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Welcome to My Therapist Sez, an interactive experience enriching your most important relationships. I’ll be your host and moderator as we present Reducing Anxiety: Tools for Brain Reaction Relief. During this broadcast, I’m joined by Dr. Julie Hayden, a regular presenter on this broadcast. Dr. Hayden is a licensed psychologist, clinical director at Genesis Recovery San Diego, and the Chief Academic Officer at Rhombus University. In a few moments, Dr. Hayden will provide keen insights into reducing brain reactivity, followed by her and my responses to your questions, while hopefully providing you with practical anxiety reduction management skill applications.
Today’s event takes place before a live audience and live streaming while offering practical biblical solutions. It’s like having your own Christian mental health relationship doctor within the comfort of your living room. I hope you will sit back, relax, and take in these life changing insights. Please join me as we connect with a live audience in My Therapist Sez. Amen.
Welcome to My Therapist Says and we want to again introduce you to Dr. Julie Hayden, who is our presenter, and it’s going to be a beautiful evening as she presents on this topic Reducing Anxiety: Tools for Brain Reaction Relief. Dr. Julie Hayden, welcome. Would you join me in welcoming Dr. Julie Hayden?
Dr. Julie Hayden:
Thank you. I’m very excited to be here, especially for this topic. As Dr. Walsh has said, it’s extremely popular. It’s a diagnosis that many people have been diagnosed. And if nobody’s been to a doctor to be diagnosed, it’s something that almost everyone struggles with. It impacts our lives. So I’m excited to share on this topic and get some tools as I present tonight, some information I might go through quickly to get to the good stuff, to get to the tools that you might use for anxiety. So let’s go ahead and get started and move through.
Today, we’re going to be looking at Reducing Anxiety: Tools for Brain Reaction Relief and we’ll talk about what that means and a little bit about the brain today. Don’t be scared. The brain is fascinating. It can be extremely complex, but we’re going to look at the basics that can turn into tools by the time we get done. So let’s just look at anxiety for a moment, just the definition. I think all of you probably have something that initially comes to mind when you think of anxiety, maybe why you’re here. So we might think of fear, worry, stress, nervousness, many things might come with anxiety.
But just looking at a definition, we might look at something that’s characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or broadening fear about some contingency. I just wanted to say that I was thinking body because it is mind and body and we’re going to look at that. Worried anxious parents possibly or it could be characterized by or resulting from or causing anxiety, worry. And it might be something that is in your mind, fear, stress worry or it might be something that your body feels. Some people describe it as tingling sensation or uncomfortableness or like they’re going to jump out of their skin. So that just gives you an idea of what we might be talking about with anxiety.
I’ve heard people also say walking on eggshells or tense or as if somebody is going to attack them. It could be something that we live with, we’re just hyperactive, we’re a little bit tense with life. So we’re going to look at what this looks like in our body in our brain, but first let’s just see what might take the focus of our anxiety. What might be we be stressed about, have fear about, be worried about or be nervous about somebody. So some of these topics might be relationships, politics, news, if anybody watches the news, tends to raise our anxiety level a little bit.
Finances, that’s huge. Parenting, if everything’s going wonderful we might stress about our kids and what we’re doing as a parent for them. Work, our roles in life, our identity, possibly our health, our eating habits, war. We may not deal with this as much here although we have, but plenty others have been experiencing this and it’s the focus of their anxiety. Our mind, what’s in our head, without anything happening around us might create anxiety for us. Spirituality, sexuality, violence, and childhood. These are just a few of some of the things that might cause us to lie awake at night or wake up in the morning with dread, just the thoughts going through about what we’re fearing or worrying about.
So I want us to start with what Scripture says, as Dr. Welch had said, something that’s a passion to look at what the Bible has to say about the difficulties we experience as humans. And it’s funny because we’ll look at the brain but we’ll come back to this verse later because it does give us the answer. But of course, we’re going to dive into some study of the human mind that God created for some tools, but look at what Scripture says. Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Let your requests be made known unto God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. So it’s a simple verse and yet how many of us have this memorized because we don’t do this well and then we need to repeat it to ourselves and remind ourselves that we need to decrease our anxiety? So as simple as it seems, it’s more complex, living the human life and going in the direction God wants to have peace.
So let’s look at our brain. First, we’re going to look at our autonomic nervous system. Now, I remember what the autonomic nervous system is because it reminds me of automatic. It’s a term that reminds me of automatic. So any system in the body that works automatically you don’t have to tell it to. So your heart rate, your breathing, your digestive system, your immune system, sex drive, anything that’s working automatically in your body, it’s part of this autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is going to divide into two, the two systems, our parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic. You don’t have to remember this, but the parasympathetic nervous system is the term for when everything’s fine. This would be when you’re not stressed. Everything is calm, it’s peaceful. There’s no problems. The sympathetic nervous system is when you’re activated, whether it’s fear or stress or something inside you turns on and you’re pumping full of hormones that we’ll talk about in a moment. So with this system, we’re going to look at what it activates in our body but obviously, it’s there for a good reason. So anxiety can even be very beneficial.
For example, if your life was in danger, this system would do a great job protecting you. All the things, we’re going to look at what happens in the body in the brain, it’s wonderful if your life is truly in danger. If you had an enemy and you could run away really fast or fight that enemy, it will be for good reason. First thing that happens with the system is you’re pumped full of adrenaline and we’ve seen stories on the news of moms picking up cars or extra strength or the focus people may have in the military when they’re in the middle of war.
These types of things happen to our body with adrenaline that’s very beneficial. It protects us. It’s a wonderful thing. The problem is I joke about this when we’re activating because Starbucks is closed. So when we activate the system for something that’s not life threatening, that’s where we can have problems. And some of us have been activating the system since we were very young. And it’s all we know. So this systems overworked, it’s exhausting, and we can’t turn it off. That’s where you’re going to live in a stress state and really wish you could have an off button.
