Control Your Anxiety With Math

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Oh boy, I said the m-word. Yes, we're going to use a little bit of math on the blog today, but we're going to use it for an unusual task -- controlling anxiety. I can feel your incredulity all the way over here but stick with me for a minute. Anxiety and math actually go hand in hand when we use probability to adjust how anxious we feel. If you're like me, you probably don't adjust your anxiety much using math. I used to just check how much anxiety I felt about an event or fear I had, and just let that tell me how worried I should feel about it. But as I learned more about math, I realized that the equation I was (unconsciously) using for my anxiety was actually really, really incorrect. So today, we're going to talk through how to use math to calculate your anxiety equation accurately. 

The Anxiety Equation

Usually, when we feel anxiety, our anxiety equations follow the adage "What you see is what you get", except with anxiety it's "What you feel is what will happen". If we want to write this as an equation, it looks something like this: 

               Anxiety Level = Likelihood of Bad Event

If I'm worried about throwing up during a speech, for example, and my anxiety level is at a 6/10, then by our current anxiety equation, the chances of me throwing up during my speech are (you guessed it), 6/10, or 60%. When I'm worried about a speech, this feels pretty accurate to me, but if I take a step back, it starts to look a bit suspicious. Have I ever actually thrown up during a speech? Have I even gagged during a speech? As I look at the data from my life, I start to realize that even though I've given some 10 speeches I was nervous about, I never threw up during one of them. With this realization, it becomes clear that there's another part of this equation that I forgot about -- how often does this event usually occur? Once we incorporate that into our equation, we're left with something like this:

              Anxiety Level x Past Likelihood of Bad Event


Future Likelihood of Bad Event

When we feel anxious, we tend to forget the evidence against what we're afraid of. The equation above can help us take that into account by adjusting how likely we think a bad event is based on what's happened in the past. In the case of my anxiety about throwing up during a speech, once I incorporate the data from earlier in my life, the future likelihood of throwing up during a speech is actually nearly 0. And just like that, the chances of me throwing up during a speech have been shifted from 60% to basically 0%. This doesn't mean my anxiety about the speech has gone away,  but once I've worked through this equation, it becomes easier to see that my anxiety doesn't have to work so hard for this speech. It can go down to a 2/10, or even a 1/10 now that I've checked on how likely it is for me to throw up during a speech. 

Using Your Anxiety Equation

This equation can help you control your anxiety in a lot of cases where your anxiety level may make you feel like a bad event is more likely than it actually is. In some cases, though, you may actually be right to feel anxious. If every time you've gone for a walk on a certain trail, you've been stung by a bee, then you're probably quite likely to be stung again if you walk there. In this case, the anxiety equation would produce a pretty high likelihood of that bad event occurring again. When your anxiety equation does show that something is likely to happen, that's a great signal to plan coping skills for whatever that even may entail. For example, in my speech case, we know that I've never thrown up, but I do feel nervous and start sweating almost every time before I give a speech. Because of this, my anxiety equation actually produces a pretty high likelihood that I will sweat a lot before my speech. This tells me that instead of adjusting my anxiety (as I would do if the likelihood was low), I should prepare a coping plan for my excessive sweat. In this case, that might mean drinking a glass of ice water in the 30 minutes leading up to my speech. By doing this, I keep my body temperature down and will hopefully sweat less, if at all. 

Regardless of what events exacerbate your anxiety, creating your own anxiety equation can help you control your anxiety. When your anxiety equation produces a small probability, you know that you can let your anxiety decrease a little bit. When your anxiety equation produces a large probability, that's when you know to look for coping tools to use in case that event comes up. What do you think, does this math equation help you control your anxiety? Please share your experiences below! 

My Medication for Schizoaffective Disorder Makes Me Fat

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As a feminist, I think that all women are beautiful. Except for me. I think I’m ugly. I think I’m ugly because I’m fat. I’m fat because of the medication I take for schizoaffective disorder. I think other fat women are beautiful and that beauty comes in all sizes. Except in my case. Yes, I know that sounds contradictory. But think about it this way. How does it feel to be on medication that is supposed to help your mental health but makes you feel ugly, and makes you worry about getting health complications like type 2 diabetes?

Why Don’t I Take a Different Medication for My Schizoaffective Disorder?

There are other medications for schizoaffective disorder out there that don’t cause weight gain. I’ve been on them, and they don’t work for me. The main culprit is my antipsychotic. I am on a very high dose of that. As a result, I feel stable mentally. Until I look in the mirror.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, I don’t think women should be fat-shamed. But I fat-shame myself all the time. I call myself ugly, even if I don’t consciously think it. I’m very picky about what pictures I use of myself on social media because I don’t like the way I look.

