We Should Be Talking About Suicide — Here’s How to Do It Correctly

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By De Elizabeth and Lauren Rearick

As the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, suicide remains an ongoing topic in the mental health community, and around the world. With more than 43 million American adults currently dealing with mental illness, the importance of how we talk about suicide has once again come to light in the wake of three highly publicized deaths, all within the span of a week: those of Sydney Aiello, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; a second, currently unnamed Parkland student; and Jeremy Richman, a 49-year-old father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim.

All three deaths were reported on within the same week, but it’s not possible to know if there was a link between each incident beyond the fact that all three people were impacted by gun violence at some point in their lives. For his part, Richman founded the Avielle Foundation in honor of his daughter, who was among the 20 students and 7 adults killed at Sandy Hook in 2012. The non-profit organization was created to “prevent violence by building compassion through brain research, community engagement, and education.” And Sydney’s mother, Cara Aiello, told CBS Miami that her daughter had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder following the 2018 attack at MSDHS, noting Sydney remained fearful of encountering another act of gun violence. She added that she wants her daughter’s struggles to help others, and she reminded community members to seek help if they needed it.

Finding that help isn’t always easy, especially for young people with limited resources. “About halfway through my freshman year of college, I realized I was struggling with mental health,” a 20-year-old named Delaney told MTV News. Although her school provided counseling, there was a waitlist. “I was advised to go out into the community to seek out a therapist,” she explained. “I was fortunate enough to be able do do that, but I know that not everyone is.” Most mental health programs prioritize helping those with suicidal ideations if they can, but people should feel empowered to seek help at the first sign of stress, whether minor or dire.

And to point to PTSD, or one specific incident alone, as the sole cause of a suicide can dangerously oversimplify suicide and suicidal ideation, and leave many gun violence survivors feeling hopeless. Surviving a school shooting can certainly be disruptive to someone’s mental health, and such an event can understandably cause lasting trauma. However, ahost of issues contribute to instances of suicide, which is why it is imperative that those dealing with suicidal ideation feel safe enough to ask for help, and that our society at large is better equipped to talk about suicide, and provide support and resources to those experiencing ideations.

“What we know to be true is that if somebody dies by suicide in a specific community … then the other folks in that community are at a much higher risk for also dying by suicide. And that’s why the word contagion comes up in this conversation,” Chris Bright, Director of Public Training for The Trevor Project, told MTV News. “For vulnerable populations … the exposure to inappropriate ways of talking about suicide or inappropriate depictions of suicide puts them at a higher risk for attempting suicide after that exposure.” For that reason, Trevor Project offers a variety of resources for young people who might be struggling with suicidal ideation, including both a phone and text hotline, as well as a chat service.

Melissa McCormick, a licensed mental health counselor in Longwood, Florida, also told MTV News that people should avoid sharing specific details of how someone died. “When someone can envision details of a traumatic event, they can imagine it more thoroughly, and are more likely to struggle with trauma responses,” McCormick said.

The three recent deaths have received a lot of media coverage, but not all reporting has been responsible, with many outlets using troubling language to describe the events. (MTV News is choosing not to link to the stories in question in order to minimize the chances of contagion.)

But the responsibility extends beyond reporters; through social media, we have the ability to share information instantaneously with followers and friends alike. While posting news stories of highly publicized suicides is often done in good faith, such efforts can sometimes have an adverse effect. We don’t know who within our online circles might be struggling, and stories that simply relay details of suicides without any hope or information for prevention can be hugely damaging, especially if dangerous language is used.

Both Bright and McCormick note that we should never use the phrase “committed suicide” when talking about someone’s death; rather, it’s important to say “died by suicide,” as HuffPost points out.

Bright posed the question: “When do you normally hear the phrase ‘committed?’ The answer is, you usually hear it in regards to a crime… You don’t often hear it in ways that have positive connotations. So when you use that word, you’re further stigmatizing something that is already hard to talk about.”

“Died by suicide,” in opposition, is neutral. “It’s just a very factual way to talk about something that isn’t stigmatized,” Bright said. “It doesn’t use words that make people afraid.” McCormick added that making these conscious word choices “shows the importance of shifting our perspective on suicide.”

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t discuss suicide at all; in fact, it’s just the opposite. We must discuss it, both in order to continue to lower stigma, but also to reassure other people that they aren’t alone.

And that’s why it’s more crucial than ever to have the proper tools to discuss suicide safely and productively. Our words matter, and by using the right language, we can create a safer environment for those struggling with suicidal ideation. Responsible conversations can empower people to ask for help; sometimes, it’s just as simple as sharing information about suicide prevention, or telling a friend that you’re there to listen. But it’s also crucial that people feel they have access to seek professional help should they need it, without stigma; in some cases, you might not be equipped to help someone in the way a counselor or a doctor can, and the best way you can be there them is by supporting them while they find the care they need.

“Trauma and loss don’t just go away, you have to learn to live with it through getting support,” David Hogg, a member of March for Our Lives, the student-led organization dedicated to gun reform, wrote on Twitter. “We should be spending all the money politicians want to spend on arming teachers on something that will actually save lives, like mental health care in our schools.”

There are also online resources available for people experiencing suicidal ideation, and those who want to learn more about how to properly discuss suicide. Half of Us,  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Trans Lifeline also offer support services through telephone hotlines (call 1-800-273-TALK), while the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offer online resources. The National Alliance for Mental Illness helpline can help provide answers to questions about treatment options; though they do not provide therapy or recommend individualized recommendations for therapists in your area, they may be able to help point callers in the right direction. The American Psychological Association also providesresources and databases for those seeking professional help.

“Young people should be able to talk about suicide,” Bright emphasized to MTV News. “They should be able to talk about their feelings and the things that they have going on in their lives, and they want to be able to identify the friends who are going to handle that type of conversation with respect, dignity, and support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to halfofus.com for ways to get help.

On The Days Depression Makes You Feel Nothing At All

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Today is a blah day. It isn’t that there is anything terribly wrong today. There are issues looming, yes, but there are always issues of late. There is nothing pressing, though.

