THE PRACTICAL IDEALIST PODCAST: ALIGNING WHAT IS GOOD WITH WHAT IS POSSIBLE
Real Change for better health, home & community
EPISODE 8: Understanding Anxiety and Moving Toward Peace
with Lynn Peterson and Buddy Wagner
Find out what causes anxiety and discover what steps you can take decrease anxiety immediately and reduce the feeling overall.
You can find all the information in Lynn and Buddy’s book Beating Anxiety and Depression for Life at https://amzn.to/2RXahjJ
In order to put the techniques into practice, you can access the workbook at https://amzn.to/2FVddXs
If you learned something today, consider supporting us by becoming a Virtual Member of our nonprofit!
[00:00:00] Host: Welcome to the Practical Idealist Podcast: aligning what is good with what is possible. I'm your host Alison Buehler director of the Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi. Our focus on this show is real change that improves Health Home and Community. We're a nonprofit organization and we're very excited that you've joined us today.
On this week's show in the middle of winter. We're talking about Mental Health. Anxiety is a normal part of being human. But what about when it begins to own us, to hinder us from the things that we want or need to accomplish, or hold us back from enjoying things that we used to love. What causes anxiety and how can we move through it toward a more peaceful place?
That's what we'll be talking about today on the Practical Idealist. This program [00:01:00] is brought to you by The Homestead Education Center a nonprofit organization in Starkville, mississippi. Our online and on-site information events and workshops are supported by our Members. If you like what you learn at The Homestead, jump on over to our membership page on the website and sign up for a level that's right for you. For as little as the price of a fancy coffee a month, you can keep our programming coming. Go to www.thehomesteadcenter.org. That's www.thehomesteadcenter.org .
We just celebrated our 7th. Annual Women's Wellness retreat with over 35 women from across the state. Our theme this year were: finding our joy so that we can share it with our communities, self-care as a selfless act, finding common ground with people who act think or believe differently than we do, and being vulnerable enough to cross uncomfortable boundaries and [00:02:00] bring our voices to the table. Y'all it was incredible to see such a diverse group of women come together to create powerful Community. If you think it's a waste of time, just spent a week in finding your joy watch what those women do in 2019.
Our eating with the seasons potluck is this Saturday. It's at five o'clock. And your kids are welcome. Just bring a seasonal dish don't stress over it come out and join us for a conversation led by councillor Megan Colvin on beating the winter Blues. And our nature kids Co-op meets every Wednesday.
We have a special spring membership package available for people who are local who want to jump into the homestead the. For $50 for your entire family you can attend at least one of been a month and for our friends that don't live here. We have different levels of membership for you that feature our virtual education events like our February online course beating anxiety depression all this is available at our web site [00:03:00] www.thehomesteadcenter.org.
I'd like to welcome our new members Natalie Ziegler carry Matthew. Kelly Chuck Tina Joby to Rachel Killian Leila Ashley Yanni. I hope I did that right Layla. Thank you and appreciate you joining us. Thanks to all of you who email us to at thehomesteadms @ gmail.com. We love hearing from you about the podcast and we love hearing new ideas. I've been getting several of those on the emails and I really appreciate the feedback it lets us know that you value what we're sharing or at least find it amusing flameout. Please keep me emailing ideas to us. You can reach me at Twitter at Allison Buehler Ms. As well if that's a way that you communicate and I'd like to share a couple of new reviews for the show.
This one says, "I enjoy the fact that this podcast is about improving ourselves and our lives but in a real, and what feels like manageable ways, that [00:04:00] inspires me to keep trying to design my best life." Another one said, "helpful and realistic this podcast gives me realistic ways to improve my life and I appreciate that the host and guests are down to earth and feel like friends." That feels good to hear on this end. So thank you and keep them coming.
I'd like to introduce you to today's guest. Lynn Peterson is a counselor who co-wrote Beating Anxiety and Depression for Life with me and another counselor, Buddy Wagner who will be on the show later. She's led dozens of workshops at The Homestead and specializes in helping people move through trauma, overcome anxiety, and understand the physiology behind mental health. Lynn is effective in her practice and in helping people find the tools that they need to escape old wounds, to forge a new mental pathways, and to achieve a peaceful state.
