Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | March 14, 2011

Breathing is Effective and Essential

Back in October I wrote about the power of using abdominal breathing for lowering anxiety (See Don’t Dismiss the Value of Breathing)  Since then, I’ve seen some claims on the internet claim that abdominal breathing is “just a distraction,” and doesn’t “cure” the problem of panic.  My first reaction to that statement was, “Well I’d like to introduce you to Joe, Susan, Andria, Mike, Amy, Teresa, Jimmy, etc, etc……..”* meaning all of the people that I have known over the years who have used successfully abdominal breathing  to lower their anxiety level (see 3 Critical Reasons for Rating your Anxiety).

Dr. Daniel Amen, a brain imaging expert, describes the benefits of abdominal breathing in his book, Healing Anxiety and Depression.  He states that by breathing from the abdomen you are calming the basal ganglia, a part of the brain that controls anxiety!  He goes on to state that abdominal breathing can help regulate the rhythm of our hearts. 

Here is a video I made to help you learn how to do abdominal breathing properly:

Have you tried it?  How has it worked for you?

Jennifer L. Fee, Psy.D.


**The people are real, the names are made up!

Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | December 31, 2010

Happy Puppy, Anxious Mom

It was one of those cold (by California standards) grey afternoons when I went outside to bring in the dogs.  My son’s puppy came immediately, with a goofy grin on his face and tongue hanging out of his mouth.  “You’re going to feed me, right?” is the question he always seems to be asking.  Ignoring him, I called to my daughter’s dog, a small 20 pound, cream and white Labradoodle named Daisy.  She also has one-track mind, except that it’s not at all about food.  Daisy only seems to think “Ball” and “Run.”  As soon as she sees any of us, she runs to get one of her balls and says, “time to play!”  It seems impossible sometimes to tire her out.

Daisy as a puppy

Today Daisy does not appear when I call.  I looked and to my horror I saw that our gate was open.  Daisy got out! Instant panic ensued.  I ran to the front yard and asked my neighbor if she has seen Daisy.  My neighbor takes off in her truck to look for Daisy.  My husband  drives off in another direction.  I ask everyone who passes by if they’ve seen a little curly dog.  No one has.

I am sure that once she got out, Daisy just started running.  I start checking the Animal Control website, hoping that her picture would appear.  I ask God to spare my daughter from the pain that would result of losing her dog. but I have little hope that Daisy will be found alive.  A kind woman at Animal Control encourages me to drive down there, they have a dog they just picked up that matches Daisy’s description.

I am about to leave when my husband returns, holding a shaking little dog in his arms.  I cannot believe that she has been found!  I also cannot believe the story he told–she crossed a very busy street unharmed, and a small group of people started to follow her–but she’s hard to catch! A couple finally caught her and took her to their house.  Another man was driving around our neighborhood looking for people who might have lost a dog!

Crisis over, all is well.  I am thankful, relieved, and exhausted.

The next day I leave for work. My husband is fixing our broken gate.  My daughter and Daisy are playing together in the family room.  All is well, right?

All is well–until my second client of the day. This women starts talking about her plans to have her cats microchipped, and for no apparent reason (at the time anyway) I start to get highly anxious.  “What if Daisy is out again?’ was the main thought.  I told myself that was a ridiculous thought, but it was difficult to shake until the conversation shifted to another topic.

Then I was fine.  Really?  The anxiety hit me again on my way home, as I traveled down the busy street that Daisy had crossed.  “There’s no way she should have lived crossing this street,” I thought and then I had an image of her dead in the middle of the street.  I come home, the gate is fixed, and Daisy greets me at the door, ball-in-mouth.

I always tell everyone that anxiety is about the future, anticipation of things that haven’t happened yet.  This is a true statement.  However, we can use past negative events as fuel for our worry and anxiety.  Because it’s happened before,  it might happen again,  fueling anxiety.  Some research shows that women tend to do this more than men.  The researchers further assert that this may explain why women as a group tend to “have more frequent and intense worries, perceive more risk, have greater intolerance for uncertainty, and experience higher rates of anxiety than males.” (Read more here).

