Monthly Archives: June 2015

Your Feelings Have a Message for You. Are you Listening?

Image courtesy of photostock at

When we overeat instead of feeling our feelings, we’re rudely silencing ourselves.  (Image courtesy of photostock at

Last week, I wrote about how one of the things you need to do if you want to stop eating emotionally is to get back into your body. This week I want to talk about another aspect of halting emotional eating. This time, it’s about listening to what the feelings we avoid feeling might be trying to tell us. We must make sure that we are being heard.

I can’t tell you how many times I reached for food as a way of comforting myself for feeling sad, lonely, lost, uninspired, demoralized, frustrated, stuck (insert any crappy feeling here). I can tell you that once I realized I was emotional eating that it didn’t make it easier to stop.

I can tell you that there were times I knew full well that the eating I was planning on doing was actually going to make me feel worse than I felt to begin with – yet I still shoved handful after handful into my mouth. Feeling physically terrible and emotionally bad about what I just did (eating those feelings!) somehow felt less bad than whatever vague discomfort or frustration I was feeling before. I thought I was eating to feel better yet feeling “better” actually meant making myself feel worse.

The remedy for my uncomfortable feelings was to make myself feel so bad that I forgot for a little while what I was feeling so bad about! And feeling so awful only confirmed for me whatever negative things I was thinking about myself (I’m out of control, I’m a failure, what is wrong with me?) so the urge to do it all over again was stronger the next time I felt bad.

When we use food as comfort or to numb out, we are really trying to find a way to distract us from whatever it is we don’t want to feel.

Why do we need to distract ourselves? Why is feeling unpleasant feelings so awful? Where do we get the idea that there are some feelings too unbearable to feel? What went wrong for so many of us that this is how we deal with bad/negative feelings?

Let’s pretend for a minute that instead of turning to food when we feel something that feels overwhelmingly bad to us, that we decide to just feel that feeling. We don’t try to push it away, avoid it, wall up against it or resist it. What is the worst thing that can happen from feeling that way? Nothing, aside from feeling something uncomfortable for awhile.

There is nothing all that bad about feeling a feeling. It will come over us in waves, sometimes getting stronger before all is said and done (but if you’ve ever been in the ocean, you probably know how to ride a wave back to the shoreline). It’s just a vibration in the body – just a sensation.  And all feelings pass.  Good feelings pass. Bad feelings pass. We can’t be happy every day, every moment for all of our lives and we certainly won’t have bad feelings every moment of our lives. So why do emotional eaters treat them as if we let them in for one second they’ll never leave? For some, it’s a legit fear of the feeling – they can’t bear to feel it. But for others, it’s more than that.

Part of the reason we avoid uncomfortable feelings is because sometimes those negative feelings have a message for us and we might not be ready to listen, because listening to them means we need to do something about it. The message is that something needs to change and only you know what that something might be.

The need to run away is because those feelings might be trying to communicate that there is something in our lives that we need to change. Maybe we’re unfulfilled by our current situation or our potential is being limited by a job, a relationship, our way of thinking, destructive habits or something else. Uncomfortable feelings are the harbingers of a problem we are concealing.

Sometimes making necessary changes is scary and overwhelming so since we aren’t ready to face it, we push the message away and send back a message of our own. The act of overeating to avoid feelings is a message we relay to ourselves that says:

  • “I don’t want to listen to what you have to say.”
  • “You’re not worth the effort.”
  • “No one cares.”
  • “Shut up.”
  • “Your needs aren’t important.”

By not dealing with our feelings and turning to food instead, we are conveying to an important part of ourselves that he or she isn’t worth being heard.

This brings up the question, if at our core WE are not willing to listen to ourselves, where else in our lives are we not being heard? Not expressing ourselves? Where else in our lives are we feeling silenced or silencing ourselves? Putting our needs last? Feeling ignored? Feeling stifled?

How can we expect to get anything we want or need in life or from those around us if we are not even willing to listen to ourselves?

If you aren’t willing to express your feelings to yourself, it’s very likely you aren’t expressing them in other parts of your life either.

When was the last time you asked for a raise at work? When was the last time you communicated to your partner your needs? When was the last time you sent back a meal at a restaurant that wasn’t how you wanted? Do you think of yourself as a “people pleaser”? If you see yourself in any of this, I’m sure you can add some of your own examples.

At the beginning of this blog post I said that once I realized I was emotional eating that it didn’t make it easier to stop. That’s true. But once I realized that I was silencing myself by ignoring my feelings with food it became harder to view my actions with the same harsh judgement. It opened up a door to kindness – which is essential to moving past it.