I'd like to welcome her to our show and have her tell just a little bit about herself
Lynn: Hi . [00:05:00] Allison.
Host: Hey Lynn, how are you?
Lynn: I'm good, and I want to start just by thanking you for giving me this opportunity and giving me so many opportunities to have amazing wonderful experiences at the Homestead Center.
You have really brought a lot of joy into the world with your Homestead Center.
Host: Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became so excited about your current field of study.
This isn't your original field of study?
Lynn: No, I was an English major in college and a number of things. I was a dyslexic tutor for many years and [00:06:00] then I was a stay at home mom for many years. And so this is kind of my third or maybe my fourth career and really my interest in mental health stems as it does for many people with my own struggles.
I had a lot of anxiety and depression starting from the time I was a child. I started to feel like I had something to offer others as a pathway out of the darkness of what I had experienced myself. So I hope that I can share some of that with all of you today and that you will find a little light through some of your own Darkness.
Host: Thank you. So mental health is a big field. And today I thought we would narrow it down to talking about anxiety. I've gotten a lot of emails lately from people saying, "I can't breathe, or this is hitting out of [00:07:00] nowhere, and I've never struggled with this before." And then other people who say I"'ve struggled with my whole life, but I am so sick of it."
Can you help us understand what anxiety is and where it comes from to start off with?
Lynn: I think the thing to understand about anxiety is that it's actually a healthy physiological arousal that happens in our body that prepares us to be able to handle some kind of difficult situation.
What we're finding in our culture now is that we're getting this physiological arousal activated at times when it's not appropriate. It's not going to be helpful when we don't know how to channel it in a way that's going to benefit us. And so instead it's actually undermining our function. So what I try to teach clients is how to work with the sensations and the physiological arousal to let it move through your body and move [00:08:00] out of your body in a healthy way so that you can return to a neutral state from which you can function in a healthy and happy way.
And what is
Host: it? I mean, is it ac hemical release in our body? What physically is it?
Lynn: Yes. It's a chemical release of a lot of like adrenaline and cortisol. And these are all things that evolved in our bodies over millions of years to help us mobilize a lot of strength and stamina if we needed to run away from a wild animal or fight with somebody from an opposing tribe.
If you've ever seen one of those newspaper articles or a TV report about a mother who lifts a car off of her child who's trapped or something? That's how much energy can get mobilized in our body when our body for some reason [00:09:00] thinks that we're in a dangerous situation.
And so you can see why that would be overwhelming if you've got enough strength in your body to actually lift up a car, but you don't have anything to do with that. Those chemicals are just racing around in there in your muscles. No wonder you feel like you can't breathe.
Host: All right, and what is the difference between normal anxiety and a panic attack?
Lynn: So what I like to say is that. Normal anxiety is proportional to the situation at hand. For example, today I knew I was coming to this interview. And so I had a little bit of nervousness about it. You know, when I would think ahead to it, I would think, how's that going to go? But then I would get distracted by something else and I wouldn't think about it.
As we're sitting here and I'm listening to your introduction. I can feel my heart rate has elevated a little bit. I feel a little bit of dizziness. It's nothing that's going to prevent me from talking [00:10:00] to you or prevent me from enjoying this interview.
Host: So I would say this is anxiety that's in proportion to the situation in which you find yourself, not like the anxiety I felt before a TED Talk where I almost died!
Lynn: I was gonna use that as an example because I heard you talking about that the other day. So sometimes we get triggered in a situation where your life is not threatened, but it feels that way. So for you, you are about to go give that Ted Talk and you felt like you were going to die. That is very common in a panic attack, to really have the feeling that we're going to die. It sounds extreme, but in that moment for anyone whose ever had one, it's really the conviction that you have in that moment.
But that's not the reality of the situation. You're going out there and there might be some people that [00:11:00] didn't agree with what you had to say or were bored by your lecture, but that's about the worst thing that's going to happen. So that anxiety is totally out of proportion to the situation.
