Can We Decrease Anxiety by Changing the Tone of Our Inner Voice?

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We all have an inner voice. I’m not necessarily referring to the “Jiminy Cricket, conscience” type of inner voice, but rather, an inner sense that helps us identify emotions, opinions, make decisions, and so on.

Because we have this constant inner voice, however, it is easy for us to get caught up in our personal monologue which could cause unnecessary anxiety.

A new study by Dr. Mark Seery, an associate professor in the University of Buffalos Department of Psychology, found that switching from first to the third person as the framework for our self-talk “can help us see ourselves through someone elses eyes and can lead to improved confidence and performance.”

For instance, if your name was “Pat” and you were to use the technique to help decrease your anxiety about an upcoming job interview, you might write, “Pat feels nervous about his upcoming job interview.”  It may seem silly, but this study found that writing or speaking about feelings in the third person actually activates the para-sympatheric (or “calm down”) nervous system in powerful ways that puts the breaks on the physical experience of fear, worry, and anxiety. Most significantly, people who used this technique had much greater control over their heart rate in anxiety situations than people who simply spoke of their feelings in the first person.

This type of third person self-talk is referred to as “self distancing,” or taking a “distance perspective.” Dr. Seery states that “Being a fly on the wall might be the way to put our best foot forward.” By inserting our name where we would usually simply say “I” allows us to gain a new perspective and “see ourselves as an outside observer.” As Dr. Seery found, this seemingly minute change can make a big impact on decreasing anxiety and gaining a healthier, more balanced perspective on both the big and small issues that we encounter in our lives.

For more tips on decreasing anxiety, check out my book God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy! and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network!

For Anxiety Disorders, CBT May Restore Brain’s Structural Balance

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Do you struggle with anxiety on a regular basis—particularly anxiety induced by social situations? Well, you’re not alone. Experts have found that one in ten people are affected by social anxiety at some point during their lifetime.

“Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed if fears and anxiety in social situations significantly impair everyday life and cause intense suffering.” Most commonly, this type of anxiety is provoked when an individual is asked to speak in front of a crowd.

A new study from the University of Zurich found that individuals who suffer from social anxiety disorder have difficulty regulating emotions due to impaired function of the frontal and lateral areas of the brain.

This may seem scary, but don’t despair! The results of this study showed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has the ability to rewire the brain and foster healthy functioning in those areas of the brain involved with emotional regulation. CBT utilizes techniques such as self-observation, role plays, or video recordings, that enable alternative viewpoints to be developed.

Through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, researchers “were able to show that structural changes occur in brain areas linked to self-control and emotion regulation,” In particular, the results of this study indicated that “Psychotherapy normalizes brain changes associated with social anxiety disorder.”

If you want to learn more about how CBT techniques can help you take control over your anxiety, give us a call at 740-266-6461, or check out my book God Help Me: This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!

Almost Two-Thirds of Children Worry “All The Time”

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We tend to assume that kids have it better than ever, but in reality, parents may have reasons to be concerned. New research shows that two-thirds of children worry “all the time.”

The mental-health charity Place2Be surveyed 700 children, all ten or eleven years old, across twenty schools throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. The results of the study showed that children deal with a wide variety of anxiety inducing concerns every day, the most prominent topics being family, friends, and fear of failing at school. Additionally, 40% of the children “felt that their worries got in the way of their school work,” nearly 30% stated that “once they started worrying they couldn’t stop,” and 21% said they “did not know what to do when they are worried.”

Similarly, the study revealed several gender differences. Girls tend to worry more about their looks and being bullied, while boys were more likely to worry about being angry. However, these concerns were prevalent in both boys and girls.

While children utilize coping strategies such as talking to their family and friends, or playing video games, more than 80% of the children reported that “the best way for adults to help was to listen sympathetically.” The children also stated that many of them have learned from their own experiences, so they recognize the importance of “being kind to anxious classmate.”