Think about this. You’re at a party where you don’t know many people. You finally see someone you do know but they’re in a group having a conversation. You walk over to the group and wait for an opportunity to say hello to your acquaintance and introduce yourself to the others. You make eye contact with your acquaintance and believe they recognize you. Finally there is a pause in the conversation so you start to speak – but as soon as you do, your acquaintance puts their hand up and talks over you. You wait for additional pauses so you can have your turn but the same thing happens again, and again, each time the person speaking talks louder to drown you out. You leave the party feeling invisible, awkward and like you weren’t heard at all.

It feels horrible to feel like we aren’t being heard.

In real life, we would feel so ashamed to treat someone else like the acquaintance treats us in the example, but we do it to ourselves all the time! We wouldn’t do it to another person, so why do we do it to ourselves?

I know many of you reading this will recognize yourself in this. Do you think you can treat yourself with a little more kindness? Be more open to messages you may be sending to yourself? What might your loneliness, sadness or frustration be trying to tell you?

When I finally started to listen to the message my feelings were trying to tell me, the message was that I deserved more, I wanted more and I was capable of so much more. The reason I didn’t want to hear that was because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. But guess what? It’s been much easier to figure that stuff out as I go than it was to keep stuffing it down and trying to avoid it.

For a moment, let’s go back to the part where we let ourselves feel whatever we’re feeling. Instead of reaching for food, we choose to let ourselves feel whatever it is we normally avoid. What happens if we survive feeling our feelings? (which we will). We get past the uncomfortable thing we don’t want to feel and end up on the other side.

If you actually let yourself feel the depth of what is bubbling up for you, you might just hear the message you need to hear. Maybe not all of it at first, but some of it. Maybe you’ll feel it deep enough that you are ready or inspired to do something about it. Even if you aren’t quite ready to do something about it, know that there is value even in just hearing yourself out and that the depth of your understanding and willingness to create change can increase the more often you practice these things. You’ll know you’ve made very real progress with feeling and listening when the urge to run from your feelings isn’t there anymore.

Don’t underestimate the power of feeling your feelings and allowing yourself to be heard. If you hear one message from this post today, make it this: stop silencing yourself with food.

Do you think there is a message you need to hear that you have been avoiding? What makes that message so difficult to hear? What do you think you need to do to feel more heard in your life?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. If you like what you’ve read here, please join my email list in the green box below so that you don’t miss out on what’s going on with Andrea and her coaching practice.

If You Want to Stop Emotional Eating You Have to Get Back into Your Body

photo credit: good morning via photopin (license)

photo credit: good morning via photopin (license)

If you want emotional eating to be a thing of your past, if you want your long history of diets to be over, if you want to stop struggling with food, there is one thing you absolutely must do and that is get out of your head and get back into your body.

What do I mean by this? Most of us with emotional eating issues or a long term diet mentality will do anything we can to distance ourselves from our bodies and we often don’t even realize it. While a lot of our mental focus might be spent on how we feel about our body on any particular day (feeling fat, feeling gross for overeating etc) or how we want our body to look (wanting to be thinner, fitter or more muscular, wanting to have curves if we don’t etc), virtually none is spent on actually paying attention to the signals our body sends to us – signals like hunger, fullness, satisfaction and having had enough!

If you watch babies and young children, they are very in tune with the signals their bodies send them. Babies cry and toddlers get cranky when hungry. They feel it. Some days it seems like they eat almost nothing, while other times they seem to be a bottomless pit. We say “oh they must be going through a growth spurt” when this happens. We recognize that the extra hunger they have must be caused by something their body is conveying. A need for energy. A need for nourishment. A need for fuel to build healthy muscles and bones. But they stop themselves when they’ve had enough. While very young, we are very in sync with the needs of the body. So we start off honed in to these sensations and then lose it. Why?

Over time, we’re taught that we can’t trust our bodies. The teacher might be parents, relatives, well meaning neighbors, or it might be advertisements we see in every form of media. As children, we’re told told if we clean our plates we’ll be rewarded with dessert. How many of you struggled to finish your meal just so you could enjoy a treat? We’re taught that eating happens at 8am, 12pm and 6pm and we fill up at those pre-selected meal times whether or not our bodies say we are hungry. As adults, we’re taught that smaller portions and counting calories is the only way to not be overweight. We receive the message that point systems, low fat products, sugar free substitutes, and liquid meal replacements are the way to having a thinner body (never mind the message that a thinner body is what we all must have to be happy or desirable! uggg!). Along the way, we learn to gauge if we’ve had enough or too much food based on the calories, visual cues like portion size or by what we see in the mirror (thin or fat?). Eventually we learn to ignore something we had at birth – the ability to determine when we’ve had enough by paying attention to how our body feels.

