Recognizing and Understanding Triggers

Recognizing and Understanding Triggers

We hear this word all the time… trigger. But what is a trigger and what do we do with it? There are so many ways we can feel a trigger. Usually we feel it in our body. One example is the positive experience that comes with a trigger where you hear a song or see an image that reminds you of a fond memory. Then there is the negative experience that comes with the triggers reminding you of previous discomfort or trauma. Both are equally important to understand, though it’s commonly our negative triggers that lead us to stress, anxiety, and poor mental health.

As we progress in the therapy room, we begin to uncover what triggers might cause the dysregulation we feel, dysregulation is the therapy word that we often call anxiety, stress or just not okay. This is part of our awareness stage. Perhaps it’s a response from your partner or friend where you feel a wave of letdown. Your body responds negatively and you begin to assume the worst. We enter the realm of fight, flight, or freeze in these moments. It’s then crucial that we begin to recognize how we are viewing the experience and that it turning on low level thinking and responses. Triggers often feel black and white, it can only be this way or that way and there is no in between. However, it’s the in between that matters most so that we can connect to the other person or the stimulus without assuming the worst.

One of the greatest metaphors I’ve recently come across is that our emotions are like a tunnel. We have to get through the tunnel in order to come out the other side. It’s dark, it’s uncomfortable, and we often want to turn back. Taking this step backwards is then allowing the feeling to consume us, and rather than making the emotion go away, it just gets bigger. When you’re stuck in the tunnel, you’re likely in a triggered, fear state. What does it feel like? What do you notice is happening in your body? How does it smell, taste, and what are you hearing?

Once we recognize the symptoms, we can utilize a mindfulness based practice to regulate ourselves, i.e. walk through the tunnel until the end where we meet transformation. Mindfulness is simple, yet complex in the dysregulation. If you’re finding yourself stuck in the dysregulation and can’t pinpoint what your body needs to regulate, begin with breathing and physical movement. When our bodies are in active, mindful states, our brains have an easier time connecting to our creativity and logic. Sensory focused tasks are important when connecting to mindfulness. Now that you know what you feel in your body, your job is to connect to an activity that supports that part of the body. If you’re feeling blurry in vision and your head is hot from anger, try splashing your face with cold water. If your gut is irregular and your body is slow, try actively moving using vigorous exercise.

A key part of walking through our tunnel is asking our bodies what’s needed. What can I do for you? How can I help you? When we talk to ourselves, and we really take a moment to listen, the trigger subsides and your logic brain with begin to wake up.

Simple, and complex. The simplicity is listening to your body. The complexity is offering it what it needs. And remembering that every emotion is temporary is an important part of the process. Everything is temporary. Every moment of sadness, happiness, love, and pain is a temporary experience, so with this in mind you can come out the other side and reduce the complexity of the symptoms that the trigger has on you.

This is just a bit of the wisdom Giulia has to share in her therapeutic work. If you’d like to speak with her about therapy click here to get scheduled.

The Perfect Combo: Summer & Therapy in Boulder, CO

The Best Time for Therapy Is When You Feel Good.  Spoiler Alert: Summer.

MYTH: Therapy is reserved for when you’re really struggling or is only for really ‘messed up’ folks.

Of course, therapists always want to support someone who is struggling, no matter what their challenge may be.

But therapy can help even if you are just looking to better your life. Therapy can improve your relationships, your parenting, and benefit you professionally. The truth is, it is genius to work on the hard stuff when you’re doing well. And, in general, people tend to feel more relaxed in the summer. Therefore, it makes sense to attend therapy when you have the time to really focus on it…like in the summer.

Let me tell you a personal story from my perspective as a human and a seasoned therapist.

In graduate school, we were required to be in bi-weekly counseling. Rain or shine, good or bad. We had to keep going. Even on the weeks when we were doing really well. On the weeks I felt I could really use the session, I was glad that I’d had scheduled a time for therapy. During those weeks, I really noticed the progress I made. But, they were NOT the weeks I worked on resolving my absolute most challenging stuff.

On the other hand, there were some weeks I was annoyed that I was required to go. I felt awesome and it was 80 degrees and sunny. During those weeks I rolled in and said; “What the heck, maybe we can work on some of the big stuff just a little, after all, there’s nothing else to talk about.

By the end of those sessions, I often shared the things I had never said out loud. Or, found words for something that on other weeks baffled me. I found that going to therapy when I felt great and it was beautiful outside was when I made the most progress personally. These weeks were like next-level therapy. Instead of therapy being about addressing my short-term issues, I was able to use the good days to level up my well-being.

In the summer, most people are outside more.

When the weather is nice, we’re more active. We’re also more social, more creative, more playful, and do more things that are out of our routine. All of these things come with being less in our heads and more open to experiences. In fact, there’s a big push for getting outside more in big tech companies. And, even in some more mainstream corporate jobs. We are seeing anecdotally and through science, that alternating play, rest, and work is the most satisfying and effective way to level up in our lives. It is the process by which we are most likely to wake up sincerely at peace with our loves.

I love science. I love it, even more, when science meets mental health and shows how the brain functions. So, I took some time to include some quality links to more information about how summer can improve our likelihood to make swift and powerful gains in counseling.

Summer Therapy Finding #1: Sunshine, Serotonin and Mental Health

green canoe on a calm lake in a fisheye perspective, late summer in Arapaho Bend Natural Area, Fort Collins, Colorado representing how working on therapy during the summer can give you the space to explore the things you enjoy even more.