It is just a blah day, a day where I lay in bed, struggling to find a reason to get up. I’ve had to pee for a couple hours now. Yet, the dull ache in my bladder is not enough to pull me from under my covers. I should probably brush my teeth. Maybe get dressed and get a bite to eat. I have been awake for more than five hours now, even before the sun rose. Yet, here I still lay.

I feel blah. While the world around me continues with its hustle and bustle, I have no motivation, no desire to do anything. Nothing seems interesting or important. Nothing is pressing enough to pull me from this funk.

I would go back to sleep if I could, call in sick from life itself. I feel like nothing, not myself. I feel numb.

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Days like this are common with depression. Those who have never struggled often assume that depression is all bouts of random sadness and tears. Yes, I have those days, too, and it is draining when everything and anything feels heart-wrenching and makes me want to cry. Yet, even worse, perhaps, than the days when I feel everything too strongly are the days I feel nothing at all.

On these days, I have trouble pulling myself up or doing anything. I’m not being lazy. I just don’t see the point. I am pulled into a gray abyss, where there’s no purpose, no joy, no motivation, no will to live. It isn’t that I’m suicidal and actively want to die, either. I just have no will to live. The emptiness is all-consuming.

People suggest I should just “try” to be happy or to be positive. If only it were this simple. Again and again, the “should be” and “could be” options roll around in my mind but I’m numb to them all. Deep down, I know I should be getting up, doing something, living life.

Yet, my brain has me in a death lock. “What’s the sense?” and “Why bother?” it parrots to me again and again. Its voice is booming and deafening. I can hear nothing else. I would love to just smile, think a happy thought and have it vanish away like a puff of smoke but it’s solid and real to me. It takes the form of four solid walls, caging me in, holding me hostage, refusing to budge or listen to reason.

Those blah days are the worst because I feel trapped in this numbness. I cannot escape. I never know whether it will last one day or one week. There is never an end in sight, never a scheduled sweet release.

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Blah days drag on and on until at some point I begin to feel everything too strongly again. On blah days, I would welcome the tears, the anguish, the pain and the struggling just to feel anything at all.

It has been more than hours now, and I’ve barely managed to write a few paragraphs. Yet, those feel like a tremendous accomplishment. I call it a victory. I have done something, which is more than I am able to achieve on most blah days. I still have to pee, though the dull ache has grown into a steady cramp. Breakfast time has come and gone, and lunch time has arrived. Yet, I still don’t have any desire to eat anything, let alone get up.

There are calls I should make and things I should be doing. Yet, my depression still echoes in my head that I shouldn’t bother, that nothing is worth the effort. It tells me to stay in bed, just let this day drift on by, that it doesn’t matter.

Nothing matters. It is all I can hear. It is deafening. I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness and emptiness. I feel paralyzed.

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I swear I am not being lazy. I’m just trapped in a battle with my own mind. I feel lost and alone. I feel trapped in this emptiness. I feel nothing. I feel numb. I feel blah. This is what depression feels like.​

This Comic Sums Up Exactly What It’s Like Living With Depression

CLICK TO VIEW (16 IMAGES)

Samantha Maffucci

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This article was originally published at The Mighty. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Should I Seek Help?

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“Doing it yourself is a fad in the United States.”  These were the first words in my first book in psychology, which I coauthored more than 40 years ago.  Turns out we were wrong.  Doing it yourself is not a fad, but a way of life in the U.S.  These days we have so many more resources available to help us help ourselves, including self-help blogs like this one.  And, of course, YouTube, which is a wonderful resource for training videos.  I’ve turned to YouTube to learn the basics of such tasks as caulking a bathroom tub and repairing a hinge on kitchen cabinets. There’s pride in doing things yourself, even if the quality of the work may not match that of a professional.  But I would draw the line at developing a winning tennis serve by following a self-instructional tutorial.  Sometimes a good coach is needed.  There is also a line to be drawn between using the Internet for self-help—even blogs like this—and seeking professional help.

My first book in the field focused on applying principles of behavior therapy to problems in living, from losing excess weight to smoking cessation to overcoming fears and sexual problems.  For many of the problems people encounter in their daily lives, behavior therapy offered practical solutions. This blog continues in that tradition, offering tips for changing your thoughts and attitudes to change your life.  We have explored how to rethink your responses to life’s twists and turns, and along the way offered tips on a range of troubling emotions, from overcoming worry and guilt to coping with fear and managing anger.  We applied the wisdom of ancient Greece to “know thyself” by turning inwardly to examine and evaluate our thoughts and beliefs, especially the negative thoughts that underlie emotional problems like anxietydepression, and anger. We confronted the two worthless emotions, worry and guilt—worthless because we don’t need to be wracked with guilt to recognize our mistakes and correct them or to be consumed with worry to take steps to protect ourselves from impending threats.

Self-Care Is Self-Help

With all this emphasis on self-help, we can lose sight of the importance of a basic principle of self-care—seeking help from others when help is needed.  But how do you know when going it alone is just not cutting it?  The benchmark clinicians typically use is whether problems are persistent and cause significant emotional stress or impair daily functioning.  If you regularly struggle to get out of bed and get going in the morning because you’re feeling down in the dumps, your state of mind is affecting your ability to function effectively.  If you can’t shake off intrusive worrisome or guilt thoughts, or if angry outbursts damage your relationships with others, or if you are continually on edge and can’t sleep at night or relax during the day, then it’s clear your daily functioning is impaired.

Where to Turn for Help

In the forty or so years I’ve been in practice, I’ve witnessed many changes in the field, including the emergence of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the leading modality of psychotherapy in use today. When I began my practice, psychodynamic therapists schooled in the Freudian and neo-Freudian traditions dominated the field. Today, there are many different forms of therapy and many different types of therapists, from psychologists and psychiatrists to mental health counselors and clinical social workers.  Some forms of therapy, like CBT, offer briefer and more problem-focused treatment approaches than traditional therapies, such as psychoanalysis.  CBT has become the treatment of choice for a range of psychological problems from phobias to social anxiety to insomnia, and evidence from controlled trials shows that CBT more than holds its own when stacked up against other therapies for treating depression and other emotional disorders and when compared to psychiatric medication.