We’re so focused on what our bodies should look like, how they should appear in a bathing suit and how few calories it takes to see the scale go up that we spend a huge chunk of our time attempting to maintain some arbitrary bullshit ideal. We abuse ourselves by withholding food based on whatever is popular at the time, instead of using the tools that our body is equipped with (or abuse ourselves by overeating to satisfy an emotional need). I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again – Our bodies are incredible machines – all we need to eat the right amount of food is inside us, if we’d only start paying attention and give it the trust that we instead give to whatever diet guru is popular at the moment.

Paying attention to the signals in my body has been a huge game-changer for my own relationship with food. I used to think that there was no way to not weigh 300 lbs without strictly accounting for all calories – but once I was able to trust my own hunger (now that I can recognize what that is!) I found that my weight is far more stable and I have less fear and stress around food. When I focused on calories, I made food choices based on what was going to help me meet my weight loss goals and not what was going to fuel my body. It wasn’t balanced and I always felt deprived. These days I can eat whenever I’m hungry and stop when I’m not and not worry about it – all because I’m in tune with my body and stop eating when I’m not hungry.

A key theme that every eating issue recovery program, tool, book and philosophy on the subject all have in common is that if you want to be more at peace with food and your body, you have to get out of your head and return to your body. If you eat according to anything other than the physical sensation of hunger, you’re probably not doing that.

What does this mean exactly?

Getting out of your head and back into your body means:

  • we choose to eat because we are hungry. True “hunger” means your stomach feels empty, it may make growling noises, your mouth may salivate at the thought of food, you may feel weak, lightheaded or slightly nauseous. You may feel hunger in your throat or neck instead of your stomach. It may be a gnawing, gurgly, light feeling. Hunger is a physical sensation. Describe it. Get in touch with it. What does “hunger” feel like to you? When was the last time you recognized that you had physical hunger? Do you feel it daily? Once in a while? Don’t remember the last time you felt it?
  • we stop eating when we are no longer hungry. Most of us confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger. You will never satisfy emotional hunger by eating food. Being in your body and in touch with the physical sensations it gives you means you can recognize when you are truly hungry and make the choice to stop eating when you are not.
  • not making food decisions based on whether something looks like it’s too much or not enough food, or whether it’s more or less calories than you “should” have at a certain meal. Instead of using judgements from our head about the quantity of food to determine how much to eat, we have to allow our bodies to tell us when we’ve had enough food. This can be really scary if you been calorie counting, dieting, restricting or have a history of out of control eating – I recognize this – but it’s key. You have to trust yourself.
  • Choosing foods based on their ability to make your body feel energetic, light and satisfied. We make the majority of our food choices based on fuel and nutrition but occasionally still leaving room for foods that bring us joy (and this doesn’t mean that the foods that we use for fuel aren’t also enjoyable!).
  • Avoiding foods that make us feel sluggish, lethargic or make us feel out of control. When we’re eating from our heads we tend to choose foods that don’t satisfy us very well (fat-free, low calorie, low nutrients) or make us feel terrible (fried, heavily processed, high in sugar etc). Are you even aware that some foods make us feel better or worse than others and that that is different for each person? It’s worth working on.

How do we get start to get back in our body?