So we’re going to talk about this. We’re going to look at this slide for quite a while because what we’re going to do is compare the two sides of the sympathetic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system. Parasympathetic, let’s just look at it for a moment. This is when you’re at rest, you’re at peace. You have a resting, slow, normal heart rate. You got plenty of oxygen going through your brain and your body. You have a properly working immune system, your digestive system, no problem, and your good-thinking brain is turned on. Everything’s working well.
When the sympathetic nervous system’s activated, it kicks into gear a whole line of things. We’re going to talk about them, but here’s what can kick this into gear. Stress, yes, fear, anger, and rage. We’re talking about anxiety today that could kick this system into gear. First thing that happens, like we said, you’re pumped full of adrenaline. If your life’s not really in danger and you’re stuck with that, eventually the adrenaline will die out and it can’t come back for a while, so the next thing to come is cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Cortisol is one of our big problems here. And you probably heard it in weight loss commercials and other aspects when they’re talking about stress, it’s what gives us our lovely belly, cortisol. Okay?
So cortisol turns off your immune system, it turns off your digestive system, and it turns off your prefrontal cortex, which is your good-thinking brain. It’s what connects consequences to actions. It’s What is used in decision making, it has impulse control. For context, I always say it’s what teenagers do not have because it’s not fully developed until about 22 or 23. This system is actually shut off. You can’t access it. So when you think back to when you get really stressed, you’re filled with anxiety, and things are just chaotic all around you, and you lose your keys, and you forget an appointment, and things start happening because of that, it is for a reason. Your good-thinking brain is actually turned off at that moment.
Now, if your life’s in danger, that’s okay because you’re not going to rely on thinking things through, you’re going to rely on a gut reaction to protect yourself. But if you’re looking at parenting or your relationships or work and you’re in these situations without your good thinking brain activated, then yes, it’s going to be a problem. There’s going to be consequences. So we’re going to look at that in a little bit. But think also what’s turned off. Your digestive system. You’re going to have issues with health, probably, if this is always happening. Also, your immune system. So these two things are not important if your life’s in danger. You don’t need to digest your food if your life’s in danger. But if you’re living in chronic stress, absolutely, that’s going to take a toll on your body.
Now, I’ll just take a quick moment to connect it to parenting because all this quarter soul flowing through your body when you’re stressed out, it also impacts kids. Even if you’re trying really hard to not let it impact kids. Kids can actually react to your biology. So if you have a high cortisol level, it’s likely your kids will also, but they don’t have a fully developed brain, so it can actually change their brain development. It can have significant impact on how they view the world, how they interpret things because of how their brain wires due to all that cortisol flowing through their body.
So it’s something really important for parents to understand. All of us want to learn tools to deal with anxiety, but there’s a great motivation if you’re a parent. If you can turn your system off and teach your kids how to turn the stress system off, it will benefit both of you. And kids have less of a fighting chance, if this is what they’re learning all along in the childhood. So keep that in the back of your mind and we’ll come back to that in a moment. But let’s keep moving on so we can get to some tools.
So when we’re thinking of these two systems, you have two options, basically. One, you’re going to turn off that fight or flight. The other option is to keep it from turning on. So if everything’s fine, what kicks it into gear? What in your life caused you to start going? Your mind’s racing. You’re worried. You’re stressed. It’s starting to happen again. So one strategy is all the tools that keep you from kicking into that gear. The other is if you’re already in that stress mode, how do you deactivate it? How do you shut that off? So we’re going to get to that.
So first, let’s look at the consequences of anxiety a little bit too. So when you’re stressed, when you’re filled with anxiety, what is that like for you? We can see that it’s going to have physical health complications. We can also see it’s going to impact our relationships. If you’re filled with anxiety and you wake up in the morning, how does it affect your kids, your partner, your spouse? How is it affecting other people around you? It’s also going to affect our parenting. Maybe we were affected by our parent that had a lot of anxiety. It could affect our decisions and it could affect our behaviors. If we are filled with stress and anxiety, what’s it going to look like at work? What’s that going to look like when we’re driving? How is this going to affect our behaviors?
So let’s jump into some tools. Remember, we’re going to either keep it from being activated or we’re going to learn how to shut it off. So I’m going to jump to learning how to shut it off real quick. Let’s look for tools of the body. So in context, as we look at these tools, I want you to remember, at least from my Biblical perspective, God created this human brain that works amazingly, although there was the fall and it has gone downhill from there. So we do have complications. We have an amazing working brain. We also have disease. We have chemical imbalances. We have difficulties. We need to deal with anxiety and stress. I’m not convinced we had a sympathetic nervous system before the fall. I can’t wait to ask God that. So this fight or flight, though, it has complications and it can really hurt our health and everything else, but it is what God created, our human brain.
So that’s my Biblical integration right there is to remind you in studying how people work, how our brain works, how our body works, in order to have a healthy life, I think it honors God. I don’t think it’s just that we need to only use scripture that gives us answers, and we’re going to actually tie it back in because some of the tools come from that verse we looked at, but also, as we study His creation, He gives us tools. When we understand how the body works, we can reverse engineer it to have some of these tools.
So first of all, if it’s already activated and you have all of this anxiety, one thing you can do is basically trick your body into thinking everything’s fine. So the parasympathetic nervous system, what it looks like when everything’s at peace is a slow heart rate, your body’s relaxed, you have plenty of oxygen go into the brain. If you can mimic that if you can practice tools, any kind of relaxation therapy, we’ve heard about deep breathing, if all you do is take as deeper breaths you can in your nose and out your mouth, that will increase oxygen to your brain, slow your heart rate down, and there’s a chance if your body relaxes, it will tell the brain, hey, everything’s okay. You can shut off now and you can deactivate that fight or flight response.
So that’s an easy strategy, any tool you can use. And your body’s muscles, remember, so if you practice on a regular basis relaxing and you got really good at it, in the middle of you being stressed, you could tell yourself to relax and even if you’re not convinced that you can, your body will remember and will relax all by itself. So that would take a lot of time, a lot of practice, but you can train your body to relax. So deep breaths, slowing in your heart rate, possibly meditation. You can meditate on Scripture, on that verse we looked at, on those truths.
