1. How to Face Your Fears

    April 19, 2014

    How to Face Your Fears

    by Audrey  Hollingshead


    You open the door. Even though nothing is there but chirping birds and bright sunlight you feel panicked. Your breath becomes short as your mind races to the near dub-step beat of your heart. You want to go outside yet feel as though your whole body is tied to the door like an ill-conceived marionette. The more you stand there the more you are flashed back to the one moment you don’t dare relive till you finally, and carefully, close the door. Relief washes over you and you are, once again, safe.

    If this describes you, you may have agoraphobia: A genuine fear of going outside. While this phobia is horrible to experience, there is a way out. You CAN go outside again! But how? What can YOU do to regain the normal life you once had?

    Before we dive into the cat-inspired healing method, let us first explore the Time-Lag Argument, also known as the Mismatch Argument. Theorized in the Evolutionary branch of Psychology, this argument states that technology evolved much faster then our minds and bodies.

    What does that mean exactly? Think of it this way: millions of years ago we lived in tribes and caves. If a warring tribe was angry with us, or if an animal threatened to make us it’s meal we often hid inside. But eventually our overwhelming need to survive would kick in and we’d soon be out hunting and gathering food.

    But with today’s advent of pizza delivery and websites like Amazon.com everything we need to survive can be shipped right to our door. So we never feel the urgent need to get outside and face our fear. If anything, we feel MORE compelled to stay put because we become comforted by the familiarity of our surroundings. So how can we combat this? By Systematic Desensitization.

    South African Psychologist Joseph Wople developed Systematic Desensitization after observing the cats around Wits University gradually expose themselves to their fears. Inspired, he came up with a similar system consisting of three steps.
    Step 1: Like most systems of battling panic he asked his patients to identify and rank their panic triggers. That would mean you (in our hypothetical posed above) would have to examine what exactly about the outdoors scared you and rank those scares according to their strength.

    Step 2: He then taught them relaxation techniques because, according to him, the body can’t experience panic and relaxation at the same time. He usually did this by asking his patients to relax and tense up certain body parts until the person was completely calm. For you that would mean doing the same a few moments each day. Taking large breaths of air can also ease you into a state of calm.

    Step 3: Once the patients got their relaxation techniques down cold, Wolpe would then present them with their fears from lowest ranking to highest raking. Much like Pavlov’s bell, this gradual exposure coupled with well-practiced relaxation methods cured people of their fears by paring their anxiety triggers with something other then panic. By doing this you are essentially teaching your body, rather slowly, to experience soothing sensations in front of those scary stimuli.

    For you this would mean taking one day to just stand near the door as you practiced breathing. The next day, you might get closer to the doorway. The next, you might put out a toe. Each day you would put out a little more of yourself until you worked up enough soothing courage to finally step outside.

    What’s really beautiful about this system is that it can help cure whatever fear you have. It could be a fear of driving, a fear of snakes, or anything that gets you panicked. And we here at Dream Positive know that with a little work and the right relaxation method you can accomplish anything!

    And remember,

    Dream Well! Dream Positive!


    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31545680@N03/6844248871

  2. Anxiety in Pregnancy and Early Parenthood

    July 1, 2013

    anxiety in pregnancy

    by Ngaire Stirling

    Anxiety Disorder is a blanket term for a selection of mental health issues widely believed to be caused by a deficiency in a neurotransmitter known as GABA and abnormal activity in the amygdala (flight or fight section of the brain) hypothalamus and cerebellum.  Anxiety Disorders tend to be genetically pre-determined to some extent but are also triggered by stress and worry.  This makes pregnancy and early parenthood a key period for anxiety symptoms in women.

    Anxiety in Pregnancy

    Around 10%* of women experience anxiety or depression in pregnancy and up to 40% in women diagnosed with fertility issues. Previous anxiety issues, poor coping skills, changed living arrangements, violence or abuse, poverty, discrimination, life changes such as giving up work, feelings of isolation, low self-esteem and unplanned pregnancy can all contribute to the likelihood of developing an ante natal anxiety disorder.  Treatment of anxiety disorders includes a number of pharmaceuticals including SSRI anti-depressants however these are not recommended in pregnancy.  Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is recommended for women who wish to avoid medication during pregnancy.

