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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

A ‘Yes’ Community

Jill Stoddard

a guest blog repost by Dr. Nic Hooper

Two days ago, Thursday June 1st 2017, an article in The New Scientist magazine was published that I co-wrote. It is a great achievement because it will be one of the largest impact writings about Relational Frame Theory (RFT) i.e. it is possible that more people will lay their eyes on this article than for any other RFT article that currently exists.

At a personal level it feels like a big deal; it feels like an ‘I made it’ moment. And, of course, ‘I made it’ moments matter only because of the history of moments where me making it wasn’t, by any means, a sure thing. I think of my A-Levels where I studied like hell for Psychology and scraped a B. I think of the first two years of my degree where my average mark was 57 (see picture below) and I think of starting my self-funded PhD where some members of staff in the Psychology Department weren’t happy about me being accepted onto the program because I wasn’t ‘PhD material’. How the hell did I, an average boy from a working class family, make it to a point in my life where I publish in a magazine that has a readership of over 100,000 people?

The answer is quite simple. When I was 20, I started reading a book about a new approach to human suffering named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is when everything changed for me. Prior to this point, unhelpful thoughts and feelings heavily influenced my decisions. Sure, they kept me in a comfort zone where I was safe but in that comfort zone I could make no progress towards the things that were important to me.

Have you seen the film ‘Yes Man’ with Jim Carrey? The film documents how a man’s life changed when he started saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s a cool idea and following what I learned about ACT it is pretty close to the way I began interacting with the world. Of course, I differ from ‘Yes Man’ in that if someone asks me to steal a pig from a farm and paint it green then I wont say ‘yes’ (most of the time). However, if someone asks me to do something that is in line with my values, and provided this something wont infringe too much on my ability to self-care, then I say ‘yes’.

Over the years I have especially said ‘yes’ when the offer made me feel uncomfortable or when my mind fed me thoughts like: ‘You’re going to get found out – you’re not smart enough to do this’. My values guided my decision-making. Yes to a PhD, Yes to presenting my work at international conferences, Yes to travelling to the US to meet people like Steve Hayes and Kelly Wilson, Yes to lecturing in Cyprus, Yes to writing a book, Yes to going to the ACT Dublin Conference, Yesto meeting up in Bristol with some people I met at that conference, Yes to setting up an ACT centre with those people, and Yes to trying to write this New Scientist article with those people. Sure, it wasn’t plain sailing and it brought me plenty of failure and discomfort along the way but there is no doubt that I am where I am because of how readily I said ‘yes’. And I was able to say ‘yes’ because ACT taught me that saying ‘yes’ to things that are important to you, even when they bring discomfort, is a way of living that brings liberty and fulfillment (see any recent work by Aisling Curtin and Trish Leonard to learn more about ACT inspired comfort zones).

I guess you might be wondering why I am telling you these things. Well, for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to advocate for ‘yes’ living because of the positive effect it has had on me. However, secondly, and more importantly, I wanted to make a prediction for the future. Here I am, one average person, who became introduced to ACT, started moving outside of his comfort zone when his mind told him that he wasn’t worthy or capable, and started to achieve remarkable things (relative to what I thought was possible). But I am not the only person in the ACT community with that story. You see the thing about ACT is that it isn’t an approach you ‘do’ to other people; it is an approach that starts with oneself. So here is my prediction: ACT will get bigger and will stay the course. I don’t think this will happen because ACT will win therapy wars with 1000’s of studies (those wars don’t have winners). I think it will happen because over time more and more ‘average’ people will start to achieve remarkable things by saying ‘yes’ when their mind tells them that they aren’t good enough. If this does happen then although none of us will be remembered as individuals, as a ‘yes’ community we might just change the world.

Originally posted on NicHooper.com

Mental Health Awareness Month

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Given that 20% of U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, having conversations about mental health and the resources available for those who are struggling is incredibly important.

Risky Business

This year’s mental health theme focuses on “Risky Business.” Mental Health America is working to start a conversation around risky behaviors that may increase the chance of developing mental illness or that may accompany an existing mental health issue. The specific behaviors they are focusing on are: marijuana use, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, compulsive buying, and exercise extremes.