The other aspect is to remember a proper interpretation of emotions. Sometimes when we feel stress, we think, “This is awful. I need it to disappear.” Talking about addictions, you could drink some alcohol, smoke some weed. There’s some ways you can fix that real fast for a moment. Problem is sometimes there’s long-term consequences of that, whether it’s relationships or it goes farther to actually an addiction. But within that, everything’s still there when you’re not using that substance, but you have this feeling you want it to disappear. If you were trapped with that feeling that’s so terrible and you could not escape it, do you know what would happen? Nothing. It’s just a feeling. It will feel awful, but it can’t actually hurt you. It’s just a feeling.
So to just keep that in mind, then when you’re brave and you’re feeling all this anxiety and you want to just escape it, sit with it for a moment. Don’t leave it. Get to know it. What’s going on? What am I thinking? Where am I feeling into my body? Just embrace it for a moment, not forever, whatever you can tolerate, and wait. Many, many times, people will realize it actually passes. It doesn’t last. It’s just a moment. This emotion comes and with time, it can go away. Maybe it doesn’t, and we’ll deal with that, but it’s worth trying and remembering it doesn’t harm you.
And one example might be if you were up in front of a thousand people and what your body feels like, one person is throwing up in a corner, scared to death, it’s the worst feeling ever. Another person loves it. They thrive in it. It’s exciting. It might be the same physical feeling, but it’s interpreted differently. So it’s helpful to remember when you’re feeling this feeling, instead of just thinking this is the worst thing ever, just take a moment to embrace it and think, “Okay, well, how bad is this?” Just sit with it for a moment.
Learn your body cues also. This I’m going to save, actually, because that will be better looked at when we’re looking at how we prevent it. So right now, let’s stay focused on how we… I’m just going to glance at something here. How we prevent it. How we get it to shut off. So those are some tools, I might come back to that, but those are the big ones. Let’s go to how to keep it from turning on, okay? So if your sympathetic nervous system is activated, it’s because your brain is saying something’s dangerous in your environment. It’s what it’s meant for. It’s assessing quickly and telling you, you need to freak out. It doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Okay? So one of your best tools is to learn how to pay attention to your own thinking and how you’re assessing situations.
How many of us have freaked out at something that seems like the end of the world, but actually, it’s not a big deal, and everything’s fine in a moment? So initially, it seems awful. And so we react and our heart rate’s going a thousand miles an hour, and our mind’s racing, and we’re yelling and screaming, and things are breaking, you’re dropping stuff. And then actually, everything’s fine. Oops, sorry. You come back down. That’s just a silly example. But the point is this systems activated because you believe something is dangerous or a problem in your environment. So to get good at watching your thinking and evaluating it, paying attention to that will help you.
So learning body cues, and then we’ll move on, is one aspect. Your body will start telling you when you’re almost to the point where you’re going to be stressed out, you’re going to reach that point where the anxiety is affecting you. So if you can really pay attention and learn, what happens first? Does something tingle? Does your mind start racing? Do you have doom-like depression that actually is one reason people have anxiety? So sometimes it’s just this sense of what a terrible day and the weight comes on you and then the stress starts coming, the worry starts coming. So can you learn what your body cues are to catch it early and use some tools? Which we’ll come to some more in just a moment.
So let’s jump. Keep going. Tools of the mind. So remember, anxiety really is about perspective. So from a biblical worldview, we have some help here. First of all, from a Biblical worldview, we’re in the middle of war. Now, that doesn’t seem like that would help with anxiety, but for me, it does because I wake up in the morning and I think I’m in the middle of a war. I need to be ready for war. I don’t just casually wake up. Have I been reading my Bible? Am I focused on what God wants me to do? Where were my kids? How am I doing? Where’s my relationship? I’m very active and that protects me. I know I’m in a war. I can’t let down my guard. It will get me. And also, that’s something that could help.
Also, we can expect pain and suffering. Now again, this seems like you know, it’s not what anybody would want to hear. But because we know it does exist in the human experience, it’s pretty common, and it’s the only thing really we’re promised and this timeframe is that we will have tribulations coming, if we know that, when they hit, it doesn’t have to be something that puts us into the anxiety and into the stress. We realize what’s happening. We know this will be used for good. We know something good will come, at least we can walk through it to some extent. We know good can come from stress. There’s going to be character built. You go through anything difficult, it’s going to be awful in the moment, if you make it through out of the other side, you are changed. You’re a different person with strength that could have never been there without that.
We have access to truth and we have the power of the Holy Spirit to filter our thinking, to evaluate more accurately. If we start in on that, if the first assessment is this is a terrible day, why even wake up, and then we start thinking from God’s perspective, “Actually, I have wonderful children. I’m so grateful for this,” You start looking at how God sees the world, that perspective change can impact you.
It leads us into the next one actually, tools of the mind thankfulness. I’ve never seen anything more powerful than gratefulness. Listing what you’re thankful for in a desperate moment, for some reason, it has a counterattack to anxiety. Anxiety is all of the things not that are wrong but could go wrong. So it’s listing all the stress, all the fear, all the worry. And so the flip side, if you go to thank you for this, I’m so glad for this, it could be little things, but holding on to thankfulness and gratefulness is powerful.
And now, we’ll remember that verse. It’s in the instructions God gave us. So be anxious for nothing but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. He tells us thanksgiving is a tool here we can use, but it also has to do with perspective. The end of the world, I’m very grateful for everything I have. So perspective change is going to be the tools of mind that will help.
Now let me give you one great tool here and we’ll move through quick to get to some questions. If you wanted to change your whole thinking pattern, I have a three-part process you can go through. I’m going to do it in weeks, you can do it however you want to, but I find it much better if you do it in pieces instead of all at once. So first week, start paying attention to your thinking. I say, think about your thinking. Just notice it. How do you interpret things? When somebody says something, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Just notice your natural thinking pattern. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you might see things negatively. That guy’s a jerk. Why would he do that? How is that even possible? So you might come back after that week and think, “I’m very negative or judgmental.” That could happen. But I don’t know what it’ll be. Just notice your thinking. Pay attention to your thinking patterns.