So what to do?  There’s a disclaimer line that investment companies use all the time that I love:  “Past Performance is not Predictive of Future Returns.”  Of course these companies are covering themselves if your investment doesn’t turn out so well, but I think the same line applies to life in general.  I repeat this statement to myself when I get anxious thinking about the possibility of something from the past happening again. 

What do you do when anxiety creeps up regarding something that’s happened in the past?  Please comment below!

Thanks to all our kind neighbors who helped return Daisy safely to my daughter!

–Dr. Jennifer Fee

If you watch NFL football at all, you know exactly why Desean Jackson is this week’s hero and that Matt Dodge is not very happy at the moment.   I know many of you are not football fans (and I’m not a sports writer), but let me try to explain the situation.  The New York Giants had a commanding 31-10 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth quarter of the game.  A win for the Eagles meant almost certain victory in their division, a win for the Giants gave them a good chance of winning the division.  But, nothing was going the Eagles way the entire game, and it looked like a for-sure loss!

However, in the last 7 minutes of the fourth quarter,  the Eagles rallied to score 21 points, tying the game at 31-31!  The Giants failed to score on their last drive (if they could have only pulled into field goal range, they could have won), so they were forced to punt with 14 seconds left in the game.  14 seconds is not a lot time!  The thing to do in this situation is for the punter to punt the ball out-of-bounds, giving the Eagles at most 2 chances to move the ball to within field goal range–not a high probability, especially if Giants’ Matt Dodge got off a deep punt out-of-bounds.  Here’s what happened instead: 

In case you couldn’t tell, punter Matt Dodge kicked the ball straight to speed-demon DeSean Jackson, who returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown and the Eagles win the game 38-31.  DeSean Jackson is the hero of the game, whereas Matt Dodge is seen on National TV being angrily confronted by Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin.

A hero and a goat.  A winning team and a losing one.  Two dramatically different outcomes, two dramatically different sets of emotions for players, coaches, staff on each team.  Yet, as I perused post-game coverage and articles on the internet, I noticed a critically important commonality in the two locker rooms following this dramatic game:  Both teams rallied around each other in a strong showing of social support. 

Sure, the scene in the Eagles locker room was more fun and easier to watch…but the point is, there was something to watch!  The Eagles players were hugging each other,  yelling, and jumping up and down–in fact they looked very similar to the little boys on my son’s little league team after they won their division!  Players who didn’t even get to play (like backup quarterback Kevin Kolb) were as much included in the celebration as DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick.  They called each other “family,” and all evidence indicates that this is how this particular team views one another and treats one another. 

So, how about the Giants?  I am equally impressed with their response, particularly how they treated punter Matt Dodge.  The Giants held back the press after the game for a few minutes for him, who were of course eager to assault Dodge with tons of questions.  After Dodge did start speaking to the press about his mistake, another Giants player came an interrupted him–telling the press that it wasn’t Dodge’s fault, that it never should have come down to the final punt, that the Giants defense as a whole was responsible.  Another Giants player emphasized that “we’re a team,” and that the fault should not fall all on Dodge’s shoulders.  Even Coughlin took on responsibility for what happened. Again, a great display of social support.

Not all winning professional teams act like family.  Not all players on losing teams rally to protect individual players or act like members of a family.  These two teams both showed, in public, amazing social support for one another.

The point?  We all need social support to successfully navigate through life.  There’s lots of research to support that social support is essential for good mental health, physical health, and longevity.  I also talked about this in a recent post, 4 tips for coping with change, where I identified social support as being critical for sucessful navigating through change. 