  • Keep a food journal. I know it’s tedious but it works. Write down every single thing you put in your mouth (food or drink, even a single lick off a spoon – every bite!), what time you ate, as well as how hungry your were when you started eating and how full/satisfied you were when finished. It’s also helpful to record where you ate the meal and your mood at the time. Calories aren’t important but quantity might be helpful in the beginning. This is where we see patterns and start to understand our food “story”. Knowing your story is how you go about changing it. Some of the things you’ll see: When do you overeat? What foods do you tend to go for when you’re in a good mood? When you’ve had a rough day? Are you eating more or less than you thought you were? If you’re not willing to take the time to keep the food journal, you may want to ask yourself why? What are you afraid of finding out? People I know who are resistant to keeping a food journal, claim it’s because they already are aware of what and how much they are eating, but they’re usually the ones who have the most to learn and the most to gain from connecting with their bodies! Yes, you can use an online tool like myfitnesspal, peertrainer or whatever else you’re into – BUT ignore the calories, macros etc, PLEASE input info beyond the actual food you eat and ANALYZE it over time. Using paper, you’re more likely to look back at past entries and see your habits – with tech we’re less likely to do that so be willing to commit to that if you insist on using an app. I have seen the best results from paper and pen for me and my clients.
  • Use a hunger scale. When we’re not used to paying attention to the sensations in our bodies, using a hunger scale every time we eat can help us by slowly bring our attention back to our bodies on a regular basis. It takes a little practice. Here are two tools that I regularly use with clients (depending on their particular needs) – example 1 and example 2.  In both tools, the goal is to stay somewhere in the middle all day – never letting yourself get super hungry or super full (neutral to comfortably satisfied is where it’s at). Doing this, we start to pay more attention to when and how our bodies start to signal us and we’re less likely to run into that problem where we’ve gotten so hungry that we can’t make good decisions and end up going completely overboard. A tool like this takes a little practice to use. First you have to determine what each point on the scale means to you – with Brooke Castillo’s 2 to 2 scale (from example 2) – how much food do you need to eat to take yourself from -2 to 0? What about from 0 to +2? What does eating to +5 look and feel like? What does letting yourself get to -7 feel like? You may find some days you reach satisfaction with less food than on other days. Some days you may find that you are hungrier than usual and need to eat every few hours to prevent yourself from getting too hungry. Once you know how much food it takes to keep you in a comfortable place on the scale, you can plan ahead since you’ll know what it will take to satisfy you (and you’ll start to recognize how beneficial it is to not let yourself get too hungry or too horribly full). I can tell you that what felt like “enough but not too much” shortly after I ended my regular binges now feels like being super stuffed. Be willing to adjust your expectations and needs as you get more comfortable with your body and eating intuitively.
  • Eat slowly, in a calm environment and chew more than you think you need to. Doing this ensures your brain and digestive system work together to #1 prepare to digest your food properly (saliva and gastric juices baby!) and #2 release chemicals that tell your brain that you’ve had enough. Often we eat so quickly that by the time we stop eating, it’s another 20 or 30 minutes before the brain catches up – by then we’re so full we can’t stand it! If you slow down it won’t get to that point and you’ll be amazed how much less you need to eat to feel “good”.
  • Indulge in body based self-care. It’s not a direct route to listening to your physical hunger sensations but these are all certainly aligned with getting in touch with your body (literally!) and can help foster the skills you need to listen to your body more. If you can’t stand to touch or move your body, you might be not be open to its communication tools as well. Try some of these to open back up: Dry brushing daily with a natural bristled brush (towards the heart), physical movement that focuses on the mind-body connection like yoga or qigong, masturbation (did she just write that? yes, yes she did!) or deep tissue massage.

Ditching a diet mentality and recovering from emotional eating takes a lot of effort but with concrete tools and consistency you can make some incredible progress. Eating does not have to be such a struggle and if you start here – connecting with your physical self, you are at step one of a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

Does any of this resonate with you? Have you been completely out of touch with your hunger signals? Please share in the comments! And as usual, if you like what you’ve read here, please sign up to be on my email list in the green box below.

When Will Life Not Get in the Way?

Life gets in the way

Now that I’ve been coaching clients for awhile, I’m starting to notice some trends among my clients that actually applies to most of us. People seem to fall into two places when it comes to getting things done – they either straight up “do it” or they “let life get in the way”. Both types of people have busy lives with many responsibilities but they have different beliefs about their role in their own life and how much control they have over it. This isn’t a “lazy” problem. This is a “thinking” problem. I’ll explain!

During my coaching sessions with clients, together we come up with a few diet or lifestyle recommendations for them to try out in the two weeks until our next session.  These recommendations are small “tweaks” to what they’re doing already. We build upon what they’re already working on in small increments so that the tasks are attainable and they don’t feel overwhelmed. By doing this, we ensure that they will be able to reach their goal as long as they take the steps we’ve outlined together and they feel empowered to take on more challenges as they progress.

Depending on where someone is on their journey, I’m noticing that my clients seem to land in these two camps (the “do’ers” and “life gets in the way” camps). In the first camp, I have people who show up at each session and have completed each recommendation with impressive fervor and drive.  They can’t wait to take on more. They see the value in doing each step and they know that if they don’t take the actions we plan, then they won’t get the results we’re after. These people make incredible progress week after week. They reach their goals and then some.

In the other camp are people who at the end of the session say they are excited about their recommendations and they feel confident that they can complete them before the next session. At this point they appear very similar to the people in the first camp. But when it comes time for the next session and when I ask how the recommendations went they haven’t done them.

Why? The reasons I hear are things like: “Oh, I didn’t get to them at all! Life just got in the way!” When I ask what specifically made it difficult to do what they set out to do, they have things like this to say:

1. “I don’t know, it was just a really busy couple of weeks!”
2. “Well it was a school vacation week.”
3.  “I had a lot of events to go to.”
4.  “We just weren’t home much and I didn’t have time”.