Often children are characterized as always being happy and primary school is viewed as an innocent and happy atmosphere, however, Place2Be charity’s chief executive, Catherine Roche, says, “in reality we know that young children can worry about a lot of things, whether it’s something going on at home, with their friends, or even about bad things happening in the world.”

Worry and anxiety are natural and normal occurrences, but it is extremely important that children know how and where to receive help. “Schools and families play a crucial role in ensuring that children learn to look out for each other and know how to get help if they need it.”

For more information on how to support your child and cultivate healthy coping strategies, check out Parenting with Grace! A Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids. https://www.catholiccounselors.com/product/parenting-grace-catholic-parents-guide-raising-almost-perfect-kids-2nd-ed/

 

Spiritually-Integrated Psychotherapy as Effective as Meds for Longterm Relief from Depression, Says Lancet

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Researchers in the U.K. have found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may offer just as much protection from depression relapse as antidepressants, with no significant difference in cost, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet

“Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point,” said Dr. Willem Kuyken, lead author and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford.

What is MBCT?

MBCT teaches people with recurrent depression to recognize and respond constructively to the thoughts and feelings associated with depression relapse, thereby preventing a downward spiral into depression.  It is often considered a more spiritual approach than traditional cognitive therapy because it employs meditation-based practices to teach clients how to step outside of their emotional experiences, observe their circumstances in non-judgmental fashion and, as a result, respond more proactively (rather than reactively) to stressful circumstances.

According to Dr. Richard Byng, from the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, while medication is the most common method of keeping depression at bay, “there are many people who, for a number of different reasons, are unable to keep on a course of medication for depression. Moreover, many people do not wish to remain on medication for indefinite periods, or cannot tolerate its side effects.”

How Effective Is It?

The study involved 424 adults with recurrent major depression who were taking maintenance antidepressant medication. Participants were randomly assigned to come off their antidepressant medication slowly and receive MBCT (212 participants) or to stay on their medication (212 participants).

MBCT participants attended eight 2-¼ hour group sessions and were given daily home practice. They took part in guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioral exercises.  After the group, they had the option of attending four follow-up sessions over a 12-month period. Participants in the maintenance antidepressant group kept taking their medication for two years.

Over two years, relapse rates in both groups were similar (44 percent in the MBCT group vs. 47 percent in the maintenance antidepressant medication group).

“As a group intervention, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was relatively low cost compared to therapies provided on an individual basis and, in terms of the cost of all health and social care services used by participants during the study, we found no significant difference between the two treatments,” said study co-author Dr. Sarah Byford, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, U.K.

Christian Concerns Over MBCT

Many Christians approach MBCT with caution or even suspicion because many clinicians use eastern-based approaches to meditation to teach MBCT skills, but MBCT does not necessitate indoctrination in non-Christian spiritualities.  MBCT experts correctly note that every major spiritual tradition has its own meditative practices which can be respectfully and effectively employed to teach MBCT skills. For instance, in my own tele-counseling practice, where I work with a primarily Catholic population,   I employ approaches to meditation developed and taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Because St Ignatius’ work is greatly respected by Christian spiritual directors and is completely orthodox, by using his teachings, I am able to offer my clients the opportunity to benefit from MBCT in a manner that is completely respectful of their own spiritual heritage.  I discuss some of these approaches to treating depression and anxiety in my book, God Help Me,  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!  as well as in my upcoming book, Broken Gods: Hope Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

The Takeaway

Medication is often a helpful component to depression-recovery but, at best, it treats one dimension of depression–the physical.  Depression, as a syndrome, doesn’t just attack the body.  It attacks the mind, our spirits, and our relationships as well.  Spiritually-integrated approaches to psychotherapy like MBCT enable clients to achieve healing on every level and experience the emotional freedom they deserve.  If you or someone you love is struggling with emotional difficulties, be sure to take advantage of all treatments that can help you build the life you were created to live–physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.