And for a lot of people having panic attacks it can come just completely out of the blue where it's not like they're about to go give a talk or there's anything happening, but just suddenly they find themselves having one. Their palms are sweating. They feel like they can't breathe or their heart is racing, their mind is racing ,their thoughts or racing. And that's even more scary when it just hits you and you can't even tie it to any external event. Right? And I what I want people hear you say is that this is this is physical. It's not like you're making this up. Your brain is not just overreacting. This is a physical reaction. Yes, this is happening in your body and you don't have control of it over it and that is why it's so frightening.
[00:12:00] Okay, we know what
Host: it is, now. It's a physiological response that at one time in our history was maybe helpful when they were tigers, but now is maybe not so helpful in our everyday life. So why don't we just pop a pill and be done with it?
Lynn: It's never that simple is it? For me one of the things that you have to understand about the medicines that have been developed for anti-anxiety. They are some of the most habit forming of the medicines. And while they can help you kind of get the symptoms under control or mask the symptoms they're not really solving the underlying problem. They might be for a short time while you develop the tools to help you deal with it. But if you just take the medication you're never going to get better. You're going to cover up the symptoms and then you may also develop an [00:13:00] addiction to the medication.
And now you have two problems, you've got the anxiety and then you've got the addiction. So I really encourage people to try to learn some of these tools and to do these things themselves first. Without medication or if they're taking medication, start learning the tools and start using them and try to phase off the medication or wean off of it if they can.
I'd not actually had an anxiety attack really intensely since the time I got my training until probably about six or eight months ago. I had a horrible horrible panic attack. And I had to use everything that I taught my clients to do. It was really good for me because I walked myself through it and it was hard.
It was so hard and it was such a good experience for me say, okay, "This is what my clients have been doing and I can do it [00:14:00] too." You can walk yourself through this and every time you do it you get better at it and stronger and the the attack come less and less often. They are less and less severe once you learn these techniques to really deal with them.
Host: Okay, so we're not saying there's not a place for medicine. There absolutely is, but the goal is to learn how to deal with these things so that you're not relying on something outside yourself. Right?
Lynn: Right, because that way if you don't have access to medication, you're not just at a total loss. You've got something that you can draw on.
Host: Tell me what is something immediate we can do when anxiety hits.
Lynn: Use this analogy of: it's like riding a wave and I like to think about that. So, if you feel one starting to come on, just to have that knowledge that this anxiety is going to be like a wave and it's going to reach a [00:15:00] peak. And then it's going to subside again. The first thing I would say that you have to do when you start feeling a panic attack coming on is you want to find your kindest, most nurturing, most gentle inner voice that's going to help walk you through it and be with you as you experience the physical sensations. Because what our mind tends to do when our body gets ramped up like that, our mind also gets ramped up and it tends to go to the worst-case scenario. It starts generating scary thoughts that even then ramp our body up even more. So really trying to notice where your thoughts are going and change them to being really kind and gentle. It's saying validating things to yourself like okay, I feel like I'm going to die, but I know I'm not going to die.
I know this is a panic attack and I'm going to get through it. I'm going to [00:16:00] keep breathing. You just keep talking yourself through it like that.
Host: I remember in a part of Beating Anxiety and Depression that you wrote, you talked about an example of a woman on a bus who would get around people and start to have anxiety, start to go into a panic attack. Could you tell us maybe how we would walk through that?
Lynn: So yeah, let's use the example so she's sitting on the bus and she's starting to feel this. She notices heart rates going up. Her chest is tightening. Her palms are getting a little sweaty.
What I really encourage her to do is to first, look around because the body has a series of steps that it naturally wants to go to that were developed over those eons of time to help keep us safe. The first one is that when we sense a threat, our body wants to look around to look all the way around and see. "Okay what is coming [00:17:00] at me?"
One of the ways that you can calm yourself down when you start getting anxious is to let yourself monitor your periphery and see is there anything threatening me? So again, you want to validate your experience. So I feel scared. Okay, I don't feel safe. Okay. You look around your environment and see that there's nothing actually threatening you and then you can reassure yourself, " I am safe."
You want to try to make your movement slow and deliberate. Because you are in this elevated state, you want to do everything very quickly. But that can actually elevate the anxiety more. You want to try to do it slowly, just looking around slowly moving your head and trying to stay aware of your body.
Have patience because the more aware you are of your body sensations, the more you're staying in the present moment. And that's not what we want to do in this [00:18:00] situation. Right? We're jumping to scary future scenarios, or maybe we're remembering something scary that happened to us in the past and that's only going to make us more scared.
