Relationship Land Mines – How to Handle Them

All people have topics or behavior that are emotional landmines. I think of watching M.A.S.H seeing a big sign saying, “DANGER-MINE FIELD.” I love to picture this sign in my relationships. If these emotional landmines are going to be there I think it is essential for survival to create a boundary around the mine fields. I have found it courteous to set boundaries around mine, so that people have more freedom within a relationship with me. If people don’t set boundaries around their own boundaries I have to create boundaries to keep myself safe from their emotional landmines, unfortunately I don’t know exactly where the landmines

are, so I have to create a boundary with large radius for extra safety. This is unfortunate because If boundaries are bigger than they need to be for the emotional safety this is limiting the potential for emotional intimacy in the relationship.

This is not only unfortunate for the person who “steps” on the emotional landmines, but also the person with the emotional landmines without appropriate boundaries. People thrive on relationships and connections. People who don’t create boundaries are absolutely terrified of being alone. Without knowing about emotional landmines, if you had the choice between land without blocked off areas and land that had nothing on it, the land without any blocked off areas seems more attractive, at least until you start walking over it! A person without boundaries want to attract people, and boundaries are not attractive. Their need for connection is not inherently bad, they are meeting this need in the only way they know how, because they haven’t experienced a long term intimate relationship as an example. Therefore, they have people around them who are avoiding a close relationship, or freeze to avoid any emotional landmines.

When you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t create boundaries, you will often find yourself apologizing without knowing how you’re at fault. If apologizing becomes your default to suppress emotional explosions, you will attract people who have a need to blame.  People who blame are only considering their own needs, people who apologize as a default only consider the needs of others. A healthy relationship will balance your emotional needs with the needs of others with consideration of the context. If this isn’t happening your efforts to get closer to people will result in resentments. If you’re thinking “if they only knew what I was really thinking, they wouldn’t love me.” You will feel lonely in a room of people who love you.

When you share your truth, unfortunately you do risk losing people in your life.  However, knowing that even the one person who stays loves every part of you, and respects you enough to respect your boundaries will be worth anyone you lose. This is the most difficult part of setting boundaries, you have to reach a point where you can accept losing a relationship all together in order to do what it takes to be a healthier person. Accepting that you could lose a relationship means that if they are uncomfortable with boundaries they may cutoff communication with you. When you respect yourself and you respect other people enough to show them where your boundaries are to keep you and them emotionally safe, you will begin attracting healthier relationships.

Written by Madison Price, MS, LAMFT – Therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

 

College: A Generation at Risk

A College diploma is a goal for millions of Americans, yet graduation rates have never been lower and those who do graduate take 6 years on average compared to the 4 years of previous generations.  Recent research has helped us understand that these dismal outcomes are not because students cannot handle the coursework, because the vast majority of students can grasp the academic content; rather mental health issues are now the prominent struggle in College.   

The statistics tell a rather grim story at first glance.  A study by the APA in 2017 found 

86% of students with psychological and learning challenges left school without a diploma. The CDC discovered that suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and this year, WHO found that 1 in 20 full-time college students have seriously considered suicide. 

There is one statistic, however, that gives hope to these startling facts.  94% of high school students with emotional and learning differences receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with the same challenges do so.  The remaining 74% still need assistance in navigating the new world of College life, but faced with logistical and financial constraints, Colleges will have to adapt quickly when it comes to providing services for the mental health of its students.  Currently, there is a nation-wide average of 2,500 students for every one counselor and this clearly isn’t enough. 

The good news, if you or someone you know needs help while in school, there are a couple of private and non-profit companies filling the gap in the state of Utah so please reach out for hope, healing, and help. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

The Impact of Borderline Personality Disorder on Relationships

All too often, family members, friends, fellow employees, and even therapists become reactive, judgmental, and walk on eggshells when they interact with someone who displays characteristics of borderline personality disorder.  Let me start off by summarizing some of the core characteristics of the disorder, specifically focusing on those traits which play out in the interactions with others.

