10 Tips for the Fearful Flier

imageDoes the mere thought of flying cause you to clench your fists and break out into a cold sweat? Do you run horrific crash scenarios through your mind while you’re sitting on a runway? If so, you are not alone. Fear of flying is a common phobia that cripples countless travelers.

And even though flying is statistically one of the safest ways to travel (there is only a 1 in 11 million chance you will die in an airplane accident, while there’s a 1 in 5,000 chance you’ll die in a car accident), for those with aviophobia (a fear of flying), these stats are not reassuring at all considering we drive daily and only fly a few times a year, if that.

While clinical phobias like a fear of traveling often require effective treatment and care through a trained mental health professional, there are ways to manage and ease your worries on your own when you’re in the air or on the move.

Here are my top 10 tips for the fearful flier:

Educate yourself. For many fearful fliers, learning the basics of how airplanes work can go a long way toward alleviating their anxiety. For instance, understanding how a plane can continue to fly even if an engine fails can help you feel less concerned about your aircraft malfunctioning. GuidetoPsychology.com offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how planes stay in the air, what causes turbulence, and what’s behind those scary sounds during takeoff and landing.

Acknowledge your fear. Human nature is to suppress fear or pretend like it’s not there. But the more we fight fear, the more we fan the flames. Trying to ignore or run from emotions only makes matters worse. It may seem silly, but recognizing that you are afraid and taking a moment to sit with and acknowledge your fear can keep the feeling from escalating. You might say to yourself, “I feel afraid that something bad is going to happen” or “I feel powerless in this moment”.

Pick your seat, but don’t panic if you can’t. It is true that turbulence is felt more keenly in the tail end of the aircraft and is mildest around the wings. If you can, try to get a seat near the center of the plane. However, if you’re not able to reserve a seat in this section, don’t panic. Just remind yourself that if you do hit a patch of turbulence, its effects may feel more powerful to you simply based on the location of your seat.

Breathe. One basic calming technique recommended by doctors and professionals is conscious, deep breathing: in through your nose and out through your mouth as slowly as possible. It may seem obvious, but it works! Breathing also helps prevent (or stop) panic attacks. Try to maintain a relaxed posture without clinging to the chair’s armrests, since this can heighten anxiety.

Look at the flight attendants. If you are worried that the turbulence you are experiencing is going to knock you out of the sky or that that sound the plane is making means the engine is failing, just take a look at the flight attendants. Do they appear concerned? If they are still going about their jobs and don’t look worried or alarmed, chances are nothing is wrong. If the flight attendants are calm, assume all is well.

Avoid caffeine on travel day. Caffeine is a stimulant that can/will make anxiety feel worse than it is. No matter if your flight is at 4 am or 4 pm, avoid it. Caffeine can linger in your system all day. Wean yourself off it for a few days before you fly if it’s too painful to go cold turkey. A stimulated mind can spin out in all kinds of jittery, panicky directions. Just. Don’t.

Practice grounding exercises. Grounding is a particular way of coping that is designed to “ground” you in the present moment and is a powerful tool for combating anxiety. To ground, use your five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight). Observe your surroundings. What do you see? Notice the cloud patterns in the sky, the colors in your environment, the textures. Experience how your feet feel on the floor, the way the armrest feels against your skin. What can you smell? Hear? Taste?

Separate fear from danger. It is often difficult to separate anxiety from danger because your body reacts in exactly the same way to both. Be sure to label your fear as anxiety. Tell yourself that anxiety makes your frightening thoughts feel more likely to occur, and remind yourself that feeling anxious doesn’t mean you are in danger. You are safe even when feeling intense anxiety.

Come prepared with distractions. One of the best ways to distract yourself during a flight is to load up your iPad with your favorite episodes of Seinfeld or Friends or bring a book that you’ve already started and are deeply engrossed in. Whatever you can do to surround yourself with familiar pleasures from home. Think of it as comfort food for your mind. Do anything that keeps your mind occupied and not dwelling on morbid possibilities.