Stay in this moment, feeling our body sensations in this moment, and slowly and taking deep breaths. There's something about a deep belly breath that stimulates what we call the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve is the nerve that activates the opposite of the fight or flight response.
The fight or flight response is the one that we hear about all the time, but we actually have another system called rest and digest system. That deep belly breath helps us slow down our system and stay aware of what we're feeling. And then another thing that you can do [00:19:00] is to actually activate some of the muscle groups that you would have used if you were going to run away or you were going to fight, but again doing those very slowly and deliberately.
You might just sit and slowly clench your fist and really feel your fingers, squeezing into your palms and really push that all that energy that you've got going from your adrenaline. I'm doing this right now and I can feel that even with my little bit of anxiety about the interview that just squeezing my fists makes me feel more calm. And then slowly opening your fingers, feeling your fingers open, feeling how they feel against your skin. Noticing how it feels in those muscles to move them and then do a series of this opening and closing your fists very slowly and deliberately. Move those muscles and then it helps your chemistry calm down and go back to a more neutral state.
Host: So [00:20:00] those are practical steps of things that we can do when we feel anxiety coming on. But what about practices that we can engage in that lower anxiety overall?
Lynn: This is going to probably feel like familiar advice, but one of the best things you can do is exercise on a regular basis because when you exercise you're activating all those muscle groups. And you're getting any excess cortisol and adrenaline that are in your body to actually move out through that exercise.
For mental health the catchphrase is that 30 minutes of exercise is as effective as a Zoloft for elevating your mood. And you want to try to do that about five days a week, getting about 30 minutes of exercise a day. Or you can do it three days a week an hour at a time. But trying to get two and a half to three hours of exercise every week is one of the best things you can do both for depression and anxiety.
I tell [00:21:00] people if you need to start really slowly, that's okay. If you need to start with a five minute walk and you just walk 5 minutes every day for a week, and then the next you add five more minutes and you're walking 10 minutes. Everything that you do is going to have a positive benefit.
I'm finding breaking things down into tiny little goals works. Having successes with those goals, and then build on them, rather than to say I'm going to go from not exercising at all to exercising 30 minutes a day five days a week might sustain for a little while, but it's not going to become a habit the way it does if you do it little by little.
Host: That's something we talked about at the Women's Wellness Retreat this weekend. Patricia Cartwright was saying tiny goal, tiny goals and big success.
Lynn: I've had clients that started that way. At the beginning of the year, they weren't exercising at all and they gradually add that [00:22:00] in by the end of the year they had a really good exercise routine. That was a natural part of their week and they missed it if they didn't do it. They would never have believed that they could have gotten there through those little tiny steps.
The other thing that we talked about was finding something you like. It doesn't have to be exercised. Cleaning is an exercise if you put on some music.
I hate exercise,
Host: but I love walking the dog and talking to my friends while we walk so I can do it that way.
Lynn: That's right. And if you haven't found your thing yet keep looking because it took me a long time to find the things I like. I like yoga because it's pretty gentle and you can kind of do it at your own level. I like Pilates, and the other thing I love is badminton and I don't ask me why because I cannot play any kind of sport!
Host: is exciting because buddy [00:23:00] Wagner thought he had jury duty today and he's the third author of Beating Anxiety and Depression for Life and he is getting to join us on this call as well. So welcome buddy.
Buddy: Thanks, good to be here.
Host: We were just talking about finding the type of exercise you like Lynn likes badminton.
Lynn: So there's something for everyone even if you think your a total klutz, keep trying any any sport that comes your way. Give it a try. You never know what is you're going to just spark your joy.
I want to
Host: introduce Buddy Wagner a little bit here. He's what I call a modern-day magician because I have seen him work Magic on participants who've struggled for years in just one session. Budy is a professor in the counseling department at Mississippi College. You were [00:24:00] a big believer hypnotherapy and in the power of linguistic therapy to change the brain quickly.
Host: The thing that brought me to you is hearing you say that you saw patients for years and years in talk therapy. And you would go over the same old things, the same old anxieties, and the same things that drove people crazy and you thought there has to be a better way right?
