Anxiety doesn’t seem to have any positive characteristics. When most of us feel anxiety, we just want it to go away as fast as possible. Today’s guest has a different idea. In her new book, Reverend Connie L. Habash says that we need to feel our anxiety more in order to understand what it is really about, and what it is trying to tell us.
Join us as Reverend Connie outlines her seven step process for learning from and dealing with anxiety. Does anxiety have anything to teach you? Is it desirable or even possible to survive an anxiety attack by focusing more intently on the feeling? Will that really lead to a greater sense of calm? Listen now!
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Guest information for ‘Feeling Anxiety’ Podcast Episode
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, yoga & meditation teacher, interfaith minister, and author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life.
Over the last 25 years, she has helped hundreds of students and clients overcome stress, anxiety, depression, and spiritually awaken. Rev. Connie is also committed to nurturing authentic, heart-centered, inspiring spiritual community. She leads online programs worldwide, as well as retreats, workshops, and yoga teacher trainings throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Feeling Anxiety’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome, everyone, to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast, calling into the show today, we have Reverend Connie L. Habash. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a yoga and meditation teacher, an interfaith minister and author of Awakening from Anxiety A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident and Courageous Life. Connie, welcome to the show.
Rev. Connie Habash: Thanks, Gabe. I’m delighted to be here.
Gabe Howard: Well, we are certainly glad to have you. And the first question I want to ask you is, you know, we get a lot of licensed therapists and doctors and marriage and family therapist, but we don’t get a lot of people who define as, you know, an interfaith minister who have worked as a reverend.
Rev. Connie Habash: I’ve always been spiritually oriented, I’m very holistic body, mind, heart, spirit. I feel that every client needs all parts of themselves addressed. And that’s been true in my path as well, in my path of healing and growth. And so at a certain point in time, I felt called to pursue and bring in more of that awareness of many different spiritual traditions and paths.
Gabe Howard: I think that that’s fantastic. I love the title of your book, Awakening from Anxiety, because it sort of gives the notion that you have anxiety, but that you can you can wake up from it, you can become better and you can move past it. Was that your intent?
Rev. Connie Habash: Yeah. It’s actually got a double meaning. One is what you’re talking about, that we can awake from this experience of anxiety that we’re having and that it isn’t really who we are, but the other meaning, and that is that anxiety can be a way to awaken us to a deeper level of awareness, to greater personal and spiritual growth, to becoming more of our true authentic self. So it has two meanings.
Gabe Howard: It seems like we’re hearing more and more about anxiety, is anxiety on the rise? Is it something that that actually is growing or are just people are talking about it more?
Rev. Connie Habash: That’s my experience. Absolutely. There’s so much more… there’s many layers to why that’s happening, I think, in our culture right now. One is that I think pressure and demands are much higher than they were a number of years ago. I live in Silicon Valley, for example. It’s like the pressure cooker of the country. People are working much longer hours. A lot more expected out of people in their jobs. Commute times have increased significantly in the last several years. So we have that layer and we have recent events that have happened like the shootings that have happened in Ohio and California in several places now around the nation. And then there’s also what is being called now, eco-anxiety. There’s a lot of concern about what’s happening on the planet and our environment and the sample, the fires down in the rainforest in the Amazon. And then there’s also concerns about the political environment here and what’s happening in our government. And that’s all just what’s happening out there, not what’s happening in our own lives, with our relationships and our children and our families and our own physical body and our wellness. So I see anxiety is definitely increasing in recent years.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you talk about is that highly sensitive people and spiritually oriented people seem to be more prone to anxiety. Can you explain how you reach that conclusion?
Rev. Connie Habash: Well, first of all, I’ll explain a little bit about highly sensitive persons for people who don’t know what they are. Although I imagine any therapist listening to this probably have a number of them in their practice, but highly sensitive people are naturally empathic so they can pick up on other people’s emotions and even easily feel them put themselves into their shoes, so to speak. They are also tend to be very sensitive to sensory stimuli. So too much bright lights or too loud of a sound can be very upsetting and disturbing for someone who’s highly sensitive. So those are just some of the examples of what a highly sensitive person or an HSP might be like. And spiritually-oriented people often tend to be HSP’s. And both of them are naturally empathic and compassionate. And people who are into spiritual and personal growth care. We care about what’s going on the world. We care about other people. We care about other beings on the planet. And so anytime that there is perceived suffering around us, we will probably feel that more intensely, more deeply. And that will cause more anxiety in people who are highly sensitive and spiritually or indeed people who are the bulk of my practice.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I was sort of surprised to see when I was doing research for this show was that you want your clients to feel their anxiety more. Now, as somebody who lives with an anxiety disorder. When I read it, I was like, oh, no, this is this is this is not OK. Can you explain? Because you do go on to explain. And I found it absolutely fascinating.