So we try again, we go in with a different plan of attack and break the goal into something even smaller so that there will be less to get in the way of it getting done.  Still, clients in this camp show up to the next session having barely worked on their goals (some not at all, others in a half-assed way). They express frustration that they aren’t making progress. But how can we expect to progress if we aren’t taking action?

Clients in both camps are busy. In fact, I would venture to say that all of my clients are very busy people, in fact, the people in the “do’er” camp also have events, school vacations and aren’t home much – but they get done what they set out to do. Why is this?

Where they differ says something about how they look at life.  Both sides are busy but one side repeatedly let’s regular daily life stuff get in the way of their dreams.  In the first camp, the “do’ers” are people who look at life as something they have some control over – they see evidence that their beliefs lead to actions that create results.  In the second camp are people who look at life as something that happens to them – they don’t believe they really control the course of their life. They believe they don’t have control, so they take actions (or lack of actions) that bring them results they don’t want (and then they see that as evidence that their original belief of no control is correct).  What’s terrible about this is that it’s re-enforced as they go through the cycle again and again and it’s hard to get out of.

What’s different about the people who fall into the “life gets in the way” group is that there is a part of them that believes that we can only make life changes (even small ones) when things are quiet, when everything is lined up in a row, when we don’t have vacations or appointments or meetings or housework to do. The problem with this type of thinking is that nothing ever gets done. Progress is never (or barely) made because they believe life needs to be smooth and perfect before attempting to change anything. They believe that in order to be successful, they need to be able to concentrate every ounce of their energy on a new task, and since that is impossible (even for people who aren’t busy), their belief is setting them up for failure.

The “do’ers”, those who get stuff done despite obstacles recognize that in order to make changes you have to fit your goals in with the rest of your priorities. Just like brushing your teeth, showering, feeding your kids and paying your mortgage – the goals you set to change your life need to be moved up higher on the priority ladder or they will never get done.

Now, I’m not talking about those major circumstances (like a death in the family, major illness etc) that we can’t plan for.  Obviously these things come up and we didn’t know they were coming.  But we do know when our children’s school break is happening, we know we have appointments scheduled, we know when we have a busy week of social events and we know we have a home that needs regular house cleaning.  I hate to say it but these are things that you can plan around.  You can fit your small goals into these regular life things if you take a few minutes to look at your upcoming week and figure out a plan. You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or paying your most important bills just because life got busy, right? So why do we think it’s ok to skip out on the actions that will get us where we want to be?

You know you’re going to have to eat no matter what, why not plan ahead for some healthy options you can eat when things are very busy? You can cook a few meals ahead of time and freeze or get into the habit of keeping quick grab healthy foods in the house like peeled/sliced vegetables (every grocery store sells these now), a can of beans, a container of hummus, plain yogurts, fresh and dried fruit and nuts etc. It can be done no matter how insanely busy you are.

If you’re in the “life gets in the way” group, it all boils down to a belief.  A belief that life is happening to me and that I have no control over it. A belief that I’ve never been able to do x, y, or z so why would i be able to do it now?  A belief that you are the victim in your life. Or maybe you believe that you’re lazy.

Is this what you really want? Of course not! But somewhere along the line, you received the message that life happens to you and that you’re just along for the ride. But today I want you to hear the message that there is a whole other world out there if you are open to it. If you can change your belief about the level of control you have in your life, you will be open to taking different action and can change the outcome. You’ll be able to get the results that you want so badly.

The only difference between people who are incredibly successful and those who aren’t is that the successful ones don’t give up if they stumble. The most successful people in the world have failed many many times but they keep going. Failure or slipping up isn’t a sign from the universe that you’re not meant to have or be something – it’s a sign that maybe you need to change how you’re going about it. In this case, you have to change how you are viewing your role in YOUR life.

I know people who fall into both camps – and I definitely used to fall into the “life gets in the way camp”. I now see myself as a “do’er” and can’t imagine going back. It’s a lot more satisfying to recognize that your life is YOURS.

Which camp do you think you fall into? Are you letting regular life “things” get in the way of your goals? Do you really want these goals to begin with? Do you believe you can have it? Do you recognize the amount of conscious work it takes to get there? Goals and dreams don’t happen without real action and dedication to the process. You have to SHOW UP in a real way to get there.  If you half-ass it, you’re living a half-assed life.  What is the point of that??

