September 8, 2013

Can't Unwind? Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Often our bodies hold stress in the form of tense or tight muscles.  In other words, physical tension is caused by muscle constriction.  This tightening of the muscles occurs when we experience either short term, in-the-moment stress (a short-lived frightening experience such as a violent storm) or long term stress (such as unrelenting work overload or taking care of an aging parent).

The long term form of stress, if left unattended, can lead to chronic muscle tightness that doesn't let up.  These muscles can remain tense all through out the day for weeks on end without us being aware. The tightness can even hold fast while we sleep (which can explain some early-morning headaches, for example, or feeling exhausted upon awakening). Chronic muscle constriction is associated with tissue inflammation, muscle strains and spasms as well as more serious, long term illnesses.

Many who experience long term stress and muscle tension are unable to simply relax their musclestry as they may.  One exercise, called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (also known as Deep Muscle Relaxation) helps ease that I-can't-seem-to-relax muscle tension.

In the following selected videos, a voice guides you through a systematic form of tensing and relaxing muscles.   A quieting of the mind typically follows relaxed muscles.  The first video by Dr. LuAnn Helms, introduces the exercise with an explanation of how PMR can be helpful.

 Video by Dr. LuAnn Helms (Psychologist) of Utah State University's Counseling and Psychological Services

Video by University of New Hampshire

1.  Do each muscle group twice; five second tense, fifteen seconds relax.  Always relax the muscles longer than the tightening.
2.  You may want to skip tensing eye muscles into a frown - some find this produces headache sensations.  Instead, think about lifting your forehead muscles toward the ceiling in a muscle-smoothing fashion.  In fact, skip tensing any muscle groups that cause pain.
3. Remember to focus on the feeling of quiet, calm, relaxation when you shift from the tightening of the muscle group to relaxing.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas

August 20, 2013

More Breathing Exercises, Yoga Style

While I am neither an expert in yoga nor a devoted yoga practitioner, I do often suggest people with anxiety disorders, depression and anger management issues consider learning about the various forms of yoga.  Most of us, when we hear the term yoga, immediately think of pretzel-like positions and dismiss it as something an ordinary-Joe wouldn't be able to do.  However, when I suggest yoga as a relaxation tool, I am mainly interested in the breathing components.  While stretching can be a great relaxation tool as well, bending into contortionist positions is not necessary to achieve the calming benefits.

Below are links to two videos of two styles of deep breathing demonstrated by Dustienne Miller, CYT, PT, MS, WCS on her blog, Your Pace Yoga.  These breathing exercises can be used to reduce anxiety, decrease worry, help manage anger, and lower physiological measures of stress associated with many types of medical problems, including high blood pressure, gastro-intestinal distress, headaches and chronic pain.

Dirgha Breath - Dirgha (deer-guh) breathing is similar to the breathing exercises presented in a previous post.   Dirgha is a form of lower abdominal breathing. It helps reduce the fight or flight response that contributes toward anxiety and anger.  You can view the video, here.

Ujjayi Breath - Ujjayi (Ew-J-eye) breathing is also known as the ocean sounding breath or the Darth Vader breath.  The slow, even exhale of the Ujjayi breath can help reduce the fight or flight response. You can view the Ujjayi breath video, here.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas

July 24, 2013

Meditating with Visual Aids

Think about changing the channel that' plays mindlessly in your head.  Change your thoughts away from the thousands of stress inducing thoughts that permeate your thinking toward calm, pleasant, physically soothing thoughts and you can take your body toward a more physically healthy space.

One way to do this is with visual aids.  In this case, pictures of highly pleasurable scenes.

Take a look at the pictures posted on Bored Panda, below.   Take time to really let the images sink in.  Enhance the experience by taking long, slow inhales followed by long, full exhales, while you will your body to relax with each exhale, while simultaneously enjoying the pictures.

22 Unbelievable Places that are Hard to Believe Really Exist

 Let your mind luxuriate in the sensations you might feel if you were actually present in the picture.  Imagine the sounds you might hear, the smells.  What might you see in the scene if the picture were expanded to include what is behind you?

Pictures of beauty found in the nature are highly inspirational to me.  They help me refresh and appreciate the world around me.  Others find works created by visual artists inspiring:  paintings, collage, sculpture.

What inspires you?  What kinds of images do you find pleasurable, refreshing, or relaxing?  

July 3, 2013

Exercise for Relief from Anxiety - How Does it Work?

Gretchen Reynolds writes for the New York Times blog about the positive effect of exercise on anxiety.  She summarizes the work of Schoenfeld et. al whose studies* with mice suggest that regular exercise leads to an increase in healthy, calming neurons (GABA) in a part of the brain that helps us process emotions (hippocampus).  More evidence that behavior therapy ( CBT ) tools, such as jogging, taking brisk walks, or working the treadmill, are an effective way to increase feelings of calm in both the long and short term.

You can read Reynolds NY Times article, here.

*Schoenfeld TJ, Rada P, Pieruzzini PR, Hsueh B, Gould E. (2013) J Neurosci. 2013 May 1;33(18):7770-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5352-12.2013.Physical exercise prevents stress-induced activation of granule neurons and enhances local inhibitory mechanisms in the dentate gyrus.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas

May 13, 2013

Cognitive Therapy as Commencement Address

A commencement speech given by the author, David Foster Wallace, to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College.