Rev. Connie Habash: Yeah, absolutely. So oftentimes when people say, for example, I might ask them, what are you feeling right now? And they might say, I feel anxiety. And I ask them, what is that like for you and your body? And they say, Well, it feels like I have no escape. And I’m stuck. And things will never get better. And so when you listen to that, you can recognize that those are actually thoughts that they’re describing. They’re not describing the actual emotion itself. So emotions are visceral. They are experienced through the physical body. And I think many of us are familiar with the physical sensations that might be associated with anxiety. For example, a lot of people get increased heart rate or shortness of breath or they might get tension in certain areas of the body that might clench their jaw or wrinkle, their forehead, etc. Those are the actual experience of the emotion. But a lot of people end up thinking their anxiety instead of feeling their anxiety. And when we do that, the thoughts tend to continue to perpetuate the experience of anxiety. And I’ve found that the way to help resolve the emotion when it comes through is to experience it in the body and stay with it in the body until it shifts on its own, it’s very much like an ocean wave. It has a period of increasing and rising and getting more intense and then it eventually shifts and dissolves. And so I guide my clients through that practice as well.
Gabe Howard: Obviously, you feel that this is beneficial. Has it been beneficial, what do your clients report back when doing this? Because again, it does seem a little counter intuitive. That’s how it struck me.
Rev. Connie Habash: It’s definitely counter intuitive. And of course, it’s not as simple as I’m describing in a few sentences, it takes practice like anything but what I noticed with clients when I guide them through that process. And it requires some certain foundations which I lay out in the book of being able to be present. Being able to be embodied because a lot of people don’t know what embodiment really is and are not very embodied in their physical self. And self-compassion, so that you’re observing and being present with yourself without judgment and being loving and kind towards yourself. So when those are laid down, then we move into learning how to feel the anxiety through the body rather than getting caught up in the train of thought that keeps perpetuating it and exacerbating it. And what I find clients experience is, yes, more calm, more peace, but also more clarity. They tend to move through that and then realize, oh, that’s really what my anxiety is about. It’s really trying to bring my attention to this particular issue in my life and encouraging me to create some change there. And that’s the next step. Listening to the anxiety and understanding what its message is. So people experience more calm, more inner peace, more resilience in being able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions and more clarity.
Gabe Howard: Another thing you talk about is that self-compassion and self-pity aren’t the same things. And I don’t know that I ever thought they were the same thing, but I was fascinated with your explanation of the differences.
Rev. Connie Habash: Yes. So and this is something that I learned from Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, who is a well-known leader in the new thought movement. But he talks about that a lot of times people don’t understand what compassion is and what it isn’t. And some people mistake compassion for sympathy, which is, in his words, I feel sorry for you. You know, some people think, oh, if I practice self-compassion, then I’m just going to be feeling sorry for myself. And it’s not that, it’s not about a pity party where you’re sitting there feeling bad for feeling bad. It’s more that you’re willing and able to be present with yourself with openness and understanding, being willing to sit with a feeling rather than push it away or avoid it or judge it, just like you would want a good friend to do with you, to compassionately be with you when you’re suffering and listen and try to understand and offer support. We can develop those same skills toward ourselves, and self-compassion has now become more well known in the therapy community in the last 20 years.
Gabe Howard: Can you give us a couple examples of how somebody can practice self-compassion?
Rev. Connie Habash: So it’s very helpful to have the foundations of being present. So presence is like a practice of mindfulness where we learn to come into this moment just as it is with our awareness and our attention and an open heart and a quiet mind. Quiet mind is probably the hardest part, I think, of practicing presence. But we just learn to turn the cell down a bit on those thoughts that keep ruminating over the anxiety and shift our attention to then embodiment. When am I experiencing and feeling here in this moment. And then imagining that you’re wrapping yourself, like, in a warm blanket of kindness and holding yourself there in that present moment? It’s developing more of the witness part of ourselves that can see the emotion and see the thoughts, but isn’t the thoughts themselves, but a witness with kindness and love. I’m here for you. I see that I’m suffering in this moment and I can be present with myself while I’m suffering and be kind toward myself and be more gentle toward myself. So it’s a way of self-talk. It’s a way of self soothing. You can actually literally take a blanket and wrap it around you. I have a stuffed animal in my office. Her name is Kay, the koala of Compassion.
Gabe Howard: I love it.
Rev. Connie Habash: She has these eyes that are just so gentle when you look at them. And so sometimes I’ll have clients hold her and look in her eyes and receive that gentle, non-judgmental gaze, or I’ll have them hug her and imagine that they’re holding themselves while they’re feeling that pain. So there’s a number of different ways that you can work with self-compassion.
