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March 2013



Recent Posts



How to Support an Anxious Partner


Associate Editor


Having a partner who struggles with anxiety or has an anxiety disorder can be difficult.


“Partners may find themselves in roles they do not want, such as the compromiser, the protector, or the comforter,” says Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, a therapist and author of the excellent book Loving Someone with Anxiety.


They might have to bear the brunt of extra responsibilities and avoid certain places or activities that trigger their partner’s anxiety, she said. This can be very stressful for partners and their relationship.


“Partners of loved ones with anxiety may find themselves angry, frustrated, sad, or disappointed that their dreams for what the relationship was going to be have been limited by anxiety.”


Thieda’s book helps partners better understand anxiety and implement strategies that truly support their spouses, without feeding into or enabling their fears.


Below, she shared five ways to do just that, along with what to do when your partner refuses treatment.


1. Educate yourself about anxiety.


It’s important to learn as much as you can about anxiety, such as the different types of anxiety disorders and their treatment. This will help you better understand what your partner is going through.


Keep in mind that your partner might not fit any of these categories. As Thieda writes in Loving Someone with Anxiety, “The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether your partner’s anxiety is ‘diagnosable.’ If it’s impairing your relationship or diminishing your partner’s quality of life or your own quality of life, it will be worthwhile to make changes.”


2. Avoid accommodating your partner’s anxiety.


“Partners often end up making accommodations for their partner’s anxiety, whether it is intentional [such as] playing the part of the superhero, or because it just makes life easier, as in, doing all the errands because their partner is anxious about driving,” said Thieda, who also created the popular blog “Partners in Wellness” on Psych Central.


However, making accommodations actually exacerbates your partner’s anxiety. For one, she said, it gives your partner zero incentive to overcome their anxiety. And, secondly, it sends the message that there really is something to fear, which only fuels their anxiety.


Read in Full:



Researchers Discover the Brain Origins of Variation in Pathological Anxiety


Mar. 25, 2013 — New findings from nonhuman primates suggest that an overactive core circuit in the brain, and its interaction with other specialized circuits, accounts for the variability in symptoms shown by patients with severe anxiety. In a brain-imaging study to be published online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health describe work that for the first time provides an understanding of the root causes of clinical variability in anxiety disorders.


Using a well-established nonhuman primate model of childhood anxiety, the scientists identified a core circuit that is chronically over-active in all anxious individuals, regardless of their particular pattern of symptoms. They also identified a set of more specialized circuits that are over- or under-active in individuals prone to particular symptoms, such as chronically high levels of the stress-hormone cortisol.


“These findings provide important new insights into altered brain functioning that explain why people with anxiety have such different symptoms and clinical presentations, and it also gives us new ideas, based on an understanding of altered brain function, for helping people with different types of anxiety,” says Dr. Ned Kalin, senior author, chair of Psychiatry and director of the HealthEmotions Research Institute.


“There is a large need for new treatment strategies, because our current treatments don’t work well for many anxious adults and children who come to us for help.”


Read in Full:


What a Panic Attack Feels Like




Imagine that you’re taking a stroll in the countryside. Everything is going well. The trees are in bloom; the sky is blue; the cool breeze is refreshing. You’re humming your favorite tune when suddenly you hear a blood curdling scream —EEEEOOOOWWWW!!!!


Now imagine that out of nowhere, a repulsive creature has stepped into your path. He’s got a grotesque body, horns on his head and a menacing smile. You freeze in terror as this hideous face stares into yours!


Though you desperately wish to flee, you find yourself helplessly frozen. Your heart is racing. Your chest is pounding. You can’t catch your breath. You feel lightheaded. You feel faint. You think you might die right there on the spot.


Now imagine feeling this very same terror when there’s no creature in your path. What would your experience be? Would you feel mystified? Bewildered? Embarrassed? Wonder if you’re going crazy?


This is the experience of those who endure panic attacks. Many keep their experiences secret, for they are embarrassed and at a loss for words to describe what happens to them. Nobody else has ever had such a reaction, or so they believe. Panic attacks, however, are more common than you may think.


The word “panic” emanates from the ancient Greeks, who were said to experience overwhelming terror when they encountered Pan, their god of nature. Half man, half beast, Pan had a scream so intense that terrified travelers who happened upon him in the forest died from fear.


Read More …


Anxiety Disorders More Common in Kids Who Avoid Scary Situations


By  Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 13, 2013


A new Mayo Clinic study discovers children who avoid situations they find scary are likely to have anxiety.


Researchers followed more than 800 children ages 7 to 18 and posit that this may be a new method to measure avoidance behavior in young children.


