Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Cope With Fear of Infidelity and the Anxiety it Brings

In this age of technology and digital communication, I have seen a growing trend in my practice of serious technology related issues in relationships.  These issues can signal the beginning of the end for relationships as they can propel the couple to try to control each other and to descend deeper and deeper into codependency and mistrust.

Cell phones are wonderful things, they allow us to stay in constant communication in a myriad of ways, but they can be the source of much conflict. Text messages are a prime example. Communication with someone other than the partner can trigger insecurity and suspicion in a relationship and the informal nature of text messages can sometimes allow for communication to veer towards subjects that may be seen as inappropriate or that feel disrespectful to the other partner. Someone already prone to insecurity may be propelled to anger and jealousy by the discovery of messages to another.

Computers can be another source of pain. From Facebook to pornography, there are triggers everywhere that can cause hearts to constrict and fear to rule. Friend requests from former flames can cause more anxiety than a four-alarm fire, and private messages when discovered can damage trust and build walls.  It can seem like there is nowhere in the world that is safe from the potential "threat" to the relationship once the line is crossed.

It seems like the first response to these events is to "control" them. The wounded party may ask to see the offender’s text messages or view their computer history on a regular basis. Monitoring the phone records and promises not to delete anything until inspected become commonplace. It seems like once that first step to "monitor" is taken, the relationship becomes a playground for crazy making.
There are too many ways around being monitored for monitoring to be an effective means of achieving that feeling of safety. There are apps that allow you to receive texts on a server so that they never actually show on a phone, and ways to wipe and encrypt information on a hard drive so that it is never found. The person trying to feel safe because of the feeling of control that comes with being able to check the phone will exhaust himself or herself with having to think of all the ways they could be deceived.

Relationships can become so codependent and enmeshed once they head down this slippery slope that they hold no resemblance to the loving environment that was originally triggered by suspicion. Monitoring someone is futile. If someone wants to cheat they will. There is no surveillance mechanism strong enough to track someone who wants to be underground. This is hard news to hear for someone in love who simply wants to feel safe.

The first step in dealing with an infraction, whether infidelity, flirtation or mere miscommunication is to evaluate your boundaries. What are you willing to do or to put up with to stay in this relationship? Is the relationship worth saving? How much discomfort are you willing to bear? Are you willing to risk being hurt to love this person? For some the answer is no, and for some, staying in the relationship is worth the work it will take to stay there.

So how do you do it? You realize that you are in a relationship with a person who is separate from you who has the ability to make decisions on his or her own. You accept the fact that no matter what you do you cannot prevent yourself from being hurt when you love someone. The risk is always there. Then, you nail your feet to the floor and take a deep breath. This is the hard part.

Distress tolerance skills are useful when we are unable, unwilling, or it would be inappropriate to change a situation. Learning to coexist with discomfort can go a long way in increasing our quality of life. Sometimes learning a few skills can allow us to stay in a relationship and thrive versus intervening and trying to control and pronouncing the beginning of the end for the relationship.
Radical acceptance is the first step in distress tolerance. Acceptance means being willing to experience a situation as it is, rather than how we want it to be , it is a willingness to accept things as they are and to learn to exist with the fact. This doesn’t mean that what happened is ok, it merely means that it happened.
Repeatedly 'turning the mind' is useful as well.  To be in the actual situation you are in, rather than the situation you think you're in, or think you should be in is a must.  Your mind is always going to give you other ideas, interpretations, reminding you of old strategies.  Each time your mind wanders and you notice these other thoughts and images, simply bring your attention back to this moment.  Not judging the situation to be good, or bad, or in any way.  Simply bringing your attention back to this moment, this situation, and being effective in this situation. That means accepting that something happened that made you uncomfortable, and resisting the mind's desire to control or fix the situation.
Taking a deep breath and finding things to distract you from the desire to monitor or control can help. Engaging in activities is often helpful. One should focus their undivided attention on the activity alone, and attempt to push away any thoughts that try to come in related to the trigger. Mindless, or tedious activities usually work best for this, such as needlework, washing dishes, filing papers, etc. It is important not to attach any opinions to the activities you are engaged in because doing so opens the door to judgmental thoughts and images related to the triggering event.