I also call myself lazy. I call myself a lazy fat girl because I don’t put effort into my appearance--more exercise, more makeup, more hairdos. Every once in awhile I’ll go through phases of using makeup. But I don’t like how it feels, and it’s a pain to wash off every night. On top of it, there’s this skinny self inside me.

I Didn’t Have a Weight Problem Until I Started Taking Schizoaffective Medication

You see, I wasn’t always fat. When I started taking the antipsychotic I’m on now, I had never weighed more than 105 pounds in my life. The last time I weighed myself, the scale read 201 pounds. My belly pokes out of my size large shirts. So now I have to ration my extra-large shirts until stores that are closed because of COVID-19 re-open and I can buy new ones. This means I often wear the same shirt a few days in a row. And that makes me feel, well, grosser. Why not order shirts online? I want to try them on and see how they look. Some styles make me feel worse.

Is it really productive to put people with psychiatric issues like schizoaffective disorder on medication that causes such extreme weight gain? Even though I feel bad about my weight, and I really do, I can’t deny that being on the medication is better than being frenetically manic or, worse yet, psychotic. I was manic and psychotic during the times I tried other antipsychotics that didn’t cause weight gain, and I completely alienated myself--socially and professionally.

Also, my medication is at the point where I haven’t heard “voices” in over three months. That’s a huge gift.

So I would say that, despite the weight gain, the medication is worth it. For what it’s worth, I’ve never been pre-diabetic. And I’m going for 45-minute walks almost every day and avoiding all sweets. I’ve been vigilant about walking for about two weeks, and I’ve been exercising in general and staying away from sweets since February.

As a good friend said, I'm much healthier with the medication than without it. Like it or not, my choices are to be fat and stable or skinny and, well, crazy.

The Cycle of Self-Harming and Anxiety

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We often think of fear and pain as distinct experiences, one physical and one emotional. Emotional pain, however, is just as real as physical injury, and when self-harming and anxiety are intertwined, they may form a vicious cycle from which it can be difficult to break free.

How the Cycle of Self-Harming and Anxiety Begins

Nonsuicidal self-injury, for many people, functions as a means of coping with overwhelming negative emotions. Fear, especially in the form of an anxiety disorder, can be an especially challenging burden to bear. It preys on your peace of mind, eating away at your confidence and your courage, and tricks you into believing you are less than you are—and that the things that frighten you are more powerful than they actually may be.

Especially if you have been living with anxiety for a while, the emotional outlet that self-harm can provide can seem all too tempting. The privacy of it means you won't have to talk to anyone about your anxiety, and the ease with which you can slip it into your daily routine makes it a faster, more convenient solution than therapy. However, self-harm by definition involves hurting yourselfmeaning that, ultimately, you are adding to your own pain, rather than relieving it.

Self-Harming and Anxiety Feed Off of One Another

In the moment, self-harm may provide a temporary sense of relief, even mild euphoria. But in addition to the physical harm it involves, self-harm can actually add to your anxiety in the long run.

Self-harm often involves secrecy, hiding wounds from concerned parents and curious friends in order to keep the pain private. It may also involve feelings of guilt, disappointment, or even anger. Some people find they regret hurting themselves after they've done it, but may become too deeply entrenched in the habit to feel like they can just stop. You may worry about being "found out," or that your wounds may become infected, or that you may one day take things too far.

All of these feelings nourish anxiety, and the mounting stress may then drive a person to self-harm again. And again. And again.

Moving Past Self-Harming and Anxiety

Once you're in the cycle, it can feel impossible to break free. But this is just another lie your fear is telling you; recovery is possible. Healing from one involves healing from the other as well, a sometimes complex process that is generally best undertaken with the help of a therapist. However, if you're not ready to take that step yet, start small. Start by simply acknowledging that self-harm is not the answer to your anxiety. Once you understand that, you can begin moving forward, past your pain, and towards a more hopeful tomorrow.

Do you struggle with self-harming and anxiety? Have you tried any alternative coping methods to help with one or the other? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

How to Handle Nighttime Anxiety, Worrying at Night

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Nighttime anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Somehow, anxiety can seem even louder during the night than it does during the day, perhaps because the world is quiet and you are trying to get some much-needed sleep. Nighttime worry is exhausting and can make you feel tired but wired the next day. It's natural to toss and turn, tangling with anxious thoughts and feelings, but doing so simply fuels them and makes them even more intrusive and obnoxious. Read on for a tip on how to handle nighttime anxiety and worrying at night. 

Handle Nighttime Anxiety Like a Fussy Baby

If you've ever been around a baby day and night, you likely know that both babies and adults desperately need sleep. When a baby wakes up in the night, the goal is to tend to him gently and swiftly, meeting his needs yet getting him to fall back asleep as quickly as possible. Nighttime is not playtime. This is true for babies and anxiety alike.