It may be obvious why Matt Dodge needed social support.  But why someone like DeSean Jackson?  After all, isn’t the fact that he did something that no one else has done in NFL history enough to keep him emotionally content?  Not really.  I heard one Eagles player talk about the difference between the atmosphere of the Eagles locker room and that of another winning NFL team. This player said you could not tell the difference between a win and a loss in that locker room, because the atmosphere was exactly the same –quiet!  The problem with that?  Loneliness is one issue.  It’s not good to be “on top” if you’re all alone.

Research suggests that people who struggle with anxiety report a greater lack of social support than people who do not.  Therefore, it’s critical that this issue be addressed if you are suffering from anxiety.   Addressing the issue of social support may take the form of working on forming friendships or stronger relationships with people already in your life, or it may mean finding and joining some kind of group, such as an anxiety support group.  For others it might mean joining a group at a church.  The bottom line, however, is that the forging and strengthening of relationships takes some effort and work.  I hope that for some, this will encourage you to work on strengthening your relationships.  If any of you feel completely lost as to how to form relationships, it might be an excellent time to seek some outside help, like that of a therapist.

Thanks for reading.  Who is your greatest source of social support?   Please comment below.    –Dr. Jennifer Fee

  Mark Zuckerberg, at the age of 26, has become the second youngest person to be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”  He’s extremely famous, which means that lots and lots of people have strong opinions about Zuckerberg, even though they have never met him!  Some people after watching the movie, The Social Network, (about the origin of Facebook) completely buy into the portrayal of Zuckerberg as an arrogant, socially awkward jerk.  Other people walked out of the movie saying, “that cannot be true about him.”  I’m sure there’s many people who are very jealous of the extensive wealth that he has earned at such a young age. 

 And we have not even begun to touch the strong statements that people make about Facebook itself–the allegations of invading privacy issues, the conspiracy theories regarding Facebook and the CIA, as well as numerous criticisms about certain features of Facebook and how they work.  All of these issues in one way or another end up as statements about what people think about Mark Zuckerberg, given that he is the founder and CEO of Facebook.

  So millions of people have thoughts and opinions about Mark Zuckerbeg. Lots of people talk about him.  Some of what they say will be true, some will not.  Some people think he’s a wonderful genius, some people believe he is an arrogant jerk.  How does all of this affect Mark Zuckerberg?

  I have no idea, I have never talked to the man!  Hopefully he does not spend too much time worrying about it. However, many people do exactly that, worry about what others think!  In fact, this concern is a significant anxiety trigger for many people who come to me for help.  How much do you worry about what other people think of you?

Let’s face it, not one of us is thrilled to have people not like us or say negative things about us, it does not feel good!  However, the more accepting that we can become with the idea that other people will and do have opinions about us, the less anxiety we are likely to have.  Lisa* was telling me how upset she was because she was certain that Julie, another woman in one of her college classes does not seem to like her.  “It makes me anxious,” she said, “I feel like I have to do something to make Julie like me.”  As I explored with Lisa why it was important to have Julie like her, we discovered that Lisa really does not like Julie!  “Do you need to like Jule?” I asked, to which Lisa replied, “I don’t see why I do.  As long as I’m polite and not rude to her, we do not need to be friends.”

We have no control over whether certain people like us or what they think about us.  If you can learn to tolerate this fact, you will have less anxiety regarding what other people think.  The part you can control is how you treat other people–by being polite, kind, and respectful.

Another important piece to this that often we really do not know what other people are truly thinking anyway!  Some people decide that someone is thinking someone negatively about them based on a look on that person’s face or a behavior.  I often hear, “I could tell she doesn’t like me by the look on her face,”  or “He didn’t stop and say hello to me, so he must be annoyed at me,” or “We had a very short and curt conversation on the phone, I don’t think she wants to be friends,” and similar type of things.  I always challenge people to come up with at least two other explanations for the other person’s behavior/reaction.  At first, some people find it difficult to come up with other explanations, but after they get the hang of it, they can come up with numerous options.   A look on someone’s face might mean they have indigestion, they may have just heard bad news, or they are anxious about a job interview coming up in a few hours.  We think people are thinking something bad about us when they might be thinking about something in their own lives! 

