Anxiety and Panic

5 Tips for Managing Anxiety During Transition

One of the primary characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is difficulty processing change. The uncertainty of a new path generates anxiety, sometimes so crippling that the person is unable to move forward on the new path in front of her.

I am reminded of that this month as I make the significant transition from a job as a defense contractor -- a communications advisor to a cloud computing company, with comfortable benefits -- to an unstable gig as a freelance writer crafting pieces on mental health. I am following my heart all right, as it’s racing to catch up with me.

Every time I sit down to write a piece, I second-guess myself and list all the reasons why I’m unqualified to write articles that will technically be read by a few people.

I have felt this way every time I move through a transition. And so I may know a thing or two about how to manage this kind of anxiety...

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Anxiety and Panic

The Origins of Anxiety

According to author and psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn, M.D., in his book Angst: Origins of Anxiety & Depression, today’s disorders might’ve been yesterday’s valuable social instincts.

Today’s panic disorder might’ve prevented our ancestors from venturing to potentially dangerous places, far away from their families and tribes.

Today’s social anxiety might’ve maintained social hierarchies and peace in primitive times.

Today’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might’ve helped our ancestors keep tidy and safe nests.

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the Media

Sometimes, I overhear people casually using the term "OCD" (obsessive-compulsive disorder). They’re ‘OCD with being clean’ or ‘OCD with organizational skills.’

In fact, however, a real struggle with OCD is a manifestation of anxiety that creates an actual disturbance in one’s life.

Lena Dunham, creator/ writer/ producer/ star of the HBO award-winning series "Girls," showcased the leading character, Hannah, (played by Dunham herself) in very raw and honest encounters with the illness toward the end of this past season. Hannah had dealt with OCD in high school. It resurfaced when she was faced with two significant stressors: trying to write an e-book in a short time frame, and dealing with the rocky aftermath of a breakup.

Whether the scenes illustrated episodes of relentless tics, counting, or a compulsive habit that brought her to the emergency room, "Girls" took on authentic territory that invited other OCD sufferers to feel less alone.

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Anxiety and Panic

How to Stop Worrying about Worrying

Sir Winston Churchill, who battled plenty of demons, once said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

Unfortunately that advice wouldn’t have been able to stop me from praying rosary after rosary when I was in fourth grade to avert going to hell, nor does it quiet the annoying noise and chatter inside my brain today in any given hour. But the fact that a great leader battled the worry war does provide me some consolation.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a chronic worrier without an official diagnosis or battling severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a neurobehavioral disorder that involves repetitive unwanted thoughts and rituals. The steps to overcome faulty beliefs and develop healthy patterns of thinking are the same.

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Some Ideas to Help Stop Obsessing

For as long as I can remember I've struggled with obsessive thoughts, with severe ruminations that can interfere with daily life. My thoughts get stuck on something and like a broken record, repeat a certain fear over and over and over again until I scream out loud, "STOP IT!"

The French call Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder "folie de doute," the doubting disease. That's what obsessions are -- a doubt caught in an endless loop of thoughts.

But even those not diagnosed with OCD can struggle with obsessions. In fact, I have yet to meet a depressive who doesn't ruminate, especially in our age of anxiety. Every day gives sensitive types like myself plenty of material to obsess about. So I'm constantly pulling out the tools that I've acquired over time to win against my thoughts, to develop confidence -- the antidote for doubt -- to take charge of my brain, and to stop obsessing. I hope they work for you too.

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Anxiety and Panic

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

In the last decade, our understanding of the neurology of habit formation has been transformed.

A quiet revolution has upended our concept of the way patterns work within our lives, societies, and organizations. And much of what we have learned has come from studying the simplest of habits -- such as why people bite their nails.

In the summer of 2006, for instance, a 24-year-old graduate student named Mandy walked into the counseling center at Mississippi State University. For most of her life, Mandy had bitten her nails, gnawing them until they bled.

Lots of people bite their nails. For chronic nail biters, however, it’s a problem of a different scale.

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Video: Anxious? You’re Not Alone: Check Out These Anxiety Blogs

I am not the only person with an anxiety disorder.

Likewise, you are not the only person with an anxiety disorder.

But it can sure feel that way sometimes, eh? Especially on days when everyone else at the party is acting super sociable, but you're slunked (is that a word?) down in a corner and too dizzy to talk to anyone.

It's easy to feel alone on days when everyone else seems to be gathering their groceries from the store shelves just fine, but you're still hovering in the breezeway, leaning on your cart, and trying to muster up the courage to walk inside.

