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Opinion: Hypochondria is Funny, But Not in a Ha-Ha Way

Opinion: Hypochondria Is Funny, but Not in a Ha-Ha Way

By Lauren Modery of Hipstercrite

I loved watching Woody Allen films as a teenager because as a bad Jew (“bad” in that I’m still not quite sure when Rosh Hashanah is), I found him not only hysterical, but relatable as well. There was one facet of his character -which also happens to be a real-life trait of his as well– that I didn’t relate to growing up, and that was of his unrelenting and unapologetic hypochondria. I had difficulty understanding how a person could think they were sick or dying a fair chunk of the time, until one day I felt the same way. And it wasn’t funny like a Woody Allen movie and I wasn’t funny like Woody Allen. Instead it has been a personal purgatory that makes me want to hide under the couch and only occasionally outstretch a paw of curiosity.

I thought my hypochondria would be short-lived, but as I write this, it appears to be at an all-time high (except for when the Xanax kicks in- then it’s at an inconsequential medium). I’m not quite sure what triggered this affliction, but my best guess was the day I turned 30 (go ahead, laugh).

Turning 30 didn’t appear to be an emotionally big deal when it happened, but deep down I think the internal switch of childhood to adulthood was fully flipped. That defining moment has since sent me into a tailspin. I watch confused and bewildered as my peers get married, have children, or in some instances, unfortunately, get ailments or pass away. I stand slack-jawed as the wrinkles on my parent’s skin multiply and my grandmother’s stoop gets steeper and steeper. The realization that this ship ain’t stopping has finally hit me; no more twenty-something fantasies that we’re all going to live this one out forever.

So what does my hypochondria entail? Well, it includes a lot of self-diagnosing via WebMD. I would actually go to the doctor instead of checking WebMD obsessively, but if I did, I’d probably become the What About Bob? of my doctor’s office. There are also frequent panic attacks (and I don’t use that word lightly: they’re full-on pacing-shaking-sweating-pleading with my boyfriend to take me to the hospital attacks) triggered by some arm or leg pain that I’ve immediately concluded is a blood clot ready and willing to start its immediate course to my brain. Recently a stiff neck (most likely caused by all this anxiety hoopla) made me believe that I had spinal meningitis even though I was vaccinated for it during college. At various points I’ve also convinced myself that I had “side cancer,” an infected gall bladder, a broken rib, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome.

In Allen’s films, they don’t show you how exhausted Woody’s character is from all his anxiety and hypochondria at the end of the day. Instead, he has some love interest chasing him or a lucrative creative project on the horizon. In real life, hypochondria can be debilitating. It can drive your patient loved ones to lose patience and prevent you from living the life you want to live. As I work on this newly developed tribulation, I know the first order of business: BLOCK THE LIVING HELL OUT OF WEB MD.

Curious about ways to curb your anxiety and panic?

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How to Leave Comfort Zone

How to Leave Comfort Zone

By:  Mary Hoofnagle

It seems everyone has a list of things they wish they could do, but feel like they can’t.  We all have plans, goals, and dreams, but feel trapped by every day life.  We all pull from the same list of excuses:

I don’t have enough time.

I don’t have enough money.

I don’t have enough energy

I need to finish…first.

I’m afraid that…

It won’t work anyway.

What if…

I just don’t feel like it.

It’s not the right time.

I have to pay off debt.

The kids take up all my time.

I can’t.

As soon as…

Ben Franklin said, “He that is good at making excuses, is seldom good for anything else.”

If you need to hear it another way, The Wolf on Wall Street author Jordan Belfort would tell you, “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”

I know.  You are convinced it is not bullshit.  You really don’t have enough time.  It’s the truth!  But the honest truth is all of these excuses point directly toward the real reason we aren’t doing all the things we’ve always wanted.

We are comfortable.

We get stuck in the comfort zone because it’s free of anxiety and it’s predictable.  Any change, even a small one, produces anxiety and uncertainty.

I realize every other message out there warns against anxiety, but I don’t think all anxiety is always bad.  I’m suggesting that there is an optimal level of anxiety that exists, and it is even necessary for continued growth, happiness, and mental health.  We need to be careful to be sure we are experiencing an appropriate amount of anxiety in our lives that moves us forward.  Too much will hold us back and hurt us.  We also need to be mindful of the amount of time we spend in a state of anxiety.  Too long can lead to physical and mental health complications.

How do we do that?  Start by taking small steps outside the comfort zone and then returning to it from time to time for a breather.  When we begin stepping out of the comfort zone, there is a large chasm separating the two.  But the moment you take a small step outside your comfort zone, you spark a little magic.   A small shift in perspective and events.  You’ve initiated the butterfly effect.  You never know what the small changes lead to down the road.  And in the moment, the small shift you made starts to stretch your comfort zone wider.  Soon you’re ready to step out again.  And again.  Eventually you have stretched your comfort zone out so it’s overlapping the other circle.  Now your life is full of magic.  For more ideas on stepping our of your comfort zone, explore The Science of Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone.

In Matt Cutts’s Ted Talk, posted below, he talks about making changes for 30 days.   I encourage you to try it as the next month begins.  WE can do anything for one month.  What is something you have always wanted to add or subtract from your life?  Do it!  Can’t think of anything, look for projects like the 30 Day Photography Challenge, and learn something new.  The goal is not to become an expert at something, just to stretch your zone a little.