In case you don’t want to read this full article, here is a very brief summary: Clinical neuroscience that shows serotonin level increases in the summer. This decreases anxiety and other mental health struggles. Basically, the increased sunshine changes how our brain works for the better. When we are in these elevated states (less anxiety and struggle) the quality of our thoughts is better. This means that you have more thoughts that are helpful without trying. It is just what happens because you feel better. 

Summer Therapy Finding #2: Travel Makes Your Brain Work Better

This article is a summary of gains we get from travel specifically. Since summer is when people do the most traveling, it seems on point. We know that even the anticipation of travel can incite more optimistic and reliant thinking. When you come to anxiety counseling and are anticipating a big trip or just returning home, you are starting from a higher baseline. That means the gains you make are already elevated. You won’t have to spend sessions getting back to your normal. You’ll gain even more when you start from a higher rung on the ladder.

Summer Therapy Finding #3: Playing as adults increase our ability to change habits and think in new ways.

I loved this article because it quite clinically and clearly correlates the need for true play in adults. Especially to better their long-term and continued emotional and psychological development. In short, we do not want to deal with 40-year-old parenting or career challenges without 18-year skills. In order for us to be ever-evolving and getting our brains to function better, we need play. This quote about playing as adults:

“(play) provide(s) an opportunity to develop flexible behavioral strategies when novel and uncertain situations arise as an adult.”

Flexibility in novel situations is the definition of resilience. It is the way we make lemonade from lemons, build empires, let go of painful habits and get what we really want. We generally do our best playing in the summer.

As a therapist, I would like to speak to play for a moment here.

Play as we are talking about it here is solely for fun’s sake, it accomplishes nothing. That means a workout class or some other version of what grown-up want to pretend is play doesn’t count. If you feel like you did a good job (or a bad job) after, it was not play. You can consider it play if you can say, that was fun after. I encourage you to always find playful things you love doing and lighten up, even as an adult.  

Summary of summer and therapy fun & games.

Photo of mother and daughter having a tea party on a hike representing an adult mindfully playing after conquering their own fears with help from a therapist.

Use the summer to level up your life game by going to counseling when your cup is full. 

Don’t take the summer off or wait for fall when you are more stressed to start therapy. Go to your counselor when you are sun-baked and rested. I promise you it will get you something you can’t get when you show up exhausted and anxious. 

What I am saying is; in the summer you will have to put less effort into optimizing your thoughts and feelings for your best life and you could make more gains than in times when you arrive in distress.

This is a no-brainer. I look forward to seeing your tank tops and flip-flops in my office. 

Are you ready to focus on your mental health this summer?

If this speaks to you, I encourage you to take that next step and make an appointment to speak to a therapist this summer. Perhaps, part of you is hoping this summer can be one of transformation and personal growth even though you’re not in “crisis” mode, so listen to your instinct to move toward personal growth.

If you live in Colorado, the North Boulder Counseling therapists would love to help. We’re a Boulder, CO based counseling practice and we also offer online counseling, so we can actually see people located anywhere in Colorado! So, whether you’re in Denver, Colorado Springs, or enjoying the beauty of Estes Park we can support you. The first step is to contact North Boulder Counseling and request to be matched with a therapist.

But what kind of things can therapy really help with?

Truthfully, every single person’s time in counseling is completely different! So, you’re in control of what is covered in counseling sessions. At North Boulder Counseling, we are proud to have mental health clinicians who can help with a wide range of, mental health services.  Whether you’re feeling depressed, have felt anxious about something specific for years, are struggling with self-esteem issues, have ADD/ADHD or just want to feel more grounded in your life we can help. Furthermore, we can help all members of your family including children, teens, men & women. Wherever you are on your mental health journey, we’re here to provide support. It’s time to live the life you want, so please make this summer the time you start taking steps toward your goals!

It’s time to really make the most of your summer & work toward the very best version of yourself.

Photo of man looking at the Colorado Rockies next to his motorcycle representing how therapy can give you the freedom to live your life to the fullest!

Real Stories Of People Changing for the Better From Therapy

Why Therapy Is Worth Every Minute and Dollar

Recently, I put a query on a parenting forum group I’m part of here in Colorado. I asked, ‘Do you do Therapy? Why or why not’ The responses were what I expected: Yes, and it has been so valuable to my well-being. I’m so much less anxious. Or, yes! It has made me more successful across my life and more able to enjoy what I’ve achieved. I’m so thankful for therapy. 

Or they respond with No. I’m so overwhelmed as a mom that I can’t even begin to find a therapist.” Or, no, I know therapy would help my stress but it’s so expensive.

 

This got me thinking about why people who have the financial means, don’t take advantage of counseling? I realize that not many people talk about their transformations from therapy. They are so deeply personal by definition that the average person may never hear direct stories of anyone making meaningful change by way of therapy. We don’t see google reviews speaking to the integration of trauma or transforming anxiety into power or their depression diminishing. The thing is that is what is happening as the rule, not the exception therapy. 

A woman is smiling in the photo. Her satisfied look illustrates how therapy in Boulder, CO can help women overcome obstacles and be the best version of themselves. We offer many different services for counseling in Boulder, CO through online therapy in Colorado.

Think about this…

Therapy wouldn’t survive as a job if it weren’t effective. Therapists do this work because along with all the unimaginably painful parts we witness, we also see people do things that seemed previously impossible. They do this for themselves, their children, and their relationships. People ask how we can listen to all the hard things people are carrying around. Because, what most people don’t know, is that on the other side of all of that suffering is power, freedom, and alchemy. Alchemy because in most cases people take something ugly and neutralize it. Or, even transform it completely. 