Can you talk a little bit about the better way that you found.
Buddy: Yes through my training in hypnosis and a neurolinguistic programming, I came to understand that talking about the past isn't valuable. That to help people get better they've got to look at the present and future. And instead of asking, "why am I like this?" The question becomes , "how do I get better?"
I need to do to change my thinking, or my [00:25:00] behavior, my lifestyle, or whatever so that I can get well. And that totally revolutionized once I got away from: why are you like this and trying to dig back and find stuff in the past and started looking to the present or the future people started getting better real quick.
Host: We had Lynn talk about what to do, practical things to do if you feel anxiety. We're talking about anxiety and will talk about depression another day. That's a whole other ball game, but not really. I think the flip side of the same coin, but can you walk us through some of the things, at least one thing, that you use with people to deal with a real strong sense of anxiety coming on.
Buddy: Well I think what NLP taught me is that. We may not be able to control our thoughts, but we can control how we think those thoughts. And what I mean by that is we [00:26:00] think through our five senses. We when we think we're either making pictures or we're hearing voices or sounds or we're experiencing sensations in our body. And occasionally we might use smell and taste but those are not used as much. Once I learn that, let's take public speaking since that's the biggest phobia. Most people suffer from that phobia.
I found that they were making a picture of the audience right in front of their face, which would make anybody be anxious. So, I teach them to move that picture back and to shrink it and to change it. If it's in color then change it to black and white, so it's not so powerful. And by changing the the [00:27:00] characteristics or aspects of the visual picture they have in their head they can change how they feel when they're in that situation ahead of time.
Or you can do it when you experience the anxiety. Let's suppose that I'm constantly hearing a voice in my head, say of one of my parents, who are constantly degrading me and telling me how stupid I am etcetera etcetera.
Well, I can take that voice and move it out. I can turn the volume down. I can change it to a cartoon character, or whatever I need to do to it so that it loses its power. Now if I hear my parent as Elmer Fudd degrading me, it doesn't bother me. I can laugh at it instead of being traumatized by it.
So [00:28:00] that's the kind of thing that I teach people to do to help alleviate their anxiety.
Host: I'm going to come back to you. What are some other supplements and Foods or behaviors that help with anxiety.
And then buddy. I want to hear what your take is on that, too.
Lynn: I definitely want to mention mindfulness practice. We're hearing a lot about that in the news and there are so many studies showing it and I know it from my life and for my clients people who find a few minutes every day to spend some time.
It can be a guided meditation that they find on the internet or it can be just focusing on their own breathing but some kind of experience of really sitting and attending to the sensations in your body the thoughts in [00:29:00] your mind the emotions that you're experiencing and observing them without judgment stepping back and just witnessing the phenomenon.
It just calms the whole system down. When you're operating at a calmer level to begin with then the stressors of daily life aren't so likely to pop you over into that anxiety. You can't handle it. So I definitely recommend exploring mindfulness practice as far as supplements.
There are a lot of people find that Gaba is one that helps if they have a lot of anxiety. The other thing I find is a big piece both for anxiety and depression is you've got to be sleeping well. And a lot of people have magnesium shortages and magnesium is incredibly important for a lot of different things in the body, but if you have a shortage of can really interfere with your sleep. And if [00:30:00] you're not sleeping, well, you're going to be much more likely to have anxiety and depression. I recommend, magnesium glycinate is a good one, magnesium citrate is a good one. So I recommend those to a lot of clients. Fish oil is something that has helped me.
There's some evidence that anxiety and depression have both gone up since the the low-fat trend and I think part of that is the brain needs fat to to operate successfully. And it needs healthy fats. We're so afraid of fat in this culture that I think we've gone to an extreme and that people's brains are starving for that nutrition.
Host: Buddy. What about you? Supplements, foods, behaviors that help overall.
Buddy: Well agree with Lynn in terms of mindfulness. [00:31:00] I think that's a wonderful way. What I do find many times with people who suffer from anxiety with mindfulness, they have an extremely difficult time focusing for any length of time. What I encourage them to do is, if you can only focus for five seconds, then do five seconds. But if you keep practicing and keep working eventually you can build that time up to a length of time that will help calm you down.