You have no control over what other people think of you, and you may be wrong about what they are thinking anyway. The next step would be to “test” out your fears by asking very safe people what is really going on with them when you think it is about you.  “I’m wondering if you are annoyed with me, as I was telling you about my day you had an angry look on your face.”  You will most likely be surprised by the answers.

So, does it matter what you think about Mark Zuckerberg?  No! Similarly it does not matter what other people think about you.  Learning to tolerate that uncomfortable feeling will help you to reduce your anxiety.

Thanks for reading, and tell me what you think!  😉  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

*Not their real names

Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | December 9, 2010

Four Tips for Coping with Change

Since I’ve lived in California, I’ve had numerous friends move out of the state.  My reaction is always the same–happiness for my friends as they head towards new opportunity, and extreme sadness for the fact that I will no longer see them on a regular basis.  Change is hard, whether it’s a good change, a sad change, or a change that’s going bring new challenges (like say tightening your budget!).  The process of change always brings at least a touch of uncertainty, because we are not intimately familiar with how the new circumstances will be.   And, as you probably realize by now, uncertainty can trigger anxiety.  Don Piper calls addressing difficult changes “finding a new normal,” implying there’s a process that takes some time. Our ability to adapt to change is critical for our mental health and a skill that we can work on improving.  Since change occurs all the time, we have plenty of opportunity!

Tip #1: Clarify what is in your control and what is not in your control  OK, you caught me, I did steal this from the serenity prayer,  but there’s a ton of wisdom here. If you identify what parts of a changing circumstance that you can control you know where to focus your energy.  You can also work to let go of parts of a circumstance where you have no control. 

Some people dive into making plans and “doing,” as a way to avoid feeling the helplessness of being out of control. If you recall from my last post, the avoidance of feelings can also lead to trouble.  On the flip side, being completely engulfed by helplessness is not good either.  It can keep us from taking necessary action that might help our circumstances. Balance between these two is key for handling change in an emotionally healthy way.

Tip #2:  Don’t Navigate Change Alone! Dr. Leonard Poon of the University of Georgia has been studying people who live to age 100 and beyond for the past 10 years to find out what factors help people to reach this age. Among the characteristics of his subjects he found that they all had excellent social support.  This finding is not new, there’s lots of evidence that indicates that good social support is essential for maintaining and recovering physical and mental health.  In other words, we were made to live in relationship with one another.  If our relationships are poor, we suffer.  If our relationships are healthy, we are better equipped to navigate the difficulties of life and its changing nature.  So, just like many of us strive to maintain a healthy diet and exercise, we should also all be building and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships. Good friends give support and encouragement to each other through difficult times.

Tip #3: Focus on the Here and Now!  Yes, I know I talk about this a lot, that an essential key to managing anxiety is to live in the here and now.  It is true for handling change as well. Many changes occur gradually or are upcoming in the future and it’s easy to start worrying about all that the change is going to entail. Breaking things down into small, manageable pieces is key for handling changes like involve a lot of work. Scheduling, budgeting, and looking for help and resources might also be a part of handling a change like this–not only from a practical perspective but from an emotional one as well.  When there’s a clear plan with a time frame and deadlines, you are more likely to be able to focus on the “here and now.” 

Tip #4:  Strive to become more flexible  This past summer I took a quick overnight trip to Mexico with a friend and her daughter.  It was a reconnaissance mission, we were checking out the possibilities for a multifamily summer vacation.  My friend announced at the beginning of our trip that we were on the “No Stress Express,” meaning that no matter what was to happen on our trip, we were not going to stress out about it but rather “go with the flow.”  Every time we hit a little frustration (there were a few), we reminded each other that we were on the “No Stress Express!”