And it's easy to feel alone at work, too. Everyone else can pay attention to the corporate PowerPoint presentation in the conference room, but you're sitting next to the closed door, thinking about how far you are from the office restroom, and flexing your leg muscles for a quick escape.

Every time we say "I am alone!" we are lying.

We are not alone in our struggles...and I made a video, just for you, to prove it:
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OCD Is Most Often Treated with Antidepressants

If you were ever wondering what was the most popular treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), wonder no longer. It's not psychotherapy. And it's not some medication developed specifically for OCD.

Nope, it's good 'ole antidepressants.

Treatment options for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are currently dominated by antidepressants, and this trend is expected to continue for the next seven to eight years.

That is, unless drugmakers step up their future research to develop new, more effective treatments, according to a new report by business intelligence company GlobalData.

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Brain and Behavior

Scrupulosity: What It Is and Why It’s Dangerous

If you sprinkle a hefty dose of Catholic (or Jewish) guilt unto a fragile biochemistry headed toward a severe mood disorder, you usually arrive at some kind of a religious nut. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! For I am one.

I have said many places that growing up Catholic, for me, was both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing in that my faith became a refuge for me, a retreat (no pun intended) where my disordered thinking could latch unto practices and traditions that made me feel normal. Catholicism, with all of its rituals and faith objects, provided me a safe place to go for comfort and consolation, to hear I wasn’t alone, and that I would be taken care of. It was, and has been throughout my life, a source of hope. And any speck of hope is what keeps me alive when I am suicidal.

But my fervent faith was also a curse in that, with all of its stuff (medals, rosaries, icons, statues), it dressed and disguised my illness as piety. So instead of taking me to the school psychologist or to a mental health professional, the adults in my life considered me a very holy child, a religious prodigy with a curiously intense faith.

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Brain and Behavior

Dirty Little Secret: Help for Children of Hoarders

Amanda grew up with a mother who hoarded everything from shoes to coupons. Newspapers were stacked in the bathroom of her childhood home, clothes were piled so high on her mother's bed that she slept on the living room sofa. Amanda rarely ate at home because the kitchen counters were covered with Penny Savers, and on the kitchen table was a mound of bills and letters that had yet to be filed or thrown out.

In fact, “thrown out” was a term Amanda never heard growing up.

Like most children of hoarders, Amanda kept her mother’s disorder to herself, because she didn’t understand it and because she feared that friends would treat her differently and make fun of her behind her back. She simply made up reasons why they could never meet at her house. She suffered from the hang-up that practically all children of hoarders describe as “doorbell dread,” the panic felt when someone arrives at the door.

As an adult, Amanda eventually cleared out her mother’s house and helped her settle into a retirement community. Although the hoarding is considerably better, Amanda still feels the need to barge in once a month to make sure that boxes aren’t collecting in the hallway and the bathtub isn't storing newspapers or clothes.

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Is Anyone Normal Today?

Take a minute and answer this question: Is anyone really normal today?

I mean, even those who claim they are normal may, in fact, be the most neurotic among us, swimming with a nice pair of scuba fins down the river of Denial. Having my psychiatric file published online and in print for public viewing, I get to hear my share of dirty secrets—weird obsessions, family dysfunction, or disguised addiction—that are kept concealed from everyone but a self-professed neurotic and maybe a shrink.

“Why are there so many disorders today?” Those seven words, or a variation of them, surface a few times a week. And my take on this query is so complex that, to avoid sounding like my grad school professors making an erudite case that fails to communicate anything to average folks like me, I often shrug my shoulders and move on to a conversation about dessert. Now that I can talk about all day.

Here’s the abridged edition of my guess as to why we mark up more pages of the DSM-IV today than, say, a century ago (even though the DSM-IV had yet to be born).

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Brain and Behavior

10 Steps to Conquer Perfectionism


It's the enemy of creativity, productivity, and, well, sanity. In The Artist's Way, author Julia Cameron writes: "Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop -- an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole."

But you don't even have to be creating anything to be crippled by perfectionism. It can also frustrate your efforts as a mom, a wife, a friend, and a human being. Because no one and no thing is perfect in this blemished world of ours.

I tackle this adversary everyday. And although my inner perfectionist clearly has hold of my brain many days, I do think I am handcuffed less often by the fear of messing up than I used to be. Here are 10 techniques I use to break out of the prison of perfectionism in order to live and create as freely as I can in an imperfect world.

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