track.

In comparison to negative expectations, positive expectations also limit our ability to accurately experience the present moment. Expecting too much or perfection can lead us to avoid, or be ill-equipped to manage problems that may arise. While positive expectations are generally meant to be encouraging and supportive, they frequently cause the following reactions:

  1. Immense pressure on ourselves and others – The amount of pressure people can experience in response to positive expectations can be so intense that they are unable to enjoy their accomplishments due to residual amounts of pressure.
  2. Dismiss or overlook the realities in life, avoiding problems – Stunting healthy personal and interpersonal development that may come from addressing the realities of life.
  3. Frustration and unhappiness – Exaggerated expectations will eventually lead to disappointment, simply because not everything in life is going to be perfect or go as planned.

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow

The next time your happiness has been killed, or you just notice you are in a constant rut, stop and ask yourself, “What expectation in this moment is causing this tension?” Fight to not immediately defend or judge your expectation. Once you are aware of your identified expectation put it up against the following test:

  1. Is the expectation true?
  2. Is the expectation helpful?
  3. Is the expectation realistic?

What are the positive and negative expectations that are killing your happiness in the moment? If you or someone you know needs help filtering through personal or relational expectations contact me at Michael@ashenfeltercounseling.com. Stay tuned for 4 Expectations that are Ruining My Marriage and Career Success & Marriage Failure.

Inner Peace: A Natural Face Lift

“Soften your eyes. Relax your face,” I instruct my clients when we are working on deep relaxation in session. And the change is immediate and visible as the lines of tension fall away and a peaceful expression steals over them. When conducting this exercise with a roomful of people, the whole mood of the group changes. You can almost see everyone’s blood pressure go down! For you see, no matter how skillful the face lift, how costly the wrinkle cream, nothing can erase the look of stress, anger, sadness or chronic anxiety from a face when the soul inside is tense and troubled.  Inner peace is like a natural face lift. Continue reading

Gru, Minions & Anxiety

The above video clip is one that far too many of us can relate to. You know that feeling when you’d rather blow torch a phone than make a phone call… Or you’d rather go shopping for hours on end than face the fact that your in-laws are coming in town.  Maybe it is fear of allowing your little one to spend the night with a friend that causes you to become that parent who will lie and say “little Johnny is too scared to spend the night,” all while little Johnny is in the background begging you to let him go.

There is a certain level of anxiety that is actually healthy and normal.  Anxiety that prompts you to prepare a speech before standing in front of a crowd is likely to prevent you from total embarrassment. Anxiety about a job interview, which prompts you to dress in more than a t-shirt and shorts is more likely to propel you toward employment.  However, when our anxiety becomes so intense that we are unable to give the speech, or we bomb every interview we attend (or better yet, bail before we even get to the interview) then there is likely a more significant problem at play.

In order to adequately talk about anxiety we have to differentiate anxiety and fear because often, these words are used interchangeably, but the reality is – they aren’t interchangeable.

Fear is the feeling that you get in the middle of a crisis, when you are faced with something real and tangible.

Anxiety is the feeling that arises when we begin to think of and fear things that may or may not ever happen. 

Anxiety is an elusive emotion that can quickly go from a normal level to spiraling out of control, as seen in our video clip.  Most of us experience a little anxiety when calling someone for a first date, but in the clip Gru’s anxiety went to such an extreme that he not only melted a phone, but it resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of fire and water damage, and worse, hurt the feelings of some of his minion friends.  Unfortunately, our own anxiety when left unaddressed has the capacity to do the same.

Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders in the U.S. with an estimated 41 million people struggling.  In addition to being incredibly common on their own, anxiety disorders are also seen as underlying issues which often trigger bigger problems such as addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and major depression.  Anxiety disorders are, however, very treatable.

If you struggle with anxiety, here are a few tips to help you get on the right track.  The first step is to get to a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally.  Here are some ideas:

  • Take slow deep breaths – counting to 5 as you breathe in and again as you breathe out
  • Go for a short walk – even if just to the next room or down the hall at work, often changing your physical location can be very helpful
  • Practice self-care – a bike ride, a walk in the park, a hot shower, read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee, go shopping, enjoy a cookie, call a friend, get a pedicure, or play a video game.

** It is important to note here that self-care will look different for everyone and you have to find what is safe for you.  If you struggle with an eating disorder then a cookie is not a form of self-care, or if you struggle with shopping / overspending, then a trip to the mall is not a healthy or safe form of self-care.

Once you have gotten into a safe space, then it is vitally important that you track down the root of your anxiety. What triggered you?  What can you do to handle that differently in the future, or to avoid a triggering situation?  Identifying the root causes and how to deal with them can be very challenging!  Often finding a close friend, or a therapist, to help you through this process is a necessity to true recovery.

Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the country, but only 1/3 of those struggling get treatment – the sad fact about this… Anxiety is a very treatable struggle.  You don’t have to struggle forever, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

If you think you or someone you love may struggle with anxiety, check out our Anxiety Test for a look at some very common symptoms.

Jennifer Smith, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Tiffany Ashenfelter, M.A., LPC-S