The study is published in the journalBehavior Therapy.


For the investigation, researchers developed two eight-question surveys: the Children’s Avoidance Measure Parent Report and the Children’s Avoidance Measure Self Report.


The questionnaires ask details about children’s avoidance tendencies, for instance, in addressing parents, “When your child is scared or worried about something, does he or she ask to do it later?”


It also asks children to describe their passive avoidance habits. For example: “When I feel scared or worried about something, I try not to go near it.”


Researchers say a surprising finding was learning that measuring avoidance could also predict children’s development of anxiety.


Read in Full:


The Six Best-Kept Secrets About Stress


Stress news you can use that’s hot off the press

Published on March 12, 2013 by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. in Fulfillment at Any Age


If you’re like most people living in our fast-paced world, you wish you could be less stressed. You are constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce your stress and that’s most likely why you clicked on this blog link. Perhaps you’ll learn something new to help you manage the many demands you feel on your time and energy. Or perhaps this will another one of those pop psych articles that tell you what you already knew or have read about many times before.


I don’t want to promise what I can’t deliver, but I think you’ll be honestly surprised by the six secrets to stress that I’ll reveal in this blog.  Even if you just learn from one of them, you’ll be on your way to better managing those worries, anxieties, and preoccupations that, though perhaps minor on their own, can add up to erode your mental and physical health.


Secret #1: Stress is in the mind of the beholder.


There is no event in life that is objectively stressful. Mental health experts often talk about a particular experience being the single most stressful event that can happen to a person. Researchers who measure stressful life events claim that even an experience that many people look forward to, such as a well-deserved vacation, can be stressful. The reason that a vacation can be stressful, they argue, is that it requires some sort of adaptation on your part. Any deviation from the status quo is enough to give you a bump up on such stressful life events scales.


However, other researchers believe that no event has an inherent stress value. What’s stressful to you may be neutral to me, or even possibly, something that makes me feel better.  Cognitive approaches to stress emphasize your thoughts about an event. You only feel stressed when you believe that you lack the resources to manage a threat or challenge. If you think your coping abilities are up to snuff, then you’ll be fine. It also helps to have someone to confide in, such as a long-term partner, whose support can lower yours even more by benefiting your health, as we know from research on marital problems and obesity.


Maybe you knew this already. So where’s the secret in this, you ask? The new data, hot off the presses, comes from a study published by Yale psychologist Alia Crum and team (2013). They talk about the stress “mindset,” the mental “frame or lens” that you use when you approach and understand an experience.  If you have a negative stress mindset, you believe, for example, that you should avoid stress at all costs, that it saps your energy, and that it inhibits your ability to grow. If your stress mindset is positive, you feel that it makes you healthier, and that it enhances your performance and productivity.


Crum and her colleagues found that people with a positive stress mindset were in fact better able to handle laboratory-induced stress.  In a work context, they were also more likely to seek feedback on their performance, which in turn would allow them to grow even more from their experiences, even the stress-provoking ones. The moral of the story is that if you want to handle stress more effectively, don’t label all stress as bad.  Try to look at stress with a positive mindset and you will, in fact, be better able to cope with it.


Secret #2: Stress begets stress


This next secret comes from a fascinating line of research based on what’s called the “stress generation” hypothesis.  According to this view, people play an active role in creating their own stressful life events by virtue of the way they handle their everyday life situations.  We might call this the “Debbie Downer” principle (named after the Rachel Dratch Saturday Night Live character). When you allow your internal feelings of stress to leak to your external behavior, you create an aura of negativity that drives other people away. This doesn’t mean that you have to fake being happy when you’re not (more on that shortly), but that by letting stress get to you in a chronic manner, your interactions with others can suffer.


Read More …


Stress in America: Our Healthcare System Falls Short




Do you want to improve your health and decrease your stress level?


If you’re experiencing some of the common symptoms of stress, such as irritability or anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and changes in sleeping habits, then the physical and mental consequences of stress are all too clear.


And if you have made efforts to improve your stress levels, you’re not alone.  According to a new survey, Stress in America: Missing the Health Care Connection, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive, Americans think it’s important to improve their health and levels of stress.


Over the past five years, 60 percent of adults have tried to reduce their stress and more than half are still trying to meet this goal, according to the survey.


In fact, according to the survey’s findings, Americans are struggling to keep their stress at levels that they believe are healthy.  But how well do we do that?


Average reported stress levels have dropped in recent years, but they are still considered at unhealthy levels, according to those surveyed.  And although overall stress levels dropped, almost three-quarters of respondents say that their stress level has increased or stayed the same over the past five years and 80 percent say their stress level has increased or stayed the same in the past year.