How I know as a Therapist, That Counseling Works

Here’s what you all don’t hear and most therapists won’t talk about as a matter of professionalism. People change. You can change. You do change. And, you can be happier. Or, less anxious. And, generally, more fulfilled in your marriage or your career. It’s a real thing. It is not something that happens in 3 sessions in most cases. But, it does happen. And once it happens, it is generally long-lasting.

A long-lasting positive change from counseling constitutes an enormous return on investment. Think about it. What else can you do for six months or a year that will clearly and broadly have a positive impact on many aspects of your life FOREVER? 

Really good therapy physically changes your brain

It is true. Major reliable cognitive or habit changes only happen when the neural pathways that supported the old behavior diminish. And, alternative pathways are strengthened. What would you give to make your brain better for the rest of your life? 

Therapists regularly get personal emails and direct comments in session from people sincerely thanking them for the part they’ve played in helping their clients make huge impactful or life changes. We know that they are not exaggerating. How? Because we are there with them as they carve out the steps for themselves to make a life. A life that is more satisfying or less stressful. And, a life that is no longer driven by old trauma

What does the impact of therapy look like in real life?

A person is writing. This demonstrates growth that can take place in therapy in Boulder, CO. Our counseling practice offers many services for counseling in Boulder, CO. And, our online therapists and counselor are experienced.

So to help you see what we see and understand the magnitude of potential in counseling, I’ve taken the time to share with you some real stories of change. And, profound return on investment that we have seen at North Boulder Counseling. These stories are abbreviated and anonymous, but all real. For each one listed here, there are countless others. 

Overwhelmed Mom

Mom is haunted by a complicated relationship with her parents and a contentious relationship with her daughter. Her daughter was also unhappy though she had an outwardly appearing great life.

Mom went to therapy and gained the skills necessary to be able to look at her parental relationship and see it for what it was without getting hung up on it. She also did some therapy about her uncertainties as a parent and left feeling like her mama gut was trustworthy. And, that her love was enough. Lastly, she was able to reconcile what she had given up in order to provide the best life for her children with experiencing her life as her own more often.

This mom wrote an email out of nowhere months after she’d stopped coming here, are some quotes (with her permission):

“As I woke up this morning I found myself so grateful for the work we have done together and for the peaceful place I’m in while all of this craziness is swirling about…So I just wanted to say thank you for all of your insightful words and work….”- client quote

Parent’s and children

A mom carries her two children. This relates to concepts of postpartum counseling in Boulder, CO. In addition, our counseling practice offers counseling in Boulder, CO in person and through online therapy in Colorado.

This family came in originally with a child newly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They didn’t know much about the diagnosis. But, they were coming in because their elementary-aged child had begun threatening suicide. We were able to help them determine their true risk level. And gave both the parents and the child tools to help the child communicate their struggles more effectively. We also provided community referrals to get the child other support. Using play therapy the child that struggled to organize emotions linearly was able to communicate with the therapist their experience. Thus, they could be understood in a new way.

They have referred countless other families as well as thanking the therapist regularly. You can’t put a price on your child’s well-being or the custom parenting plans that you create with your therapist. So, why wait to get the help you need? 

Disordered Eating and Body Dysmorphia

After focusing on a history of trauma this client had made significant gains. Then, in one session, they had the epiphany that they would not have an eating disorder forever. Before that moment, they had deeply identified with the experience of their painful relationship to food and their body. They had made so many gains in integrating their history of trauma that other parts of their life began shifting with little to no effort. Shortly after, they were ready to finish therapy. And, left by giving their therapist a huge hug and sharing their deep gratitude for the possibilities that were now open to them in their life as a result of the time they had spent in therapy

“Our capacity for change makes sense. What is never static, that’s just biology.” – Gen Morley

Anxious Men

A side view of a person is shown. This reflects conversations had in therapy in Boulder, CO. Our group practice offers many services for counseling in Boulder, CO. This includes anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO.

Men have trauma too. A deeply anxious and depressed, although outwardly successful man, used therapy to fight for his life. Or, at least one that felt worth living to him. Through the process of his work in therapy, he slowly began to communicate with loved ones. And, see what was worth living for to him in his life. He even changed where he lived and began to question some of the abusive thought patterns in his mind. He is not a different man or even in a different career. But, he reports less anxiety, less depression, and an increased sense of meaning and purpose in his life. 

LGBTQIA+

Recently, we had a client that did some work on their own that afforded them clarity about what they wanted. So, they decided to come out to their family in a family session. Because they had the support of the therapist they felt safe.

Even though they did not receive the support they wanted from their whole family, and things we’re said that we’re hurtful. They were brave enough to have this tough but productive conversation that afforded the whole family the ability to feel closer than before. This is the benefit of working with our LGBTQIA+ affirming and supportive therapists.

Are you still wondering why therapy is important?

What would you pay in time or money to gain the tools necessary to move forward in your life? Or, be given the tools necessary to seamlessly integrate your traumatic memories and experiences into your perception that they were part of the fabric of your life rather than sharp outliers? 

Do you know what investing in therapy is becoming normalized? It used to be that counseling was for broken people or deeply troubled people. But, it’s not the case anymore. Therapy is for people who want the most out of their life. It is for people who know there’s always a way forward. And, that find the way forward is faster with someone who does that for living. Any entrepreneur will tell you the fastest way to level up is to get a mentor or coach. Someone who has already done what you’re trying to do. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Your therapist can help you do this

A family walks together. This reflects instances covered in family counseling in Boulder, CO. Our practice offers many options for therapy in Boulder, CO. We also provide anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO.