Some people are naturally more flexible than others.  If it’s really easy for you to change your mindset with a sudden change of plans or circumstances, congratulations, you probably handle change in general pretty well.  However if you get upset, angry, or have difficulty when your plans suddenly change, you might want to address this issue. Just like it takes work to become more physically flexible, it can take a lot of effort for us to become more emotionally flexible.  Using a catch phrase like my friends, “No Stress Express,” might help remind you to not dwell on a negative emotion.  Committing yourself to finding a “Plan B or C, or sometimes even D” when Plan A falls through might also help.

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 30, 2010

Fear of Feelings

Feelings come and go: both good feelings and bad feelings

Are there any emotions that you find yourself trying to avoid?  Are you aware of what happens to you when you do avoid those emotions?  For some people, the fear of feelings is actually a huge anxiety trigger.    Yesterday, Teresa* had a very bad day, during which three extremely  upsetting things happened –one that made her angry, one that was very sad, and one that was scary (a near accident).    When Teresa called me, however, she did not want to talk about the events, but rather the anxiety she was having about experiencing the strong emotions of sadness and anger. 

Teresa knows that her fear of feelings triggers her anxiety, but many people do not.  Some people believe that if they push their feelings away, they will not have to deal wtih them.  Feelings do not go away just because we want them to. I often use an analogy of a pot of water on a stove to explain this idea:

Feelings are like water boiling on a stove.   If there’s no lid, the water turns to steam and evaporates.  However, if you put a lid on a pot of water and ignore it, you make a mess on your stove (I’ve done this)!  It’s the same with feelings–if you try to ignore, push away, or deny feelings they do not go away, they come out somewhere.  They may make you sick, cause you to engage in unhealthy behavior (overeating, drinking, drugs, overspending)

Feelings do not go away just because you try to put a lid on them

The other thing that can happen if you try to push away feelings is that anxiety can arise in their place!!  So, allowing yourself to experience emotion can actually alleviate anxiety.

One major reason that people are afraid of their feelings is the idea that the feelings will overwhelm them or that they will get lost in that emotion for long time, perhaps forever!  There’s one key concept to remember:  No feelings last.  Feelings come, feelings go.  Good feelings don’t last, bad feelings don’t last.  Remember the pot of water? Feelings are like boiling water, they turn to steam and disappear.

You may be arguing right now that you have the same feelings return again and again.  This is true, especially if you are grieving a loss or have an unresolved issue.  However, the intensity of the feelings will still wax and wane, even during intense periods of grieving.  I’ll address ways that you can help “contain” intense emotion in future posts.  If you find that emotion is overwhelming and that you do not seem to be able to handle the emotion well, it may be a good time to seek out the help of a therapist.

So remember–feelings do not last, they come and go! 

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

*Not her real name

Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 27, 2010

Saying “No” Doesn’t Make You Mean

Thanks to my kids, I saw this brand new episode of SpongeBob today.  Basically, SpongeBob can’t say “no” to anyone, so his pet Gary orders him an “Abrasive Side” to solve his problem. The Abrasive Side has no trouble saying no to all of the people who constantly ask SpongeBob for things, but he is always mean about it.

Here’s a clip from this brand new episode that aired today!
Vodpod videos no longer available.


SpongeBob’s “Abrasive Side,” certainly can say “No,” but he’s also mean, nasty and rude!  Sadly, this is exactly the image that a lot of people have when they picture themselves saying “no” –they picture themselves as being mean and hurtful!  If you tend to say “yes” to nearly everyone who makes a request of you, then you might just feel like the abrasive side of SpongeBob if you start to say “no.”

However, the truth of the matter is that we have to be able to say “no” at times.  The inability to do so has lots of potential negative consequences for our lives.  It may mean over-committing yourself, agreeing to do things that you don’t feel comfortable with doing, or even breaking promises to others.  All of these consequences trigger stress and anxiety.