Over the years, the field of psychiatry has become increasingly medicalized, as psychiatrists (medical doctors with specialized training in psychiatry) largely turned from practicing psychotherapy toward medication management. Though psychiatric drugs have important roles to play in the treatment of mental health disorders, especially so with more severe disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, popping a pill does not help people solve problems in their daily lives or learn skills they need to change how they think or improve their relationships with others. Moreover, relapse rates are high when patients stop taking psychiatric meds, and for good reason, as these drugs help manage symptoms but do not address underlying emotional or interpersonal problems. On the other hand, patients can carry the techniques they learn in psychotherapy well beyond the course of treatment and continue to apply them in their daily lives.

Am I Ready to Reach Out?  A 10-Item Checklist

If you’re thinking about whether it makes sense to seek help from a professional, you may find the following checklist to be a useful guide. There is no set number of items that determine whether you could benefit from seeking help.  But as a general guideline, answering at least a few of these questions in the affirmative suggests it might be helpful to talk to a psychologist or other mental health professional.

Yes or No? (You be the Judge)

1.       Are my efforts to change my thinking or attitudes working?

2.       Do I continue to struggle with anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings that impact my daily functioning?

3.       Am I able to step back and examine my own thoughts, or would it help to have another person’s perspective?

4.       Do I give up too easily rather than persevere in changing my thoughts and behaviors?

5.       Are other people telling me I would benefit from “talking to somebody”?

6.       Are worries making it difficult to sleep or function effectively during the day?

7.       Am I avoiding situations out of fear or anxiety?

8.       Is my behavior affecting my relationships in negative ways?

9.       Do I find it difficult to make changes on my own or to stick with them?

10.     Might I work better with a professional than going it alone?

Finding a Therapist

If you do decide to seek help, select a therapist who best fits your needs.  Do you want to work with a therapist who uses psychological methods of treatment, such as a psychologist or counselor, or would benefit more from psychiatric medication prescribed by a psychiatrist?

Find a practitioner with the appropriate licensure and credentials—for example, a licensed psychologist, or a licensed psychologist holding advanced credentials (e.g., a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology awarded by the American Board of Professional Psychology, or ABPP), or a board-certified psychiatrist.  Find out whether your medical insurance covers mental health services (check it out with your health care provider) and whether are you covered for out-of-network providers.  As with other specialists, you may need to pay the therapist’s fee upfront and be reimbursed afterwards if the services are covered by your insurance plan, less any deductibles, co-pays, and so on.

Word of mouth is a good source for finding a therapist but be aware that what works well for one person might not work for another.  You might also “google” the practitioner to see if anything untoward turns up or ask your state licensing board if there are any complaints filed against the individual. Be prepared to ask a potential therapist a lot of questions, like whether the therapist is experienced in treating people with similar problems as your own, what specific form of treatment will be used and what evidence supports its effectiveness,  how long treatment is expected to last, what adverse experiences might be expected, such as drug side-effects, whether you are responsible for cancellation fees, and so on.  Licensed professionals will openly discuss these and other questions with potential clients.  If they balk, take that as a sign to look for someone else.

Whether you try going it alone or reaching out for help, the good news is that there is a range of effective therapeutic techniques that can help people live happier and more fulfilling lives.

© 2019 Jeffrey S. Nevid

When Smiling Hurts: 10 Reasons People with Depression Feign Happiness

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Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is an all too common mood disorder. Individuals who suffer from depression experience ongoing persistent feelings of profound sadness and hopelessness, he or she often loses interest in activities they once enjoyed. In additional to the negative emotions and problems caused by depressive symptoms somatic issues are more likely to be present. Somatic issues associated with depression can include migraine headaches, chronic fatigue, body aches, digestive issues, etc. To be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

According to the DSM-5 the following criterion must be present to make a diagnosis of depression. The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Organic as well as substance abuse concerns must also be ruled out in order to make a formal diagnosis of clinical depression.

• Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
• Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
• Significant fluctuations in weight, e.g., significant weight loss or weight gain not associated with changes in diet or exercise.
• Significant change is appetite, e.g., significant decrease in appetite, or significant increase in appetite
• Interruptions in cognitive functioning
• Marked change or slowdown in physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
• Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
• Feelings of worthlessness/hopelessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
• Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), risk factors for depression can include a family history of mood disorders and other significant mental health disorders, major life changes, past trauma, significant physical illness (such as cancer), or a side effect of certain medications.
Depression symptoms can appear differently from sufferer to sufferer, no two people with depression will look or behave exactly the same. Persons suffering from depression may not always appear sad to others. In fact, some sufferers feign happiness in an attempt to fool others, to avoid “letting others down”, or being “pitied”.

When someone suffers from depression it takes a lot of physical and emotional strength to “put on a happy face” or convince others “everything is fine”. For some sufferers, disclosing to others That he/she suffers from depression can be akin to admitting a weakness, flaw, or vulnerability. More often than not, individuals struggling with depression symptoms wear a mask of happiness to hide the true emotions that are stirring inside of them.

Potential Reasons with Depression Feign Happiness Include:

• Feeling they may be letting others down if they aren’t doing well
• Not wanting to alarm or cause others to worry about him/her
• Fearing disclosure of depression conveys weakness, personal flaw, or vulnerability
• Feeling if they act the part of “being happy” they will be happy
• Feeling like they are alone in their unhappiness, e.g., others will not understand
• Feeling they need to live up to other people’s expectations of who they are
• Intense need or desire to make other people happy, although, they do not feel happy
• He/she is ashamed of being depressed
• He/she doesn’t recognize they are clinically depressed but hide behind a façade of normalcy
• He/she is concerned about what others may think of them or view them, e.g. personal image.

When persons with depression acknowledge and accept that depression is an issue, rather than trying to hide it, the suffer becomes better equipped to manage depression symptoms. By finding appropriate ways to manage depression and developing appropriate coping skills, individuals can work towards not having to prove to everyone else how they feel, but actually feel the way he/she deserves to feel. Suffers that find themselves having to force a smile or put on a façade of happiness are creating additional stressors in their life as it takes a lot of work to portray and convince others of something he or she is not feeling.