Though Mr. Wallace was addressing college graduates, his words of encouragement are promoting CBT skills and can apply to all of us, in every moment of daily living.

Thanks to the person who suggested I listen to this video.  You know who you are.

April 9, 2013

Who Have You Cheated on Lately?

Or at all?

 If you are in a committed relationship and have cheated on your partner, this post by Holly Cox is a must read.  If you are the victim of a partner who has cheated on you?  Reading Holly's post is probably a good idea for you, too.

What if you haven't had sex with this person but you've kissed or held hands or engaged in other types of intimate physical affection?  Is this cheating?  If your partner isn't aware or is aware and feels hurt or angry?  Then your behavior very likely falls under the realm of cheating.

What if you're not sure if your non-physical relationship with a "friend" or coworker could be considered cheating?  What if you suspect your partner spends too much time with their colleague, teammate or friend or if they seem too close for your comfort?  Please do yourself and your partner a favor by reading Dr. Laura Berman's post where she discusses emotional infidelity.

One important sign to look for, within yourself , is whether you actively decide to not tell your partner about repeat encounters with this "friend."  Whether it seems to be a harmless lunch, meeting to exercise together, or trips to the movie theatre, if your partner remains in the dark you need to take a long look at your behavior and your motives.

A second sign is having a lot of thoughts about the "friend" when you're away from them.  Especially when you feel your heart race or skip a beat in the middle of these thoughts.  Of course, if you are feeling clear feelings of sexual attraction and you elect to continue meeting up with this "friend," be it known or not known by your partner, many would label these actions infidelity.

Are your contacts with this friend limited to emails, texts or other forms of electronic contact?  If the above signs are present, or if you password protect your accounts so your partner won't see?  Probably emotional infidelity.  The defining factor is more about whether your partner would be hurt if s/he knew then how you technically feel about the "friend."

Most affairs are explained to me in this way, "I didn't go looking for an affair..." Or, "I didn't mean to have an affair, it just happened."  In other words, spending a lot of time with someone other than your partner when any of the above criteria apply?  Take the safe approach and end or greatly limit contact.  Tell your partner about the meetings and the emails.  Give your partner a chance to weigh in.  If you don't want to hear your partner say they feel hurt or betrayed and so you avoid talking about time spent with this "friend," emotional infidelity is likely in play.

People vary regarding what they think is cheating when it comes to their own partners.  So the true answer lies not with what any expert thinks or what research finds but what your partner thinks and feels.  Social Psychologist, Dr. Justin Lehmiller talks more about who defines cheating and how, here, on his blog, The Psychology of Human Sexuality.  

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Wise words when it comes to protecting your relationship.

January 28, 2013

A Murmur was Seen Through the Crowd

The crowd of birds, that is.  Starlings, to be specific.

I can't get enough of the videos gone viral of bird murmuration.  The most dramatic to me is the first one I ever saw.  It was captured by canoe paddlers Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith.

With so much news on the television about tragedy caused by nature, I find my faith in the natural way of things restored when I watch birds flying in a sort of random harmony.  When it's put to calming music, it becomes something of a meditation.

Last one:

January 18, 2013

Inspirational Meditation

"Inspirational meditation with original art and reflection, created by Melanie Weidner, Quaker artist and spiritual director. "  You can explore more of Ms. Weidner's ideas and suggestions by visiting her blog, Listen For Joy.


January 8, 2013

Diet Tip in the New Year

Dr. Aaron Beck, M.D., known worldwide as the father of Cognitive Therapy, and his daughter, Dr. Judith Beck, Ph.D. psychologist founded The Beck Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.   Dr. Judith Beck is also the author of The Beck Diet Solution, a book that provides cognitive and behavioral weight loss strategies.

The Beck Diet Solution website emails dieting tips taken from her book.  Since it's the new year and many of us make resolutions to get healthy and lose weight, I thought I'd post the most recent suggestion. It features a cognitive approach to addressing one of the most frustrating aspects of dieting:  relapses or slips.   It also illustrates a core cognitive principle of thought replacement.

Recovering from Mistakes Immediately: A Key to Weight Loss and Maintenance Success

Dieters often make resolutions this time of year to lose weight and keep it off. Many dieters have made this same resolution in previous years and have ultimately not been successful.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks that dieters face is getting back on track after a dieting mistake, often because they say to themselves things like:

I've made a mistake. I've really blown it for the day. I might as well keep eating whatever I want and start again tomorrow.  

But it takes most dieters much longer to get firmly and consistently back on track -- perhaps a week, a month, or even a year. As a result, they likely gain back any weight they had lost.

We teach dieters many techniques to get back on track after making a single eating mistake.  One such technique is the use of analogies to demonstrate that making one mistake is not a valid reason to continue making more mistakes.  For example, we might say:

If you were walking down a flight of stairs and stumbled down a few, would you think, "Well, I've really blown it now!" and throw yourself down the rest?

If you were washing your fine china and dropped a plate, would you throw the rest of your plates on the floor?

If you were driving on the highway and missed your exit, would you continue to drive 5 more hours in the wrong direction?

We help dieters see that it makes no sense to compound one eating mistake with a second (or more). Once they accept that all mistakes, even dieting mistakes, are a part of life and learn how to recover from them right away, they're able to lose weight and keep it off without disrupting and undoing their hard work and weight loss achievements.