Above all else, know when it’s time to seek professional help. If you’re losing sleep, feeling sick with anxiety, or avoiding travel at the expense of your own or other people’s convenience, then you should speak with a doctor or a licensed mental health professional for further guidance and support.

Wishing you peace and safe travels!

7 Tips For Dealing With Criticism When You’re A Highly Sensitive Person

7-tips-for-dealing-with-criticism-hspHearing criticism is a challenge for most of us, but for the highly sensitive person (HSP), it can be especially distressing and downright devastating. HSPs tend to have more intense reactions to criticism than their non-sensitive counterparts, and as a result will often employ certain tactics to avoid criticism, such as people-pleasing, criticizing themselves first (before the other person has a chance to), and avoiding the source of the criticism altogether.

Criticism can cut deep, but it doesn’t have to be crippling. If you are a highly sensitive person and struggle with criticism, here are some strategies that are aimed to help you move and grow through these experiences more gracefully.

 

Determine if the criticism is constructive or destructive.

 

The difference between constructive and destructive criticism is the way in which the comments are delivered. Constructive criticism points out faults and includes advice or suggestions on how they can be corrected (“Always check your blind spot before changing lanes.”), whereas destructive criticism seeks to tear down or directly attack the person and does not include practical advice for improvement (“You’re doing it all wrong.”).

 

Don’t respond immediately.

 

Our first instinct when faced with criticism is to get defensive. Even when intended to be helpful, criticism can feel like rejection—which triggers our natural “flight or fight” response. But when we fire back immediately from a place of intense emotion, we often say things we regret later. As best you can, resist the urge to respond right away. Take a step back from the situation and think about how you’re going to process it. Wait until you’re in a calmer, clearer space before you say anything.

 

Avoid black-and-white thinking.

 

Many HSPs struggle with black-and-white thinking—meaning that they see themselves as a huge success one moment and a complete failure the next, based on their most recent accomplishment or failure. This type of thinking prevents people from seeing themselves as a cohesive, realistic whole—comprised of BOTH positive and negative traits. Stay present and give your thoughts a reality check. Once you’ve identified an extreme thought, ask yourself, “Where is the evidence that I’m the worst employee on the entire planet?”

 

Ask questions.

 

It can be easy to misinterpret even the slightest bit of negative criticism. Ask follow up questions to make sure you fully understand what is being said to you. This is especially important if the criticism received isn’t particular clear. One way to determine if you’re interpreting feedback correctly is to paraphrase the message you’ve heard and communicate it back to the other person, asking: “Am I understanding this correctly?”

 

Look for the nugget of truth.

 

It is said that there is a kernel of truth in every criticism. At the very least, a person’s criticism carries the truth of how that one person sees you. Allowing yourself to be open-minded to what you hear doesn’t mean you have to believe it or act upon it, but if you can find something to grow from, then by all means do it! Other people in our lives often act as mirrors to reflect back to us the things we cannot see for ourselves.  Find a way to use this as a learning experience to improve yourself.

 

Separate feelings from facts.

 

Don’t believe everything you feel! Feelings are not facts; feelings are feelings. They do not always objectively represent what is taking place around you. When HSPs hear criticism, it often triggers deep feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, inadequacy, hopelessness, etc.—making it difficult for them to perceive the whole picture, instead narrowing in on those aspects of the situation that are most upsetting. Ask yourself if your feelings are based on present reality, on past experiences, or on fears you have about the future.

 

Do something nice for yourself.

 

Being open to criticism can be wounding for the highly sensitive person, and it’s not uncommon for their egos to feel bruised following a critique session. It’s important for HSPs to engage in good self-care following these experiences and do what they can to self-soothe/comfort themselves with something pleasurable—a funny movie, a long bubble bath, a good book, your favorite treat. Being warm and kind to yourself when the going gets rough will make a big difference in helping you achieve more balance and greater peace of mind.