Reasons why Wearing Mask Does Not work Include:

• You have to force yourself to convey a feeling/emotion you do not feel genuinely
• You have to put it on and take it off often, it does not stay in place
• Wearing a mask becomes more difficult to wear over time
• The reasons behind the need to wear the mask still exist
• Putting on the mask becomes increasingly exhausting
• The only person we are fooling are ourselves
• Whatever we are trying to hide will eventually come to light
• We are not able to live to our fullest potential because we are hiding, form others including ourselves
• By pretending to feel or be anything other than ourselves we are living an inauthentic life
• When you attempt to escape from depression without actually dealing with it you are feeding it
• Once the sufferer removes the mask or feels he/she no longer needs it at that particular time feelings of anger and anxiety typically follow
• Unresolved negative feelings will eventually catch up with you
• Suicidal thoughts or ideations can increase

It is important to understand that untreated depression can lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. Negative emotions typically do not resolve themselves on their own but require assistance. To treat clinical depression, a mental health professional should be consulted to help the sufferer manage symptoms and emotions he/she has been avoiding. Professionals can also assist sufferers with identifying and developing appropriate coping skills to manage negative emotions and build skills to manage future problems should they arise.

Does Anxiety Cause PTSD or Does PTSD Cause Anxiety?

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This question came up in conversation when I was speaking with someone who has experienced severe panic attacks to the point of calling them “debilitating”, requiring inpatient care.  As they were sharing about the ordeal, they told me that when they contemplate the time spent seeking treatment and the aftermath, it ramped up both the anxiety and PTSD symptoms. Even as a career therapist with decades of experience treating people with stand-alone anxiety, with no overt PTSD symptoms, I had not considered that remembering the anxiety was re-traumatizing. I have heard clients share that anticipating panic attacks was in and of itself anxiety provoking. For this person and so many others, it is hard to determine the line between the two.

As is the case for many who struggle with this condition, they experienced body memory, flashbacks and tremors, as if the events of the past were recurring. Reminding themselves, “I am here and now, not there and then,” alleviated some of the more intense indicators.

This person is also intent on taking on challenges and resilience is one of their superpowers. Overcoming life changing physical conditions were part of the symbolic exercise equipment that helped them to become stronger and more flexible. They were aware that life events happen, unbidden at times and all they can do is ride the waves, sometimes treading water, until things settle back into place. Having solid support from family, friends and professionals keeps them afloat.

Although it might be hard to acknowledge an upside to anxiety or trauma, this person and others I have encountered in both personal and professional realms have been grateful for accompanying lessons. Keep in mind, that no one is sugar-coating it, nor are they denying the pain. They are making a conscious decision to face what comes their way. Paradoxically, the one certainty of life is uncertainty. A catch-22, since anxiety thrives on unpredictability.

The field of Positive Psychology, which offers a strengths-focused perspective to recovery from traumatic experiences, was pioneered by psychologist Martin Seligman, who directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. One concept in this approach is post-traumatic growth, which reflects counterintuitive responses to horrific circumstances. Research from Lawrence G. Calhoun and Richard G. Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina Charlotte found that survivors of trauma often experienced profound healing, a stronger spiritual faith and philosophical grounding. One powerful reframing is referring to the outcome as Post Traumatic Growth.

The 21-item Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory examines responses to painful event in five areas:

  • Relating to others
  • New possibilities
  • Personal strength
  • Spiritual change
  • Appreciation for life

When survivors view themselves in that light and additionally as thrivers who give back or pay it forward, rather than as victims who have no choice but to feel as they do, healing is possible. One such thriver is Michele Rosenthal, a keynote speaker, award-winning blogger, award-nominated author, workshop/seminar leader and certified professional coach. Michele is also a trauma survivor who struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for over twenty-five years. She calls herself Chief Hope Officer (CHO) of Your Life After Trauma, LLC.

Her trauma came in the form of a condition called, ToxicEpidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS), which she describes as “a freak allergy to a medication that turned me into a full-body burn victim almost overnight.” This horror was followed by a series of physiological and psychological conditions that would flatten even the strongest of people. It took years of determination to recover that led her to be symptom free and now she guides others to overcome their own trauma-trials.

What helped her see her way clear to the other side of suffering is what she refers to as a “healing rampage.”

Rosenthal says, “It is an approach to recovery that is, 1) committed — we keep going no matter what; 2) consistent — we work at it every day; 3) creative — we look for new options and healing opportunities; and, 4) complex — we do the deep work rather than skim the surface as we seek relief.

These are important resiliency building skills regardless of diagnosis or symptomology, whether it falls under the umbrella of anxiety or PTSD.

  • Learn relaxation and breathing techniques to center yourself in the here and now.
  • Do grounding exercises such as walking barefoot on the grass or sand or tapping the bottoms of your feet.
  • If possible, avoid people, places or things that may overtly trigger reaction. Some PTSD survivors may steer clear of fireworks or large numbers of people if loud noises or crowds are related to the initial events.
  • Contemplate an exit strategy if you get inadvertently triggered.
  • Breathe in relaxing aromas, such as lavender, chamomile, vanilla or bergamot.
  • Listen to music that is soul soothing.
  • Seek support from family and friends who may understand your situation and if not, offer a listening presence.
  • Engage in therapy with a licensed professional.
  • If medications are indicated, work with a Psychiatrist or CRNP (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner) who can prescribe.
  • Attend a self-help group.
  • Utilize the therapeutic modality of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
  • Exercise, whether it is in a gym, or a dance floor or basketball court assists in moving the energy. I think of emotion as ‘e-motion’ or ‘energy in motion’.
  • Spend time in nature which is restorative.
  • Dig in the dirt, and plant seeds for new beginnings.
  • Avoid self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, gambling, work, shopping or food.
  • Indulge in healthy hobbies, such as reading, crafts, music, playing board games, putting together puzzles or models.
  • Volunteer your time in your community.
  • If you have a spiritual practice, use it as an additional therapeutic modality.
  • Determine your passion and live it as fully as you can.
  • Spend time with children and learn how to be silly from them.
  • Lighten up by experiencing Laughter Yoga.
  • Enjoy a pampering therapeutic massage.

The Way You’re Talking About Anxiety is All Wrong

Author Article

 

 

 

 

We’re finally talking about anxiety, and mental health as a whole, but the problem? Most of you are saying the wrong thing.

I’ve come to this realization after seeing the countless articles on mainstream sites (who shall remain nameless) tout the latest, buzziest ways to overcome your anxiety.