Our State of Mind Impacts Our Emotions and Our Behavior

It’s important to understand that mental illness consists not only of difficult emotions, but also includes behavior changes or an impairment of functioning in day to day life. Such behavior changes can manifest as either avoidance of certain situations and/or engaging in new behaviors to attempt to numb or escape the pain that accompanies the mental health problem. Neither avoidance nor risky/numbing behaviors will resolve the mental health concern; they provide short term relief, but actually serve to maintain and worsen the situation in the long run.

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Evidence Based Therapy

If you are concerned that you are struggling with a mental health problem or if you are overwhelmed with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression and aren’t sure how to cope, seeking professional help can be a good place to start. A therapist can offer support and help you to work through those things that you are struggling with. He or she can also help you address any behaviors that may be impairing your ability to function in life, work, or your relationships.

Evidence based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have been scientifically demonstrated to effectively treat anxiety, depression, and many other emotional and physical difficulties.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves helping clients learn to identify and modify unhealthy, unhelpful, or inaccurate thoughts and unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors that serve to maintain emotional difficulties. Gradual, repeated exposures to feared situations also help clients learn to face that which they may have avoided previously. CBT challenges clients to face difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) also involves reducing experiential avoidance behaviors, but differs from CBT in that it focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and feelings in order to live a meaningful, values-based life. ACT challenges clients to embrace difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

The Human Condition

Whether or not you find yourself in the 1 of 5 adults struggling with mental health, all of us will face pain, difficulty, and struggle at some point or another. Asking for help in the midst of struggle is a sign of strength, not weakness. One of the beautiful things about suffering is that it can lead to connection when we let those we trust in on our pain. While it can be tempting to turn to those risky behaviors listed above, we only exacerbate our problems by doing so. In turning to a trusted loved one or a professional, we can begin to find meaning and healing in the midst of pain and suffering.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Cognitive Distortions

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether you recognize the term or not, at some point you have dealt with a cognitive distortion. These are thoughts that feel like the truth, but they describe an emotional reality rather than an objective one. For those struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, often chronic and significant cognitive distortions play a big role in the struggle.

Dr. David Burns (1980) outlined 12 of the most common cognitive distortions in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Dr. Burns’ list is adapted below with examples. As you read through the list, see if you recognize examples of any of these distortions in your life.

1. All-Or-Nothing (Black and White) Thinking: You see things in black and white terms, refusing to see any gray area.
Distortion: If I’m not nice to everyone all the time, I’m a jerk.
Reframe: I’m allowed to be assertive and set boundaries. I don’t have to be nice to someone who is being disrespectful to me. Standing up for myself doesn’t make me a jerk.

2. Overgeneralization: You see one or several negative events as a sign of an endless pattern of defeat.
Distortion: I got a bad grade on this math test, so I will never get a good grade on a math test.
Reframe: I got a bad grade on this math test. Maybe I didn’t understand the material or studied wrong. I will talk to my teacher to better understand my mistakes, and hopefully I will do better next time.

3. Mental Filter: You exclusively notice the negative aspects of a situation and magnify them out of proportion. At the same time, you filter out/fail to notice the positive aspects.
Distortion: My presentation went terribly. I lost my train of thought because I got nervous, and I forgot a key point I wanted to make.
Reframe: I stumbled over my words a little bit, but no one besides me seemed to notice. I also forgot a key point I wanted to make. But I got good feedback and everyone seemed engaged during my presentation. Next time I will practice a little bit more, but overall it went pretty well.

4. Minimizing/Disqualifying/Overlooking the Positive: You turn positive experiences or comments into negative ones by deciding that they don’t count for some reason. You overlook positive things about yourself or your environment. You don’t just filter out positive things; you actually turn them into negatives.
Distortion: He only invited me to come to his party because he feels sorry for me and knows I’m a loner.
Reframe: He invited me to come to his party because he wants me to come.

5. Mind Reading: You assume that someone is thinking or reacting negatively to you even though you do not know what they’re thinking.
Distortion: She didn’t wave at me because she doesn’t like me.
Reframe: She didn’t wave at me. She probably didn’t see me, or maybe she had something on her mind.

6. Fortune Telling: You think that something bad is going to happen even though you do not yet know what the outcome will be. This causes you to worry, overreact, or give up too soon.
Distortion: Even though things are going well now, I think he will eventually break up with me and I am afraid I will get hurt. Maybe I should just break up with him now to avoid getting hurt.
Reframe: Things are going well now. I’m not sure what will happen in the future. But for now I will try to be present and enjoy what is.