  1. Affective Instability – This is where those with BPD struggle to regulate their emotions in predictable ways.  Often, their mood does not match with expected life or social situations, thus making it difficult for those around them to understand or relate to the distress they are experiencing.
  2. Fear of real or imagined abandonment – Those struggling with BPD are often afraid of being rejected, abandoned, or left alone emotionally. These feelings are triggered when the potential abandonment is indicated, as well as times where it isn’t.
  3. Identity disturbance – It can be difficult for those with BPD to maintain a consistent sense of self. There is typically a variance of self-doubt, instability in self-image, and self-acceptance.
  4. Impulsivity – Due to the emotional and personal instability, impulsivity is often a regular occurrence for those with BPD. While this may not feel disruptive for the individual, it can be highly disruptive for those around them.
  5. Paranoid ideation and dissociative symptoms – In certain situations, those with BPD may struggle with feeling paranoid, especially in relation to how they perceive other’s intentions or motives. Also, they may experience dissociative symptoms, which is a disconnect from themselves, their reality, or their sense of self.

What we need to understand about personality disorders is that they are just that, disorders which occur within the core personality of the individual.  This is important to consider, because it is extremely threatening to the individual when a personality disorder is suggested, or when a diagnosis is made, especially since it is difficult to be “objective” about your own personality.  Because of this, it can be very threatening for someone experiencing symptoms of BPD to identify and accept that the symptoms are present in their life.

It is my professional belief that the symptoms of BPD are treatable, and that through treatment, people can reduce the identified symptoms to the degree that they no longer qualify for the diagnosis.  This perspective can bring hope to those struggling with BPD, as well as those who are involved in their life.  However, the process of therapy can be challenging, and typically requires long-term treatment.

Selecting a therapist who can treat BPD effectively is an important step in the process.  The therapist must be able to accurately diagnose the disorder, as well as position themselves in the therapeutic relationship as to control for and manage the identified symptoms.  A careful balance between soliciting BPD symptoms and maintaining safety and security within the therapeutic relationship is critical.  Failure to challenge the BPD symptoms results in no change, while doing so without carefully creating a safe therapeutic relationship will typically result in early or even immediate rejection on the part of the client.

Once someone with BPD can effectively accept the diagnosis, identify how the symptoms play out in their life, and learn new ways of managing and responding to the symptoms, then they can focus on the primary relationships in their life, and work on how they relate to others in new ways.

Written by Dr. Tony Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

The Impact of Borderline Personality Disorder on Relationships

All too often, family members, friends, fellow employees, and even therapists become reactive, judgmental, and walk on eggshells when they interact with someone who displays characteristics of borderline personality disorder.  Let me start off by summarizing some of the core characteristics of the disorder, specifically focusing on those traits which play out in the interactions with others.

  1. Affective Instability – This is where those with BPD struggle to regulate their emotions in predictable ways.  Often, their mood does not match with expected life or social situations, thus making it difficult for those around them to understand or relate to the distress they are experiencing.
  2. Fear of real or imagined abandonment – Those struggling with BPD are often afraid of being rejected, abandoned, or left alone emotionally. These feelings are triggered when the potential abandonment is indicated, as well as times where it isn’t.
  3. Identity disturbance – It can be difficult for those with BPD to maintain a consistent sense of self. There is typically a variance of self-doubt, instability in self-image, and self-acceptance.
  4. Impulsivity – Due to the emotional and personal instability, impulsivity is often a regular occurrence for those with BPD. While this may not feel disruptive for the individual, it can be highly disruptive for those around them.
  5. Paranoid ideation and dissociative symptoms – In certain situations, those with BPD may struggle with feeling paranoid, especially in relation to how they perceive other’s intentions or motives. Also, they may experience dissociative symptoms, which is a disconnect from themselves, their reality, or their sense of self.

What we need to understand about personality disorders is that they are just that, disorders which occur within the core personality of the individual.  This is important to consider, because it is extremely threatening to the individual when a personality disorder is suggested, or when a diagnosis is made, especially since it is difficult to be “objective” about your own personality.  Because of this, it can be very threatening for someone experiencing symptoms of BPD to identify and accept that the symptoms are present in their life.

It is my professional belief that the symptoms of BPD are treatable, and that through treatment, people can reduce the identified symptoms to the degree that they no longer qualify for the diagnosis.  This perspective can bring hope to those struggling with BPD, as well as those who are involved in their life.  However, the process of therapy can be challenging, and typically requires long-term treatment.