But the straw that really broke the camel’s back was this headline: “This Simple Mental Hack Could Help You Overcome Anxiety.”

This seemingly innocuous headline is actually incredibly harmful. But before I get into the “why,” I think it’s important we all get on the same page when it comes to anxiety.

(If you feel pretty confident in your understanding of anxiety, feel free to skip down about three paragraphs.)

[Related: How My Emotional Support Animal Helped My Anxiety]

Often, articles will equate anxiety with stress but they are not the same thing at all (although they often go hand-in-hand). We all know what stress feels like — it’s a pretty universal human reaction.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is excessive and doesn’t necessarily correlate with specific events in your life. It’s overwhelming and can be debilitating.

There are obviously varying degrees of anxiety, but for millions, anxiety can severely interfere with their lives. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can often be very serious, lifelong disorders.

anxiety stats
Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Ok, so back to the headline: “This Simple Mental Hack Could Help You Overcome Anxiety.”

For anyone who has suffered from true anxiety, the idea of “a simple fix” is not only insulting but stigmatizing. Those with mental illness have probably already tried anything and everything to deal with their anxiety. So implying that there’s a “simple” solution can make someone feel like, Well if the solution is so simple, why aren’t I fixed yet? What’s wrong with me?

I’ll be honest: I’ve had these thoughts. I have both GAD and social anxiety under my belt. I’m on medication (no shame in my pill game!) but that isn’t a magic fix. I’ve tried everything on every list to deal with my anxiety. So when I run down the list and still find myself struggling, I sometimes think, What the hell is wrong with me? Why isn’t this working?

We need to stop acting like there’s an easy fix to mental health. There are no amount of listicles that can help you beat a life-long disorder. Yes, there can be helpful ideas somewhere among the list of garbage. But we need to recognize that anxiety is complex and it needs a complex solution.

So if you struggle with any form of anxiety, ditch the articles written by novices like me and start seeking out professionals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good place to start.

Photo by Thnh Phng

 

Dealing with Free-Floating Anxiety

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One of the Greatest Challenges

One of the greatest challenges to keeping an empty head is maintaining the drill of processing our interactions to closure. In the course of our day, we often generate much more value-added thinking and agreements with ourselves and others than we realize, especially in the context of conversations and communications.

Whom have you talked with in the last 24 hours—personally and professionally? What did you tell yourself (or any of them) that you or they would/could/should/ought to do, in any of that? Any ideas, information or perspectives show up that could be important downstream?

 

Sources of Free-Floating Anxiety

I still have to work with myself to ensure I’ve captured, decided, and tracked all the commitments and creativity that happen with phone calls, meetings, social interactions, and even random communications in passing. I do know that this is one of the sources of much of the free-floating anxiety many professionals experience relative to the gnawing sense of overwhelm that is so pervasive. It seems that there is an unconscious part of us that hangs onto all of those incomplete creations. It is a part that will not let go until it can trust those agreements have been kept or re-negotiated with ourselves.

At this moment I notice in my in-tray two pages of random notes I took on a conference call yesterday, regarding our upcoming GTD Summit in June. There’s a little part of me that resists engaging with them, because I know it’s going to require thinking (which is hard!). But because I’ve got the habit of getting “in” to empty, those notes will trigger the things I need to do, to get that sucker empty! I hate it, and I love it.

 

Take Time to Process

And, the number of interactions we handle in a day is more than ever. This is why it is critical that we all take time every day to process this stuff. What did I tell Luca I was going to do? What did Kathryn say I should bring back from the store? Who’s got the next action on the project we decided needed doing at the last marketing meeting? Review the day, capture what needs tracking, and then get some sleep.

What Makes Addiction a Disease?

Author Article

Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood has been called “ground zero” in the battle against opioid addiction. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood has been called “ground zero” in the battle against opioid addiction. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood has been hit hard by the national opioid crisis that’s killed tens of thousands of Americans in recent years.

One morning in July, here’s the scene outside a neighborhood train station: While an ambulance winds its way through traffic nearby, people sit on the stairs with their heads buried in their arms. Others hustle for spare change or hawk “works” — street slang for a syringe. Several of the drug users stand stooped, their bodies droop then jerk back up again in the rhythm of a heroin nod.

At this spot, less than a week earlier, six people overdosed in the span of 15 minutes.

“It’s like watching TV,” said local resident Cano Gomez. “You stand here and it’s like watching a whole reality show, a one-hour reality show, to stand out here. I’m telling you man, it’s crazy.”

For people addicted on the streets, overdosing is just one worry on a long list of hardships. Many have lost their homes, jobs and families. They’ve seen friends die and get locked up. And when they try to explain how all of this happened, many say they are sick.

“I’m a freakin’ addict, I got a disease man,” said Salvatore Gonzalez, Jr., who’d been living in a Philadelphia homeless encampment.

Salvatore Gonzalez, Jr. and his fiancée stand near the Kensington Avenue railroad overpass in Philadelphia, Pa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

No matter who is talking about addiction these days, chances are they are using that term: “disease.”

From former President Barack Obama, to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to President Donald Trump, politicians on both sides of the aisle now talk about addiction as a public health issue.

“This epidemic is a national health emergency,” Trump declared less than a year into his presidency.

There’s a growing consensus that addiction is a disease of the brain that requires medical treatment. Among consensus are people in recovery, their advocates, and police.

It feels like a far cry from the days when conventional wisdom viewed addiction as a moral failing that called for criminal punishment.

But calling addiction a brain disease, and not a bad life choice, is still a fairly new concept — one that has been built up over the past few decades by researchers toiling to understand how addiction affects the brain. As that view gains wider acceptance, some critics are challenging whether it’s really appropriate to call addiction a “brain disease.”

A rewired reward system

Charles O’Brien, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has been doing research on addiction since the 1960s. He says back then, psychiatrists tended to view drug addicts as, essentially, psychopaths.

“It was related to antisocial personality, and that’s not really true,” O’Brien said.

Researchers did know that the body could become dependent on a drug over time. And with new technologies, O’Brien and his colleagues were able to see the impact drugs had on the brain.

“Beginning in the 1980s, we started doing brain imaging, and we developed cues that were associated with drug use,” he said.