Once wide awake and stimulated, these two creatures (babies and anxiety) are needy. They want to engage. "Pay attention to me!" they scream in one way or another. "Go back to sleep and leave me alone!" you likely implore. The more you interact with the creature, the more fired up they become until its bye-bye bed and any chance of much-needed rest. 

Therefore, when anxiety tries to keep us up at night, the best thing to do is to respond to it quietly, minimally. Rather than growling at it to shut up, arguing with anxious thoughts, or fueling negative emotions by joining in by building upon the worries and frets, tend to your emotional and physical needs in the moment and put yourself into a state of relaxation (and, ideally, sleep). 

How to Tend to Yourself and Put Nighttime Anxiety to Rest

When your "baby" keeps you awake, do something gentle to self-soothe. Rather than interacting with and stimulating nighttime worries, try one or more of these approaches.

  • Massage tension away. Turn your attention away from racing thoughts and focus instead on your body. Scan head to toe and notice any knots of tension. Keeping your focus here rather than on worries, gently massage those knots to relax them.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation. Often, anxiety makes us feel tense and sore everywhere. This is common at night when lying rigid in bed or tossing about attempting to get comfortable. We become so caught up in our thoughts that anxiety sneaks into our bodies unnoticed--until we feel stiff, sore, and achy. With purpose, turn your attention to your body, and conduct a body scan. Starting with your toes and slowly moving upward to your head, tense, hold, then relax each muscle group. Visualize the anxious energy leaving your body, draining through your mattress, and seeping into the floor.
  • Use mindfulness. When you catch yourself playing with the "baby" by buying into your thoughts, ruminating, or berating yourself, shift your body to find a (reasonably) comfortable position, and then shift your attention. Breathe slowly and deeply, focusing on the sound and feel of your breath. You can repeat a word or a phrase, something as simple as, "Breathing in, I am calm; breathing out, I am relaxed." Be mindful of your breathing in this way. You might also select a focus object, a point in the room or on the ceiling, or a small item you hold in your hand. Concentrate on its presence. When your anxious thoughts cry loudly, return your attention to your breath or focus object. 

Turning to mindfulness can help you relax and rest rather than engaging with anxiety, your fussy "baby". I also invite you to tune in to this video for another tip for dealing with nighttime anxiety and worrying at night. 


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Is Verbal Abuse Forgivable?

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Verbal abuse in relationships isn't acceptable, but I've often wondered if verbal abuse is forgivable. Throughout 15 years of brainstorming and therapy, I came to a conclusion — verbal abuse can be forgivable in some situations, however, the abuser has to work on himself, put in the necessary effort, and actually change.

The two words, "I'm sorry" are meaningless. I've heard this phrase so many times in my life that it lost all value. 

In the past, I pushed my feelings deep inside after being verbally abused in relationships. I pretended, and even believed, that I forgave and forgot. But deep inside, the abuse gnawed at me and greatly affected my mental health. In these past relationships, I fell victim to verbal abuse on a near-daily basis. 

Now that I'm separated from my second husband and dating again, I am working on myself, and I need to be with someone who is willing to work on their own issues, too. My current boyfriend suffers from bipolar disorder. His mood swings are difficult for me to cope with — when he's experiencing mania, he can be irritable and angry for no apparent reason. 

Three months ago, he crossed the line and verbally abused me. This happened one time, but I contemplated leaving him. After speaking with my therapist and carefully thinking over what happened, I asked him if he'd be willing to see a psychiatrist, take any medications she might prescribe, and work on his anger issues in weekly therapy sessions. To my surprise, he agreed. I've asked several of my past partners to seek professional help and it always sent them into a fit of rage. 

Should I Forgive Verbal Abuse When My Partner Is Mentally Ill?

No matter what, my feelings are valid — mental illness isn’t an excuse for verbal abuse. 

Breaking Bad Habits, Building Good Ones Can Lead to Forgiveness of Verbal Abuse

I knew it was necessary to take a step back and evaluate the situation, despite him agreeing to seek professional help for his mental illness.

I wanted him to break his bad habits and build good ones. Four weeks after he started taking an antipsychotic and mood stabilizer for Bipolar Disorder, I noticed his mood leveled out.

The medication was working, regulating his mood and actually eradicating his temper.

Three months have passed and our relationship is better than ever. He continues putting in the necessary effort to better himself every day. He treats me with respect and kindness. He is understanding of my limitations, as I suffer from mental illness, as well. I can honestly tell you all that I forgive him. 

Verbal abuse isn’t always forgivable, nor should it be. In my case, I want to pursue this relationship and see how it plays out. I’m quite fond of him, after all. But I will leave him if he verbally abuses me again, even if it’s only one more time. I know all too well that “one more time” means another "one more time,” and then I’m back in the vicious cycle of domestic violence that I fought so hard to break in past relationships.

I’d love to hear from you all in the comment section. Have you forgiven your verbally abusive partner? Why or why not?