Selecting a therapist who can treat BPD effectively is an important step in the process.  The therapist must be able to accurately diagnose the disorder, as well as position themselves in the therapeutic relationship as to control for and manage the identified symptoms.  A careful balance between soliciting BPD symptoms and maintaining safety and security within the therapeutic relationship is critical.  Failure to challenge the BPD symptoms results in no change, while doing so without carefully creating a safe therapeutic relationship will typically result in early or even immediate rejection on the part of the client.

Once someone with BPD can effectively accept the diagnosis, identify how the symptoms play out in their life, and learn new ways of managing and responding to the symptoms, then they can focus on the primary relationships in their life, and work on how they relate to others in new ways.

Written by Dr. Tony Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

“C”ommunicating with Our Teenagers

We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell 

Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.  

The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate. 

Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.  

It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.  

If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?  

Of course they can. 

“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i  This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii  

Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own.  The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?” 

When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions.  We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship.  They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship. 

For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction. 

In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship.  When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love. 

The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents  

and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them. 

 The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.  

If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

 

Boundaries With Others – How To Set Them

When you’re trying to create boundaries with people they will be tested. It’s like when cows enter a new pasture, they will knock their shoulder against the perimeter a few times to check out where their boundaries are and how strong they are. Cows are strong enough to take down barbed wire if they really wanted to, but they aren’t really testing if they can get out, they are testing if they are safe from the external world. Once they know that the boundaries are consistent and stable they feel safe and they graze in the middle. If the cows don’t have that consistent boundary they will rely on the cowboy to tell them when they have gone too far. The cowboy, however, doesn’t have consistent boundaries, they will only correct the cow when they notice the cow has gone too far, which doesn’t create a feeling of safety. People are the same when they have never experienced consistent boundaries, or they are experiencing new boundaries. People will test boundaries, not enough to break them but enough to trust that they are there to stay and to trust that they are there to keep them safe.

A lot of young adults who never experienced boundaries, because their parents wanted to be their friend. They have a great relationship with their parents, but they will tell me that they feel like they grew up as an orphan because they don’t have a secure home base. but they will tell me that they are afraid to explore and take risks as an adult because they can’t trust that they have parents who are watching out for them, to make sure they don’t make a mistake big enough to ruin their entire life.

It’s important that people are given the space to grow and find their own solutions within appropriate limits. When your setting limits the goal is not to get a specific outcome, rather the goal is to prevent a specific outcome. It is quite spectacular what people can come up with when their possibilities aren’t limited, but just the same we don’t want anyone hurting themselves or others in the process. Limits are set to prevent irreversible and/or irreplaceable damage, while still allowing people to learn how to cope with and improve from mistakes.

When cattle are being herded they have the instinct to turn around when they feel blocked, which can be disruptive to the flow and requires more work to redirect them back into the flow. To redirect a cow, you want them to feel pressure on their shoulder. If you are in front of them when you apply this pressure they feel blocked, if you are beside them when you apply this pressure they will simply turn a bit from where they shouldn’t be. People are the same, when they are told to stop doing what they are doing (and they don’t continue trampling over you) they will do a complete turnaround, even if this wasn’t your intention. If you’re only wanting a slight redirection from a no-go zone you want to adjust your approach to let them know that you understand that they want to move forward, and you want that too, but you want them going forward in a slightly different direction.

Written by Madison Price, MA, LAMFT – therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

 

Medication Management and Mental Health

In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.  

 What is missing for these patients? Medication management 

Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece. 

When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit.  Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case. 

During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence. 

Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

 

Cleaning Out your Marriage Closet: Couples Counseling

People are often worried about drudging up the past with their loved ones. There is controversy as to what is healthy for the relationship. People certainly don’t like to bring up an old fight when everything is going well. The issue is that we all have a closet of sorts where we hide everything that “isn’t worth the fight.” At first this closet is empty and the intention of putting things in there is good, you intend to talk about it later, it’s just not the right time.

The problem is that you enjoy the times you’re not fighting, who wouldn’t! You soon forget about what you’re storing in the closet, and you continue to throw everything “not worth the fight” into the closet. Your closet becomes full, and when you try to fit one more thing in there everything topples over. This is the fight of all fights, this is when you seemingly “loose it” out of nowhere about nothing and everything. This fight happens at a time when something was already “not worth the fight” and you were trying to put it in the closet. Therefore, you are probably not up for resolving everything in that closet either. It’s like if your junk closet toppled over just as company is coming over, you’re going to scoop everything up and stuff it back into the closet because you don’t have time to sort through it. This fight leaves everyone upset and confused and often nothing is resolved in this fight.