The second week, every time you do have a thought, I want you to grab it and think, “How else can I think about this?” And it doesn’t matter if they’re both negative. First thing that comes to mind, that guy’s an idiot. Second thing, well, maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he stubbed his toe. So whatever the case is, you’re trying to see another perspective. That’s your second week. Third week, I want you to choose your thinking. I want it to be accurate, in line with truth. You have access to Scripture. Not everybody does. So have it as close to truth as possible. Reality, accurate, and if you don’t know for sure, go on something that’ll give you a better day. So maybe that guy, you have no idea if he’s a jerk or not, just presume he probably had a bad day, just so you can move on and not go into the spiral of anxiety.
So three parts to practice and what I found is just doing this naturally, you can get really good at evaluating every thought, taking capture every thought in your mind to make sure it’s not leading you down a road of stress when there’s no good reason for it. So gaining awareness of your body and mind, evaluate your interpretations, take responsibility. No one live in truth. Take responsibility of your thoughts, how you interpret life, and your events, and your reactions. The more information you know, the more you realize you can control your stress response. It is not going to be easy, especially if you’ve done this for 30 years, 50 years, it will be hard to change, but it’s possible. So you start in on it, you take responsibility. I’ve joked about times I’ve splashed water on my face and slapped it, like pull it together. This is not the end of the world. Everything’s fine. And you might have to do that. You can change your perspective.
If you’re able to keep the system from being activated, it’s actually much better. Once it is activated, taking deep breaths, trying to calm yourself down to shut it off, that’s going to be one of your best tools as well. So we’ll take a break here and we’ll have some time for questions and answers. But hopefully that gives you a little bit of insight into the brain and how to manage this brain reaction system we have. Thank you very much.
Okay, thank you. Outstanding. And thank you very much, Dr. Hayden. And let’s jump into our questions, we have ample time for that. If you have a question, please raise it in the air. One of our hosts will pick that up, bring it to the front, and then we’ll be able to use your questions as we move into this second part of the evening. So if you have questions about anxiety, maybe related to your life, it may be a friend, a loved one family member, so please do so if you would.
I’d like to look at this. This awareness, evaluate, take responsibility, and know the truth. Again, one of the greatest gifts we have as humans, isn’t it, that we do what’s called meta cognition or thinking about thinking. Can you help us to understand what that’s like? So how do I think about thinking? Because sometimes people are never able to even do that with another person. Nobody wants to hear you think out loud about yourself or what you’re thinking, right? But how do we do that? You’re talking about this idea to know and like the truth. You have to think about what that is first to know that. Could you talk about that for just a moment?
Absolutely. And one thing I’ll say is I am surprised how many people don’t. But actually, I remember myself personally. You just don’t necessarily notice all that’s happening in your mind and it can create a lot of anxiety, but you’re not aware of it. So there’s a lot of strategies in psychology, looking at cognitive behavior therapy, that how you think about things impacts how you feel and what you do, which obviously is there in Scripture long before we gave it a title. And so it’s there, but what I found is just people are not necessarily aware. So if you give yourself that task, you’d be surprised how you can notice your thinking.
And so it might be that somebody says something and you think, “I failed. Why did I do that?” And that could impact your whole day, but it’s just so easy to let that go and not notice it. So what I found is this little experiment. It’s something that people find easy, and then all of a sudden they realize, and then they get excited to do it more. They realize how many negative thoughts they have that are fueling anxiety and they want that to change. So that’s where it comes from, is just watching people have no awareness whatsoever. And then once they start paying attention, they’re shocked at how terrible their thinking is. And then they can take responsibility to actually change it and have it in line with Scripture.
So you talked about the muscle memory. So it could be as a little child, when I would say something, maybe the people around me would say, “We do not want to listen to that,” or, “That’s not a very good idea,” or, “Why don’t you say something smarter,” with a brighter way of looking at it. And so pretty soon, you’re taking on those emotions, and you said that about little children, they’ll absorb that emotion early on, and then that becomes a muscle memory that I then react and that’s the first thing I do because I was taught how to do that and I was behaviorally modified as a child.
So what are some tactics then with that, Dr. Hayden, and I’m thinking of one, but what are some tactics that we could think about? Say you’re in a relationship and pretty soon, all of a sudden, you just find yourself reacting to the person. You just have some sort of reaction. It could be just pausing for one or two seconds without saying anything and giving space for reflection, even if it’s your own reflection, not the other person. So sometimes just slowing down the conversation and trying to perceive what is going on would be one.
Maybe another one would be being aware of how your breathing is. A lot of people don’t realize that when we get anxious, the sympathetic system engages us, and it shuts down our lower abdominal airy, and we start tightening up right around our neck, and we’re not breathing deeply, which is one of the first things you suggested to do. And so just being aware of how you’re breathing can be a real help. In other words, that’s noticing your own somatic reactions to things. Am I still breathing deeply or am I short upper neck, lower in the esophagus area? Right here on the higher chest, that’s where I’m breathing. That will tell me that I’m a bit nervous about what’s going on. You probably have lots more ideas than I do.
Well, I love that and I was thinking how funny it is. A lot of times I’ll say something like that and I’ll say breathe and the person will go, “Haa.” They didn’t know they’re holding their breath. I’ll do that myself. So it’s funny how simple that is and how valuable it is. I think with that whole process of trying to get good at paying attention to your thinking that you can get good at assessing a situation and trying to figure out quickly, when you notice your body cues of the anxiety, you can say, “What’s going on right now? What am I thinking right now? How am I interpreting this? Is it accurate?”