The cues were pictures of things like drug paraphernalia, or a syringe jabbed into a forearm. When O’Brien showed these pictures to people who had a history of addiction and scanned their brains, the effects were astounding.

“People thought that I was giving drugs to my patients in the laboratory, and I wasn’t,” O’Brien said.

The pictures were enough to activate parts of the brain that form what’s known as the “reward system.” They were the same areas that would light up if the person had, say, snorted a line of cocaine.

“Drugs like heroin or alcohol can take over that system,” O’Brien said. “People use the term ‘hijack.’ ”

The reward system is the brain circuitry that gives us a motivating hit of pleasure when we get the things that we need to survive, such as food, sex, and social connection. But drugs deliver a reward that’s much more powerful than those so-called “natural” rewards. When someone becomes addicted, the drug rewards begin to drown out the natural rewards, and the brain gets wired to seek the drug above anything else.

O’Brien’s brain imaging research revealed one very important way the brain gets rewired: people developed a conditioned response to things they associated with their drug use that mimicked the effects of getting high. So even just the sight of a needle or a bottle could trigger powerful cravings that could make it almost irresistible to start using again, even long after someone’s gotten clean.

“They relapse because it’s still in their brain,” O’Brien said.

His finding helped explain the hallmarks of addiction: how people almost always relapse, and keep using drugs despite the often devastating personal costs. The work provided a scientific basis for calling addiction a brain disease.

Scientists continue to build on this discovery to better understand the complicated — and sometimes unexpected — ways that addiction affects the brain.

What cute babies can tell us

In a basement laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, psychiatrist Daniel Langleben uses a giant fMRI machine to see inside the brains of people recovering from addiction.

As a 25-year-old mother — who’s in treatment for opioid addiction — lies inside, researchers show her a series of baby photos while the machine scans the woman’s brain.

“The task involves you being asked to either rate how cute is the baby, or to what extent you would like to take care of it,” said Langleben, a research professor at the university.

As it turns out, these cute babies can activate the same part of the brain’s reward system that lights up when people use drugs.

“Specifically it’s called nucleus accumbens,” Langleben said. “It’s a very, very small area, deep inside the brain.”

He’s done other research showing that the nucleus accumbens responds to the unique features of an infant’s face, which are called “baby schema.”

“Big eyes relative to the face for example, large forehead, small chin — all these things that will tell you this is a baby,” Langleben said.

Research suggests that our brains are wired to get a motivating hit of pleasure just from seeing baby schema, he says.

“The hypothesis is that it is made to be rewarding exactly because nature needs us to take care of the young,” Langleben said.

But opioid addiction could make people less sensitive to baby schema. So he’s testing whether a participant’s response to those cute babies changes as they progress through addiction treatment, and whether that correlates with better parenting.

Brain research has helped to explain the cravings and relapse people experience in addiction, and this new frontier of research Langleben is involved in may shed light on some of the social consequences, such as neglecting childcare. Science has moved our understanding of addiction out of the realm of morality and into the medical world, as a disease that can be treated.

That has reduced stigma, and helped expand access to more effective forms of treatment that use medication to tamp down cravings and withdrawal. The federal government, for example, is spending billions of dollars on medication-assisted treatment to alleviate the opioid crisis.

Nevertheless, the “brain disease” definition of addiction has attracted plenty of critics.

“Unbroken Brain”?

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., and lecturer at Yale School of Medicine, doesn’t contest the science on how addiction affects the brain. But she still takes issue with calling it a “brain disease.”

Satel says addiction isn’t like catching an infection, or a defect that spontaneously appears in the brain. To make her point, she draws a comparison with Alzheimer’s disease. It would be “meaningless,” she said, to ask someone with a brain disease like Alzheimer’s why they have the condition.

“But if I were to ask you why do you drink too much, why are you using heroin everyday, that’s a meaningful question,” Satel said. “And it goes to the fact that people use drugs for reasons.”

That makes her skeptical that interventions such as medication are really enough to help people stay in recovery.

“A lot of people still want to alter their consciousness, they’re in a lot of psychic pain,” Satel said.

Another critic is trying to reconcile addiction’s roots in both biology and behavior. Maia Szalavitz, a journalist who’s been covering addiction for 30 years, was addicted to drugs herself when she was in college.

She’s also a self-described “deadhead,” a devotee of the legendary rock band The Grateful Dead.

In her book, “Unbroken Brain” — a play on the title of one of the band’s songs — she writes about her first time doing cocaine, at age 17, with Jerry Garcia, the front man of the group.

“I sort of had the kind of hippie attitude of like, ‘white powders are bad,’ but you know if Jerry offers you a line you’re gonna do it,” Szalavitz said.

A few years later, she got busted for cocaine possession. It was a wake-up call. Soon she entered treatment and began her recovery.

Szalavitz says you can’t blame Garcia for all of that, though. She’d already experimented with other substances at that point. The druggy music scene she was a part of in the 80s gave her a sense of identity, and the chemicals themselves relieved her social anxiety.

“Generally 90 percent of addictions happen in the teen and young adult [years],” Szalavitz said. “That’s a sensitive period of brain development.”

For Szalavitz, addiction is not a brain disease, exactly. In her book, she takes a deep dive into modern addiction science and makes a case that addiction is fundamentally about learning. She offers the example of what can happen when people are put on opioids in the hospital after surgery.

“There are people who become physically dependent on opioids in the hospital for pain, and they don’t know it,” she said. “And they go home, and they feel like they have the flu […] they never realized that they had a physical dependence on an opioid.”

Eventually, the opioid withdrawal symptoms pass and they go on with their lives, Szalavitz says.

“If you don’t learn that a drug fixes some kind of problem for you, you can’t be addicted to it because you wouldn’t know what to crave,” she said.

Maia Szalavitz, author of “Unbroken Brain” has been covering addiction for 30 years. (Joel Wolfram/For WHYY)

Szalavitz says the way that compulsive drug use is learned isn’t given enough weight when we label addiction a brain disease. She thinks it should take center stage. The gist of her argument goes back to those baby photos researcher Daniel Langleben was showing to former opioid users. Szalavitz says the connection between opioid addiction and the way we can become obsessed with a cute baby is key to the story of what addiction really is.