So how does one clean out this closet? Well its much like spring cleaning, you are going to take everything out and you begin to sort everything into categories. You evaluate if it is something that only happened once and will never happen again, if this is the case it truly isn’t worth the fight and can be thrown out. If it is something that continues to happen you need to address it, you will be bringing up the past not as a weapon against the other person, but as a justification for bringing it up as an issue. It is absolutely necessary that cleaning this closet is done at a time when your calm and you remain calm to be able to assess what the core of the problem is, what does their behavior tell you about your relationship with them. For instance, If someone is always late, how does their behavior effect you, why does it feel disrespectful to you and how does it create distance in your relationship, what is the message you receive about their feelings toward you. As opposed to judging their behavior as something you wouldn’t do and lecturing them about how it affects them.

When you clean out the closet you are transferring responsibility to the people it will be useful with. You will find that the cleaner your closet becomes the more clarity you will have in your relationships. Your intent in cleaning out the closet is not to change other people’s behavior, it is meant to change your relationships. You will find that some people will choose to become more distant because they are unwilling to make changes, but the relationships that become closer and the internal peace will be worth the distance in others.

Written by Madison Price, MS, LAMFT – therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Shared originally by the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

CCD Smiles: One in a million

I am the only one in my family with CCD (Cleidocranial Dysplasia), which was a random mutation. Having CCD influenced my studies and career choices. I have always been fascinated by the body, genetics, and helping others with physical or emotional health problems. I started my career as an emergency room registered nurse. I did my Master’s thesis on CCD and then went on to obtain a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. I have been a nurse practitioner for the past 14 years, working in family medicine and mental health. My background in medicine helps me better understand CCD. I want to share my experience and medical understanding with others.  

I was born in Reedley, California in 1975. When I was born, it was obvious to my parents and doctors that something was wrong. My body, mostly my head, was shaped differently than a “normal” baby’s. At 3 months of age, I was diagnosed with Cleidocranial Dysplasia. 

I grew up knowing I was different. The most difficult part of CCD was all the oral and facial surgeries. My baby teeth never fell out on their own, my permanent teeth didn’t grow in on their own, and I had several extra teeth which had to be surgically removed. Everything in my mouth had to be done manually. I started having oral surgeries at age 7 and I spent most of my Christmas, Spring, and Summer breaks undergoing surgery. My last major surgery was when I was 19 years old. 

 CCD dental treatment was not easily navigated. My dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons had never treated anyone with CCD. Everything they tried was experimental. 

Medical insurance and dental insurance did not cover the cost of my surgeries. Medical insurance considered my teeth problems to be dental. Dental insurance considered the surgeries cosmetic. My parents were paying for my surgeries until I was in college. 

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone with CCD. In 2001, technology helped me to connect with other people with CCD for the first time. I heard about other people’s experiences as I conducted phone interviews for my Master’s thesis “CCD: The lived experience.” Eight years ago, I met Steffani and her daughter Hally, who have CCD, for the very first time. 

 CCD Smiles 

I felt inspired to create a nonprofit organization to help others with CCD. I started working on the foundation in 2013. In 2016, Gaten Matarazzo’s dad contacted me. Together, we made CCD Smiles an official IRS approved nonprofit organization in January 2017. Since it’s official beginnings, we have had gatherings and fundraisers across the country. I have met 38 other people with CCD, which has been a tremendous blessing in my life.  

 Gaten Matarazzo, from the series Stranger Things, is a huge part of bringing awareness to CCD. As his popularity in Hollywood has grown, so has familiarity with CCD and CCD Smiles.  

CCD Smiles is still in its infancy, but you can go to www.ccdsmiles.org to learn more about us and watch us grow! Currently, the website is a place for donations, purchasing CCD swag and education about CCD. In the future, the website will be a place where those with CCD can connect, share pictures, exchange stories, and find hope. I want others to know they are not alone. It will also provide current and accurate medical information, written in plain English. Doctors, dentists, orthodontists, and surgeons can come together and discuss treatment, research, and options for their patients. 

As CCD Smiles grows and donations are made, we can help cover the costs of oral/facial surgeries. If insurance isn’t going to help, then we can. I don’t want the medical/dental expense to keep parents from being able to provide beautiful smiles for their children. 