Finding meaningful activities outside of your relationship can help you to keep perspective and a healthy sense of your significance. Volunteering or engaging in activities with a purpose helps redirect your attention upon others. There is a tendency to become hyper-focused on your relationship when triggered to anxiety, and developing contributing skills helps move your focus to others.  Examples of contributing skills would be doing someone a favor or making someone a nice card for a "just because" occasion, or writing a letter to a loved one, telling them how much you care. Contributing not only helps distract you from your own painful emotions but it helps you build a sense of self respect and gives back meaning and purpose to your life that may feel diminished due to the current circumstances in your relationship. Doing things for others can be very rewarding, especially when the act is unsolicited. This distress tolerance tactic is very effective.

Self-soothing is a skill that many of us neglect when triggered to anxiety. This is a skill in which one behaves in a comforting, nurturing, kind, and gentle way to oneself. You use it by doing something that is soothing to you such as taking a bubble bath, or spending time in nature. It is used in moments of distress or agitation to great avail when you are feeling afraid and compelled to act.

Committing yourself to a relationship based on mutual respect and refusing to allow yourself to take that first step towards losing self-respect despite your partner's actions is a must. Once you take that first step down the slippery slope you not only lose your self-respect, you give your relationship the seal of doom. What feels like it will save the relationship and make it "safe" for you is actually the guaranteed way to keep you in anxiety and pain. Monitoring also prevents the offender from being able to redeem himself or herself, and takes away their dignity, which ensures that they will never be able to perform up to their highest capabilities in the relationship.

Sometimes outside support is necessary to enable you to thrive in a relationship where your trust has been broken. As a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, I have seen relationships dissolve due to infidelity and the ensuing mistrust, but I have also seen them heal and grow. Having an advocate to help you navigate the uncharted waters of relationship insecurity can go a long way towards helping you decide whether to stay in a relationship or leave. Psychotherapy can help you keep your dignity and to step into your power and use the situation as an opportunity for growth. If you need assistance in dealing with relationship anxiety call me at 770-789-0847 or email for a free consultation. For more information see my website at

TRU Integrative Health and Wellness offers many good opportunities for support and self-care. From massage and reiki to meditation groups, psychotherapy  and yoga, there is a supportive community waiting to assist you on your journey. See our website at to see what exciting things are going on at TRU and how we can help you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Motherhood: The Anxiety Maker

For those who struggled with anxiety before motherhood, becoming a mother may have kicked things into overdrive. Even if you didn't have anxiety before your child was born, after birth the world may seem like it will never be a safe place again. How can it, with your heart walking around outside of your body now? All of a sudden you are surrounded by potential dangers, like accidents waiting to happen, illnesses lurking in the background waiting to pounce and potential calamities everywhere.
Recognizing that you have anxiety and taking steps to intervene are vital to your health and the health of your children. Children pick up on the energy of the anxiety, and may see your anxious energy as the cue that they are unsafe or not capable of coping with what life throws at them. In order not to communicate a message of fear to your child, you must take steps to tame the beast.

Talking back to your anxious thoughts goes a long way towards addressing the problem. Actually logically looking at what you are believing and fearing can help you determine if your fears are unfounded or legitimate. When fears are legitimate you can plan a course of action and take steps to ensure your child's safety and security. Unfounded fears are more nebulous and cannot be planned for or addressed using logical methods. Reassuring yourself when you have an unfounded fear can help you relax.

Having an outlet outside of your children for socialization and support is helpful too. Seeing other mothers who cope with potential situations without fear is a good model to assist you in stepping out into situations that you logically know are safe but still feel uneasy about. Having other women to discuss your fears with who will help you reframe them and support you is invaluable.

