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How EMDR Works in Treating Anxiety

How EMDR Works in Treating Anxiety

By Diana Schaefer, LCSW

Most people suffer from anxiety from time to time. I know I have. We all need some anxiety to function. If you had no anxiety you might not be motivated to do anything! However, too much anxiety can hinder us from being at our best.  Whether it’s situational; such as having to do public speaking, taking a test, or having to drive after having had an accident, or more generalized where you feel anxious but are not sure why, EMDR works in treating anxiety.

How Does EMDR Work for Anxiety? 

The first step is identifying what is triggering the anxiety. If it’s something like public speaking, one way I’ve used EMDR is to come up with a time when you did a good job speaking publicly and you felt successful. We would then touch on how you felt when you were successful, what positives thoughts you had about yourself, have you imagine how you sat or stood in front of the group and even think of a word or phrase to describe that feeling. We would then use bilateral stimulation, which is stimuli, either visual, auditory, or tactile, which occur in a rhythmic left-right pattern, while you experience those feelings, thoughts, body sensations, and images in your mind. Then, we would attach the word or phrase that helps you remember that feeling. This is called resourcing the positive experience.

The next step would be to have you concentrate on an upcoming event when you have to speak in public. Here again, we would have you imagine being in front of a group you’ll be speaking to identify the feelings that emerge, images, physical sensations, irrational negative thoughts you have about yourself and what you want to believe when we are done or the positive thought. I would also ask how upsetting this is on a scale of 0-10. We would then use the bilateral stimulation while you think about the situation. What usually happens is the negative feelings and irrational beliefs become more positive and the level of upset (or anxiety) goes down.

Another approach I’ve used is to have the person imagine that they are successfully speaking to a group. In this approach, we would run a movie in your head successfully speaking to the group using the bilateral stimulation, starting with the preparation of getting ready for the speech through to the end of the talk. We would stop when they feel the anxiety coming on and then we would process the anxiety until it went down.

Case Example: (all identifying information was removed and scenarios altered to maintain anonymity)

I worked with a young woman who suffered from anxiety which she felt intensely whenever she had to be the center of attention. She was getting married and the thought of everyone staring at her terrified her. She had suffered from panic attacks in the past and was very afraid she would have a panic attack at her own wedding and ruin the entire experience of her special day.

Obviously, sometimes the anxiety is based on traumatic experiences that also need to be addressed. This was also true in her case. She had a loss that left her feeling unprotected and vulnerable. We worked together for several weeks on having her imagine getting up that day, getting dressed and ready, walking with her father down the aisle of the church and doing this successfully without a panic attack. Her level of anxiety before we started the process was at a 10+. We were able to get the anxiety level down to about a 3 which was fine with her. She wanted to feel in control but the anxiety made her feel out of control. We also worked on the deeper reasons behind her anxiety. She ended up having a little anxiety during her wedding (who wouldn’t?) but it did not limit her or prevent her from having a wonderful experience.

If you feel that you or a loved one can benefit from either anxiety counseling or EMDR therapy, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. If you would like a more general perspective on EMDR, you can read How EMDR Works.

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

how to reduce anticipatory anxiety

How to Reduce Anticipatory Anxiety

By Shannon Haragan, LPC

By now, you’ve probably heard that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld puts it, “If you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” One of the reasons for this irony is the unknown versus the known: Generally speaking, we don’t know when we’re going to die, but we do know when we’ll be expected to stand up and give a speech in front of an audience. This leaves plenty of room for our minds and nervous systems to play all kinds of tricks on us.

Truth is, life offers many occasions that fire up our nervous systems and fight-or-flight responses. The anticipation of a these events often generates symptoms such as an increased heart rate, shallow breathing, nausea, as well as negative thoughts (the dreaded “what ifs?”), and uncomfortable levels of fear. Your kiddos may have experienced some of this recently as they prepared for their first day at school. Or you may have experienced it on a first date, a job interview, or even before going to the dentist. Though a little bit of anxiety can help motivate you and give you focus, sometimes that little bit can become super-sized. The good news is there are ways to help reduce the symptoms of anticipatory anxiety. Here are a few things to try:

1) Breathe! The psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls, said, “Fear is excitement without the breath.” Anxiety and excitement are similar in how we physically experience them. If we’re able to concentrate on slowing down and deepening our breath, not only will it soothe our nerves, slow down our heart rates and loosen tension locked in our muscles, but it can also help to transform the anxiety into a greater sense of excitement.

2) Imagine a successful outcome. Our brains are built for protection, so when our nervous systems are aroused, it makes sense that our brains naturally scan for the worst-case scenario, in order to be fully prepared. But the more we focus on the “what ifs” and potential disasters, the more likely those things are to happen. Additionally, those thoughts will generate and perpetuate negative feelings, such as nervousness and feelings of insecurity. What is the “good” that this event can lead to? If your mental patterns are generally rooted in the negative, become aware of them, and instead, direct your thoughts toward success.