I also agree with Lynn on the sleep. Sleep is extremely important and obviously people who are anxious have a difficult time going to sleep and have a difficult time sleeping through the night again. That's where mindfulness can come in. I teach a systematic muscle relaxation technique and it can help the person [00:32:00] be calm enough to be able to go to sleep.
What I would say is obviously ifyou're anxious you want to stay away from things like coffee.
Lynn: I wanted to mention that. Don't drink caffeine.
Buddy: Stay away from the caffeine for sure. Breathing is extremely important and too. Part of the mindfulness to just to focus on your breathing. Also visualization. It's amazing that when you visualize something it becomes reality for you. Visualize [00:33:00] yourself being calm and make that picture as powerful as possible. If a moving pictur is more powerful than the still snapshot then make it a moving picture. If color is more powerful than black and white, make it color. If life-size is more powerful than an eight-by-ten, make it life-size. But experiment with those those characteristics of the picture and make that picture as powerful as possible. Use voices. Hear your friends' voices encouraging you or whatever. Whatever it takes but use your senses to help you relax.
Host: What about setting the anchor buddy? I really like that one that you do setting an anchor.
Buddy: Yes, an anchor is simply a tool. It can be a physical touch. It can be a particular sound, or it can be a picture in your head, doesn't matter what it is, or a word. But an anchor brings you back [00:34:00] to a particular experience. The anchor that most of us have had experience with is a particular song. I know I grew up in the 60s. So there was a popular song back then. Roses are Red Violets are Blue. Sugar is Sweet. And so are You was a song and I was out on a date with I was a girl that I was not romantically involved with. We were just friends but every time I hear that song it takes me back to that situation immediately. That's an anchor. So get into a state of relaxation and then touch your middle finger to your thumb or whatever anchor you want to set. But set that anchor and then get out of that state of relaxation and calmness. Then fire that anchor and see if that relaxation comes back. And if it does then you've got that anchor you can use any time.
If it doesn't then do it again until you until you get it set [00:35:00] so that you can pull that out when you need it.
Host: What I like about these two counselors is that they're practical. There are things we can do to move through anxiety and Lynn said it very well. It's a wave. You've got to know that it's going to subside and there are things you can do when it hits to make it through to the other side of it.
And I really appreciate you guys being here with me today to first of all explain physiologically what anxiety is and then how we can and what we can do in the midst that wave. And then what other practices we can put in our lives to keep us from hitting that wave so often. If there's anything you'd like to end with before we go, we'd love to hear it.
Lynn: I just encourage everyone who's listening. [00:36:00] These things just take practice like everything in life. With meditation or exercise, just even doing a little you start to build that muscle you start to to incorporate that into your life and little by little it grows and creates more wellness. And it gets to kind of a snowball effect. There will be times when you're going to you're going to fall off of some of these good habits and practices. It's not the falling down. It's the getting back up. So you just get back into it as soon as you can. And don't give up on yourself. That's my biggest message to everyone. Keep trying things. Keep practicing and you are going to create better well-being in your life.
[00:37:00] I would
Buddy: I hope that we might all realize how we've been created. That we have been created with the ability to be healthy within reason. I know there are exceptions to that. But I think we have already within us the tools. We need to be healthy mentally and for the most part physically. And so don't as Lynn said don't give up on yourself and don't think that you are powerless. You're not. You have a tremendous amount of power if you learn what works for you, and then and then use it. And as Lynn said, you've got to practice it until you become proficient at it.
But trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe that you're capable of being a happy, well [00:38:00] functioning human being because I'm convinced that you are.
Host: I love that. That's why it's such an important thing to end with. The mind is so powerful that it creates the anxiety to begin with.
Lynn: Yes it creates the physiology in your body, the adrenaline the cortisol, all the shaking, sweating, the stomach clenching.
Host: And we can turn it. We can learn to turn it. I never I never knew that. I never knew that for the longest time. And I you guys are the reason I do! I really appreciate both of your work and I'm going to put a link to the book in the show notes.
So we created a book of everything we know about this. And then we created a workbook so that you do put it into practice like Buddy said. [00:39:00] I hope that everyone got something out of this conversation and that you will remember to subscribe and review the podcast. And here's to a joyful week.