Your therapist won’t have had the same life experiences and they won’t have done everything you are trying to do themselves. But, an experienced therapist has seen a lot. Their education is helpful.

If you’re worried about your therapist judging you, don’t be. Just remember how many things they have heard. And, how many problems they have helped clients find ways through. 

If you’re ready to level up your happiness, your fulfillment, your success, and just peace and ease. Then, it’s time for you to call a therapist. 

Will therapy work for you?

Yes, your specific situation is likely not the exact one described above. Maybe it’s nothing like those. At the end of the day, you have a human brain and a human heart. If you find the right therapist and your progress is inevitable.

How do you find the right therapist you may ask? Call more than one person. Talk to them. Find someone who you are comfortable talking to and who seems kind and assertive, will have your back.

For all the Yeah Buts:

I don’t have time: online therapy cuts the time crunch. But, in the end, you will have to make it a priority. I cut out of work for therapy. Some counselors offer evening or weekend appointments. This is your well-being. There’s not much that’s more important.

I don’t know how to find a therapist: Google therapists in your area. Contact three. Go with the one that’s easiest to talk to.

I don’t know if it’ll work for me: It will. You will succeed as long as you don’t give up on therapy.

I don’t want to spend the money: Your call. It’s hard to think of anything that has anywhere near the return on investment that therapy does. Or, is as important. I know, shoes are great. But therapy will never give you blisters or wear out.

It’s time to start therapy in Boulder, CO.

A clock is shown. This demonstrates concepts of therapy in Boulder, CO. Our therapy practice offers counseling in Boulder, CO and anxiety treatment.

I truly believe in therapy, so I wrote this blog. That being said, I just want you to go to therapy. So, see whatever therapist makes sense, but go. It’s a kind and wise move for yourself and everyone you will ever love. And while you’re doing some searching, see if North Boulder Counseling is a good fit! We provide high-quality services to individuals, couples, and families navigating a variety of experiences. Our therapists are incredibly skilled and have extensive training. They have helped many people. And, they can help you, too. When you’re ready to begin therapy in Boulder, CO, follow these steps:

  1. Contact our group practice.
  2. Request an appointment to learn more about our approach to therapy.
  3. Invest in yourself and your future.

Other Counseling Services in Boulder, CO

 

Comprehensive Guide To All Things Anxiety

The Basics of Anxiety

What is anxiety? 

Honestly, the word anxiety gets thrown around a lot. Anxiety is a medical diagnosis with established diagnostic criteria. 

What are the 6 main symptoms of anxiety?

  1. Being especially alert, restless, on edge, or feeling overwhelmed without a clear reason
  2. Difficulting concentrating: feeling like your mind is blank or too full to pick a thought
  3. Altering between being very alert and agitated to being very tired and unable to do things
  4. Agitation, that is accompanied by irritability or shutting down 
  5. Physical tension, discomfort, exhaustion, and health issues
  6. Sleep disturbance: sleeping too much, not sleeping enough or well.

Anxiety means you are fearful and worried that bad is going to happen, even if there’s not a threatening situation present. Essentially, if several people were all in your situation, they may not feel anything was wrong, but you do.

How is someone diagnosed with anxiety?

A girl smiles in the sunshine. She appears to have started anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO with North Boulder Counseling.

The diagnosis that most people are referring to when they refer to anxiety is Generalized Anxiety F41.1. Then, there are many sub-types and specific types based on the specific symptoms you are dealing with. If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you think that you or a loved one is living with anxiety symptoms.

First, I want to remind you that anxiety is not a virus or an illness. Rather, it is a common set of experiences that people share. You don’t catch anxiety. But, you can inherit it. 

What causes Anxiety?

There is debate about whether anxiety is passed down genetically or environmentally. Most people with anxiety remember feeling anxious to some degree their whole lives. Or, symptoms of anxiety began around puberty. In these cases, anxiety was likely a part of your home life in some way or another. Or, a product of how your brain was formed and then reinforced by the environment. I won’t try to end the ‘nurture versus nature’ debate here. But, if you were raised in an environment with anxious people (that’s most of us), you are more likely to be anxious yourself.

When does anxiety start?

Anxiety can also occur after trauma, childbirth, life change, or intense grief or loss. In those instances, it may be time-limited. In some cases, anxiety is not time-limited even when it seems to be a clearly sudden onset. 

The reality is that there may or may not be clear roots to your anxiety. 

A close up of a girl is shown. She appears to be feeling better after staring anxiety therapy in Boulder, CO.

Most of the time people want to know why they have anxiety. It’s not from a place of true open curiosity, but a thinly veiled attack. What we’re really saying is ‘why are you like this?’ That translates to ‘you’re screwed up, explain yourself.’ As tempting as it is to chase down a ‘why’, it really doesn’t matter much in the end. The task is the same. Learn about what’s going on internally so that you can figure out what helps you live a better life with anxiety. Or, so you can have less anxiety. So here is the million-dollar question:

Does anxiety have a cure?

Yes and no. Because anxiety isn’t a bacteria or a virus we can’t treat it with a 10-day course of meds and expect it to go away. Anxiety is the result of hardened wiring in the brain that creates automated responses to your environment. Often, without you even knowing it. So the cure for anxiety is changing the neural connections in your brain. I’m not kidding. This is good news and bad news.

The good news…

The good news is that we have something called neural plasticity. This means we can change the neural wiring in our brains. If you want to blow your own mind, consider this. Our brains make our thoughts, but our thoughts can physically change our brains. So there it is. The cure for anxiety is changing your thoughts. 