    Anxiety Disorders in Early Parenthood

    Diagnosis with post-natal depression often includes any one of many Anxiety Disorders. This can, unfortunately, leave women who aren’t depressed believing that feelings of panic and extreme anxiety are part of motherhood.   Around 16%* of women are diagnosed post-natal depression in the first year after the birth of their baby and triggers include adjusting to this major life change, sleeplessness, coping with the day to day stresses of motherhood and concerns about baby development.

    How Anxiety Disorders manifest during  Pregnancy and Early Parenthood

    Pregnancy Specific Anxiety

    Pregnancy Specific Anxiety is measured by a questionnaire that determines the level and classification of the anxiety disorder.  It’s been examined in depth as acute anxiety has been proven to have ongoing effects on the child, including pre-mature birth, difficulty concentrating and lower density grey matter.  Major triggers have been identified as fears of birth, fertility issues bearing a disabled child, marital problems, pregnancy complications, negative impact on career and being a younger mother to be.  Pregnant women can be assessed for the level of anxiety they’re experiencing and counselling may be recommended.

    Generalised Anxiety Disorder

    This is the most common diagnosed anxiety condition and is common in both pregnancy and early motherhood.  It manifests in excessive worry about the birth, living arrangements and parenting issues.  Symptoms may include lack of concentration, appearing “short tempered”, fatigue, insomnia and muscle tension.

    Panic Disorder

    Panic disorders can manifest in nausea, confusion, dizziness, racing pulse, extreme emotional state and difficulty breathing.  As some of these symptoms can also be attributed to pregnancy itself, women can feel panicked and be unaware of an underlying disorder.  Panic disorder is generally triggered by acute stress or fear making pregnant women especially vulnerable.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is surprisingly common in women who have had difficult births or a birth that did not go to plan.  Symptoms include “flashbacks”, panicked feelings, breathlessness and feeling faint when recalling various aspects of the birth.

    Situational Anxiety

    Situational Anxiety is the most common form of anxiety issue and is a direct response to a stressful situation – from a day to day situation to a major life change.  Most people experience situational anxiety at some point in their lives and early parenthood is one of the most reported periods.  A therapist may help identify periods where the anxiety is at its worst and recommend ways to manage it.

    Social Anxiety Disorder

    Social Anxiety Disorder is where the woman has an intense fear of public scrutiny or elevated levels of attention.  As pregnancy tends to increase a woman’s exposure to medical scrutiny and involves activity perceived as “humiliating” (such as constant weighing and invasive exams) it can heighten the symptoms of this disorder.  Similarly, a woman suffering post natal anxiety may feel as though she is being judged for her mothering skills.  This can lead to women withdrawing and isolating themselves, which can, in turn, lead to depression.

    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    Compulsive behaviour triggered by repetitive obsessions (intrusive and distressing thoughts and mental images) results from acutely stressful situations.  This is common after the birth of a child where a mother becomes fixated on preventing harm to the child.  The mother may experience “flashes” of disturbing images where her child is hurt or harmed and will compensate with a repetitive behaviour.   Early motherhood can trigger compulsive cleaning behaviours.

    Phobias including Agoraphobia

    Because of the “medical” nature of pregnancy and birth, the most common phobia is a fear of medical interference, bodily fluids and of course, the pain of childbirth.  In the early parenthood period, irrational fears may become overwhelming, especially those related to safety of the child.  Visualising “worst case scenario” consequences of contact with the object of fear can trigger extreme panic in mothers with acute phobias.

    Agoraphobia is a fear of being in a situation where she cannot escape and result in avoidance behaviours such as staying at home or avoiding specific locations.  Agoraphobics may experience a panic attack in such a situation.  This is more common towards the end of pregnancies where women are overcome by fear of labour and shortly after birth where a simple trip with a baby seems overwhelming and fraught with danger.

    Anxiety is an extremely common mental health issue and pregnancy issue.  It’s a leading trigger of pre and post-natal depression and can impact greatly both the mother and the child.  It’s vital for parents who need help to seek it immediately.

    Image Credit: Trevor Bair

  3. 11 Myths About Anxiety Symptoms

    February 23, 2013

    anxiety and depressionMyth #1: One has to learn to live with this condition.
    TRUTH: One does NOT have to “learn to live” with this condition because there is a complete process, tools and methods to remove this from your life once and for all. Yes,  there is a sure way past this and it works! But it requires you to work on it, not only your psychologist or therapist.