In relationships and fights, and I’m sure you have a lot in your class looking at couples and fighting, so one of the things they’ll teach you is try to look for the truth and go ahead and acknowledge something. We don’t do that naturally, but if we can look and say, “Okay, I get it. They’re mad at this. I did do that,” and so you’re assessing in your mind what’s accurate, what’s the truth and go to that instead of something that’s a lie or extreme like they meant to do it and they hate me. We interpret things in a negative way and in an extreme way and it’s just not accurate, but that’s going to increase our anxiety. So just fighting in our minds to think what’s accurate, what’s likely to be realistic in this situation.
And that’s why I think that scripture in Philippians 4: 6 and 7, if you notice the language that Paul used as he wrote to the church and Philippi, God ordained his words, and of course, it is the true Word of God, that he said guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. He could have said your mind and heart and I’m wondering if what he was suggesting, as oftentimes if we’re not managing it well, like Dr. Hayden is helping us to understand this evening, what will happen is my heart In other words, my feelings will proceed. They’ll go before my ability to think about it, which is very common. That’s why in cognitive behavioral therapies, you were referring to that we decatastrophize. In other words, I go to a catastrophizing thought before I can think about it. Does that makes sense? It sounds like it’s a thought, but it’s actually a feeling that’s leading it.
There are four different theories that are out right now that talk about the difference between do you feel it or think it or is it a combination, therefore. But typically, what we see is that we have the feeling will proceed, it will go before our thought and I believe that’s why Paul wrote that under God’s guidance. And that is that we have to guard our heart because our heart will lead us astray. I always say to my university students, never trust your heart, trust God. Your heart will always lead or lead all of us astray, but God will never lead us astray.
So this idea, the switch to great idea that you showed earlier about that we have memory muscle, so if I become a little tight, my feet might start moving. And so I’m noticing my feet moving, I’ll go, “Okay, I must be a little tight.” I need to relax, breathe a little more because if I’m tight, my feet are not getting enough oxygen. They’re not getting enough blood, correct, to function well. And so it’s just being where are my shoulders tightening. So looking at and being aware of your own somatic, in the Greek that means your body, your bodily reaction to things.
That’s what we do with anger management. I try to help men, in particular. As you know, their amygdala is much larger than females as the hippocampus, that of memory, is much larger for females. That’s why women will oftentimes remember things that men have forgotten and they need to be reminded of. I’m just kidding. But anyway, so this idea of memory, muscle memory, is we can be aware of, you were sharing that, how our body is speaking to us. We try to help therapists, don’t we, in training, and you train a lot of therapists as I do, and helping them to somehow begin to be aware of their own body, their own physical makeup as they’re trying to listen to someone.
So here’s some questions that have been brought to us. And by the way, if you do have a question, just put it up in the air and if you need a card, just put your hand up in the air and we’ll get you a three by five card. This is a question that I saw this first off. This is a great question, actually, I think. How can I tell if someone’s anxiety is abnormal? In other words, maybe needing therapy. Now, hopefully, that person is not sitting next to you tonight. But if that idea… how can I tell if someone’s anxiety is abnormal? What a powerful question.
Good question. I would say one aspect is how you feel in their presence because we do feel anxiety. Kids feel anxiety. Maybe you’re even naturally a little bit of a tense person, but in this person’s presence you feel your anxiety just increasing and increasing, yeah, they might have anxiety. I do think though, all of it is somewhat subjective. So if you feel their anxiety, but they don’t even know they have it, and they’re not seeing any negatives to it, that’s a little difficult. The problem there because a lot of times if somebody else is not worried about their anxiety, it might not be a big deal. If there’s kids involved, it could still actually affect the kids. So that’s something we’ll use in parenting classes, just making sure parents understand. It could actually still affect the kids. But that’s probably what I’d say is how do you feel in their presence? And then asking them.
For a person, personally, one thing I’ve noticed is somebody that’s lived with anxiety, their whole life may not know what it’s like without. If they can do something where they have some kind of a deep relaxation, meditation, sometimes anxiety medication, I am always cautious with that because sometimes anxiety medication is addictive, but if they had anything like that where they had a way to not feel anxiety, it may be a revolution for them to understand what it could be like without anxiety. So that would have to be something cautious with a therapist, with a doctor or something like that. But it might be interesting if a person wondered that they might be able to use one of those therapy tools and see what it’s like to not have anxiety.
Yes. Dr. John Gottman of University of Washington, what he does is he checks cortisol levels. He’s done this for close to 50 years. Close to it.
And what he does, he would suggest by looking at hundreds and hundreds of videos of couples in their university, University of Washington, Washington State, their university and they have an apartment complex, and he would suggest that once the beats per minute, go up above 100 beats per minute, that is increase cortisol levels, which has already been shared by Dr. Hayden. It’s decreasing the ability to use the prefrontal cortex. Now notice that’s one of the last portions of the brain, this is a generalized statement, one of the last portions of the brain to be formalized. As Dr. Hayden mentioned, teenagers oftentimes are not able to use prefrontal cortex because it’s not highly developed until age 22 to 23, somewhere in that vicinity.
And so what can happen is a person’s not aware that they keep their heartbeat high, not intentionally, or they keep their cortisol levels high because they feel sluggish without it. Have you ever known someone… because you talked about helping them see it. I know somebody in my own family that says, “When I get too much rest, I feel sluggish and I don’t like that feeling.” And so the person revs him or herself up and keeps him or herself going and doing 20 million, zillion things.
And that’s why it’s important to have sobriety from TV, phones, various things that actually incite and excite that limbic system. If you’ll notice, every commercial is trying to incite your limbic system so you’ll be anxious to hear once you hear it, get up out of your chair and walk to Amazon, and purchase it right there in between commercials, and come right back and you’re going to be feeling better, right? Because now you’re in control, you just purchased something, you may be going broke, but you purchase something and at that point, you’re excited about it. So we are constantly having that limbic system engaged at some level.