Changing our thoughts is not done via self-aggression as cultural norms would have us believe. In fact, you likely already know this. If you could have cured yourself of anxiety by telling yourself to stop thinking like that, we all know you would have gone ahead and done that. 

The bad news…

The bad news (or rather less fun news): There is no quick fix. The changes in our brains that diminish our experience of anxiety are slow. But, they are long-lasting. It is absolutely possible that you could experience high levels of anxiety most of the time and get to a place (with good therapy) where anxiety rarely impacts your well-being. 

How do you treat anxiety?

A man is smiling. He appears as though we might have started anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO.

The best anxiety treatments a combination of therapies. Exactly which combination will depend on the person. Generally, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are great choices. However, our most successful in concert with a mindfulness and body awareness approach

Why CBT or DBT for Anxiety?

Remember how we said that we can change our minds with our thoughts? Well, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a structured way of bringing awareness to your thinking. This helps you to determine which sort of thoughts are helpful and which are not. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a spin-off of CBT. It was developed specifically for Borderline Personality Disorder. But, is actually CBT + in ways because it uses the strong foundation in CBT and then adds in more mindfulness and body-based components. 

Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is by definition being more aware of our mind and what we are thinking and feeling. Increasing our awareness of our thoughts and feelings is the basis of anxiety therapy. This is a simple and powerful first step to treating stress and anxiety. Simply making time to pay more attention to the hum beneath our multi-tasking, without even changing behavior, only awareness, allows you to make meaningful gains in your relationship to your anxiety. 

There is a method to the madness!

Once we know more about what is going on behind the anxiety, we feel we have some rich places to start building custom skills for diminishing the power and frequency of the anxiety. We may start by working with something to do when you are anxious. This looks like walking, breathing, exercise, hugs, rest, or drinking water. Often while we are working in anxiety therapy on reframing thinking we start with body-based actions first.

All of these treatments for anxiety are natural and effective. However, there are times when it is ideal to consider medication treatments for anxiety.

Can you treat anxiety with medications?

A person is holding balloons. This represents the carefree attitude we want our clients to have after working with one of our therapists in Boulder, CO.

Medication can be a very good thing for people who are struggling with anxiety. When and how to start medication treatments for anxiety can be confusing. Here are the top 3 considerations for using medication to treat anxiety.

1.When to c0nsider meds:

If you are unable to work, leave your house, take care of yourself or your kids, or you feel unsafe. then you may need medication. Essentially, if you are deeply struggling to get through your day it is time to get seek psychiatric assistance. Even if you want to be able to use psychotherapy and natural remedies for anxiety, once you get to this level of distress it is very hard to do withiout the help of medication. It can be done, but certainly, using medication should be part of the treatment conversation. 

The other time to consider psycho-pharmaceuticals is if you want to. This is your body and your well-being. If you want to use medication to treat your anxiety do it.

2.Who perscribes them: 

Your psychotherapist can not prescribe you medication. They will however be helpful in helping you track the effects if you are seeing them regularly. It is highly recommended that you consult with a psychiatrist for medication consultation and prescription rather than seeing your primary care doctor. Your regular doctor can prescribe medication for anxiety. However, they are not going to be able to give you the level of expertise in the field that a psychiatrist can. A psychiatrist is a specialist. Seeing a general doctor for psychological medications is like seeing them for heart problems. Is it better than nothing, but you really need a cardiologist. It will maybe a several-week wait to see a psychiatrist, but I assure you that it is worth it. 

3. How to use them: 

Two men are shown in the photo. They appear to have started anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO.

Do make sure to take the medication precisely as it is prescribed.  Many medications for anxiety don’t work or work differently if they are not taken as prescribed. Additionally, if you take them differently it becomes hard to track how they are working, which is a big part of the process. It is rare that a person seeks mental health meds and just gets the right medication and right dose immediately. Be prepared that it may take a little bit to get your brain’s best match. 

Don’t forget anxiety therapy!

Anytime you are thinking about using medication to treat mental health symptoms it is best if you are also accompanying the medication treatment with psychotherapy treatment. The medication can do well to ease some of the distress that comes with anxiety but it is unlikely to make the deeper changes in cognition and self-awareness that allow for a real feeling of emotional freedom and responsiveness.

The Biology of Anxiety

It’s important to understand what is happening in your body when you feel anxious. Most of us know about fight, flight or freeze, responses, but a general re-cap is that when we feel in danger our body will automatically prepare to fight, run, or it will freeze. This is a miraculous program that runs automatically when we encounter danger (like being attacked). When you have anxiety, the brain turns on the fight, flight, or freeze response when there is no current danger. 

A picture of a person in front of the sunset is shown. This represents a person listening to a meditation. In addition to helping with worry, our therapists offer perinatal counseling, coparenting support, trauma therapy and so much more in Boulder, CO.

What is the fight, flight, or freeze response?

When you are anxious, there is some part of you that is funneling energy to the job of keeping you safe from danger that doesn’t actually exist. Then, your body preps to save you from the no-existent danger. Imagine this happening all the time. It’s exhausting. It is hard on the body and can have long-term effects on health and well-being. 

Why you may feel hypervigilant and then totally exhausted.

Often people who are anxious spiral through depressive states. I call it anxiety-based depression. That means that you are anxious, but when you can no longer sustain the level of energy it takes to be anxious, you crash into a state of depression. This helps your nervious system and body compensate for all the energy you use being anxious. 

Whether you experience depressive episodes or not, anxiety is nuanced.