7. Magnifying/Catastrophizing: You exaggerate the importance of something, or you imagine that something that might happen would be terrible or earth shattering, when it would not actually be as bad as you imagine or you could cope despite it being difficult.
Distortion: I can’t accept the promotion because then I will have to give presentations. I’m terrified of public speaking, and I will get too scared and embarrass myself in front of everyone and then probably lose the job anyway.
Reframe: If I accept the promotion, I will have to give presentations. Lots of people are scared of public speaking. I might make a mistake and I might feel embarrassed or scared, but that’s part of being human. It won’t be the end of the world.

8. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your feelings reflect the truth, even though your feelings are based on erroneous thinking.
Distortion: I feel like a failure, which means I am a failure.
Reframe: I may feel like a failure right now because I am still looking for a job, but job hunting takes time. I am not a failure.

9. Should Statements: You have a list of rules set in stone about how you or others “should” behave, but these rules are arbitrary or unrealistic. You feel guilty or inadequate when you “break” a rule, or get angry or frustrated when others do so.
Distortion: I should have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. I feel guilty if I let them watch TV while I finish up some work instead, and I feel frustrated with my spouse when he/she does the same. 
Reframe: I want to have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. But sometimes I will be too busy or tired. I will do my best to spend quality time with them, even if sometimes that means cuddling on the couch watching TV while I finish up some emails. On those nights when I really can’t find the time, I will give myself (and my spouse) grace.

10. Labeling: When someone makes a mistake, you don’t objectively evaluate the mistake. Instead you label the person – “I’m a failure” or “They’re an idiot.”
Distortion: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again! He is so inconsiderate. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. I’m a terrible parent!
Reframe: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again. He must have had something else on his mind. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. Today was really busy and I had too much on my mind. Maybe I need to write down half days on my calendar from now on.

11. Personalization: You think that things that others do or things that happen to you are personalized reactions to you, even if this is not the case.
Distortion: My friend didn’t return my text because she thinks I’m annoying.
Reframe: My friend didn’t return my text. Maybe she is really busy or has something going on in her life I don’t know about. Sometimes I forget to return texts too.

12. Probability Overestimation: You overestimate the likelihood of something bad happening.
Distortion: If I drive, I will get in a car accident, so I am not going to get my driver’s license.
Reframe: Accidents can happen anytime, but the odds are not high. Most people drive every day and nothing bad happens.

Cognitive distortions are not constructive, but experiencing a distortion every now and again is simply part of being human. However, when you are not able to reframe your distortions, or when cognitive distortions begin driving your behavior, they can become a problem.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to help clients notice, address, and alter these destructive thoughts. When you believe your own destructive thoughts, you may also tend to avoid certain situations on the basis of a false belief. CBT also works to help clients slowly learn to approach rather than avoid such situations. Having a warm, empathic therapist come alongside you throughout this process is healing. She can model compassion for you, helping you learn to have compassion for yourself, while still challenging you to see things in a new and healthier way.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by cognitive distortions, stress, anxiety, and/or depression, you do not have to struggle alone.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

5 Myths About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

By Trevor McDonald
edited by Annabelle Parr

People are talking about mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, more often and more openly. Social media and access to digital content has helped facilitate the conversation. However, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and while easy access to content can help reduce shame, stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness, it can also spread mistruths and foster outdated myths. This hurts those who suffer from mental illnesses as well as those trying to understand and support them. So let’s clarify some things about anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common American mental illness, affecting 40 million adults – 18% of the population. Despite this substantial figure, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that only 33 percent of those suffering will receive treatment.

Anxiety is a blanket term. We all know what it feels like to feel anxious. But when we talk about anxiety as a mental illness, we may be referring to any number of disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder to panic disorder to a specific phobia. Though all of these things fall under “anxiety,” each manifestation looks and feels a bit different.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be treated. Having a supportive network that includes mental health professionals and ideally, understanding loved ones, is critical. The first step toward encouraging and facilitating treatment is dispelling myths and providing education for both those struggling with anxiety and the people around them. Here are five of the biggest myths about anxiety disorders:

1. “You don’t really have anxiety. Everyone gets anxious/nervous!” Of course, everyone feels anxious or stressed sometimes. But according to the DSM V, when someone has an anxiety disorder, they feel excessively anxious about a number of things more often than not, and it significantly impairs their ability to function in a major area of their life. We must understand that there is a big difference between feeling anxious about a particular event or challenge, and feeling the chronic anxiety that comes with an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, it’s important not to toss around statements such as “I’m so OCD” when all we mean is that we like our desk organized. Minimizing an anxiety disorder in these ways undermines the challenge that something like generalized anxiety disorder or OCD can pose to people who are struggling with them.