So when you talked about helping someone that may not be aware that they’re excited, they may not be getting enough rest. That’s why I asked my patients, I had many today and I asked them that question. How’s your sleep? How’s your nutrition? My first one I asked, “Is there sleep,” because if you’re not getting good third REM sleep, then your brain is not slowing down even though it does increase in areas during REM sleep, but that you’re not slowing down. And by the way, when I work with patients who are too anxiety ridden with EMDR, this is a particular treatment that parallels third REM sleep, one of the first things I try to encourage them to do is that when I’m doing the process with their eyes, it’s just having their eyes go between the two hemispheres, they’re breathing at the same time because most of them will stop breathing when I start having them because they’re trying to be so focused. So they’ve not been able to focus on something without being anxious.
Now, let me stop there for just a moment. We should be able to focus on something I am focusing on you, but I’m aware of how I’m breathing right now. So I’m focusing both on my breathing and I’m focusing on my communication. So this goes back to what you were suggesting about muscle memory. Every cell we have has some level of controlling our bodily functions, as you mentioned, with the sympathetic system or the parasympathetic system. So you want elaborating more on that?
I was just thinking. I just think you can get so comfortable with it, you don’t know it’s there. You can be addicted to it and even though that’s all true, I like the phrase that one day, your body will give you a bill. And that’s the thing, it might be okay for now but at some point, it’s probably going to take a toll. And so if you have the awareness now and you can catch it and start changing, even if you’re not seeing huge red flags, it’s probably going to benefit your long term health.
Yeah. I cannot over accentuate or suggest that if you’re having anxiousness within a relationship, if you just slow down the communication and breathe more, you will find that things will work much more healthfully. And that is being more responsive than reactive.
The next question here is elaborate on the statement, because we’ve referred to it, you have and I’ve just briefly, elaborate on the statement that parents pass on their cortisol levels to their children. Is this during pregnancy? If I can just change the language just a bit, it’s saying elaborate on the statement that parents pass on their cortisol levels to their children. Is this during pregnancy?
I know there’s lots of research. Do you want respond first? Lots of research on this because we do know that the amniotic fluid, that there is a commingling between the mother and the child. That’s why you don’t drink or smoke or whatever you ingest is likely to be your infant’s experience as well. And so it makes very good sense that your cortisol levels would also respond. You think of infants, an infant within a mother’s womb, that infant will respond to a higher or lower pitched voice. They’ve done lots of research on this. So you have a male voice that will typically, not always, but typically be lower and a female voice that typically, generally speaking, will be higher and the infant responds to that. I know you’ve done lots of research in this as well.
Sure. I’ll give you an example and then we can talk specifically about in the womb. But the studies that come to my mind are when there are couples fighting and they would… I can’t think of the term, but take their blood to test their cortisol levels. So couples are fighting, they test their cortisol levels, and they’re high. And they test the kid’s cortisol level and is high. And then the couples leave. And in one group, the couples make up, everything’s fine. One parent comes home and the cortisol levels the kid decreases. In the other couple, they pretend everything’s fine, and they come home pretending in front of the kid, and the kid’s cortisol level stays high. And they’ve done so many studies on this.
So the biology of the parent is transferred to the biology of the kid. Fascinating. And yes, also in the womb. Anxiety, stress, and the level of cortisol can have an impact. Now, we’ll say, before you worry too much, it’s fascinating how the body works so it just figures things out. So even with when you’re talking about babies in the womb and even young infants, everything in the womb is set to protect that kid. So whatever the mom’s doing, even things that do obviously have long-term harm, everything is also set to do its best to protect the baby. So in a lot of ways, I wouldn’t stress too much about stressing, It’ll backfire. So be careful to not stress about something that’s already happened and really try to change from now on what you do.
So yeah, absolutely, it can have an impact. It’s worth putting a lot of time into controlling that stress response. But also, I think those who naturally stress they also put a lot of shame and guilt on their shoulders and start stressing more. So you want to be careful with that. You want to be free and move forward to something healthier and better in your future.
We call it a good enough parent. Those of us who are trying to work on it, which all of us do, normal people will try to work on it. We’re good enough because we are trying to work on it. It doesn’t mean that gives us a pass to be anxious or mean or cruel or unkind. But it’s that we all try our best with the circumstances that we are under. I try to say that to my parents that come in for work in parenting, to say that we’re all here, including myself, trying to be the best parent that I possibly can.
But the important piece that you were talking about is early on, children absorb emotion rather than think about it. Remember, I mentioned the word metacognition and that, Dr. Julie Hayden was suggesting that earlier, is thinking about yourself. Thinking about thinking. When we think about what we’re thinking, we are actually relaxing our body because thinking about thinking, you have to be focused. And so it’s one of the great gifts that God gives.
I always want to say we have a little dog that loves my wife much more than me because I take it on runs and there’s dogs that bark and it gets all upset, and I try to make it mind and all of that. And we want to think that that dog is when the dog turns its face and its ears prop up, I say, “Do you want to go for a run,” and I think that she knows what we’re going to go for a run. But if I say it a little more calculated and with a little more cognition, like we’re going to go for a run and going to miss all three dogs that tend to bark at you, and so we’re going to miss those three. So when we get three quarters the way we’re going to stop, and it’s still looking, it might even turn this way. There is no absolute, no way that that dog is understanding what I’m doing. As a human, you understood every word I said, I believe. You’re taking it in because you’re thinking about it.
When we think we’re actually relaxing because we call it an intervention. And it’s really God’s great gift to us to be able to think about what we’re doing, just like you’re doing here. I think that’s why I love education and stayed in so long. That education, you’re always thinking. It’s what you do. And it’s such a wonderful gift to be in that kind of world. And I love being a therapist because that’s what you’re doing. I’m constantly five about five hypotheses with each with each client and I’m trying to think desperately what’s going on here and I ask the Lord help to me in this. And so that’s why I so enjoy my role as a therapist as well.
But back to this cortisol levels of children, as this during pregnancy. Now, the beautiful thing, and then I’ll stop talking, but the beautiful thing about our brains, which is the focus tonight, is that it’s so malleable and there’s so much literature out saying this. So even if say you raised a child and you’re thinking right now, “Wow, I was anxious a lot of the time and I can see that in my child,” well, there is research that would clearly suggest that We can work on that and reduce our anxiety. That it doesn’t have to be constant because of you can change your muscle memory. I’m going back for the third time what you suggested. We have muscle memory and we can change it.