    Myth #2: These feelings will always return…setbacks are inevitable.

    TRUTH: This is NOT true! Once you begin moving forward the symptoms will shrink down to manageable size until they no longer matter and dissipate all together. There are always “bumps in the road” in life, but when you slow down, remember your skills and tools, you will be able to negotiate anything. Remember, slowing down, keep going forward and moving ahead. You can never turn back!

    Myth #3: “I am worse than anyone else!”

    TRUTH: This is a normal feeling when looking at your anxiety symptoms and most people go through a period of thinking this thought. The truth of the matter is that no matter how you became to be in this condition, most people have remarkably similar symptoms. All these symptoms are adrenaline based and, therefore, limited and there’s a set way of moving past them. You may think you feel worse than others, but this is not true. When you go through this, the “right way” you will move past this is a relatively easy and quick fashion.

    Myth #4: “I’m too “young” “old” “busy” “scared” or “whatever” to get past this.”

    TRUTH: Age has no significance to getting past this condition. It is not a factor. Neither is anything else as long as you follow the formula…the process. There is a way out and anyone can do it. There is a “right way” to go through this and if a person uses these skills, being in total control again is perfectly attainable…..and in a relatively short time!

    Myth #5: “I need a “safe” person with me for support.”
    TRUTH: Psychological support is a marvelous thing to have and it feels fantastic, especially if this is a support from a psychologist or therapist, BUT it feels more sensational to rely on YOURSELF! Once you learn how to move past the symptoms and go forward with strength and control you will understand the feeling of depending on YOU. It is the greatest feeling on earth, and nothing else can compare! You are all you need to move past this. You are the only one who can grab the reins with this condition and give yourself the real comfort you need. Once you feel the strength of going through this with your own power you see extremely clearly that you are your own comfort zone.

    Myth #6: “The places I want to go are too “noisy”, “smoky”, “bright” or “crowded” for me to feel comfortable.”
    TRUTH: it is not the places………..It is what you are saying to yourself in these places. That is why you feel safe when you get home……you reassure yourself that you are safe and your body responds favorably. It does not matter if you are in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve if you know what to do. It is all in how you define where you are and the way you think……your body reactions just naturally follow.

    Myth #7: “Making it harder for me is the fact that family and friends simply don’t understand what I am going through!”
    TRUTH: This has to do with regaining your life and it doesn’t matter who else is on the peripheral. This is between you and yourself. Once you start gaining control, you will see things that USED to bother you will now roll off your back. When you are less vulnerable, things won’t stick any more. You’ll be treated differently because you will be acting differently.      You will see relationships improve because you won’t let “minor” incidents bother you and, you’ll feel better about yourself. It follows suit that everything else around you will naturally improve!

    Myth #8: “Maybe there’s something seriously wrong with me, that’s been overlooked!”
    TRUTH: Naturally after you’ve been checked by your psychiatrist or/and clinical psychologist and been diagnosed with the anxiety condition you will feel some relief. You know it’s anxiety symptoms, and you feel relieved it’s nothing physical. Then why do you still feel those symptoms? The reason is that your body is still hugely sensitized from weeks, months or years of fueling the feelings by thinking the wrong way. Once you begin to do it the right way and the symptoms stop mattering, you will realize even though the “first fear” flares from time to time that it will dissipate if you just stop feeding it and fueling it with your fears. These symptoms are the effects of adrenaline, and although they feel uncomfortable, they are merely trivial. Nothing to worry about.

    Myth #9: “I must do ANYTHING to avoid these feelings, they could hurt me!”
    TRUTH: Avoiding is what built up the fear that keeps you sensitized and in this condition.  I would also   rather see you go through it the “right way” than spend your whole life in fear and avoiding these anxiety symptoms. The way out of this, past this once in for all is going through it the RIGHT WAY!