Good self care is vital. As mothers we are trained by society to believe that taking care of our children is selfless and that caring for ourselves is indulgent and selfish. This is simply not true. You must fill your own tank to overflowing before you can provide the abundance of love and caring you want to provide for your children. Take a walk, spend time with friends, read a good book, take a bubble bath. Spend time on things that bring you joy. Maintaining your identity outside of your children models what a strong, independent woman looks like, and you want them to grow up with the skills to care for themselves. How can they do this if they have never seen it done?

If anxiety is too much for you to deal with on your own, seek help. A qualified mental health professional is trained to help you address the symptoms. As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, I have seen the benefit of therapy to help mothers cope with anxiety and thrive. Please call me at 770-789-0847, email me at or see my website at to contact me for a free consultation.

TRU Integrative Health and Wellness offers many ways to assist with combating anxiety from holistic nutrition that can take the place of prescription medication to reiki, massage and yoga there are many opportunities for good self care. See for more information.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breathing as Anxiety Treatment

Treating anxiety can be as easy as breathing! Literally!  It is established that people who experience anxiety tend to be chest breathers. Breathing from the diaphragm can help bring fast anxiety relief. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to do when an anxiety attack is occurring. Proper breathing must be learned and practiced beforehand. I will share two exercises below.

In the first, the goal is to be able to reduce breathing frequency to 6 breaths per minute. The end goal is to learn to breathe from the diaphragm at all times. An easy way to learn to breath from the diaphragm is to get on all fours (hands and knees) so that the chest is in a fixed position. This makes chest breathing more difficult and practically forces diaphragm breathing. Practice this breathing technique in different positions - sitting in a chair, standing, walking - until it becomes natural. Next time you feel the symptoms of anxiety coming on (quick shallow breathing, increased heart rate, shaking hands, etc), make sure you breathe deeply from the diaphragm for fast anxiety relief.

Measured breathing is another effective means of controlling anxiety symptoms. Soften your posture and try to relax a bit. Let your jaw relax and hang open while dropping your shoulders. Slowly breathe in to the count of four, being careful not to breathe from your chest. Hold the breath for a moment and slowly breathe out to the count of seven. Repeat this process for a few minutes.

Sit for a moment and take a few deep, mindful breaths. Doesn't it feel amazing? I can't believe what a gift it feels like when I really focus on bringing in air to nourish my body. When you feel anxiety symptoms at their onset, becoming aware of the breath is a means of controlling the anxiety and staying in charge of your body's response. I urge you to give it a try!

As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, I know how crippling these symptoms can be. If you need more help with controlling anxiety symptoms please call me at 770-789-0847 or visit our website at My personal website contains information on treatment for anxiety too!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dreams Die From a Fear of Failing

You know those dreams that you carry around for years? The "wouldn't it be nice if..." ones that you like to imagine happening, but aren't totally sure if you'd ever really do or not. Yeah, me too.

At the beginning of 2012, I set a personal goal for myself to run a half-marathon. I have a milestone birthday coming up next year, and thought it would be a good time to make what has long been a far-off dream into an actual goal. I had started running in college, and had worked up to some distance running, but mostly since then ran a few miles here and there to stay in shape and nothing more. I wanted to do something more, though, and had carried around the dream of someday running a half-marathon. And then, of course, proudly sporting one of those 13.1 stickers on the back of my car.

But there was one problem: I didn't know if I would really follow through on it or not. Even at the beginning of the year, in the hype of the new years resolutions, I kept this personal dream to myself, afraid to tell people and then not end up doing it. So I waited. And waited. I ran my usual 3 or 4 miles, and that was it. 

I don't know what it was exactly that caused the shift in me, but there was a shift one day. I began to realize that if I never took the energy to turn my dream into an actual goal, I would not ever complete it. As a psychotherapist myself, I knew how to help others in similar situations, so I began asking myself some of the questions I might ask a client. Things like, "What Am I really afraid of? What is holding me back?" After pinpointing a fear of failing, and being afraid of what others would think if I didn't follow through, I had an epiphany. If I didn't try, I'd still be failing. The fact that this was my dream and I wanted to do it for me had to be enough motivation to get me started. And I had to start telling people. That's the funny thing about fear. When we have it in moderate amounts, it can actually be a good motivator.

