Anxiety Epidemic: How We Got Here & Tools You Can Use to Heal

From the Show: Dr. Taz Show
Summary: Our collective levels of anxiety, stress and generally feeling overwhelmed and overbooked have reached all new heights.
Air Date: 2/28/17
Duration: 30:59
Host: Dr. Taz
Guest Bio: Alessandra Wall, PhD
Alessandra-WallDr. Alessandra Wall grew up in France, and prior to that lived in the Middle East. She moved to North Carolina for college in 1995, where she received a Bachelors of Arts in Developmental Psychology from Duke University. She obtained a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a focus in child and adolescent psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. In 2004 She moved to San Diego with her now husband to pursue post-doctoral training as a psychologist at Psychiatric Centers at San Diego. Soon after becoming licensed she created Wall Psychology, APC, a private therapy practice, and co-founded PsychSanDiego, a partnership between Wall Psychology APC and Reyes Psychology, APC.

Dr. Wall exited the partnership in January of 2013 to build Life in Focus, which was initially a dual service practice nestled in the heart of San Diego. Life in Focus and Life in Focus Therapy are now two separate entities, each ones serving a specific need. As a therapist, she spent the last decade helping people who suffer from significant emotional distress and need help to restore balance and control to their lives. Currently, she specializes in addressing anxiety disorders as well as stress management, and improving relationships and communication in couples.

In addition to being a practicing psychotherapist Dr. Wall holds a Level One CrossFit certificate. It is through the CrossFit world that she first became acquainted with Paleo diet principles, real food nutrition and Primal living.

She currently serves as Chair of the board of directors for Empower Charter School. Empower Charter’s mission is to raise a new generation of world leaders. Their curriculum is based on three founding principles, 1) cultural and linguistic competency through a dual language immersion program, 2) independent, effective and creative thinking through inquiry based learning paradigms and 3) improving the health and fitness of our nation through dedicated physical fitness and nutritional education programs.

About Life in Focus: Life in Focus is here to help you identify the values and needs that matter most to you, to teach you how to overcome barriers to change, and THRIVE. It's about getting practical insights for real change so that you can build a life that is exciting, fulfilling, and ultimately right for you.
  • Book Title: Back to Me
  • Guest Facebook Account: https://www.facebook.com/lifeinfocussd
  • Guest Twitter Account: @LifeinFocusSD
Anxiety Epidemic: How We Got Here & Tools You Can Use to Heal
Our collective levels of anxiety, stress and generally feeling overwhelmed and overbooked have reached all new heights. 

We don't sleep, we're constantly tied to our electronic devices, and the pressures of career, family and just "living life" bring us to a boiling point on a daily basis.

Some individuals are more vulnerable to anxiety than others. Those who are overly driven, high achievers, and perfectionists often suffer the most.

What are some early warning signs so you can catch yourself before you crash and burn?

According to Alessandra Wall, PhD, founder of Life in Focus, it's important to first identify the difference between being driven and being a perfectionist. One factor is the level of rigidity with which you approach situations. Perfectionists believe there is really only one way to get to the top or be the best. When a driven person fails, she starts problem solving. When a perfectionist fails, she becomes deflated, worried, and angry with herself. She views it as a personal shortcoming, rather than a roadblock that simply must be overcome.

Individuals prone to anxiety also spend a lot of time ruminating (obsessing on a thought), but not in a problem solving way. It's a repetitive, broken-record thought process about how you messed up or what else could go wrong. Physical manifestations of this may include headaches, a tightening of your chest, or tight/tense muscles throughout the day.

Tools & Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety

Dr. Wall explains what she views as the difference between therapy and life coaching as this: helping someone who is already at baseline learn how to thrive is life coaching, and helping someone who is struggling get to baseline is therapy.

That's an important distinction to make in her approach.

The most important premise Dr. Wall teaches her patients is to learn how to slow down. You need to get to a place where you can think about what you're experiencing and sit with it in order to understand it. 

The practical observance of this is to create the new habit of doing nothing, or what Dr. Wall calls the "art of nothing." Start with two minutes of just staring into space. This will help you create the necessary space and time to let your brain go into standby mode. It's not a meditation process, which is often very stressful for people with anxiety. It's more of a daydream allowance.

Try this: next time you're brewing a pot of coffee or heating something up in the microwave, just stare into space. This might be anxiety-inducing at first, but you can use that fear to motivate yourself. You have to allow yourself to realize that it's silly to not be able to stop for a mere two minutes. You have to literally detox from the drive to always be active and productive and understand it's perfectly OK to be bored or have nothing to do.

Our brains are designed to thrive on new experiences and new information. So, while advances in technology are beneficial, they've encouraged us to be information junkies. You need to take the time and opportunity to reflect on yourself.

A few other practical tips Dr. Wall offers include:

  • Don't take your phone to the bathroom.
  • Walk barefoot for a few minutes and connect to the surface below your feet.
  • When you stand in line, resist the urge to pull out your phone and hop on email or social media. 
Start with two minutes, and work up to whatever you can do. Your body and brain will learn to appreciate these breaks. If you practice this 2-3 times a day, your anxiety levels can be reduced significantly. You will be more proactive instead of reactive. 

Another essential tactic is to learn to say NO and to set boundaries. When you're given an opportunity, it can be really tempting to say yes. This will only leave you overbooked and underwhelmed. Stop and ask yourself, "Should I do this? Is it right for me? Will it cause more stress or relieve stress?" Women, in particular, struggle with this and worry if they start to say no that people will stop liking them. Just remember, every time you say yes to something, you're saying no to something else (exercise, eating right, time with your kids/spouse, etc.). 

Dr. Wall's final piece of advice: don't check your email, social media, the news (basically anything on a screen) for the first 15-20 minutes of your day. This can result in a dramatic shift in attitude.

Listen in as Dr. Wall joins Dr. Taz for these incredibly helpful tips for recognizing and dealing with the anxiety and stress in your daily life.