Tag Archives: anxiety

Is Everyone An Addict?

14 Oct


With the term “addiction” being used so loosely these days, it seems we all could fit into at least one category of addiction.  There’s sex addiction, love addiction, chocolate addiction, carb addiction, gaming addiction, shopping addiction, Facebook addiction, the list goes on…  So are these “real” addictions or just a reflection of our tendency to think the worst of ourselves and others?  The answer to this lies in how you define the term addiction.

There is no formal diagnosis of addiction in the DSM-IV (the so-called bible for psychological diagnoses).  So the definition of addiction is left up to one’s personal opinion.  I use the term addiction under certain circumstances.  If person continues to engage in a behavior despite it causing significant negative consequences in their life, then it might be an addition.  But it’s also more than that.  I consider a person to have an addiction if they feel compelled to act in a way that is detrimental to them in the long run.  By compelled, I mean that they feel out of control and have difficulty limiting or adjusting the behavior (i.e., a person tries to stop or limit their use of a substance, but just can’t seem to do it).

I also believe that a person can be addicted to activities, not just substances.  Research has shown that similar parts of the brain are stimulated in various types of addictive behaviors.  So whether it’s chocolate, cocaine or sex the same part of the brain is activated when a person is addicted.  But I also think that the term addiction is often used improperly.  Some people use the term addiction and compulsion interchangeably.  But there is a difference between these two.

A compulsion, as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is when an individual engages in a specific behavior in an attempt to mitigate their feelings of anxiety.  A compulsion is a ritual that a person performs that is repetitive and excessive.  It can be an action or a mental activity that the person feels driven to perform.  In order to be a true compulsion as part of OCD, it must take up more than an hour per day and interfere with the person’s ability to function effectively in social, work or other personal activities.  These compulsions can also be detrimental to the person in the long run, similar to an addiction, but in a different way.  For example, an individual’s compulsion to wash their hands repeatedly due to fears of contamination and germs may create problems in the long run when their behavior causes them distress and interferes with their relationships.  They may spend so much time engaging in the behavior that it interferes with them getting other things done at work or home.

So even though both types of behaviors may seem out of control and have negative consequences, they are different.  They are also different in terms of brain activity.   The addictive behaviors stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and OCD behaviors trigger deeper parts of the brain (the basal ganglia and thalamus, in particular).  In addition, a compulsion differs from an addiction because the individual with an addiction is responding to a craving, whereas a person with a compulsion is responding to obsessive worry.

Being more precise about the terms we use helps to ensure we get the right treatment.  With greater precision we are also casting a smaller net in deciding what behavior is problematic.  To call a tendency to spend a lot of time of Facebook an addiction may minimize the severity and seriousness associated with a true addiction.  Like most things, both compulsions and addictions occur along a continuum.  Some addictive behavior is normal.  And some compulsive behavior is normal.  To determine the severity of an addiction or compulsion often requires looking at the consequences on one’s overall quality of life.

So what do you think?  Does this mean everyone is an addict?  Are you convinced that food addiction, for example, is real?  Post your comments  below.

Mindfulness- What Is It?

19 Feb


Much recent attention has been given to the practice of Mindfulness. However, this practice is far from new. Essentially, mindfulness is about living more of your life in the present moment. It is about being awake to your life as you are living it, instead of spending excessive amounts of time in the future or past.

Many people get caught up in regrets and ruminations about the past.  Although it can be helpful to reflect on the past, it is often detrimental to spend too much time there.  If you spend most of your time reflecting and regretting the past, you are likely to feel sad and depressed. Alternatively, people are also prone to spending a great deal of time in future-oriented thinking. You may spend time planning, strategizing or worrying about what may lie ahead. Although some future planning and thinking is important, too much of it can have a negative impact on your well-being. People who are overly future-oriented tend to suffer from excessive anxiety.

There are real benefits to living more of your life in the present moment. The key to getting there is the use of your breath. It is your breath that can anchor you in the here and now. Sound like a good idea? I will elaborate more on mindfulness and how you can use it to improve your life in posts to come…

Is Fear and Anxiety Holding You Back From Living Your Life?