2.  “You can get over anxiety with yoga, taking a walk, or meditation.” While taking a holistic approach to wellness is smart, and such activities can help with the symptoms of anxiety, taking a yoga class won’t “cure” an anxiety disorder any more than it will spina bifida. Though it can be tempting to offer advice to try to help those struggling with anxiety, it’s important not to minimize their experience or assume that you have a solution to offer them. Only a mental health professional should be offering any kind of “prescription” or suggestion for treatment.

3. “Anxiety means a person is weak, or they must have had a really bad childhood.” The former is never true; the latter could be part of the foundation for an anxiety disorder, though this is certainly not always the case. Trauma can kick start an anxiety disorder, but it’s not the only source. A big reason people with mental illnesses don’t talk about their condition is because they don’t want to be seen as weak or feeble, even though they’re not. It takes tremendous strength to live with any disorder. Invisible disabilities can be especially trying because people can’t “see” the disorder a person is battling.

4. “Anxiety isn’t that big of a deal.” Everything is relative. Anxiety disorders exist on a spectrum. If you know someone with anxiety, you can’t gauge how severe their disorder is. But unless you are a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor, it’s not your job to gauge the severity of someone else’s anxiety. What you need to know is that anxiety is a big deal to the person suffering from it, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Further, unlike a broken leg, anxiety can’t be seen on the outside.  So someone may appear perfectly put together on the outside, but is suffering in silence on the inside.

5. “I won’t be able to relate to someone with anxiety.” This myth is usually based on a person’s fear that they won’t know what to say when someone is struggling with anxiety. It’s human nature to want to “fix” things, but anxiety can’t be fixed that easily, especially by a non-professional. Remember that it’s not your job to “fix” someone’s anxiety or make it go away. All they really need from you is empathy. And listening well is far more important than knowing what to say. So when talking to someone with anxiety, let them lead the conversation, don’t judge them, and don’t try to fix it. Let them know that you want to understand and that you hear that they are struggling.  You might also offer to help them connect with professional help.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of anxiety disorders. Psychological research has given us a solid understanding of anxiety and how to treat it effectively. Of course, there is always more to learn, but now the bulk of our work lies in sharing our understanding with the community and eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Working to un-learn false claims and myths of the past is a big step in the right direction. Doing your part to educate yourself and others will make a big difference in the lives of everyone with an anxiety disorder.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Most Americans Are Stressed About the Future of Our Nation

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Have you found yourself feeling especially anxious or stressed out in the current political climate? You’re not alone. This particular election and transition of power is unique for many reasons, not least of which is the widespread stress it is creating in Americans across the political spectrum.

According to the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, two-thirds of Americans report feeling stress regarding the future of our nation.

This stress is bipartisan.

Prior to the election, stress may have been divided more along party lines. Back in August, Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs 26 percent) to feel stress regarding the outcome of the presidential election. However, according to the most recent study conducted in January, 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress.

Overall stress levels have increased since the election.

In the ten years since the inception of the Stress in America survey, Americans’ stress levels had been gradually decreasing. However, between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ average reported stress level increased from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 represents no stress and 10 represents enormous stress. This was the first statistically significant increase in stress since the survey began 10 years ago.

We are not the first cohort to feel stressed about the future of our country.

It is important to remember that this APA survey has only been conducted for the last decade, and to keep in perspective that our country has been through numerous tumultuous and stressful times. We are not the first group of citizens to be very stressed and concerned for America’s future. History shows us that we have inevitably and cyclically encountered dark times as a nation, and that hopefully, after each struggle, we emerge stronger and maybe a little bit wiser and more just.

However, currently we are very much in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty. We are deeply stressed, and we are not alone in that experience. There is comfort to be found in the “me too,” but it is also important that together we learn to find balance during this time.

How do we manage our stress?

Engaging in democracy.

One of the beautiful things about our country is that we are part of a democracy, where we are empowered to use our voices to speak up regarding those things that do concern us. In order to properly voice our concerns, it is important that we use our access to information to stay informed about what is going on. (However, we must also recognize when we need to disconnect. More on the importance of limiting our information intake below).