But when it comes to making changes, many people are struggling.  People are reporting exercise as well as sedentary behaviors like listening to music, reading or watching television or movies as strategies for managing stress. 


However, we are are also spending time lying awake, overeating or eating unhealthy foods and skipping meals due to stress.


Read More …


Test Anxiety – When Your Mind Goes Blank


Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 13th 2013


Brian, one of my clients and a high school senior, had a serious problem with tests. He did his homework. He even helped other students. But when he walked into a test, his mind went blank.


All those lectures, readings, and practice problems vanished from his mind. He would start to worry. As the clock ticked on, his anxiety increased. He would finally force himself to focus, get through some of the problems, and end up with a mediocre score.


Eventually he concluded what seemed to be obvious: “I’m not very good at tests.”


Blanking out on tests is a classic sign of test anxiety.


Anxiety works in circles


Test anxiety interferes with both memory and performance. The more anxious you are, the harder it is to remember. And the harder it is to remember, the more anxious you get. The process goes in circles.


Anxiety works as part of a feedback loop that generates its own momentum. Once you have an experience of test anxiety, your brain is on alert. You wonder, “what if it happens again?” Along with that comes anxiety or nervousness, which in turn increases the physical symptoms of tension: shallow breathing, increased heartbeat, and difficulty focusing.


Read in Full:


Dwelling on Stressful Events Can Up Inflammation


By  Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 15, 2013


Dwelling on stressful events can increase levels of inflammation in the body, according to a new study.


Researchers from Ohio University discovered that when study participants were asked to ruminate on a stressful incident, their levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of tissue inflammation, rose.


The study is the first to directly measure this effect in the body, according to Dr. Peggy Zoccola, an assistant professor of psychology.


“Much of the past work has looked at this in non-experimental designs,” she said. “Researchers have asked people to report their tendency to ruminate, and then looked to see if it connected to physiological issues. It’s been correlational for the most part.”


For this study, the research team recruited 34 healthy young women. Each was asked to give a speech about her candidacy for a job to two interviewers in white laboratory coats, who listened with stone-faced expressions, Zoccola said.


Half of the women were asked to contemplate their performance in the public speaking task, while the other half were asked to think about neutral images and activities, such as sailing ships or grocery store trips.


The researchers then drew blood samples, which showed that the levels of C-reactive protein were significantly higher in the subjects who were asked to dwell on the speech, Zoccola reported.


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5 Meditation Tips for Beginners


Tips to make beginning meditation easier

Published on March 18, 2013 by Alice Boyes, Ph.D. in In Practice


You’ve no doubt heard that meditation is good for you. However, for many people descriptions of meditation aren’t appealing, and it sounds like just another thing you don’t have time to do.


Here are five meditation tips for beginners that will help overcome the problems of (1) lack of appeal, and (2) it seeming too daunting.


1. Start small with 3-5 minutes (or less).


Some great new data collected from users of the Lift goal-tracking app* shows that most beginner meditators started with 3-5 minutes. Even three minutes can feel like a darn long time when you first start meditating, so you could even start smaller. For example, paying attention to the sensations of taking 3 breaths.

Reproduced with permission from Lift.do based on a sample of 382 respondents from an optional survey.


2. Understand what meditation can do for you if you have issues with stress, anxiety, irritability, or overthinking.


Meditation is a great way to increase your resilience to stress. If you have anxiety, it will help reduce your general tendency towards physiological overarousal and calm your nervous system.


In my therapy practice, the clients who’ve found meditation the most helpful have generally been people who are prone to rumination (unwanted overthinking). This makes sense given that meditation is about focusing your attention on something “experiential” (e.g., sensations of breathing) and bringing your attention back to this focus when you notice it has drifted to “evaluation” (e.g., “Am I breathing too fast?”) or to another topic (e.g., “I’ve got so much to do tomorrow.”)


Meditation can help with irritability partly because it helps you learn how to recognize you’re having irritable thoughts before you’ve blurted them out in ways that end up generating stress for you (e.g.. nitpicking your partner in a way that causes a fight). 


3.  Understand the principles of meditation.


Beginning meditators often think the goal of meditation is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted. 


A more useful goal is becoming aware of when your mind has drifted sooner.


Becoming aware of what you’re thinking is the basis of successful Cognitive Therapy. You can’t restructure your thoughts if you haven’t first developed the ability to identify your thoughts.


Another useful goal for meditation beginners is being able to redirect your attention back to your point of focus without criticizing yourself.


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