If you are getting stuck in this type of thinking when it comes to taking actions towards your goals, I urge you to ask yourself “When will life not get in the way?”.  Does your answer surprise you? Do you feel angry that I’m even asking you these questions? Think about it and please share your answers here in the comments.

Show up. Take control. Sculpt the life that you want.

Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!


6 Things You Can Do To Have More Power Over Anxiety

photo credit: anguish via photopin (license)

Some simple things you can do to reduce the impact anxiety has on your life.   (photo credit: anguish via photopin (license))

In last week’s email I talked about some of the benefits I’ve experienced from my own meditation practice and one of those things was the effect it has had on my anxiety. Sending out that email made me realize that I haven’t talked much about anxiety in the whole time I’ve been keeping this blog. Since anxiety can be a huge factor in whether someone is able to move forward on their health or life goals and it’s something I personally have dealt with, I thought it might be a good time to talk about some other things that might be helpful if you are suffering from anxiety – because let’s be honest . . .there are more of us that are dealing with anxiety in some form or another than aren’t. Today I’m going to share 6 things I do that have given me more power over my anxiety (and I’ll share some about my struggle too). I hope some of these help you!

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting about 18% of the adult population. And that’s only those who have actually been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (and not including those under 18). I’ve had anxiety for years, and while I’m managing it very well these days, there have been times when it has been a major issue in my life and felt completely out of control. Long term anxiety and stress can lead to many health problems, so it’s really important to find ways to manage it if you suffer from it (even if you don’t have goals that it’s getting in the way of).

Despite how common it is, I’ve been a little shy about sharing my struggle with it in the public sphere (even though I’ve been very frank with my weight & emotional eating history), probably because there is still a big social stigma surrounding mental health.  Today I’m going to share because I’m in a place where my anxiety is pretty well managed (by some of the tools I’ll talk about today), I want others to know that they aren’t alone and I want others to see that even people who you think have their shit together, have probably struggled with things that you would never suspect. (Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone thinks I have my shit together. Just kidding, I have my shit together . . . it’s in a pile over there, but it’s still shit. Haha.)  I also think anxiety ties in easily with the to the emotional eating world – the two often go hand in hand.

My Anxiety Story
To give you a little background about my anxiety . . .I have a type of medical anxiety that is called “health worries”.  It started shortly after my Mom died in 2001 (though if I’m honest, I’ve always been squeamish about medical stuff – it just snowballed after 2001).  I remember lying in bed feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. At the time, I was living pretty “hard” (lots of partying, bad food, crazy hours) and I remember thinking constantly that I was having a heart attack or that something else was seriously wrong with my body. As the years went on, that fear around my health got worse. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in my early 20’s and had to go through a bunch of tests over several months. The doctor was worried that my kidneys and heart were damaged from possibly having high blood pressure for years. Having to have all those tests when I was already scared about health stuff really put my anxiety in overdrive (thankfully those tests showed everything was ok) and there have been times when I was completely paralyzed by my anxiety. Every doctor appointment, test or even a random pain or sensation in my body that was abnormal for me could send me into a multiple day panic attack. I have had difficulty discerning when a pain or a feeling I have in my body is something that needs immediate attention or is nothing to worry about. And of course, with my anxiety, I’m terrified of going to the doctors (what if they find something terminal?) and also of what happens if I don’t go (what if it is something terrible and I’m ignoring it?). You can see how that loop can be hard to get out of during an episode.

Quality of Life Issue
That’s the cliff notes version of how my crazy anxiety works (which is more than you probably want to know I’m sure). A doctor once said to me, when I said I wasn’t ready to get help for it, that people only get help when their quality of life is compromised to a point that they feel is no longer acceptable. I didn’t understand what she meant at the time but several years ago I finally reached a point where I understood what she was talking about. The amount of mental and emotional energy I was using just to get by most days was completely exhausting.  I went to therapy for it, and have also done a ton of work on my own since then. I still have occasional anxious days that pop up but nothing that would stop me in my tracks for days like I used to. I have tools now that I use to halt the progression of my anxiety. They help me keep perspective, stay calm and grounded and I’m so glad I have them. I would never want to go back to feeling the way I used to (feeling out of control, smothered and vibraty all at the same time).

While my health anxiety manifests a little differently than other generalized anxiety disorders, the techniques I use to manage it are similar to those used with generalized anxiety – and can be very effective!  Try some of these and let me know if they help you at all!