As you grow comfortable with these small changes, bigger risks feel comfortable too.  Who knows? You may end up taking a trip somewhere you always felt too afraid to go or starting that business venture you feared would never work out.  The possibilities are endless, but so are the excuses.  So choose possibilities!  They will enrich your life in ways you never would have guessed.

Are you in need of additional tips or assistance in leaving your comfort zone or exploring new things? We can help! Do not hesitate to contact us to make a counseling appointment. Additionally, you can find more information about adult counseling on our dedicated page. Additionally, you can also check out How to Stop Missing out on Life, You Are an Explorer, and How to Change Your Life’s Narrative for more tips on self-discovery and growth.

Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

Accepting Anxiety (Part 2)

Accepting Anxiety (Part 2)

by Margaret Fiero

In my last blog entry, I proposed the idea of counterintuitively accepting one’s anxiety.  It sounds interesting, but how does it work? Is it one of those things that just sounds good in theory but doesn’t really function in practice? As I am still just a student of counseling, I can’t answer those questions definitively, but I can put forth what others more qualified than myself have written on the topic.

The types of therapy that encourage enmeshment with or mindfulness of one’s own distressing thoughts, sensations, and personal experiences are relatively recent. Examples include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness, and third generation psychotherapies. For the purpose of this blog entry, I will focus on ACT (pronounced as the word, not an acronym). The major goals of ACT are fostering acceptance of problematic and counterproductive thoughts and feelings that cannot – and  perhaps need not – be controlled, and fostering commitment and action toward living a life according to one’s chosen values. In this sense, ACT facilitates acceptance and change simultaneously.

The ACT philosophy entails embracing our own ways of thinking, no matter how flawed they may be, in an attempt to accept ourselves without judgment and reduce experiential avoidance.  Through limiting emotional suppression, ACT also promotes psychological flexibility, as well as adaptive response-focused thoughts and feelings. I find it a refreshing idea that rather than wrestling with your thoughts in moments of anxiety and anguish, you can say, “This anxiety is natural, and it is part of me. I’m going to accept it, just as I am going to accept myself,” and then move on. I feel this idea is best embodied in thought observation. After learning about ACT, now when I have anxious or otherwise disturbing thoughts, I think, “That’s an interesting thought, and that’s all it is, a thought – it doesn’t define me.” I then let it pass. It’s amazing how liberating such a simple technique can be.  In the past, I may have let one anxious thought lead me down a path of more and more anxious thoughts – and often this occurred because I was thinking that I should not be anxious.

As humans, we have innumerable thoughts, and while it’s true that the way we think makes up who we are, an isolated thought does not define us.  We are more than the sum of our thoughts; we must be, as many of our thoughts are contradictory. ACT seems to offer an interesting and innovative approach to anxiety relief that I hope is explored more by clinicians in the future. Click here to read more detailed information on ACT. If you feel that you need help with anxiety or would like additional information, you can make a counseling appointment or read more about anxiety counseling.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Accepting Anxiety

Accepting Anxiety

by Margaret Fiero

Have you ever, while in a heightened state of anxiety, been told by someone to “calm down” or “relax”? Does that usually help? As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, I can say unequivocally that hearing something of the sort while in the throes of anxiety does not help me. Rather, it usually just makes the situation worse. I wonder why, then, we think that if we tell ourselves the same thing that it will work. Any time I have tried to “talk myself out of” anxiety has usually resulted in me hyperventilating in a public restroom somewhere.

When others, however well intentioned they may be, tell us to calm down, it may bother us because there’s some judgment behind that statement. Our culture values cool, collected confidence – we see that as a sign of strength. Anxiety embodies the polar opposite. We view it as bad and useless, a sign of weakness. Since anxiety is likened to a character failing, it is no wonder everybody tries to tamp it down with such vigor. Whatever others tell us to do about our anxiety, our own silent commands to ourselves are most likely harsher. Telling yourself to “stop being so stupid” or something similar when you’re anxious is hardly comforting. It is no surprise then that most folks would prefer to zap away their anxiety with medications than actually confront it.

Is there any value to anxiety? It’s hard to imagine there is, especially considering its physical manifestations: sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, dry mouth, etc. At one time, though, those physical effects had an important role in our survival: we needed that increased sense of vigilance when we were facing down a saber tooth tiger. That’s why it’s called the “flight or fight response.” Anxiety is therefore not some sort of deficiency on our part, it’s a leftover evolutionary adaptation that doesn’t have much of a place in our postmodern, high-tech, drive-thru world. Or does it? We may have fewer confrontations with hungry predators in our daily lives now, but we still have crucial moments – they just come in different forms: job interviews, first dates, important projects, exams, presentations, meetings with the boss, among others. Anxiety is a messenger – when you feel it, you know it’s a time for action. Try to listen to its message, and then decide how to respond. Certainly there are things to do for anxiety, but a little anxiety can be telling you something that needs to change in your life.

I don’t claim to be offering a panacea, but then, that’s the point. Maybe when we stop trying to eradicate anxiety, we can begin to live with it more easily. If we can accept that it is a normal reaction to certain situations in our lives, maybe it won’t consume us. Maybe we can even get something positive out of it as we face down the saber tooth tigers of our day.

If you feel that you need help with anxiety or would like additional information, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read more about anxiety counseling. For part two of this series on accepting anxiety, click here.

Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.

Photo by Jay Sadoff on Unsplash