So for example, if I always go to a negative statement, which I tend to do, as a person, I’m kind of critiquing it, my wife is just the opposite, she sees the positive, Robin does, and I see kind of a negative, that I can say to myself, “Okay, I think I’m going to try to think of something different when that happens next time.” And so I think of something different and I respond in a different way. If I do that likely seven times, it may be a different memory and now I’ve changed my response from what I thought was a very negative reaction to a positive response. What do you say about that, Dr. Hayden?
Absolutely. And I think I was thinking along that line to. Remember when that sympathetic nervous system is activated and you do not have your prefrontal cortex, you tend to go to gut reaction. And a lot of times, that’s based on memories that are stored floating around in your right hemisphere with all the emotions attached to whatever you’re feeling in the moment. So a lot of times, you make a decision when you’re stressed or with that reaction from your past. And so I’m remembering to the importance of building in these patterns. So they’re your history. You might have abuse in your childhood or a mom that had a lot of anxiety or all these things that when you go back to your past, your automatic reaction, you do what you’ve seen them before. You do what’s in that history. But you can reprogram it. You can practice having your automatic reaction. Even if you’re caught off guard and you go into that, be something different.
So I was just thinking about the tools of just practicing some of these automatic reactions as well. And previously, when you’re talking about the brain and just how plastic it is, how there’s plenty of hope for it to readjust in a healthy way and funny enough, healthy relationships is one of the main ways it can heal from any kind of damage done in childhood. I was also thinking… well, I lost my train of thought, but it’s really good, so I got to remember. Oh, yeah.
So it’s not just stress damages kids, it’s long-term, extreme cortisol levels. So to remember that’s good because actually a benefit is if they go through high cortisol to some extent and then it’s okay. So some kind of a difficulty that comes and then everything works out and a stress that comes, that type of thing actually builds a lot of strength in the brain wiring of a kid. It’s the consistent stress with no break. So if you’re struggling as a parent and you know you have stress and that is something you cannot make disappear quickly, have a break. Find some way to have fun, turn the music up, watch comedy. Something that gives you a break and your kids a break from stress and that can be something tangible you do right away even if you haven’t conquered anxiety yet. Give yourself a break. Give your kids a break. Go do something fun.
Yes, this is a very good point. We’re in a society now that’s moved a bit away from allowing children to have a bit of stress because anxiety is so common. If you listen to TV very long, you’ll see commercials for anti-anxiety medication, and you choose it, tell your doctor which one you want, this sort of thing. The beauty of this is that safe space can be very helpful for people, we’ve all heard that term. One of the things is when a person goes through a challenging time and they’re able to tolerate the anxiety, they’re less prone to addiction because what they’ve done is they’ve learned during a period of time, I’m going to really put effort in this and it’s a bit stressful, however, I’m going to have a reprieve. That’s why God made us within 24 hours. We should be sleeping somewhere between seven to eight or nine, depending upon your own body and makeup. That we should have a time of rest, a time for you.
This next question is, I love this question, I’ve read it three four times here, how can we teach others to understand? That’s a powerful question. My immediate thought, and Dr. Hayden will certainly have great ideas, I was thinking of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and his fifth habit was built on that concept to understand and it was taken from St. Francis of Assisi. And that concept is if you want to be understood, then understand. So if you want to be understood as you try to understand, you’re being understood, because you’re now commingling mirroring neurons that came into play, I believe, about 1991 in Spain. And that idea is that if I yawned, some of you might automatically. This goes back to Dr. Hayden’s concept autonomically. In other words, an automatic reaction without thinking about it.
And so when we try to understand someone, we’re actually healing ourselves. I hope I’m not going too far with that. But when we try to understand someone, actually our blood pressure goes down. We go back to a homeostasis play place. Our parasympathetic system, as she had suggested, is very peaceful and calm when we are really trying to understand someone. But if we get anxious about what they’re saying, then we’re not understanding and therefore, we’re likely not going to be understood. So how do you respond to that? How can we teach others to understand?
You know, the first thing I thought of, so I could be off, so it’ll be good information, even if it’s not what the person is asking, is a lot of times people that struggle with stress want other people to understand what they’re going through. So if it’s something like that, I would actually find a way to let that go because it will create its own stress. Wanting others to know how hard it is inside our body inside our mind and to have that understanding of what we’re going through, it’s something that’s very much out of our control. And so actually, it could cause a lot of stress and just going around in circles where there’s no way. It could be something that’s not possible and so I would actually let that go.
Now, that might not be a great answer for somebody that wants to be understood, but even just relating it to myself and having that own personal desire sometimes, it also will trap us a little bit. It will create a way that we stay in that and we want everybody to understand what we’re going through. It might not be possible and it definitely could increase our stress if they’re not getting it. So I might flip it around and really try to filter and instead of having others understand us, like you said, try to understand others and see if it naturally can be a relationship thing where if we put our time into what we can control, can you understand another person, and where they’re coming from, and what they’re going through? As you do that, maybe naturally, there will be some reciprocity. But if you put the pressure on that person to understand and and they’re not wanting, they’re not there right then, maybe they can’t, it could create more stress.
So kind of just letting yourself off the hook, letting them off the hook, and experiment rather than a pressure of helping them understand. If it’s just a matter of wanting others to understand what anxiety is, what we might be going through, you know, education could help where you’re just talking about it. For some reason, I go to PTSD. A lot of times people don’t want to talk about whatever has produced that PTSD. But there can be a lot of help in just sharing with the people they love about what they’re going through and then the other person may not fully understand, but they have a lot of compassion. So it could be that you can open up and share what you’re going through and the other person has compassion. But I would just be cautious that you don’t have higher expectation than what’s possible. Depending on that person, depending on you know what they’re capable of, I would just go easy with that concept.