When you are in the animal or survival part of your brain, there is less connectivity and firing in the pre-frontal cortex. This is where the bulk of our higher thinking takes place. Great things like creativity, problem-solving and rational thinking happens in the pre-frontal cortex.

Most anxiety response occur in the bottom parts of the brain like the amygdala and hippocampus. This means the best parts of your grown-up brain are not working well during anxiety. And, if you’re really freaked out, they may not work at all.

I will not go into why this all makes good sense if someone is attacking you, but as you might guess, diminished higher-level thinking when you’re anxious is not very helpful for getting out of anxiety. Even if you can get great work done while you’re anxious, it unlikely that you can talk yourself out of anxiety because they are very different functions. Generally, people’s attempt to talk themselves out of anxiety sounds like this ”hey dummy, what’s your problem, stop being anxious. We’re totally fine. Get over it.”  This does not work. Being mean to yourself doesn’t work. 

This is why we start with noticing our internal dialogue when we are anxious.

A picture of a man is shown. This demonstrated concepts of that our therapists treat in Boulder, CO.

The information we get about how we talk to ourselves will help us understand what will actually calm us down. So we start with camping activities that calm the body. This will, in turn, calm the mind enough that we can start to have more rational, creative, and kind thinking. Something simple like deep breathing for a few minutes makes the body to calm and essentially tells the brain it is safe to relax. The science behind this is awesome, but we will leave that for another blog. 

Where to start with anxiety treatment 

If you think you may have anxiety and that you would like to have less, the best place to start is by finding a psychotherapist or psychologist. They are the specialists in the field for diagnosing and treating anxiety disorders or anything else that is standing in your way of living the life you want. Mental health professionals are experts at helping you face your fears, reduce your worry, and they can help you start living life to the fullest.

How to find a therapist

Ask friends if you know anyone who has a counselor that they like. If not, ask Google. Search engines will come up with many options. Read through the website some to get a sense of the counselors, or just contact them. You could ask for a consultation or just start with a session and see how it goes.

The number one most important aspect of your relationship with your therapist will be that you feel comfortable talking to them. The second will be if you feel you are making gains with them. But remember, you can not get to good gains if you don’t feel like you can be yourself. 

Also, if you want to use insurance for your sessions contact your insurance company. If you are unable to pay for therapy at full fees, look for community counseling centers, online therapy options or go to your state or county mental health agency. These places often have resources for income-based or reduced fee psychotherapy sessions. 

What to do now

If you read through this whole thing you are likely experiencing anxiety. So what you can do now is be kind to yourself, be patient, and know that it can get better. You deserve to feel better, and you CAN feel better.  So, do a quick Google search for a therapist in your area and reach out. Send an email or call and leave a voicemail message. Even if it’s 2am. An established therapist will have a way to initiative contact at any hour of the day and should get back to you in 1-2 business days. Look in the community. As always if you need help right now, go to the emergency room or call 911. The local authorities can get you safe and start the sequence of getting you support. 

Begin Anxiety Treatment in Boulder, CO

You are not alone. Anxiety is part of humanity. You are not broken. You’re experiencing life on a volume that is too high. While it is not your fault, there are things you can do to make your life feel better. You got this. And, we can help. Our approach to treatment is evidence-based and effective. Our anxiety therapists have extensive experience providing anxiety treatment to a variety of people. When you’re ready to begin anxiety therapy in Boulder, CO, follow these steps:

A man is on his laptop. He appears to be signing up for anxiety treatment in Boulder, CO.

  1. Contact our group practice.
  2. Request an appointment to learn more about our approach to anxiety treatment.
  3. Regain control of your stress and worry.

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Why am I so scared? How COVID-19 unseats us and how to regain center

Here is a great blog about why we feel so much fear and anxiety in the COVID 19 times and what to do with it by my friend and skilled Boulder Therapist Emily Isaacs.

The waters are choppy these days.  What sort of boat are you sailing in?

As a whole society we have sailed into uncharted waters – a world where we are trying to remain protected from an ambiguous menace, have access to a limitless opportunities to take in media designed to spike the fight-or-flight wing of our nervous system, all with highly limited in person, face to face social support.

It’s a recipe for waking up each day feeling very, very anxious and out of control.

Let’s break this down to understand how these factors come together to cause such nervous system dysregulation.

1. The ambiguous menace. COVID-19: it is invisible, yet highly contagious.  Some people do not even show symptoms, and others – even young people – end up on ventilators in the hospital.  I didn’t wipe down the bread bag, but now it is in the refrigerator with everything else – did the cold air kill the germs or are they jumping onto other food?  (I truly did worry about this).

Ambiguous threats trigger our fight-or-flight system by the very nature of being ambiguous.  We lack clear information and so our brains become hyper-vigilant, constantly seeking out additional information to resolve the ambiguity.  We are biologically wired to this.

2. Your brain on media.  Let’s also remember that the news is designed to grab our attention so we engage with it.  A very easy way to grab our brain’s attention is through fear.  Take a moment to just listen to a newscaster’s voice without the content: tense, quick, serious.  Then we have social media – which is, in many ways, a huge resource during these times of limited in-person contact.

But social media comes with a price – it can disrupt sleep, encourage comparison to others, shorten our attention span, and keep our nervous system on overdrive (ever thought your phone was vibrating but it wasn’t?  That’s actually a real phenomenon and a sign of hypervigilance).

3.  Forgoing face-to-face contact.  Here’s the real doozie, and one that I try to remedy during therapy sessions.  Face-to-face, skin-to-skin contact is enormously regulating for us human beings.  We’re apes.  We are social beings that thrive on social interaction and our nervous systems regulate with each other.