Gabe Howard: This is kind of a real, real big question. Kind of. I do want to say that it’s the crux of your book that I really did learn a lot from it because you have seven keys to calming anxiety. Can you give us sort of the Reader’s Digest version of those seven keys?
Rev. Connie Habash: You’ve been getting some of them. So the first and the foundational practice is presence, which again, I define as bringing your awareness and your attention into the present moment as it is with an open heart and a quiet mind. So obviously non-judgmental. It’s a form of mindfulness and that’s the foundation on which everything else is laid. And from there, we learn how to be embodied, how to be present and aware in this moment inside of our body, because a lot of times we’re actually up in our head or off daydreaming or spacing out or thinking about other things or worrying about the future or ruminating over the paths, which perpetuates our anxiety instead coming into the body. The third one is self-compassion. And we just talked about that. And that all leads up to the fourth, which is feeling the anxiety. What I talked about earlier, that those three allow us to be able to sit with that wave as it arises within us and feel it build, but observe it from that witness perspective, from that self-compassion it holding as it arises. And if we’re willing to stay with it long enough of it helps to have a therapist guide you. But I think people can might also be able to develop this on their own by reading the book.
Rev. Connie Habash: It will start to shift on its own. And then the fifth step beyond that, the fifth key, once you’ve learned those first four steps and you get pretty good at them is then listening to the anxiety. So what is anxiety’s message here for me? What is it trying to bring my attention to and then being able to move into the sixth step, which is empowering action. So a lot of times we are reacting rather than responding, as I think a lot of us know, to what triggers us and when we’re able to feel the anxiety, move through it and then listen to its message, then it can tell us, OK, what’s an empowering action to take? So let’s say that you had a fear of public speaking, which you like, that a lot of people have that, right? A reaction might be to avoid it altogether. I’m never going to speak in public. Another reaction might be and this is sort of related to dialectical behavior therapy that they talk about opposite action might be OK or yourself out there and give a public speech. But I would like to use a little more discernment around that.
Rev. Connie Habash: I call it empowering action. That comes as a response. A more empowering action might be OK. How about practice the speech in front of a friend? Or how about go to a Toastmasters class or get a coach to help you with public speaking? That’s going to give you probably a more positive experience than just throwing yourself up there and talking in front of a group. I’m prepared and never having done it before. So we discern what is the most empowering action to take. And then the seventh step, which is a little bit advanced. And that’s why I want people to go through those first six steps and really work with them or practice them is surrender. It’s a yogic principle coming from my background in yoga philosophy where we cultivate our trust in something bigger than us. Whether you call that God or I call it the divine or the universe or nature or your higher self. We develop our trust in something bigger than us to carry us through and to show us the way. That’s surrender to something more empowering rather than our tendency to kind of fall apart and surrender to the anxiety.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back speaking with Reverend Connie L. Habash about anxiety. Speaking of yoga, you have a yoga principal that you talked a little bit about. I hope I do not butcher the principal’s name, but it’s santosha.
Rev. Connie Habash: It’s called santosha, and it is one of the foundational principles of yoga philosophy. I teach yoga philosophy and a couple of yoga teacher trainings here in the Bay Area. It’s my favorite practice. It’s actually made the most difference in my life and it translates as contentment. So contentment is different than happiness because happiness is always based on external circumstances. Did I did I get my ice cream? Did the situation happen the way I wanted it to? And that’s all great when it does. But we know that life doesn’t always happen the way we wanted to. We don’t always get what we want. So santosha is an internal practice of recognizing that I’m usually okay. Pretty much no matter what. I mean, of course, there’s always, sometimes there might be an urgent crisis or emergency in which doesn’t feel too OK. But most of the time, if we really reality check what’s happening right now, as I’m sitting here in my chair in my office and I’m talking to you on the phone, I’m pretty okay. And developing that recognition that there is some part of me going back to that witness self, there’s some part of me inside that can watch the situation and recognize, OK, some part of me is all right here.
Rev. Connie Habash: It’s also a concept of enough-ness, that in this moment I am enough to be able to respond to whatever life brings me in this moment. This moment is enough. It’s enough as it is. I don’t need more or want to get rid of something here in order to feel okay. I can find that okay is inside of me and that helps us build resilience, helps us build resilience in whatever emotions arise for us, whether it’s anxiety or depression or anger, that we can be resilient through whatever arises within us and whatever arises in our life. Santosha also helps us change our perspective on what’s happening to us that we don’t have to see everything as anxiety provoking or everything is wonderful or awful and split it into that black or white kind of thinking. We can be like, OK, I’m OK. And this is OK.
Gabe Howard: I love that and I love a lot of your principles and the things that you’ve taught us, especially over this episode, but it makes me kind of wonder what are some of the mistakes that people who meditate or practice yoga or even follow a spiritual path make that increases their anxiety? Can you can you help us prevent those?