So how can you learn how to say “no?”  Here’s three things to remember as you start:

1.  Know the difference between “hurt” and “harm”

One reason some people have trouble saying “no” is that they don’t want to hurt other people.  You can’t avoid hurting other people at times, and just because they get hurt, it doesn’t mean that you were indeed mean or that you were harmful to them.  Here’s some examples:

You say no to your child who asks for candy before dinner.  Your child cries and feels hurt because he doesn’t get what he wants. However, if you give in, your child may not eat dinner (which harms him/her).  If your child eats too much candy (because you never say no), they may suffer from cavities and may not get proper nutrition (which harms him/her). 

Does that example seem too obvious to you?  O.K., here’s another one:

You volunteer at your school’s PTA.  The President (who is your friend) asks you to head up a certain fundraiser.  You are already involved with some projects, you have a job, a spouse, and kids to take care of.   You are afraid that if you say “no,” your friend will be hurt and angry at you.  While this may be true, what are the consequences of saying “yes?”   Will you be able to continue to do a good job on your other projects and at your job? Will you end up breaking promises to your spouse or children?  Saying “No” will not harm the PTA President, he/she will find someone else to do the job!  But saying “Yes” might hurt your spouse, your kids, or cause you to not be able to fulfill your other commitments.

2. You can say “no” in an empathic manner:

None of us likes to be told “no,” because it means we are not getting what we want!  However, if someone understands our feelings, it’s a lot easier to hear “no.”  I have a friend who is so empathic that even when she says “no,” people feel good about it–because she is so kind and gentle that it hardly hurts at all. You too can acknowledge the feelings of the person making a request of you can still say no.  Here are some examples:

“It must be frustrating for you that I cannot pick you up from the airport tomorrow.”

“That’s a great idea and I think you’ll have a lot of success with it.  I am sorry that I cannot help you out.”

“I see that you are putting a lot of effort into this project. I just cannot participate at this time.”

Empathy helps people to feel “heard,” and can help them to accept your “no.” However, if you empathize with people’s feelings, you need to be prepared to allow them to have their feelings.  It needs to be O.K. that your friend is frustrated that they do not have a ride from the airport.  They will work through their frustration.  However, if picking them up means that you will be late for work and put your job into jeopardy, you may not so easily find another job!

3. You do not always need to give a reason for saying “no”.

Some people believe that they need to explain a justifiable reason for saying “no.”   At times, it’s fine to explain. However, there are people who will not take your “no” seriously or respect your right to say “no.”  These people will pick apart any reason that you have for turning them down.  Here’s an example:  I have a married male friend who sometimes walks home from work.  A co-worker, who appears to be interested in him, will offer him a ride home if she knows that he is walking.  My friend tried very hard to come up with the perfect reason to give her for saying, “no.”  However, any reason he gave, I could think of a way that this woman could counter it (and difficult people will)!  The best thing is for him to say,  “I appreciate your offer, but I am going to walk.”  If she asks again or gives him a reason he should take her offer, he should just repeat himself!

Learning to say “no” is difficult for people who tend to say “yes” to everyone.  However, being able to say “no” is essential for being able to manage your life. Start with small things, be patient, and do not give up!

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

SpongeBob The Abrasive Side, posted with vodpod



Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 23, 2010

Three Essential Tips for Successful Experiments

Real life experiments need not be this complicated!

My husband is a Scientist who spent many years running different kinds of experiments.  While I’m sad to admit that I don’t understand most of what he has done, I strongly believe that experiments that we do on our own lives are as important as any experiment conducted in a chemistry lab.  And, experiments done in both setting share one common principle:  the proper setup of an experiment is essential to the experiment’s success.  In my last post, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained:  Experiments are Essential for Overcoming Anxiety, I highlight the need to be willing to form new beliefs and test them out in order to overcome situations that we avoid. Today I will highlight 3 essential tips for setting up successful experiments.