​We can be totally jacked up and freaked out and if we have a friend or partner (or even a checker at the grocery store!) that is calm and reassuring, even a brief face-to-face interaction can soothe us.  A hug is even better.  And these days, the checker at the grocery store is suddenly an ambiguous threat.

Let’s go back to the boat metaphor.  We’re all sailing in choppy waters these days; we can’t control that.  But we do have a choice about what sort of boat we sail in.  The boat is the state of our internal being – our consciousness and how we choose to direct it.

Here are three simple practices to explore while navigating the world this week:

1. Name it to tame it.  Did you open up your Facebook feed and suddenly become tense and hyper-focused on scanning through every scary article?  Did you catch yourself skimming every news article searching for a clear answer?  Great!  You are very, very human.  It actually calms your brain to name an experience – it is a kind of compartmentalizing that can help bring awareness and even control to a behavior.  Simply NOTICE the behavior and give it a name in your mind.  “Using Facebook.  Heart rate going up.”

2. Shift attention.  Did you name it to tame it?  Awesome!  Since you are now aware of what you are doing, you have a chance to change your behavior.  If you have noticed your muscles getting tight, your heart rate going up, your breath getting shallow – it is time to redirect your attention.  Feel your feet on the floor.  Take a deep breath.  Look at a photo of a loved one, at a favorite plant, out the window at the sky.

3. Move your body.  After our fight-or-flight nervous system has been activated, our bodies need a reset.  We have a biological need to know that the threat has passed and we can now move on to more peaceful business.  Otherwise, we remain in a hyper-aroused state that is exhausting in a multitude of ways.  Moving our bodies gives us this much-needed reset.  So: turn on some music and DANCE.  Shake out every limb.  Use your hands to vigorously brush off your arms, legs, torso, back.  Look silly – it will help move the nervous energy.

Above all – remain compassionate to yourself.  This experience is unlike anything any of us have ever gone through together.  We’re all doing the best we can – including me.  Including you.

Why do therapy during the Coronavirus pandemic?

The go to mentality in crisis is a scarcity mentality. It makes sense. When we feel threatened, we go into our fight or flight brain and protect ourselves and our loved ones. This is a great standard human feature that has gone a long way in keeping us going as a species. The big difference in the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s looking like it will be a long haul. At least weeks, if not months of interrupted lives and scary realities. The fight or flight feature of our brain was only designed to be employed for minutes to hours.

After we move beyond the minutes or hours stages we see it taking a huge toll on our ability to think, our physical health and especially our mental health. The quality of our experience shows a diminishing return that is compounded over time when we are living in fight or flight or too long. For some people they will even begin to experience the prolonged stress as a trauma.

So why would therapy be helpful during the pandemic? Two reasons:

1. Therapy done well, moves us out of our fight or flight brain in a meaningful way. Even in those places that we keep getting stuck on our own, a quality counselor will help us find the way out of the fight or flight. In therapy we get ways to stay out of fight or flight and even avoid it in the future. Good counseling offers skills that transfer outside of the session, so that we can spend more time in our higher brain and have a greater ability to feel relief on our own when we do get really stressed or afraid outside of the session.

2. Additionally, if you are not especially panicked in these times, there is something else that is ripe here and that is major changes. Many things are different right now and in these times of forced change we get to see things in new ways. We have experiences we wouldn’t have picked on our own. Even if we don’t like the change, it’s quality information to make use of if we choose to. This is an awesome time to get yourself into therapy and make the most of the opportunity that we are living out. If we have to go through it anyway, why not juice it for all it’s worth?

How to Handle Grief and Loss from Social Distancing During COVID

Social distancing by definition means a lot of loss and with loss we have grief. When we stay away from the life we’ve made, we can lose out on a lot of what we value in our lives. We may lose out on relationships, income, childcare, adventures, social support, opportunities to expand our lives or goals, the list goes on and on. Think of all the things that got cancelled recently.

In this pandemic we also don’t know what will happen, so we are losing out on our sense of stability and control. For many of us, we have lost some very important parts of our life and even our identity.

How to do loss and grief the best we can:

  1. First, be kind. Be gentle. Our minds tend to go on the fritz and either stop thinking or over think when we are sad or overwhelmed. Notice if you have some thinking you could let go of, even if it’s only for a few minutes. WE need rest from the chronic vigilance for our physical and mental health.

Can you notice what your thoughts are saying? Wherever possible choose helpful thoughts. Intentionally taking time to slow down can be so kind to ourselves. It is easier to think helpful thoughts and make helpful choices when our minds are slowed down. Try breathing meditations, slow walks, art, play and music. All of these can be super powers for health.

  1. Allow. You should be upset, at least some. Nothing is going wrong by you feeling upset. It’s a hard situation and you’re having hard feelings. It makes sense. It is not comfortable to be upset and most of us don’t like it, but it’s still a healthy, right thing. Give yourself the gift of feeling. You may not only be sad. Grief can incite anger, joy, sadness, fear or whatever it is that you’re feeling.

  2. Don’t go at it alone. You can reach out to one person, or everyone you know on social media. Reach out to your therapist or your parents, reach out to whoever, but reach out. Nearly everything is harder when we keep it in our heads. Decide who you can share with and do that.

  3. Do something different. Can you remember something you used to like to do? Maybe paint, write poems or do push ups. When the old way of doing things falls apart and we have made room for our feelings and found support the next step is creating what will be next way of being. If you have lost the old life, then there is or will be, space to make something new. What would you like to make in your empty space?