The same holds for other human relationships, she says. A lover’s touch, a friend’s reassuring presence, a happy baby cradled in your arms — all of these moments are rewarded by naturally occurring opioid neurotransmitters in the brain.

“What opioids do in the brain when they’re not relieving pain is they are there to create social bonds,” Szalavitz said.

When we don’t abandon an infant that throws up on us and cries through the night, or continue to chase a love interest after a crushing rejection, Szalavitz points out that these behaviors look a lot like addiction.

“People with addiction are persisting despite negative consequences in a way that’s necessary for human survival,” she said. “We evolved this thing for a reason, because it’s hard to deal with people, and babies are a pain in the butt, and they cry and you have to change them, and you have to persist if you are going to survive and reproduce successfully, right?”

Szalavitz says people have learned to love the wrong rewards.

Plus, she says, to understand why people want to alter their experience with chemicals in the first place, you have to look outside the brain.

“Trauma is one of the other big factors,” Szalavitz said. “About two thirds of people with addiction have at least one childhood trauma.”

There’s also socioeconomic factors that contribute.

“Unemployment, poverty, kind of being socially disconnected,” she said. “There are very few people with addiction who have none of those elements.”

Szalavitz says the way we talk about addiction now, as a brain disease, misses the mark. But she says it’s not so much the words that matter, but what exactly we mean when we say them.

“I just want people to understand that this is a learned behavior in which a system that is there for essential survival and reproduction stuff goes in the wrong direction,” Szalavitz said. “It’s not an inhuman behavior, it’s not about evil, manipulative, horrible, lying people.”

This story was made possible in part thanks to a grant from the Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation.

5 Ways Bosses Can Reduce the Stigma of Mental Health at Work

Author Article

Experts tell us that one in four adults will struggle with a mental health issue during his or her lifetime. At work, those suffering — from clinical conditions or more minor ones — often hide it for fear that they may face discrimination from peers or even bosses. These stigmas can and must be overcome. But it takes more than policies set at the top. It also requires empathetic action from managers on the ground.

We count ourselves among those who have wrestled with mental health challenges. One morning a few years ago, in the midst of a successful year, Jen couldn’t get out of bed. As a driven professional, she had ignored all the warning signs that she was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But her mentor, Diana, could see something was wrong, and when Jen couldn’t come to work, the gravity of the situation became even clearer. In the ensuing weeks, we worked together to get Jen the help she needed.

Diana understood Jen’s struggles because she had been there, too — not with PTSD but with anxiety. As the mother of adult triplets with autism and a busy job, she’d often had difficulty managing things in her own life.

Throughout both of our careers, we have moved across the spectrum of mental health from thriving to barely hanging on, and somewhere in between. What we’ve learned through our own experiences is how much managerial support matters.

When bosses understand mental health issues — and how to respond to them — it can make all the difference for an employee professionally and personally. This involves taking notice, offering a helping hand, and saying “I’m here, I have your back, you are not alone.”

That’s exactly what Jen said when a coworker told her that he was grappling with anxiety; it had gotten to the point where it was starting to impact his work and his relationships at home. He came to her because she’d been open about her own struggles. She listened to him, worked to understand what accommodations he needed, and told him about available resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs. Then she continued to check in to see he was getting support he needed and make it clear that she and others were there to help.

How do you learn or teach the people on your team to address colleagues’ or direct reports’ mental health issues in the same way? Here are five ways managers can help drive a more empathetic culture:

Pay attention to language. We all need to be aware of the words we use that can contribute to stigmatizing mental health issues: “Mr. OCD is at it again — organizing everything.” “She’s totally schizo today!” “He is being so bi-polar this week — one minute he’s up, the next he’s down.” We’ve heard comments like these, maybe even made them ourselves. But through the ears of a colleague who has a mental health challenge, they can sound like indictments. Would you open up about a disorder or tell your team leader you needed time to see a therapist after hearing these words?

Rethink “sick days.” If you have cancer, no one says, “Let’s just push through” or “Can you learn to deal with it?” They recognize that it’s an illness and you’ll need to take time off to treat it. If you have the flu, your manager will tell you to go home and rest. But few people in business would react to emotional outbursts or other signs of stress, anxiety, or manic behavior in the same way. We need to get more comfortable with the idea of suggesting and requesting days to focus on improving mental as well as physical health.

Encourage open and honest conversations. It’s important to create safe spaces for people to talk about their own challenges, past and present, without fear of being called “unstable” or passed up for the next big project or promotion. Employees shouldn’t fear that they will be judged or excluded if they open up in this way. Leaders can set the tone for this by sharing their own experiences, as we’ve done, or stories of other people who have struggled with mental health issues, gotten help and resumed successful careers. They should also explicitly encourage everyone to speak up when feeling overwhelmed or in need.

Be proactive. Not all stress is bad, and people in high-pressure careers often grow accustomed to it or develop coping mechanisms. However, prolonged unmanageable stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of mental illness. How can managers ensure their employees are finding the right balance? By offering access to programs, resources, and education on stress management and resilience-building. In our marketplace survey on employee burnout, nearly 70 percent of respondents said that their employers were not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout. Bosses need to do a better job of helping their employees connect to resources before stress leads to more serious problems.

Train people to notice and respond. Most offices keep a medical kit around in case someone needs a bandage or an aspirin. We’ve also begun to train our people in Mental Health First Aid, a national program proven to increase people’s ability to recognize the signs of someone who may be struggling with a mental health challenge and connect them to support resources. Through role plays and other activities, they offer guidance in how to listen non-judgmentally, offer reassurance, and assess the risk of suicide or self-harm when, for example, a colleague is suffering a panic attack or reacting to a traumatic event. These can be difficult, emotionally charged conversations, and they can come at unexpected times, so it’s important to be ready for them.

When your people are struggling, you want them to be able to open up and ask for help. These five strategies can help any boss or organization create a culture that ceases to stigmatize mental illness.

How Anxiety Can Transform Normal Into Extraordinary

Author Article

People often wonder if they can live a normal life with anxiety. Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy. Living with that tightness in your throat, those butterflies in your stomach, those racing thoughts of “what if’s” spinning through your mind, and the constant feeling that something just isn’t right can be miserable. Anxiety can be overwhelming when it strikes, feed on itself, and leave you wondering if you’re losing your mind.