One way to try to assuage the stress we feel is to use it as fuel for action. We can spend a few minutes calling our local representatives and communicating our concerns. We can get involved volunteering for or donating to an organization whose efforts are in line with our values. We can participate in protests or marches to literally stand up for the things that are important to us. There is something very empowering about engaging in community and collective action with other Americans who share our views.

Regardless of our political views and beliefs, our stress seems to be collective. The details of our concerns may differ, but we all have the opportunity to use our voices and engage in the future of the nation.

Finding a balance between staying engaged and allowing ourselves to disconnect.

However, as much as it is important to stay engaged, we must also recognize the limits as to what we can do to help foster change. When we come together, we are strong. But individually, we cannot carry the weight of the nation on our shoulders. And as we work to remain informed, it is also important that we allow ourselves the time and space away from news.

Limiting technology and news consumption.

Between all of our technological devices, 24-hour news cycles, and politically saturated Facebook news feeds, we could allow our eyes and minds to be occupied all day long by the constant, stress-inducing updates. We need to limit our news consumption in order to allow our minds and bodies to rest. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the news will leave us feeling powerless.

Practicing self-care.

Maybe the most important thing that we can do at this time of great national stress is to take care of ourselves. Self-care is vital to our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. And if you have felt that your nation (or perhaps its commander in chief) has failed to care for you, or sent you the message that you are unworthy of care, maybe your greatest act of protest and defiance will be to choose to take care of yourself in spite of this.

Self-care will not fix the national situation, of course. However, wouldn’t it be powerful to have a nation filled with citizens who know how to care for their own well-being, and as a result they have the energy to stay engaged in their democracy?

How can we practice self-care?

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Good self-care is unique to each individual. What is relaxing and healing for one person may not be as helpful to another. It’s important to pay attention to those things, those rituals, that calm and center us. That signal to our psyche a time of rest or peace. Here are some ideas to help inspire you:

  1. Set aside some time to walk each day and focus on breathing the fresh air in your lungs and feeling the ground under your feet with each step.
  2. Practice yoga.
  3. Find a mindfulness meditation to practice every day. This doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. Check out this link for some suggestions: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
  4. Not a fan of meditation? Try focusing on your breathing. Take a minute to practice some mindful breaths. Check out our blog post on breathing for some tips: http://www.anxietytherapysandiego.com/blog/2016/6/8/the-power-of-breathing
  5. Turn off your devices. Allow yourself to unplug entirely. Maybe consider deactivating your automatic news updates, or deleting the Facebook app from your phone. Set limits on your news consumption by mapping out a given time to check the news each day.
  6. Find time for humor. Is there a show that makes you smile or laugh? Laughter is healing and helps relieve stress.
  7. Spend time with loved ones. Share your experiences and your feelings, but also make sure to find time to talk about things unrelated to the current political situation. It’s healing to talk with others who feel the same way that we do and to know that we are not alone. But it is also important to have fun and to remember that we can still enjoy the sweet things in life even when there are reasons to be concerned.

In conclusion,

In order to manage the stress that so many of us are feeling, seek balance. This means finding ways to be proactive about the things that you can change or that you have control over, but also accepting the things that are beyond your control. And in the midst of it all, remember to take care of yourself in the ways that work best for you.

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the stress or anxiety that you feel, and you need some extra help, a therapist can help you to process your feelings. They can give you a space to feel heard, which in itself can be healing and empowering. They can help give you tools to manage your stress so that it doesn’t leak into other areas of your life or prevent you from leading a healthy day-to-day. Sometimes the best form of self-care is knowing when we need to reach out for external support.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

(2017, Feb. 15). Many Americans stress about future of our nation, new APA Stress in American survey reveals. Retreived from: http://apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx

Misophonia: A “Rarely Known” Conditioned Aversive Reflex Disorder

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Most of us can probably agree that it’s very unpleasant to hear nails scraping a chalkboard. Other sounds that tend to make us cringe include a woman’s scream, a disc grinder (think construction site), and a baby crying. This is because we are genetically wired to respond to a baby’s cry, so any other sound similar in frequency tends to be upsetting (Dozier, 2015).