 

This cycle repeats over and over through loss and is how we stay with ourselves and have some threads of hope to grasp as we find our way When we lose our way, we have made connections with people who will remind us of who we are so we can get back to our way.

If you are reading this with a more concrete loss to the pandemic, a loss of a loved one or your health, please know many of the steps are the same,but that is a much more profound kind of loss. When you are ready, I hope you will find your way to an amazing therapist. Until then. Do the steps above and if you feel too hopeless keep yourself safe by going to an emergency room, calling 911 or 1-800-273-8255.

Anxiety and the coronavirus: 3 tips for a better pandemic

If you weren’t already anxious, it seems like maybe the coronavirus could’ve given you a solid push into the anxiety department of your life. Of course we can’t change that the virus is here nor can we change that the toilet paper is not here, but there are a few things that we could do that might help us get through this in a more calm way. From a calmer place we have more ability to make hard choices if need be and if that’s not what happens then we will be more able to enjoy what may be a forced sabbatical for some people.

Here are three easy things you can do to make the coronavirus era we’re in less stressful and help reduce your anxiety:

  1. Choose your company and your conversations wisely. If the conversation you have seems to be exciting you in a way that doesn’t feel good then that might be a conversation or a person that isn’t going to benefit you to spend time with. Sometimes we see aspects of people we love and respect the very most when things like this happen that just means this is not the time we’re gonna spend time with them and we need to look for other people to get us through.

  2. Don’t isolate yourself. We know that when we isolate anxiety and depression and cognitive ruminations get much worse. Although there is a recommendation for social distancing because it is 2020 we have all kinds of options for human connection that don’t involve having to be in the same room. If we find ourselves poised to create social distancing we would do well to bridge the gap with social media and virtual platform so that we can still have the people we love and care about in our lives.

  3. Limit the conversations & media that you take in about Covid19. Get the information that is important for being informed and then stop. Use your attention for things that make you feel thankful, playful, connected or things that make you laugh. These four things that I’ve mentioned are very specific and are backed by research to help reduce your stress and also our link to being healthier physically. Stress has the inverse affect. Protect yourself- not just from germs but from excessive fear.

And as always if you need more help get more help. North Boulder Counseling has online counseling that means you can speak to a very well-qualified effective therapist and is not the usual bargain online counseling.

Together we can do what none of us can do alone.

How to challenge anxious thoughts: guest blog by Christy Pennison

Photo of a portion of a woman's face representing someone who has had anxious thoughts in the past but is using anxiety coping skills she used in therapy.Do you ever experience anxious thoughts you can’t escape? You are not alone. Many times we can get wrapped up in our head with our thoughts spinning out of control. And, instead of trying to find a way out or forward, we often dig down deeper into a hole of no return.

When you find yourself struggling with anxious thoughts, go back to your ABCs and take a moment to reflect about your situation before you react.

Attention

Notice what your mind is saying. The first step to being able to figure out everything that’s going on is to just start by noticing what you are actually thinking. Write your thoughts down. Many times when our lives get turned upside down or we are anxious about something our brain is thinking all kinds of things. It’s important to figure out and be aware of what it is saying.

Believe

You don’t have to believe everything you think. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true or correct.

Challenge

Question what you’re thinking. Consider other perspectives. Sometimes you need to ask yourself: how do I know this is true? Is there evidence against this thought? Is this a fact or opinion? What would I say to someone else who was thinking this? What is the bigger picture? Challenging your anxious thoughts helps you come to a more balanced way of looking at a situation.

Discount

Let unhelpful thoughts go. Unhelpful thoughts are just that, unhelpful. And many times we let them hang around for far too long. So if it’s not helping you move forward to a solution, let it go.

Explore

Choose the best response. Reflecting on what and how you are thinking about something going on in your life will help you discover the best way to respond and move forward.

When dealing with anxious thoughts, the only way forward is through. By tackling your anxious thoughts one at a time, you can begin to help shift your mindset and develop a more balanced way of thinking about your situation.

About the Guest Author

Christy Pennison, LPC-S, is a board-certified professional counselor and owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting. She provides counseling in Alexandria, LA, and specializes in working with children and adolescents through various mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges. She is passionate about inspiring hope through counseling services to help individuals move forward and live fully.

 

4 SIGNS ITS TIME TO REDUCE STRESS

Signs your stress is too high:

1. Feeling stress during things that would normally bring you joy.
What it may mean:
When stress is very high or goes on for too long, it can create anxiety, which is more complex and pervasive than stress. Anxiety begins to color our experience more thoroughly than stress and makes it difficult to see what is real or remember our highest values.

2. Finding yourself engaging less socially or getting less value from previously fulfilling relationships.
What it may mean:
Quality relationships and social engagements are a marker of a full and open life. Isolation can come from stress, anxiety and depression. Isolation can diminish our sense of worthiness and increase negative self talk without people we care about to distract us and support us.

3. Generalized hopelessness. If you hear yourself being generally negative and or thinking hopeless thoughts.
What is may mean:
Stress can also initiate depression. Stress over time can change how our brains process experiences that we may normally tolerate or even find engaging.

4. Changes in how you present and care for yourself and your space. If you find your hygiene, exercise, self care routines or care for your personal spaces are dwindling or inversely, you are becoming hyper vigilant about how you present yourself, you may be being impacted by your stress.
What it may mean:
It may be an externalized sign of overwhelm and a sign of diminished sense of competence and well being. To either let go of care routines or to become hyper vigilant in your appearances is a sign to re-assess.