My ultimate dream is coming true. July 13-15, 2018 will be the first national CCD conference in Salt Lake City.  Watch the website for more information. If anyone is interested in donating time, money, or talents to this event, please email me at kellywosnik@ccdsmiles.org. 

CCD Smiles Mission Statement: We bring global awareness, provide assistance for dental care, and support research to improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals with cleidocranial dysplasia. 

CCD Smiles can be found in the media and on social media— Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (@ccd_smiles, #ccdsmiles) 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Just Breathe! Reduce Anxiety With This Simple Exercise

 

It might seize you in the middle of the night, or perhaps at the beginning of a work meeting, or maybe while driving your kids to soccer practice. Wherever it happens, it can overwhelm you. Your mind won’t stop running. Your body is tense. Your heart is racing. You can’t breathe! You can’t relax and enjoy yourself. If you have ever felt a combination of these sensations, you have probably felt anxiety—a common experience among adults and adolescents. Whether you accept it or not, anxiety is part of a normal, healthy life. Diagnosable anxiety disorders, however, are different than normal, everyday anxieties. A hallmark characteristic of an anxiety disorder is excessive fear or anxiety about a real or perceived threat (DSM-V).

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder in a given year. That’s 18 percent of the population! Specific anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, selective mutism (failure to speak in social situations even when able to speak in other situations), specific phobias (fear of animals, objects, etc.), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or agoraphobia (fear of having a panic attack or other embarrassing symptoms in locations such as public transportation, standing in a line, etc.). Some anxiety disorders, such as phobias and generalized anxiety disorder, most often begin in childhood around 11 years old and can continue into adulthood if left untreated. These two disorders are the most common anxiety disorders in adulthood according to SAMHSA.

Because of their belief that things will not change, or that they just need to get over it, many suffering with an anxiety disorder do not seek treatment. The good news is that anxiety is treatable! Your biology has a lot to do with an anxiety disorder; therefore, a first step in reducing anxiety includes dealing with the body’s physical response to stress.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Your body’s internal organ regulator, your autonomic nervous system (ANS), has two applicable parts of the solution. First is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is in charge of your fight-or-flight responses. This part, for example, pumps up the mailman’s body so she can outrun that dog hiding in the bushes. Second is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which aids in calming your body. This part helps her body deescalate after she has escaped that dog so she can return to delivering the mail as usual.

When you feel anxious, your SNS is engaged. To help calm your body in these moments, the key is to activate your PNS. The exercise outlined below (partially adopted from The Anxious Brain: The Neurobiological Basis of Anxiety Disorders and How to Effectively Treat Them) triggers this part of your ANS.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down, stand, or sit in a comfortable position. Make sure you are “grounded” by creating an open posture with both feet on the floor and your back against a chair or bed. If you are crying, in the fetal position, or hunched over, this technique is difficult to do.
  2. Breathe in deeply. Picture a water balloon being filled with water as you first fill up your abdomen with air and then your chest. Feel the warmth and the weight of the air as you breathe in.
  3. Breathe out with an elongated breath—longer than it took you to breathe in. Purse your lips as you breathe out. This will slow your breathing. Breathing out slowly will help activate the PNS, which helps calm your body—the whole purpose of this breathing technique.
  4. As you breathe in and out, focus on the physical sensations you experience. Focus on your feet touching the ground, your abdomen and lungs expanding and contracting, the feel of air rushing over your tongue and through your pursed lips. Notice how your head, arms and hands feel. Doing this will help you be present and in-the-moment.
  5. Practice! This is a skill that must be developed. Try doing it while you are at work, stopped at a traffic light, or at home. Do each cycle (breathing in and breathing out) ten times or more, as you learn to engage your PNS.
  6. If you feel dizzy, light headed or out of breath, do not continue this technique. If your breathing is restricted or obstructed there may be other issues to consider. Speak with a therapist or doctor about the appropriateness of this exercise for you. This technique is a good start to help reduce anxiety in the moment, but is most successful when done in conjunction with therapy.

Anxiety disorders affect millions. Those who suffer with anxiety often feel there is no solution. But basic biology tells us differently. Activating our PNS through breathing techniques really does work—give it a try next time you feel anxiety creeping in. You might be surprised at how effective these simple breathing techniques can be!

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Triston Morgan