There are sounds that are almost universally annoying, and then there are those sounds that get to each of us individually. But for some of us, a specific sound can be more than simply annoying or unpleasant; it can be intolerable. Do you find yourself experiencing a particularly extreme or adverse reaction to a sound or stimulus that seems strange or out of proportion? If so, you may be encountering a misophonic reaction.

What is misophonia?

Misophonia is a condition characterized by an extreme, immediate, involuntary emotional response accompanied by a reflexive physiological reaction to a specific, commonly occurring sound or visual stimulus (Dozier, 2015).

Tom Dozier, director of the Misophonia Institute, describes misophonia as a Conditioned Aversive Reflex Disorder. Though misophonia is most commonly identified by the emotional response – typically anger, rage, disgust and even hatred - there is almost always a physiological response that occurs as well. Tom’s research suggests that it is actually the physical response that lies at the heart of misophonia. When a person hears (or sees) their trigger, the autonomic nervous system elicits a reflexive physical reaction. It could be contracting of a particular muscle group or it could be an internal reaction, varying from nausea to a numbing sensation to constriction of the esophagus. Because the intense emotional reaction follows so quickly, the physical response often goes unnoticed. But it appears that the emotional reaction is directly related to the physical reaction. In individuals with misophonia, the connection between the autonomic nervous system and the limbic system (emotional center) becomes hypersensitized (Bernstein, Angell, & Dehle, 2013), such that the trigger stimulus elicits the physical reflex which then elicits the extreme emotions and fight or flight response.

What misophonia is NOT.

Misophonia is not a sensitivity to the volume of the sound; it is not a fear of a sound; it is not becoming upset by a continuous, loud, intrusive, irritating sound; and it is not a logical response to the meaning behind a sound (for example, responding to a baby’s cry is a natural response to address the infant’s distress). It IS the emotional and physiological response to a single occurrence of the trigger, regardless of how loud or noticeable the trigger is.

What are some common triggers?

There is an enormous range regarding potential trigger stimuli. However, some common examples include the eating or chewing sound, breathing sounds, coughing, swallowing, pen clicking, whistling, typing, and a dog barking. A trigger can be any repeating sound or sight. Triggers tend to be most strongly associated with one particular person, but they do have the ability to generalize. For example, the original trigger might be the sound of a sibling chewing. This will likely remain the strongest trigger, but it could also generalize to the sound of any person chewing.

How common is misophonia?

Not very many people know about misophonia, doctors and therapists included. Many people with misophonia struggle with feelings of guilt for their reaction, as they are aware that it is both out of proportion and irrational. They may also feel isolated in their experience. But if you struggle with a misophonic reaction, you are far from alone. It is not a rare disorder, but rather a “rarely known” disorder. Based on several studies and surveys, it is estimated that misophonia affects about 15% of the population (Dozier, 2015), compared with Major Depressive Disorder which, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2016), affects about 6.7% of the population above the age of 18 in a given year.

How does misophonia affect people?

Misophonia can range from manageable to debilitating. If a person’s trigger is fairly uncommon, it may hardly affect him or her at all. However, if a trigger is very common and the reaction is severe, it can lead to avoidance of situations and serious strains on relationships.

Can I get help for misophonia?

If you think that you may be struggling with misophonia, you don’t have to continue to try to handle it alone, particularly if it is something that has begun to impair your day-to-day functioning or affect your relationships. Misophonia can continue to increase in severity if it is left unaddressed, so it is important to know that help is available.  However, because there is not a widespread awareness of misophonia, it can often be misdiagnosed as anything from oppositional defiant disorder to ADHD to anxiety or OCD. So if you are struggling with what sounds like misophonia, it is important to find a professional who understands what you are experiencing and knows how to help.

For more information about misophonia, how it is treated, and related resources, please visit http://misophoniainstitute.org. If you think you or someone you love may be struggling with misophonia, CSAM’s Dr. Michelle Lopez offers specialized treatment at our Rancho Bernardo office. If you would like more information…

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

Please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com if you or someone you love might benefit from treatment for misophonia. We also offer acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, and would be happy to provide more information about our therapy services.

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Facts & statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Bernstein, R. E., Angell, K. L., & Dehle, C. M. (2013). A brief course of cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of misophonia: A case example. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 6(10), 1-13. doi:10.1017/S1754470X13000172

Dozier, T. H. (2015). Understanding and overcoming misophonia: A conditioned aversive reflex disorder. Livermore, CA: Misophonia Treatment Institute.