6 Things Not to Say to Someone with Social Anxiety

things-not-to-say-social-anxietyFear. Apprehension. Avoidance. Pain. Anxious about what you said. Terrified you did something wrong. Anticipating others’ disapproval. Scared of rejection and of not fitting in. Worried about how to enter a conversation, afraid you won’t have anything to talk about. Living in constant fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by others, leading to frequent feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. This is what it is like to live with social anxiety. All day. Every day.

Studies have recently pegged Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) as the third largest mental health issue in the United States, after depression and alcoholism. It is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time. If someone you care about or work with has social anxiety, it’s important to find ways to support that individual, rather than criticize and/or condemn. In no particular order, here are a handful of well-meaning statements you might want to avoid when you’re trying to help a loved one cope with social anxiety.

“Why are you so quiet?”

5 words that people with SAD loathe hearing. We seem to live in a society that values outgoing, loud people over quiet people. Being quiet is somehow not acceptable in our culture, so if you aren’t talkative enough, then you must be “brought out of your shell”. But asking a person with social anxiety why they are quiet is probably the easiest and most effective way of making that person feel worse. Not only are you singling out someone who doesn’t want to be the center of attention, but you’re also bringing attention to that person’s anxiety.

Instead, try asking the other person open-ended questions about topics that they are passionate about. Or better yet, share stories and details about yourself first before asking too much of the person with SAD. Most people who are socially anxious enjoy listening to others more than talking about themselves.

“You need to just calm down.”

One of the most common myths is that an anxious person can calm down on command. But telling someone with SAD to “just calm down” is akin to telling someone with allergies to “just stop sneezing”. The debilitating problem with social anxiety disorder is that the anxiety sufferer simply can’t calm down. If they could, they would. Telling someone to “calm down” is invalidating to the person who is struggling and implies that they are choosing to feel anxious and that they have the ability to flip a switch in their brains and enter a mode of tranquility on command. If only it were that simple.

Instead, ask the other person how you can best support them in the moment or ask, “What do you need?” Offer to do something with them to help alleviate their symptoms, such as taking a walk, going to the gym together, or meditation.

“I totally understand. I felt the same way when I gave my presentation/went to the dentist’s office/had a job interview, etc.”

Unless you have been diagnosed with SAD, never ever say anything like this to someone suffering from social anxiety, because you have no idea how they feel. Just because you have experienced some nervousness before giving a speech or attending a job interview, does not mean that you have a thorough understanding of what someone struggling with an anxiety disorder is going through. And for the record, shyness and social anxiety are two different things. Shyness is a personality trait. Many people who are shy do not experience the difficult, painful emotions and feelings that accompany social anxiety disorder. They live a normal, functioning life and do not view shyness as a negative trait.

Wow, your face is turning bright red!”

Studies show that when people tell you your face is turning red (even if it’s not) you will begin to turn red. When people tell us we are blushing we hear: ‘I’m judging you negatively.’ At least this is what we assume is happening. According to a study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy: “The belief one is blushing brings about negative beliefs about the judgment of others, and might even enhance the blush response itself.” Those with SAD often find that having a redder face causes them a great deal of embarrassment. They want to hide their face in public, which ultimately makes them more self-conscious and possibly creates more anxiety in the future. Avoid pointing this out. It is not something that is within the person’s control, and calling attention to it will only further embarrass them.

“But you don’t seem anxious.”         

It’s not always obvious that someone is suffering from social anxiety. In addition, that person might be on medication or may be trying incredibly hard to overcome their feelings. Although “you seem fine” may actually be intended to sound reassuring, it is invalidating to the person experiencing the anxiety, because they feel like they’re not being heard. Social anxiety is not always visible. Not everyone shakes or hyperventilates when they have a panic attack. Many individuals with SAD have learned to hide their anxiety very well. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.

Instead, listen to the other person when they tell you how they feel. Ask, “Can you tell me more about your experience?” If they prefer not to talk about it, don’t push them. Listen when they are ready to share.

“Everything will be fine.”