Good to think about, yes. This this last question, it’s the last one that I have here, and it says this, that my wife becomes anxious during driving, particularly. She knows it is an unreasonable response as we’ve never crashed and I go out of my way to drive carefully. How can I help her combat this feeling when it appears? We could contextualize that in many different ways. Let me read the question again. It’s a very good question that you may have yourself or someone in your life that has a reaction that you wish could change. And we can talk for just a few minutes, we have about eight minutes left, is that my wife becomes anxious during driving, particularly. She knows it is an unreasonable response, I would probably say reaction, as we’ve never crashed and I go out of my way to drive carefully. How can I help her combat this feeling when it appears.
And I’d like to respond with the first response. If this is the case of this male who’s saying this, I think the first question I would ask is, ask her, how do you perceive my driving? Do you have any insights in how my driving impacts our interaction? While we’re in the car? And ask some questions to see her perspective on what her experience is as you and I probably know that each of us has our own unique perspective. We all have a particular lens through which we look and oftentimes, it’s very different from others. And so trying to understand, as you said, Dr. Hayden, just a moment ago, trying to understand the other person’s perspective first can soften the interaction. So what do you think to this question?
I love it. I would definitely say it depends on if she wants you to share a tool with her.
Okay, there you go. That’s a better [crosstalk 00:59:52].
So I’m curious, yeah, because I think there’s great tools, but they would definitely backfire if she’s fine being anxious and worrying about your driving. But if she knows logically you’re a great driver and she just can’t figure out why she stresses so much and she’s asking you, and she’s wanting some tools, one thing that you could ask and have her ask herself is what does she think that the worrying is going to do? Because remember, if you just create a very simple line in anxiety in what you’re stressing and worrying about, there’s truth in a lie.
So what does she think the anxiety will do? We think that if we stress and worry enough, we’re going to do something that stress… it doesn’t sound logical when we say it, but how we act with our anxiety sometimes. We think if we stress and worry about it enough, somehow it’s going to protect this car. But in reality, of course, it can’t. So if she’s stressed and worried as much as she possibly could, it wouldn’t actually do anything to protect her or it could harm her body, but it’s not doing anything. So asking her what does she think the stress and worry could do in a positive way and then also, what is it costing her? What are the negatives? So that’s one way to view it and open up discussion about it.
But with anxiety, it’s your sometimes irrational fear. Now, of course, you can always be harmed in a car, but it sounds like nothing’s out of the ordinary. So that’s an irrational fear. And sometimes with anxiety, it’s being stubborn. And remembering that what’s in your mind is not the same as a behavior. You could be afraid that you might drive off the road, but you haven’t driven off the road. So filtering that too. You’re driving, you’re safe, you’re fine, even if your mind goes into another place with worry. You’ve got to harness it back, fight that thought, and right there in the seat, if I was hurt and I wanted to fight this, I would take deep breaths, I will start talking to myself, we are safe, we are fine. If we weren’t safe, there’s nothing my stress would ever do to fix that.
And faith. Those types of things are fear-based. Well, is God in charge of your life and whether you’re going to drive safe or not? In a lot of ways, not that he’s driving crazy. But if he’s driving safe, something happens to that car, there’s not a lot that the stress is going to be able to do about it. But absolutely, God is still sovereign. So just fighting that battle in your mind reminded yourself of the truth, accurate thinking, and you’ll be surprised how that will impact your body. But you have to be stubborn with it, especially if you’re in the habit of letting it go into the stress and fear.
So just to build on that just briefly, we have just a few minutes left, is that one way is doing a question to yourself, like saying from zero to 10. So are we going to crash? Zero would mean there’s no possibility really. It’s mostly unlikely. So zero would be that. 10 is we’re likely to crash because the way he drives or something like that. And that’s using a scaling question, that can help you with the stubbornness of the worry. So if you likely say, “Well, it’s really about a one. We could have an accident, but it’s very unlikely. That helps me then to redirect my thinking because you mentioned four things, awareness, evaluate, take responsibility, and then know and like the truth, I believe, is what you said, at the very beginning of today.
Know and live in truth.
Oh, know and live in truth. Know and live. Yeah, I can’t even read my own writing. Know and live in truth. Thank you. Thank you very much with that. And some of the audience is laughing because they know that about my writing, it’s so horrible. So that’s very helpful in this when the feelings appear. And then the stubbornness is being able to actually listen to yourself as you reflect on it. That’s that metacognition. Meta is thinking about cognition. Meta, thinking about it and that’s a great gift that we have.
Well, I want to thank you for being here this evening and also, I want to thank Dr. Julie Hayden. Would you join me in showing our appreciation for her wonderful work this evening?
Thank you. Very fun. Thank you for having me.
You’re most welcome. And I would like to mention that our next presentation, that will be September 3rd. This is a specialist who comes at least once every other year, but I have him within a year here, and it’s Sexual Betrayal: The Phases of Couple Recovery. Aaron Reinicke. He is known throughout the San Diego County. He’s a specialist in sex therapy. He’s a sex therapist, licensed marriage and family Therapist. He and his colleague will be on the platform September 3rd. So if you would like to learn more about this, Sexual Betrayal: The Phases of Couple Recovery.
So thank you again for attending this evening’s event at My Therapist Sez here in San Diego, California at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California. I would like to end with a word of prayer, if you don’t mind. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you so much for the gift and the knowledge that Dr. Julie Hayden has brought and gifted us with this evening. Bless her, and her family, and those of us who’ve been listening and who’ve been participating by questions and thinking what a gift it is to be able to sit and think, as we’ve mentioned several times this evening. So thank you for your insight that you brought.
Most importantly, what you have unlayered and given to each person who is within the sound of my voice right now. It may be a video production that they see later and it may be live streaming tonight or in the audience this evening. We most importantly, thank you for your great grace and sufficiency. As Dr. Hayden had mentioned, the marvelous gift of being grateful. We are grateful for your grace and sufficiency in each of our lives. So we give you praise in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Once again, thank you for attending My Therapist Sez. May you have a wonderful evening.
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