Close to 40 million Americans live with some form of anxiety in their lives. And while those numbers may seem unreasonably high, anxiety symptoms are highly treatable, and moderate anxiety can actually enhance your life when you think about it positively, and know how to harness it for good in your life.

My new book, Hack Your Anxiety, lays out the science and sense of using anxiety to your advantage. And while there can be many downsides to anxiety, and its discomfort, there can be powerful upsides too.

One thing anxiety does exceptionally well is harness your attention; it simply refuses to be ignored. There is no escaping anxiety’s grip once it starts, and fighting anxiety is almost always in vain, more often escalating its symptoms than deescalating them.

The key to knowing how to use anxiety effectively and keep it fueling growth, is to recognize it as a fundamentally normal – even helpful – part of a full life.

Normalizing your anxiety, and even using it to moderate levels to inspire you to be your best self, is absolutely possible. Keeping these 10 anxiety facts in mind can help you maintain a more positive mindset that in turn can help you access this powerful resource.

1. Anxiety is an expression of how much you care.

As if to highlight our highest priorities in life, anxiety helps bring our focus and energy to protect the things that matter most to us. We worry because we care, not because we are crazy. Anxiety can’t happen without caring. Thinking about anxiety as a reflection of our top priorities can help us embrace it as a resource.

2. Anxiety is uncomfortable for a reason, forcing you to focus.

Like an alarm clock that won’t turn off until we wake up and deal with it, anxiety keeps hassling us to pay attention and tend to the problem at hand…until we do. It plays dirty this way. We can distract ourselves, even ignore it temporarily, but ultimately it will keep coming back until we allow it to direct and keep our attention.

Contrary to popular beliefcurrent science suggests anxiety may have more to do with harnessing attention and focus, than promoting fear. In this way, anxiety can be a huge help when it comes to managing our increasingly distracted attention, and forcing us to pay attention to the things we care about most. Anxiety reminds us when we start to slip, and nudges us to stay focused on our top priorities.

3. Beware of the quicksand of resistance

It’s natural to resist anxiety, but beware of the boomerang effect of actively resisting it. The more you worry about your anxiety, the harder it becomes to manage, and the more acutely you will feel it. Even trying to suppress anxious thoughts can have the effect of raising anxiety levels in experiments. There is simply no effective way to avoid anxiety, and its effects.

4. Name anxiety to tame it.

Naming how you feel can deliver control over your experience. The simple act of naming our emotions is a well-documented, powerful tool in gaining control of them. And while you’re at it, why not label it as positively as possible? How you label your anxiety actually defines how you will experience it – if you label it as terrible and miserable, it will feel terrible and miserable. Whereas if you label it as positively as you can (i.e., excited, fired up, or ready to focus), you will likely experience it more positively.

5. Anxiety can be good for your brain.

Stress hormones can facilitate optimal performance, and also help us learn from our experiences so that we can do it again, with increasingly less effort. Acute bouts of stress can help boost neural growth and memory, according to recent research from Berkeley. Just as straining muscles and bones are how we build strength, working with stress helps us get stronger and better at it.

6. Anxiety fuels needed motivation and solution-finding energy.

Anxiety is energy waiting to be utilized. Thanks to its activation of our threat response, anxiety grabs our attention and stirs our motivation to act. Can’t stop worrying about those bills that need paying, or that yardwork that keeps waiting? You probably won’t until you actually get to them. This is your anxiety nudging you to take care of the tasks of life that matter to you, even if you might not feel like it.

7. Optimal sleep helps you use anxiety effectively.

Research keeps coming how important sleep is to function at our best. Our brains need sleep to absorb new information as well as flush toxins. Sleep allows for recovery, and thus prepares us to make the most of stress and anxiety in our life. Inadequate sleep does the opposite, and has been shown to exacerbate anxiety. 7 – 9 hours per night is the recommended amount of sleep that allows you to use anxiety most effectively.

8. Healthy anxiety can fuel optimal performance

Anxiety offers within it the seeds of our deepest desires and values. Worrying about doing your best at work or home can fuel you doing your best. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, researcher and positive psychology expert, coined the term flow to describe a state of mind where your actions, thoughts and bodily responses are aligned, tasks are done with ease and clarity, and there is a feeling of effortlessness and utmost concentration. It is also a state of moderate arousal and stress – an uncomfortable place – where we actually experience our highest achievements in life.

Stress – even anxiety – is always part of our best effort, creating the focus, drive, and energy to take action. Action creates momentum that in turn channels more productive action. Being in flow promotes a powerful sense of positivity and well-being, but importantly, such a state is not comfortable: it is born of stress, and often anxiety.

9. Anxiety Can Give You A Competitive Edge (even when you think it can’t)

Athletes know this feeling as well, as do high level performers, describing an experience of being “in the zone” when they are most likely to achieve their goals. The beloved fable of the tortoise and the hare illustrates the fuel anxious feelings can bring to our lives. So confident and relaxed in his race against the tortoise that the hare allows himself to stop trying, and take a fateful nap. Meanwhile the slow, steady, and undistracted tortoise channels the stress of his disadvantage into momentum that ultimately wins the race. Stress and anxiety can provide the energy and focus we need to try our best – using its fuel can help us stretch for our best.

10. How you think about anxiety controls how it affects you

Perhaps the most important fact about anxiety to know is the power we all have to control our thinking about it. In fact, a large scale study has found that how you think about stress actually defines the impact it has on your life; the more you see it as a positive resource, the more positive it will be, and visa versa. People with a healthy relationship with anxiety tend to view anxiety and stress as a normal part of life, and appear to bounce back from stressful times more easily than those who worry about their worries. Not only is it healthy to keep a positive attitude about anxiety, a healthy attitude can actually help keep anxiety’s impact healthy.

Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy and it can be hard to feel normal when you struggle with it. Not only is anxiety both a normal emotion and a normal part of life, it can be a powerful resource to channel our best effort. Thinking about it this way allows it to be.

If you want anxiety to be a healthier part of your life, changing how you think about it is a critical first step that can allow you to harness its energy and motivation toward your highest goals. This is how anxiety can fuel the extraordinary.

This post originally published on Dr. Clark’s blog