Rev. Connie Habash: Yes. And that’s, so the number one mistake, which probably won’t come as a surprise to many people is perfectionism, that we have a tendency when we follow the path of personal growth or spiritual growth, to well, we want to improve ourselves, right? We want to get better. But underneath that is that sly little idea that there is somewhere perfect to get to. And that can be a really violent thing actually to do ourselves is to constantly feel like we have to be better and we’re not good enough as we are in particular to people on the spiritual path who are trying to become deeper meditators or more unconditionally loving or practicing yoga or prayer. I call it the Saint’s Syndrome, where we sort of believe we see maybe some ideal person. Maybe it’s Buddha for some people or Jesus for someone else or Mahatma Gandhi that we see as a saint. We think I need to become like that. Then we set these extremely high expectations for ourselves. Or we may not think we it we’re going to be able to become exactly like the Buddha, but we need to become a lot more like them.
Rev. Connie Habash: And so we imagine that maybe we need to be peaceful all the time and talk in this really calm, soothing voice and wear white robes and glide along the street rather than, you know, being our normal regular selves. And so I try to shift people away from expecting perfection or trying to aim for some sort of idea of perfection and instead toward wholeness that we are human beings. We have all of these parts of ourselves and we have times where we feel anxiety and we have times where we get angry and to embrace and welcome those in with kindness and with love and with self compassion, and that they are experiences we have as human beings. But they don’t define us. And we also don’t need to define ourselves on whether we’re perfect or imperfect, because those are human definitions. They’re not definitions that, as far as I know, God wrote down somewhere. They’re what we created in our mind of what we think is perfect. And I think it’s more fulfilling and we can become more of our true highest authentic selves when we embrace ourselves and wholeness and don’t judge ourselves.
Gabe Howard: I really loved that, Connie. Thank you so much, and I understand that you have a personal connection to anxiety. How did you overcome your own anxiety?
Rev. Connie Habash: I think that it’s important that anyone that’s teaching anything have personal experience in that. And so part of this journey, which I write about in the book, I not only give case studies of my clients, but I also talk about my own experience with anxiety and worry and overwhelm and stress, which I think are all related to anxiety, especially nowadays. So I grew up as a shy, introverted child, and I didn’t realize even in my teen years that I had this low level of anxiety, of worry. And I was a perfectionist. I call myself a recovering perfectionist because I still notice it coming up in myself often, but I would get really down on myself if I didn’t achieve what I thought I was supposed to or behave in a way that other people liked. If I made a mistake and said something that upset somebody, I’d really beat myself up. This is all fairly low level until I had my daughter, who is now 15 and the birth of my daughter somehow triggered this much deeper experience of fear and worry and anxiety in my life. I think because, you know, now I’m a mom and now I’m responsible for this little life I’m holding in my arms. And that’s huge, right? You realize when you become a parent what a big responsibility that is.
Rev. Connie Habash: And how much you love that being that you’re holding. And so it translated into fear of flying. I became terrified of going on planes, especially of turbulence, and went through my own process of going to a there’s a fear of flying clinic right here at San Francisco International Airport where I worked through my own anxiety about that. But through that journey and my journey before that and working on my perfectionism and my worries and fears about what people thought of me cultivated this whole practice and seven T’s that have really worked well and changed my life. And have also helped my clients’ lives. So I’ve been there and I continue. And there are times when anxiety rises for me, as I say in the book. Don’t expect that now anxiety is just going to disappear and never come back again. I think that actually is more anxiety provoking because then if it does come up, you think, oh, I’ve done something wrong and I’m not doing a good enough. My approach is you’re a human being. Sometimes it’s going to arise. And now you’re more empowered. Now you know that you are much bigger than your anxiety and you know how to be with it and work with it and transform it into something that’s empowering.
Gabe Howard: That’s incredible. Where can folks find you on the Web? And where can they get your book?
Rev. Connie Habash: Well, my Web site is awakeningself.com. That’s S as in Sam, E, L, F as in Frank. Awakening self. Or you can just do ConnieHabash.com that works as well. My book, Awakening from Anxiety is available anywhere that you want to get it. You can order it from a bookstore if it’s not in stock and it’s on Indie Books and Barnes & Noble and of course, on Amazon. And I also have an online program I’m starting in the new year based on the book. So people from around the world can work with me.
Gabe Howard: That’s wonderful, and can they find that online program at www.awakeningself.com?
Rev. Connie Habash: Yes, it will be. It’s actually going to be on there soon. But right now, I have a free anxiety assessment that people can take and when they take that, they’ll receive one or two calming practices that they can work with based on the book. And then I offer them a free online class with me.
Gabe Howard: That is very, very cool. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show. We really appreciated having you.
Rev. Connie Habash: Thanks, Gabe, it’s been a pleasure.
Gabe Howard: And remember, everyone, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counselling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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