3) Do your research! Anticipatory anxiety often occurs as a result of a lack of preparation. Needing to prepare for an event seems more obvious if it’s for a job interview or a test at school, but what about going to a kickboxing class for the first time or having to make a super quick flight connection in an unknown airport? Thankfully, most of us have access to information easily and instantaneously these days. Google, Bing or Quora away, and then do it some more! Search for videos of kickboxing movements, airport maps, or whatever information will equip you enough to feel a little more prepared. This turns the unknown into a-little-more-known, which can result in a decrease of anxiety and increase in feelings of confidence.

4) Plan to do something fun after the event. There’s no need to be extravagant here, but what is something you can genuinely look forward to? Drinks with a friend? Getting a massage? Taking your kids out for ice cream after the recital? Whatever makes you happy, write it in your calendar and plan for it after the big event. Being able to look forward to something helps further dilute those feelings of nervousness and motivate you forward.

Anticipatory anxiety can be uncomfortable, but if you’re willing to give it some time and attention, you may find the anxiety decreasing enough to allow for a more positive experience overall. If you would like guidance from a counselor to reduce your anxiety, you can make a counseling appointment and we can show you evidence based techniques and skills to overcome your difficulties. If you would like an overview of the process prior to making your decision, we have a page dedicated to anxiety counseling. Additionally, you can read Tips for Managing Election Anxiety and The Simplest Way to Overcome Anxiety and Depression.

Tips for Managing Election Anxiety

Tips for Managing Election Anxiety

“Pre-Election Stress Disorder” can be alleviated with simple techniques

AUSTIN – In advance of the next presidential debate, a group of Austin therapists is offering tips for managing “election anxiety”. Just Mind therapists have noticed an increase in clients who report distress related to the election and this is likely to increase as election day gets closer.

“A lot more of our clients, even clients who previously weren’t coming to therapy for help managing anxiety, have reported worrying about the election to a degree that it’s actually interfering with their lives,” said William Schroeder, licensed counselor. “Many people are really frightened. And while there may not be a lot individuals can do about the outcome of the election, there are basic techniques anyone can use to deal with elevated anxiety.”

This phenomenon has been described by practitioners like Dr. Stephanie Smith, who refers to the underlying feelings of worry, preoccupation with campaign coverage, and feelings of extreme fatigue as “Pre-Election Stress Disorder”. 

“Anxiety is a complex set of symptoms that are different for each person. For many people, simply being more disciplined about avoiding election-related news – turning off the TV & Facebook – will be the best coping strategy,” said Teri Schroeder. “But there are other techniques that Austinites might consider as well.”

Exercise Until Nov. 8th. If you’re noticing more election-related stress, it might be a good idea to create more opportunities for exercise until Nov. 8th. Many studies have found regular exercise to be the single most effective anti-anxiety remedy,

Take Walking Breaks. Some studies have shown that a 10-minute walk can be just as effective at alleviating anxiety as a 45-minute workout. Particularly for people who are confined to an office for much of the day – where election related chatter around the water cooler might exacerbate anxiety symptoms – it might be easiest to take a short walk to breathe, reflect and let go of tension you may be holding.

Cut the Coffee, For Now. Stimulants like coffee often exacerbate anxiety symptoms. If you’re having trouble with an increase in election related information in your environment, you may want to decrease intake of stimulants like coffee.  

Find a Way to Access Humor. Believe it or not, humor is an effective way to cope with fear-related anxiety. Some Just Mind clients have found success giving themselves outlets like the Political Humor page.

Feel & Express Your Feelings. Denying or trying to minimize feelings of fear and anxiety can often even further interfere with daily functioning for people who are experiencing those symptoms. Instead, it’s important to allow yourself to express those feelings; for anxiety-related symptoms, however, this has been found to be most effective alongside talk therapy with a licensed clinician.    

Companies should also be aware of heightened stress levels with their employees during this political season. Employers should be aware that many of the events surrounding the election are very activating to employees and they may need to think stress reducing activities for the office. Employees should think about taking some time off to help with self care if stress levels feel overwhelming. If you would like a consult with one of our clinicians, contact us to make a counseling appointment and we will get back to you shortly with options. We also have a page where you can get an overview of anxiety counseling, if you would like to read more about it. Additionally, you can read How to Reduce Anticipatory Anxiety and The Simplest Way to Overcome Anxiety and Depression for more information.

Just Mind is a center of excellence focused on providing comprehensive psychological care to adults, couples, teenagers and children. JustMind.org

Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now

Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now

How much of your life do you spend in the present moment? How much time do you spend daydreaming, ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future? How much of your life do you miss by getting lost in thought?

In his book, The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle explains that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. He attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present. If you take time to examine your thoughts, like I did, you might notice that they are very often related to the past or future and are rarely focused on the now.

Tolle argues that time, or “psychological time,” is essentially a construction of the human mind. In other words, the future — whether it’s work on Monday or a beach vacation in two weeks — exists only in our heads. Similarly, the past is simply a collection of memories. The only thing that ever truly exists is the now. By always thinking about the past or the future, we are ignoring or resisting the now. In essence, we are denying reality and, in doing so, causing ourselves a great deal of pain.