6 Things You Can Do To Have More Power Over Anxiety

1. Exercise.
The first thing to go for me when I’m in the midst of anxiety is to stop exercising, usually because I’m so wrapped up in my fear that I become paralyzed but in reality, exercise is the best way to release some of the stress around the issue, get some feel good endorphins going again and concentrate your energy in a healthy way. It helps get your mind off of whatever you are worried about or at least gives you something to focus on other than the feelings your anxiety gives you. When my anxiety creeps in these days, I make sure to stick to my regular exercise schedule and doing that usually shortens the duration of my anxiety.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, even going for a short walk or a 15 minute yoga session at home can enough.  Getting in touch with your body and out of your mind for a bit can be immensely helpful.

2.  Tell someone about it.
This is something I didn’t see the value in until I was in therapy for my anxiety (which seems crazy to me now!). I used to actually keep all my worries and fears inside – part of me felt like my fears would get worse or be realized if I actually shared them with anyone.  But when I did finally share with my husband or a friend that something was on my mind, not only did I feel a huge sense of relief but it also allayed the extra anxiety that comes from thinking you are acting like a big weirdo during the attack (since they now knew the reason if I was acting like a weirdo). Sharing your worries, fears and anxieties with someone you trust can help you realize how much we build stuff up in our heads (to a huge deal) and it may seem like way less of a deal when you say it outloud. I find I’m much more likely to think rationally after talking about something with another person. Hearing their thoughts can be helpful too because they can be more objective. Hearing from someone who cares about you that the situation you are having anxiety about isn’t very likely to happen can make you feel world’s better. And if the situation is something that is legitimately likely to happen, these people who care about you can also be the ones who support you and help you get through it. Totally helpful either way!

3.  Write.
Journal! Free form or be specific. Just get it all out – say as much as you need to and I recommend good old pen and paper over typing/computer. When I’m dealing with my medical anxiety, I find writing especially helpful. There have been times when I felt completely paralyzed by my own thoughts and fears around my health.  One tactic that has been very helpful to use during a panic attack is to write a journal entry about it.

For me, it goes something like this:  What am I feeling? I write down what I’m feeling at that exact moment (for me it’s usually a pain or sensation somewhere in my body).  What do I think it is? I write about what I’m worried what it could be. Next I ask myself to get into my rational brain for a minute with What it is more likely to be? (odds are it’s just constipation or just my body being run down etc), and then I come up with a rational action plan. What and when will I do about it? For me, it might be something like “if this pain gets worse or lasts longer than 3 days, I’ll go to the doctor”.

Once I put it all down on paper I feel some relief just sheerly out of being able to express what I’m feeling, but also having an action plan written out, helps me to relax.  Sometimes my anxiety brain can’t understand when something is worth investigating and when it’s best to wait and writing helps me make sense of it all. It’s like I get stuck in a loop but writing halts that loop from continuing.

For general panic / anxiety, your questions and answers might look a little different – maybe something more like this (but please customize to what makes sense for your type of worries):

1. What am I feeling? (physical sensations, thoughts, feelings)
2. What am I having anxiety about? or What do I think I might be anxious about?
3. Do I actually have any real evidence that this is likely to be/ happen? If so, what?
4. What specifically can I do to feel more in control in this situation? And when will I take those actions?

Writing in a question / answer format might not feel right for your particular type of anxiety – I know for some folks, anxiety is a vague feeling of fear or worry (or just something not being right) – so writing about specific worries and action plans may not be possible. I’d still encourage you to write in a freeform style – to get all your thoughts and sensations on paper. Take some deep breaths and read it over when you are done. For many people just putting the thoughts down somewhere can be enough to take us down a notch!

Doing this will be hard at first – in fact you may not remember to even do it! But if you keep it in the back of your mind as a tool to try the next time you are freaking out you may be surprised by how much it can help. I find this one especially to be cumulative. The more I’ve resorted to it, the faster it brings me back to normal.

4.  Become aware of your thoughts and make the decision to change them.
Okay this one deserves a blog post on it’s own because it takes a lot of practice but to be as brief as possible, know this – ultimately, we’re in control of the thoughts that happen in our brains. I know it may not seem like it (and holy shit it doesn’t feel like it when you’re lost in anxiety land!), but we are the ones coming up with  thoughts (good or bad) and those thoughts that make us feel a certain way (anxiety, happiness, jealousy etc). The problem is, most of the time we’re not aware how ingrained these thoughts are in our brains. They’re so ingrained that it becomes an automatic response to a situation. This makes it very difficult to change it (unless you are willing to notice and call yourself out on it, repeatedly).

To become more aware of your thoughts, next time you feel anxious, I want you to try to recall (write it down) what thoughts made you feel that way. You may not be aware of the conscious thought at first – but it will become more apparent the more you give your brain this task to do. If you don’t want to wait until you’re anxious to do some of this type of thought work, try it the next time you find yourself feeling down or irritated – work backwards from that feeling and try to find the originating thought that made you feel that way. This kind of work helps us become more aware, which is the starter step for changing your response.