So now I am 5 weeks in to my official 12 week training program. I have been running 4 days a week, and have already run further distances then I've ever run. I figured the next step of being fully committed to the process includes posting my intentions on the Internet (hence this blog post). But I'm not worried about not completing it at this point. I'm resolved in myself and I've effectively turned my pipe dream into an attainable goal. Now I just have to buy the sticker...

What would you do if you weren't afraid of failing?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Mindfulness Can Help Anxiety

Anxiety is pervasive in our world today. From the poor economic climate, to traffic, to tragedy in the news, our culture contributes as well. Our modern society is busting at the seams with stimuli that trigger symptoms of anxiety in our bodies and minds.

Have you noticed that you can go about your day with a sense of anxiety that flares up on an incremental basis? Even as our minds get busy, the physical sensations of anxiety such as muscle tension, tightness in the chest or stomach, fluttering heartbeat are still present. Every few moments our minds do a "check in" to be sure that all systems are functioning properly. When the mind locates the symptoms of anxiety it sends off a "code red" and all of the symptoms feel exacerbated.

The practice of mindfulness can help with this. Mindfulness is defined as a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you exist solely in the moment, noticing what is going on right then to the fullest. The practice of acceptance goes along with mindfulness. In acceptance you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Acceptance is the act of acknowledging the existence of the feeling or sensation without "defining" yourself by it. Instead of saying "I am anxious," notice the physical sensation and acknowledge that it is there. If you have an unpleasant fluttery knot in your stomach, say "there is anxiety" and gently move your awareness back to what you are doing in the moment.

When we resist emotions or physical sensations they rear their ugly heads and demand to be noticed. The sheer energy of them increases due to our increase in attempt to squash them down. Our bodies were made to allow all energy, negative and positive to move through them and to be expressed in some way, whether spoken through communication, burned off through exercise or relaxed away. Acceptance allows our bodies to naturally self correct and allow that energy to pass through us without resistance.

Mindfulness causes you to be fully present. You really focus on your work, you really engage in conversation, you really indulge in the sensations of the cool breeze, warm sun, etc. that are going on around you. Mindfulness is proven to increase our quality of life by improving our physical health (reducing blood pressure and increasing quality of sleep to name a few benefits) and our mental health (decreased rumination, increased ability to handle daily stress) and out relationships (One study showed that people who practice mindfulness deal with relationship stress more constructively. Another study found that those who employ mindfulness have a lower stress response during conflict, while the state of mindfulness was associated with better communication during conflicts.) 

Mindfulness is most frequently associated with a practice of meditation. Even five minutes of meditation daily has been proven to show benefit. You can practice mindfulness in many other ways too. Some of my clients report washing the dishes as being meditative for them, or gardening, or listening to music. Any activity where you can be fully in the moment contributes to your ability to quiet that voice in the mind that causes anxiety.

By being mindful you are not denying your feelings, nor ignoring them. You are integrating them into your "whole self" and allowing your mind to get out of the way so that your body can naturally heal itself.

As a psychotherapist, I help clients daily learn skills to help them better cope with the effects of anxiety on their mind and bodies.  My practice, TRU Integrative Health and Wellness is filled with a team of integrative clinicians to assist in the treatment of anxiety, in addition to the psychotherapy I offer. From massage and yoga to chiropractic care, targeted clinical nutrition and acupuncture, our clinicians can help you increase your quality of life. Please see for more information

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Think Like a Therapist: Anxiety

Think Like a Therapist© is your lay source for becoming your own psychotherapist.  Think Like a Therapist© helps you learn about yourself and others as if you were actually in counseling—minus the time and expense. Your session begins now!  Think Like a Therapist© is not a substitute or service for the treatment of any mental health problems.  Please see a clinical mental health professional to address your mental health symptoms and illnesses. Copyright © 2012 Charles O’Connor. All Rights Reserved.