There is no way you can know that. This uncertainty is a big factor that fuels anxiety. When someone says this to a person experiencing SAD, it can feel dismissive—causing them to shut down emotionally, thus preventing any further exploration or conversation about what they’re experiencing. Saying everything will be ok without really exploring the fears and feelings of the person in front of you is as useful as telling them that you are going to give them $10,000 to cheer them up. Unless you have the cash on hand and plan to deliver it, it’s an empty promise.

Instead, let the person know that it is okay to feel anxious, fearful, worried, apprehensive, etc. There is an element of shame associated with these emotions that makes it hard for some people to even acknowledge them, let alone open up to others about what they’re experiencing. It can be helpful to reassure the other person that you care and do not judge him or her negatively for feeling the way they do.

So, there you have it! By avoiding the use of stigmatizing statements and approaching those struggling with social anxiety with compassion and understanding, you can help to eradicate some of the shame that is associated with this chronic, often debilitating disorder. If you or someone you know is suffering from social anxiety, seek professional help from a licensed therapist and/or support from loved ones.

Self-Care for the Highly Sensitive Person

selfcare-for-the-highly-sensitiveHighly sensitive persons (HSPs) make up about 15% to 20% of the population. HSPs have a more finely-tuned nervous system than others—which makes it harder for them to filter out stimuli and easier to get overwhelmed by their environment. In short, HSPs overfeel everything.

HSPs possess high levels of awareness, intuition, empathy and perceptiveness. They get hurt easily, can often read and feel the energy of other people, and are sometimes able to anticipate when something will happen before it does. Emotionally, HSPs are easily overstimulated up to a point where they may experience great pain or great joy. Physically, they need time and space to be by themselves to process the amount of input they absorb, and they may have low tolerance to noise and anything too strong when it comes to sensations. So, how does an HSP manage all of this overwhelm?

Two words: self-care. Consistent, quality self-care is critical for HSPs, and highly sensitive folks tend to have different self-care needs than the rest of the population. Here are 6 self-care rituals to help HSPs feel less stressed and more energized:

1. Grounding

When was the last time you walked barefoot on the earth? Grounding or “earthing” is the process of consciously realigning our energy with that of the Earth. Negative ions from the earth’s surface rush into our bodies to discharge the many unpaired positive ions, or free radicals, we’ve picked up in daily life. Some of the techniques that you can do to ground your body are probably already part of your daily life. My favorite grounding practice is just lying in the grass and looking up at the clouds on a sunny afternoon. Other ways to ground yourself include walking barefoot on the ground or at the beach, climbing a tree, or spending time in your garden—connecting with the earth and the plants.

2. Yoga and/or Meditation

Yoga and/or meditation practices work to quiet the mind and help individuals focus on one thing in the moment, which can be an excellent way for HSPs to calm their minds and nervous systems. HSPs tend to feel drained and frazzled frequently from being bombarded with stimuli coming in from all directions day in and day out. When practiced together, yoga and meditation strengthens the mind-body connection, improving overall health and wellbeing. You can meditate without practicing yoga by simply relaxing, clearing your mind and concentrating on controlled breathing.

3. Journaling

HSPs tend to be stuck in their heads—overthinking and overanalyzing EVERYTHING. Journaling can be an effective and cathartic way for the HSP to clear his or her mind. Whether you choose to use a digital journaling program, an app for your mobil device (I like ‘Day One’), or decide to just go old school with pen and paper, journaling offers an opportunity to reflect on everything in your world and provides a safe and sacred place to hold your thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or reactions from others. Not sure what to write about? Try using some of these prompts: When I’m in pain—physical  or emotional—the kindest thing I can do for myself is…, Make a list of everything that inspires you — from books to websites to quotes to people to paintings to stores to the stars, If my body could talk, it would say…, What is your secret desire?, Write the words you most need to hear in this moment…

4. Massage

Schedule regular appointments for a body-work of your choosing. It could be massage, acupuncture, reiki, or whatever. The demonstrated and documented benefits of massage therapy are numerous and significant, and one of the best ways an HSP can soothe tension is by receiving a gentle massage. Since some HSPs may not feel comfortable being touched by strangers, they may benefit more from receiving a massage from a partner or close friend. Self-massage is also a tangible way to show your body some love and gratitude for all of the amazing things it does for you every day.