10 Feb

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We all have fears.  We all have anxiety.  But for some people their fears and anxiety get in the way of them living their life the way they want to live it.  If this is the case for you, it is important to recognize that you can learn tools to help set you free from the fear that holds you back from living your life more fully. 

It is important to learn how to manage feelings of fear.  Part of doing this is creating the ability to separate the true signals of danger from false alarms.  For some people, their brains fire signals that indicate they are in danger when they we really aren’t.  Some examples of this are: 

  • Having a panic attack when there is not immediate threat to your safety.  For example, in a grocery store.  At that moment your brain is telling you that you must flee- that you are in danger.  When in reality, there is no real threat to you.
  • Feeling a sense of dread or extreme fear when you encounter germs.  Although your intellectual mind may know that not every germ you encounter is going to kill you, it feels as if you are in immediate danger.  The danger feels very real.
  • Something in your environment reminds you of a past trauma and you immediately feel that you must fight or run.  You may feel a sense of danger and extreme fear even when you are in a safe environment.  (This frequently happens to people who have experienced terrible trauma or have PTSD).

Panic attacks essentially are a false alarm.  The brain is sending off the fight or flight signal, when no real danger is present. 

Anxiety has been coined as “a disease of uncertainty.”  If you suffer from anxiety, you may be plagued with feelings of self doubt.  You may not know what you feel or what you truly want.  You are likely to be out of touch with your own desires and needs and, as a result, may find it hard to trust your own intuition or decisions.  This leads to an overactive mind that is constantly thinking, questioning, and worrying about what the “right” decision is.  You may spend countless hours trying to think through decisions before you make them and you are likely to feel stuck and indecisive.

One of the things that can keep you stuck in feelings of anxiety is self judgment.  Often people judge themselves as an attempt to try to get themselves out of a rut they are in.  They may say to themselves “You shouldn’t be feeling anxious right now!  Snap out of it!”  Or they may be even more self-critical and put themselves down for feeling anxious or fearful.  The result of this kind of self-talk is that you end up feeling more anxious, rather than less.  Each time you tell yourself that you should not feel a certain way you are actually increasing that emotion you are trying to rid yourself of. 

One of the most important concepts regarding anxiety is that it feeds off of avoidance.  The more you avoid, the more anxiety you will experience.  This is a basic tenet of anxiety management.  Avoidance can take the many forms such as:  procrastination, withdrawal from activities and isolation from others.

If you are like the millions of others who suffer from anxiety you may feel helpless and scared.  Because of all the ways anxiety can end up taking charge over your life, you may end up feeling powerless to make changes.  You may feel like the anxiety is ruling your life and you have no control. 

Mindfulness is one way to effectively decrease symptoms of anxiety, panic and worry.  A regular meditation practice and a mindful outlook on life will help you to increase your awareness of what you feel, want and think, and as a result your feelings of uncertainty will decrease and you will increase your ability to trust your intuition.  One of the main principles of mindfulness is decreasing self-judgment.  Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral techniques can be very useful in transforming unhealthy judgment and criticism into feelings of self love and kindness.  You may find that when you begin to take a stance of kindness towards yourself when you feel anxiety, worry or fear, your anxious feelings soon become less powerful and the one who feels powerful and in control is you.  By slowly beginning to decrease your avoidance you will find that your anxiety loses its power over you.

The Worry Bug

24 Jan

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We all worry.  That is a natural part of life.  It is essential for us as humans to have the capacity to worry or experience anxiety.  It is part of what keeps us safe.  However, some people are plagued by worry so much that they end up suffering major consequences.  Some of the consequences of chronic worrying are:

  • Difficulty making decisions/indecisiveness
  • fatigue
  • physical pains- including headaches and muscle pain
  • increased propensity for getting sick
  • depression
  • increased tendency to procrastinate
  • irritability
  • poor sleep
  • difficulty concentrating or focusing

These are just a few of the most common consequences of worrying too much.  When individuals chronically worry- or have the “worry bug” they decrease their immune response.  Their body is in a hypervigillant state, and stress hormones are released into the body.  These stress hormones can help your body prepare for a flight-or-fight response.  But research is finding that when they are released for long periods of time (such as when a person is a chronic worrier) it can have a major impact on the human body and lead to a myriad of physical problems and ailments.