    Myth #10: Drugs are the only answer. Sometimes you need a quick fix. NOT!!!
    TRUTH: Some medications do take the edge off; there’s no denying that. Some drugs also sedate and have side effects too. This is purely a personal choice between you and your health care provider. It is a choice though we work with people taking medications and those without medications too. Clinical psychologist or therapist could be a great help in case of anxiety or depression. We have seen people, with their physicians approval SLOWLY go off their medications after just a few months of psychotherapy sessions. We also feel whether you’re on medications or not; it’s invaluable to know how to go through this with skills, methods and tools you have learned and can carry along with you wherever you go!

    Myth #11: You’ve tried everything and Nothing works…..you’re stuck for life.
    TRUTH: You have not truly gone through it the “right way”…..You have given in to your fears and ignored your power. You own strength to go through this the correct way. No more avoiding. It’s time to embrace this and go through it correctly. You owe it to yourself to do it the right way, the only way, and conquer this condition once and for all!

  4. What Is A Phobia?

    February 16, 2013

    phobia anxiety

    Image credit: Matt & Nicole Cummings @Flickr

    A phobia is an irrational fear, an aversion, a hatred, or acute anxiety over something, or someone, an activity or a situation; which is a trigger that releases fear in that person. These fearful feelings can be generated by anything that normally does not pose a threat to life, they are usually a response to a mental image of a previous experience encountered, where an incident generated some anxiety and the mind was unable to rationalize the situation.
    At what point does a reasonable amount of anxiety and avoidance become a phobia? Increasing anxiety over apparently safe items indicates a phobia. If the level of anxiety is high and bears no relevance to the degree of danger involved, it is a phobia.
    Many people feel slightly apprehensive when boarding an aircraft, or facing a new situation, or meeting new people, but not to the point of being panic stricken, that avoidance is the only relief.
    The greater the anxiety, the stronger the desire is to avoid what is feared, and the greater the avoidance the more disruption is caused to the person’s life.

    False Beliefs About Phobias


    A phobia is not a serious mental illness, nor is it connected to any known physical illness. However painful and distressing your symptoms are, no matter how irrational and inexplicable your phobia and its effects may seem, no matter how dramatic and complete your loss of mental and/or physical control, these are not the first signs of insanity.
    The symptoms do not indicate a ‘nervous breakdown’. The modern view of phobias, which is accepted by the majority of specialists, is supported by a wealth of clinical and research evidence, Phobias are a result of an unfortunate but entirely normal process of learning.

    A Rare and Unique Illness

    Many phobics believe they are suffering from a rare illness, that is little known and nothing can be done, and this belief is endorsed when other people are seen to cope effortlessly with the same things that arouse a phobics’ fears. In fact phobias are very common, studies suggest one person in ten experiences such difficulties at least once in their life. Phobias have been studied for well over a hundred years and a great deal is known about them, effective treatments have been developed, mostly from the field of behavioural psychology.

    A Phobic is Weak-willed Or Stupid

    Sufferers often consider themselves ‘stupid’ or ‘weak’ because they are constantly told that by others. Non-sufferers can be irritable and impatient about the inability of a phobic to do something that most people tackle with ease. Having a phobia has nothing to do with a fault in your character, a weakness or a flaw in your personality. Some of the bravest people are those fighting to free themselves of their fears. People who tell you to ‘pull yourself together’, ‘stop being foolish’ speak with the voice of ignorance about fears and simply do not understand. The distress produced by a phobia can only be understood and appreciated by one who has experienced a phobia.

    Self control and positive thinking

    Telling yourself – or being told to exercise ‘self control’ is not the right kind of positive thinking and will not get rid of the fear. Saying ‘I am not going to feel afraid’ in a situation, without some preparation, is unrealistic positive thinking that will hinder your progress. Positive thinking has to be used in a constructive way and by using simple clear statements that :-

    •     Relate directly to any difficulties you anticipate.
    •     Are realistic about the likely outcome
    •     Must contain practical advice about how the situation can be tackled successfully.


    I know the situation will be difficult but I will be able to deal with it by concentrating on my breathing.
    The situation may make me feel tense but I shall be able to cope if I practice relaxing my muscles.
    Saying such positive statements and adding your own coping strategy will help :-

    •     I may find this difficult but I shall cope more easily if I remember to….
    •     The situation may be tricky to handle at times, but it will prove less difficult if I….
    •     I might find it slightly harder to cope, but I will keep my anxiety under control, if I study the surroundings in detail.
    •     Carrying out this task might make me nervous, but I will manage if I….