5. Salt Baths

Epsom salt baths are the highly sensitive person’s BFF—a primary recovery tool for a sensitive soul who takes on the energy of others. They have been used for centuries for relaxation and detoxification and offer numerous benefits, including relaxing sore muscles and soothing back pain, replenishing levels of magnesium in the body, curing skin problems, treating colds and congestion, and drawing toxins from the body. My favorite recipe is a lavender detox salt bath: 1 cup Epsom salts, 1 cup Baking Soda, and 10 drops of Lavender Essential oils.

6. Alone Time

Highly sensitive people need ample alone time to rejuvenate and feel replenished. HSPs are usually introverts, so that means they derive their energy from within themselves, not from external sources. They tend to avoid big crowds of people because it seems overwhelming and scary to them and will generally gravitate towards quieter activities, such as hiking in nature, drawing, writing, painting, or anything that allows them to express their creativity.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? What are your preferred self-care rituals?

Am I an Alcoholic? 8 Warning Signs of Addiction

10-warning-signs-of-addictionAre you concerned that you or someone you know might be an alcoholic? It’s not always easy to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (which includes a level that is sometimes called alcoholism) is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.

Here is a list of 8 warning signs to help you identify if you or a loved one may be suffering from an alcohol addiction:

Sign 1: Increased Tolerance

Have you needed to drink more and more alcohol over time to achieve the same effects? Tolerance occurs when a person no longer responds to a drug in the same way that person initially responded. Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response achieved initially.

Sign 2: Withdrawal Symptoms

Once physical addiction has taken hold, the alcoholic may experience withdrawal symptoms when going without alcohol for as little as five hours. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability, headaches, nausea, clammy skin, and sweating. In some individuals, alcohol withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens (DTs), which may manifest as confusion, hallucinations, agitation, fever, and seizures.

Sign 3: Drinking More Than Planned

Have you ever told yourself you were only going to have one or two drinks at happy hour and before you knew it you’d downed four or five? Consuming larger amounts than intended or using for longer periods of time than intended is a red flag sign of an alcohol use disorder.

Sign 4: “Blacking Out” Regularly

If you’re drinking so much alcohol that you continually black out or can’t remember pieces of your night, it could indicate a drinking problem, especially if it happens on a regular basis. The inability to recall things that happen when you’re drinking is a result of grossly excessive blood-alcohol levels, which actually inhibit your brain from functioning normally.

Sign 5: Use Despite Problems with Work, School, Family, Social Obligations, etc.

This might include repeated work absences, poor school performance, neglect of children, or failure to meet household responsibilities. Alcohol addiction may also be indicated when someone continues drinking despite having interpersonal problems because of their use. This could include arguments with spouses or family members about the drinking; or, losing important friendships because of continued use.

Sign 6: Failed Attempts to Quit

People who suspect they may drink too much will make promises to themselves to cut back on drinking, or quit drinking altogether. Oftentimes, there will be many failed attempts before becoming successful.

Sign 7: Spending Increasing Time Obtaining, Consuming, or Recovering from Alcohol

Drinking can take a toll on activities. People who continue to expand their drinking so that the majority of their time and activities revolve around alcohol (everything from obtaining it, to consuming it, to recovering from its effects) may be showing signs of a drinking problem.

Sign 8: Risky Use

Alcohol addiction may be indicated when someone repeatedly uses in physically dangerous situations, such as operating machinery or driving a car. Additionally, some people continue to drink even though they are aware it is causing or worsening physical and psychological problems (i.e. drinking despite liver problems or drinking despite medication contraindications).

Experiencing just one of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a problem drinker or an alcoholic, but if you’re experiencing several of them (or you see numerous signs in a loved one), there is a very strong possibility that an alcohol use disorder may be present. If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs, help is available. Talk to your doctor, seek professional counseling, or contact the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the online treatment locators for more information.