Tip #1:  Be Clear About What you are Testing Out
Randy is fearful of speaking in front of people. He figured out that he worries he will be say something that doesn’t make sense and then embarrass himself.  The new belief that wants to test out is:  “I do not have to be perfect when speaking in front of others.”  It’s important to have a clearly defined belief to test out, otherwise you will not have a way to gauge the result of your experiments.  It’s also helpful to rate how strongly you believe the new thought.  On a scale of 0-10, where a “0” is no belief at all and a “10” is it’s a deeply held, “no-doubt-about-it” belief, Randy rates this new belief as a “4.”
Tip #2:  Start with Small, Safe, Experiments that You Set Up.
Randy should not start his experiments by speaking to an audience of 200 people!  In fact, he may start by not speaking at all, rather Randy might start by observing other people speak.  He might listen to others, watch for when they make a mistake, stutter, or forget a point, and then observe how other people (including himself) respond to the speaker.  This is a slow, safe way to start testing out his new belief.
Along the lines of starting slow and safe is the idea that the best experiments are one that you set up, not ones that you wait for a situation to occur.  For example, if I wanted to practice being more friendly to people, I might pick three people to say “hello” to rather than waiting for someone to say hello to me.  You have much more control if you set up the experiment rather than waiting for the opportunity to come to you.
Tip #3:  Don’t Draw Conclusions From Just One Experiment, Do Lots of Them!
It’s not reasonable to draw sweeping conclusions from just one experiment.  Whether the first experiment goes well or poorly, you don’t really know if the result is a fluke or provides true evidence that your new belief is true.  Just like a scientist runs many experiments to test his (or her) hypotheses, you must try many, many experiments to test your new belief.  Remember that Randy rated is new belief a “4” at the beginning?  It may still stay a “4” after three or four experiments.  However, after 10, 15, or 20 experiments that mostly go well, Randy’s belief is likely to rise much higher.
There’s a lot more to say about experiments. Stay tuned!!
–Dr. Jennifer Fee

It’s a rainy Sunday evening and I haven’t eaten much all day.  My chopsticks are poised to bite into my favorite type of Korean barbecue meat the second that it’s done cooking on the grill in the middle of our table.  I know that I may not get much (or any) during this first round of cooking though— it’s also the favorite of my two children and my friend’s two children.  I could use my size advantage to elbow them out-of-the-way, but how innappropriate would it be to steal food from four small hungry children?   I don’t mind being juvenile with my husband, but he has strategically seated himself directly in front of the grill.  The only person at the table who is not competition is my friend, the only native-born Korean person among us.  She sits back and patiently waits for the next type of meat because she turns her nose up at our favorite:  beef tongue! 

phote compliments of Joowon Roh (we don't understand why she doesn't like tongue!)

Beef tongue?  Yes, it is awesome.  And before you squeeze your noise and say “eeewwww!!”  let me say this:  it’s not our parents’ beef tongue.  As a child, my stomach would start to turn at the first sight in the store of the large, uncut, slab of meat that looked like, well a tongue! 

My grandmother would boil that tongue forever and a smell similar to something rotting in the garbage would permeate the house.  Then she would cut it into thick slices and although I did find the taste appealing, the thick, bumpy texture gave me a bad case the heebie-jeebies that lasted a long time!

So, why is it that beef tongue is now among my favorite cuts of meat?  The reason being that I was willing to try it again based on a belief that it would be completely different experience from my grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch style tongue cooking.  It’s also the favorite of my children and my friend’s children because they were willing to test the belief, “It might be good!”   Indeed it is:  Korean barbecue beef tongue is sliced super thin and grilled, so there’s no bad smell, no unpleasant texture.  Only an awesome taste is left! 

Our beliefs dictate much of our behavior because we act in accordance with what we expect to happen.  Many people who suffer from anxiety avoid certain situations because of a belief that something bad will result.  The list of outcomes that people fear is endless, so I’ll give you just a few examples:

“If I drive on the freeway, I’ll get anxious and not be able to get to an exit or pull off the freeway.”