Think Like a Therapist©: Anxiety

So you tell me you’re anxious.  You may know it by the knot in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the embarrassing sweat rings, or the culprit that keeps your mind racing.  These physiological symptoms, if bad enough, usually warrant a quick visit to your primary care physician and may result in a diagnosis of anxiety accompanied with pharmacological treatment.  There is little to no discussion of alternative interventions.  You cross your fingers and hope that the anti-depressant or anxiolytic medication works, and it may, but what if it doesn’t?  What if you prefer to remain drug-free?  Let’s say you chose to work with me instead, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).  How might I understand and treat your anxiety?  Let’s begin.

You Don’t Have to Be Your Emotions

I would first normalize your condition.  After all everyone experiences anxiety; it is a universal response to our individual fears.  You are not alone in your struggles.  You, however, are seeking personal growth to take charge of your anxiety.  You desire to understand the causes and I very much want to help.  You are not just another client; rather, you are a unique individual with a unique life.  For this reason, it is an honor to work with you.
An exploration of the etiology or source of your symptoms might result in an awareness of disavowed feelings, common of which are guilt and shame.  Guilt has to do with regret over personal behavior, seeing yourself at fault.  But are you?  Is your guilt justified?  Are you responsible?  If yes, feelings of guilt can help you right the wrong, allowing you to free yourself from the accompanying anxiety.  Consider this alternative instead: Maybe you are unknowingly accepting the blame for someone else’s offense.  Could I shove you and you would apologize?  If this resonates, then you may be struggling with shame or the lie that you, as a person, are fundamentally bad and therefore unlovable.  Feelings of remorse, inadequacy, loneliness, and rejection are tied to anxiety because of the underlying fear of not being good enough. 
What if you could make amends for your mistakes and invite reconciliation with those you’ve hurt?  What if you could learn to forgive yourself and, even better, love yourself?  What if you could free yourself from the hurt caused by someone else’s transgression?  What if, for once, you are not so quick to forgive?  The good news is that you get to decide.  And since you have chosen to face your anxiety, you can gain something that a pill can never provide: An understanding of how your fears keep you believing that you are someone you are not.

You Don’t Have to Be Your Behavior

A common behavioral response to anxiety is an overwhelming need to dominate oneself or others.  When you attempt to control yourself in a rigid and unforgiving way, compulsions result and represent futile attempts to offset underlying fears.  Common compulsions include excessive or uncontrollable:  eating, cleaning, organizing, video-gaming, exercising, masturbation, sex, drinking, and gambling, among others.  When the opposite occurs, you seek to dominate others through aggressive behavior such as bossing, criticizing, blaming, threatening, and forcing, all of which can escalate into emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.  On the other hand, you may disengage and seek safety by taking little to no authority over your life, leaving yourself susceptible to being manipulated and used.  Those frozen by anxiety wait to be told who and what they are.  Where do you fall?  Are you fair and balanced in how you treat yourself and others?

You Don’t Have to Be Who You Think You Are

If you live a life dominated by fear you might view yourself too highly or too lowly.  Feelings of pride and worthlessness, like domination and submission, are ineffective ways to regulate anxiety.  An accurate self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses is a helpful way to embrace your positive characteristics while accepting the aspects of yourself that you would like to change.  You don’t have to be perfect; you don’t have to be a failure.  All you need to do is see yourself for who you truly are in the context of who you are becoming or would like to become. 
To conclude, ask yourself, “What are my fears?”—The ones that lead to worrying, doubting, questioning, criticizing, blaming, defending, controlling, obsessing, withdrawing, acting out or maybe not acting at all.  Do you trust in your ability to bring about what you fear the most in you life?  Or do you believe in your ability to recognize, face, and overcome your fears?  Because, after all, a powerful antidote to anxiety is the truth you claim for yourself and your life.