So what can you do if you’ve got the worry bug?  There are many different things you can do to start living your life differently and stop worrying so much.  However, keep in mind, that most of the techniques for ridding yourself of the worry bug takes time and practice.  One of the essential components to effectively ridding yourself of chronic worry is a shift in your focus from a future- oriented perspective to a present-moment perspective.  Worry is almost always future- oriented.  It often starts with the words “What if…”

“What if I don’t get the promotion?”

“What if he thinks badly of me?”

“What if I something bad happens to my son when he’s out with his friends?”

“What if I get hurt while driving my car?”

The list goes on and on….  What may start with a simple “What if” question then begins to transform into a complex web of “what if’s,” as one what if leads to another to another and another.  Along with this line of thinking also comes visual imagery of the imagined event.  Usually this imagined, feared event frightens us or upsets us in some way.  And what do you think happens when you begin to imagine some terrifying event take place in the future?  Your body tenses up, and it begins to act AS IF the event is really happening.  But this is the catch- IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET!  Now we have a physiological response (remember: release of stress hormones in the body) to an IMAGINED event, not a real one.  Our body becomes affected by this worrying, we start to feel fearful of this imagined outcome and we try to do whatever we think we can to avoid this terrible outcome from happening.  As a result we often end up feeling stuck.

The important piece of this equation is that all of this mental energy is spent attempting to predict or anticipate a FUTURE outcome.  By beginning to focus on the here-and-now we spend less time engaging in thoughts about the future and more time living our lives in the present moment.  One way to begin to live your life more in the present moment is through a mindfulness practice.  (More about Mindfulness will be discussed in this website).  Mindfulness is not the only avenue to ridding one’s self of the worry bug, but it is one that has been proven to work.

There are many techniques that have been proven  to help manage worry, such as:  worry time, the stop technique, and other cognitive-behavioral strategies.  These techniques can be helpful in learning to worry less.  Some of the core features of learning to worry less are:

  • Increase the amount of time you spend in the present moment.  This can be done by engaging in a mindfulness practice.  You can make this shift by increasing your awareness of the time you spend thinking about the future and remembering to bring yourself back to the present moment.  So next time you find yourself consumed by the worry bug, regain your focus on what is actually happening in the moment.  Take a breath, look around, and re-engage in what is going on right in front of you.


  • Recognize what you can and cannot control.  The serenity prayer that is used as part of the 12-step recovery process works for a reason.  Once you can begin to quickly recognize the things in your life that you can and cannot control you can begin to live much more peacefully.  Are you worrying about something you can’t control?  Are you trying to control or predict the future?  Are you trying to control another person’s  behavior?  Remember the things that you can control are actually quite few.  (As an exercise see if you can list right now the things you can and can’t control and notice what you come up with).


  • Slow down- The worry bug often gets you revved up.  Your mind is moving fast, and your body may be moving fast, too.  When you are anxious, stressed and worried it is difficult to create a shift in your thinking.  Sometimes the key to turning off the worry bug is to SLOW DOWN.  Sometimes you may need to slow your body first.  Stop what you are doing and stop multi-tasking.  Do something relaxing, if possible, or even just sit quietly for a moment.    The worry bug does not like quiet. 

Remember- I am not suggesting that you do not think about the future, or ever ponder about potential scenarios in the future.  The goal is to strike a balance between the time you spend thinking about the future or past and the time you spend living in the present moment.  Many people live a great deal of their lives constantly two steps ahead of themselves.  When you do this, you are prone to living a life filled with worry, uncertainty, stress and agitation. 

So now that you have read this information, sit where you are for just a few moments in silence and let the information soak in.  Perhaps you might set and intention for yourself for how you would like to practice living your life differently from this moment forward.

And after you give yourself a few moments of silence.  Then open your eyes and move on to the next moments of your day…