“If I ask _______ out on a date, she will reject me and I will be humiliated.”

“I’d like to finish my degree, but I can’t speak in front of people.  I’m not good at it and it’s too embarrassing.”

In each situation something is being avoided:  asking people on dates, driving on the freeway, returning to school/speaking in front of other people.  In all three situations, people are very likely holding themselves back from what they want to experience, enjoy, or achieve in life. 

The first step to overcome avoidance is to consider an alternative belief. 

“Perhaps it’s not so dangerous to drive on the freeway”

“I may be able to learn how to give presentations without overwhelming anxiety” 

“Maybe I won’t be humiliated if ________ turns me down for a date.” 

Once we consider alternative beliefs (like mine was maybe barbecue beef tongue will be really, really good) then we are in a position to test out our new beliefs with experiments.   Experiments simply mean that we will try something different and/or new and see what happens.    

Now there’s  a few details about experiments that are essential to know.   I’ll be discussing these key points in future posts, but to give you a hint, it doesn’t mean that people afraid to drive on freeways should immediately  jump on the 405 (west coasters) or the Beltway (east coasters) during rush hour traffic.  It also doesn’t mean the person afraid of giving presentations should start by standing up in front of 200 people.  Even the guy wanting to ask the woman on a date might not start experimenting with that particular woman. 

Today I just want you to really get two points:  1. our beliefs directly influence our behavior.  2. If we consider new beliefs, we need a way to test them out (experiments).

There’s lots to discuss about both of those points, so please stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

–Dr. Jennifer Fee

Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 17, 2010

Tried and True Technique: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

The point is to clench, then relax your muscles and notice the difference

My grandmother taught me Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) when I was 7 years old to help me fall asleep.  30+ years and one doctorate in psychology later, I still believe it’s one of the best methods for learning how to relax.

Rationale:  It is not physically possible to have a feeling of warmth, well-being, and relaxation in your body while experiencing emotional/psychological stress.

 What it does:  Progressive muscle relaxation reduces pulse rate, blood pressure and decreases perspiration and respiration rates.

 Who should use it:  All of us can benefit from a lifestyle that involves more relaxation.  However, Progressive muscle relaxation is particularly useful for the following problems:  Insomnia, depression, anxiety, muscle tension, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle spasms, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, phobias, and stuttering.

Who should NOT use it:  Anyone with low blood pressure, for sure, because PMR could cause you to faint!  Or, if you have any concerns about how PMR might affect a physical condition, check with your doctor!

 Time to Truly Master:  Two 15 minutes sessions per day for one to two weeks.

 Which Muscles?  Do you know which of your muscles are chronically tense?  Some do, but most people don’t.  One thing Progressive Muscle relaxation will teach you is how to tell the difference between the sensation of tension and the sensation of deep relaxation.  We will cover four major muscle groups:

 1. Head, face, throat and shoulders

2. Biceps, forearms, hands

3. Chest, Stomach, Lower Back

4. Thighs, buttocks, calves, feet

 Basic Instructions:  You need 10-20 undisturbed minutes.  You can sit or lie down. You might play some soothing music or have complete silence.  Don’t worry if your mind wanders or if thoughts intrude during the process, this is normal.  You just have to keep working to bring yourself back into the present.  Over time and practice, these intrusions should become less frequent.

 You will be quickly tensing each muscle group for 5 to 7 seconds, quickly releasing and then relaxing for 20 to 30 seconds.  You might do abdominal breathing in between muscle groups, focus on a pleasant scene, and/or recite a self soothing statement such as, “I am calm,”  You could also use a comforting Bible verse (i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd….”)

 Example:  Clench your two fists as tight as you can, hold it, hold it, hold it, notice the tension in your wrist.  Quickly let it go.  Feel the looseness in your hands and wrists, notice how different it feels from when you had it tensed.  Repeat one more time.

Give it a try!!!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

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