The Past Produces Pain

Tolle explains that too frequently ruminating on the past causes feelings of depression, guilt, and self-loathing. The following are examples of past-oriented thoughts that are likely to cause pain:

  • “I should have asked her out! I’m such a coward. I am never going to find my soulmate.”
  • ”I shouldn’t have said that in front of my boss. Now, I am never going to advance at my job.”
  • ”I wish I hadn’t eaten that piece of cake. I feel fat and undisciplined.”

Even letting your mind drift back to happy memories can create sadness about that period of time being over, which can result in feelings of emptiness, loss, and general dissatisfaction with the present. For example:

  • ”In college, I felt so free. I had a million friends, zero wrinkles, and boundless energy. I guess I will never feel like that again. My life is basically over.”

The Future Forges Fear

On the flip side, Tolle explains that regularly thinking about the future causes worry and anxiety. For instance:

  • “I have to go to the store, call the doctor, finish up three reports at work, and pay for a bunch of bills I can’t afford. I am so stressed out!”

On a Sunday afternoon, instead of enjoying the walk you are taking outside, you might find yourself thinking…“Oh my gosh. I have work tomorrow. The weekend is basically over. I am dreading tomorrow.”

Even habitually thinking about positive future events, which may initially cause feelings of excitement, can eventually cause dissatisfaction with the now, as you may deem the present inferior to your idea of the future event.

  • ”I cannot wait until my beach vacation — warm sand, margaritas, time without work. Too bad that, until then, I am stuck with work and cold weather.”

Even worse, habitually living in the future prevents you from ever actually experiencing and enjoying these positive events when they do arrive. You will always be looking forward to something bigger and better.

  • While on the beach on that beach vacation, instead of enjoying the sun on your face and the sand between your toes, you might be thinking… “I can’t wait until the shrimp dinner tonight! Only 3 more hours!”

*Disclaimer: Tolle grants that sparingly thinking about the future is acceptable insofar as it allows us to plan for the next step in life but argues that most people spend far too much time doing so. I am definitely guilty of this and have too often ventured from “sparingly” thinking about the future to constantly thinking about the future.

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now. Don’t let the fear of the

Easier said than done. How do you live in the now?

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds. I like to pay attention to my breath while also noticing my surroundings  — non-judgmentally observing the color and shape of the clouds, feeling the sun on my face, noticing my diaphragm move up and down with each breath. This every mindfulness can be practiced while:

  • Driving — feel your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the gas pedal while gazing through the windshield at the road ahead.
  • Cleaning – feel the warmth of the towels fresh out the dryer, hear the quiet popping of soap bubbles, and smell the lavender scent of cleaner on the sponge.
  • Walking — notice the quality of your breath, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, observe the sights around you, and listen to the sounds of birds, car horns, and other ambient noise.

Whenever you find your mind drifting to thoughts of the past or future, gently redirect your focus to the present moment. On days that I am too far gone, I find that yoga helps me — and sometimes forces me — to reconnect with the moment. Matching each movement with an inhale or an exhale requires that I stay focused on the present. By the time we lie back in Shavasana (corpse pose), I use my here-and-now momentum from the class to stay centered in the present. Afterwards, I am able to attack the day with a greater foundation of calm and less needless stress.

Tolle’s Secret Weapon:

In The Power of Now, Tolle provides a trick to help us avoid unnecessarily stressing out over psychological time. He instructs the reader to ask him or herself “Do I have a problem right now?” whenever they start worrying about the past or the future. The answer should almost always be “no” (unless a rabid bear is chasing you right now!). For example, although, tomorrow, in a single workday, I need to figure out how I am going to complete lengthy treatment plans for each one of my clients on a new electronic client-information system while also fulfilling my normal work duties as a Crisis Social Worker, I do not have a problem “right now.” Right now, I am sitting on my back patio enjoying the first warm day in a week, and the only thing I need to be doing is typing out words on this keyboard — not preemptively worrying about a task I cannot start addressing until work tomorrow. Before reading The Power of Now, I might have considered this work task a “problem.” Now, I know that the issue is just a “life situation” as Tolle calls it, and I will address it when this task enters into my now. Because right now, I only have to devote my mental energy to the moment. Right now — and for the next 100 million “nows” —  I am free to live in the peace of the present. You can even take this a step further by developing a fear of missing out of the now.

Interested in more? Pick up a copy of The Power of Now or check out this video of Eckhart Tolle talking about how to break the habit of excessive thinking:

Breaking the habit of excessive thinking can be a tough task to tackle on your own. Attending a meditation group or a yoga class and perhaps doing depression counseling or anxiety counseling can be great ways to catalyze your foray into a present-oriented life. If you feel that you could benefit from counseling, do not hesitate to contact us to make a counseling appointment.

If you liked this post, you might also like our blogs on The Simplest Way to Overcome Anxiety and Depression and our post Develop Fear Of Missing Out Of The Now.