The good news is that once you are aware that you’re the one in control of your thoughts, that you’re the voice inside you that is thinking those things, you can work at managing and changing those thoughts.  For me, in the past this meant when an anxious feeling or thought came up that normally would send me into a tailspin, my old way of thinking was to go along with the thought (because our brains like to do what’s easy – and that’s easy) and build on it, look for evidence of it being true, which would increase stressful anxious feelings very quickly. My current response when an anxious feeling or thought comes up is to notice it, pause, say to myself “I’m not going to give that thought any power over me right now.”  A statement like that is powerful because it interrupts the natural evidence building process that goes on with anxious thoughts. I actually feel almost instant relief now when I feel anxious and I halt the thoughts in this way. It feels incredible to have some control over your brain.

It probably won’t work the first time you use it and the first few times you try to reroute your brain you might find that it halts the thought temporarily and then it comes back, but try a powerful statement again (even if you have to go at it a different way), and again, and eventually you’ll find it will have more staying power. You are literally retraining your brain how to think in these situations. It may help to practice changing your thoughts in less volatile situations at first – instead of trying it for the first time during an anxiety attack, try it when you have self-doubt about a situation at work or self-judgement about your body. Becoming skilled at managing your thoughts can be helpful in so many areas of our lives! (I will be sure to talk more about managing our thoughts in another blog post – because this is a huge subject and it is something that takes lots of practice!)

5.  Watch what you put (or don’t put) into your body.
I know you knew this one was coming. 🙂 If you’re a naturally anxious person, then it’s super important to pay attention to how different foods, drinks and other substances affect you – items in each of these categories can increase or decrease anxiety in certain people. Sugar (including carbohydrates from refined grain products), alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, especially in high quantities or in those who are very sensitive. Anxiety can also be a symptom of a food sensitivity or intolerance (and one way to determine that is through an elimination diet).  Low blood sugar can set off anxiety (if this sounds like you, you may want to keep balanced snacks of protein, fat and fiber on hand).  I know I’m far more anxious if I’ve drank more alcohol than I should (especially the day after) or if I reach for a 3rd cup of coffee. Know yourself and what you can tolerate.

Many supplements are touted to be beneficial for anxiety sufferers, including magnesium, valerian root, kava, chamomile, fish oil and several of the b vitamins – if you have any medical conditions or are on any medications it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements (especially if you’re thinking about taking more than one).  And lastly, a whole foods diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and light on heavily processed foods is one way you can support your body from your toes, all the way to your head. Is a whole foods diet going to cure your anxiety? No, I’m not saying that, but if you give your body great nutrition, it’s better equipped to support you in every way, including mental health.

6. Breathwork.
I’ve already talked in previous posts about meditation being so helpful for anxiety – but in particular, to me, quiet time with deep and slow controlled breathing is one of the best things you can do during a panic attack or even during less acute anxiety.  A few minutes of slow diaphragmatic breaths will slow down your heart beat, reduce your blood pressure, relax muscles and the intake of fresh oxygen with stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which will help you feel more calm.

Unfortunately, breathing is one of the hardest things to do when we’re freaking out isn’t it?! We take shallow breaths which makes us feel like we can’t get enough air in, we’re breathing too fast or we have difficulty exhaling fully, all of which increases feelings of panic. If you feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, it’s hard to think rationally or about anything else so in order to slow the anxiety down, first you have to slow your breathing down.

To slow yourself down, try this breathing exercise:  sit down in a quiet place and breathe in fully and slowly for a count of 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds (if this is prudent for your body – it may not be if you have any heart or respiratory conditions) and then exhale for 4 seconds. To make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm, put one hand on your belly when you inhale. Your belly should expand on the inhale and retract on the exhale. If you are breathing from your chest alone (too shallow) your belly won’t rise. Try breathe deeper into your body and try again. Do anywhere from 4 – 10 of these slow breaths and go back to your normal breath if you find you start to get dizzy.

Don’t be surprised if you feel sleepy and relaxed after!

Well that’s all for today. I hope some of these tips can help you if this is something you are going through. I know they’ve made a world of difference in my life.

One last note of importance, please, if you have been suffering from anxiety and aren’t having any luck reducing it on your own, please consider speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional for help. You don’t have to go through it alone and there are many resources available to increase the quality of your life.

If you have anxiety, what are your favorite tools or tricks for managing it?  Please share in the comments below.

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