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Working Through Anxiety

Anxiety. It’s unambiguous. It is what it is and that’s it. At least this is what I thought a few years back. But I have learned that that’s not true, in the literal sense. When it comes to believing what our minds tell us when we feel anxious, it’s perception, not truth.

Nevertheless, some of our beliefs have truths to them in our minds and these are actually not as true as we think they are – they are just ideas, mythical thoughts, hypnotic negatives, etc., and when we allow them to be considered truths, they hurt us.


A lot of times we live in either the past or the future, and I had a bad habit of doing this (I still do sometimes). When I feel down, I sometimes live in the past, rehashing what was, what could have been, what I did wrong, what I could have done better, and this causes anxiety. I also can feel anxious when I think about the future, worrying over what could or may happen, usually on the negative spectrum of things.

When I do this I need to remind myself to find peace and that involves living in the moment, not working up a situation in an anxiety-induced preview. This can be very challenging. But when I stop and take the time and energy to simply listen to the frogs in my backyard chirping at night or the other little sounds of nature surrounding me, I instantly feel relief, even if it’s just momentarily, from the clutches of worrying about or trying to control the future. It takes practice and I still struggle at times. But just acknowledging what the value of living in the moment is helps me with more in-the-moment thinking.

Anxiety is also more than just a feeling; it’s part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, and can cause a lot of physical symptoms.

Here are some common physical symptoms of anxiety:

• Trembling/Shakiness
• Churning stomach/Nausea/Diarrhea
• Headache/Backache
• Heart palpitations/Racing heartbeat
• Numbness or ‘pins and needles’ feeling in arms, hands or legs
• Sweating/flushing
• Restlessness
• Feeling tired/Easily tired
• Trouble concentrating/Irritability
• Muscle tension
• Frequent urination
• Trouble falling or staying asleep/Insomnia
• Being easily startled/upset

Many of these symptoms are the same issues you would experience if you had a serious health problem. For example, anxiety can cause chest pains, just like a heart attack. Anxiety also has a tendency to intensify normal symptoms. For example, you can get a dizzy spell from not eating for a while, and that’s normal, but those of us with anxiety often feel this more severely, because we’re especially tuned into the way our bodies feel. This can make things feel worse and actually creates more anxiety, which just creates a vicious circle. Can you see how a little anxiety can do so much damage?

I urge anyone who is reading this and can relate to any of this – to stop, take a deep breath, and bring yourself into this moment.



Feeling anxiety is something that affects a lot of people. It’s hard to deal with at times, but it can be overcome with a willingness and dedication to work through it, along with help from loved ones, therapists, doctors, and sometimes with medication.

It won’t happen overnight but you can work through it. And Sanctuary Counseling is here to help you do that. If you need to talk, call us. One of our caring and compassionate therapists will help you work through whatever you are struggling with.


Let’s Talk About Dreams! Part Three

So my last blog post I talked about how slow wave sleep (the big dip at hours 1, 2, 4 and 6 in the graph) is responsible for consolidating memories of what happened during the day, and how REM sleep (the dark blue crests at the top of the sleep stages) are what are responsible for rote memorization.

Knowing this is how our sleep cycle has an effect on memory, let’s talk about what you can do to get the most from it. 

sleep graph

First off, since you can expect 4-5 instances of REM sleep a night, that is about 4-5 opportunities for your brain to remember new tasks you give it. This doesn’t mean it hits the “Save file” button 4-5 times, it means that there are opportunities to save pieces of a process. If you are trying to cram for a test and still get frustrated why it doesn’t work, the graph to the right is why. If you study something new in smaller bursts, or make a behavior change in smaller bursts, over a longer period of time, it will be consolidated more completely since there were more nights in a row where your brain could consolidate parts of the process.

There’s another quirk of memory to be aware of that can be helpful. Sometimes, when we have to memorize things in order, we might get frustrated that we can’t quite recall all of it. This is normal. Some things you might study get forgotten. This is because your brain tends to see some types of information as more important.
When we try to remember a sequence of things, we tend to remember the beginning of a sequence and the end of a sequence. This is called the primacy and recency effect, respectively. Your brain is really good at consolidating those memories first, partially because it likes to draw boundaries around information, and fill it in later.


I can not state this hard enough: this is why cramming does not work.  When people try to study a lot of information all at once, their brain will only prioritize the first and last bits of that big chunk.  Even if you were to study for 8 hours, your brain will only care about that starting point and ending point. (And you would care about a lot of wasted time.)


Instead of looking at this like a fault, take note of what your brain is really eager to commit to. If you were to break down a big list into smaller chunks, and study each one individually, more frequently, your brain would draw the beginning and end of a smaller list, closer together.  Once that smaller list takes little effort to remember, you can move on to the next one. (Attention High School Students Who Have To Memorize The Periodic Table or Shakespeare: That’s how you do it.)


If you are looking for tools to help supplement your study routines, check out programs like the Mnemosyne Project or Quizlet.


If you’ve found these blogs about dreams, sleep and memory helpful, or you have more questions about how the brain works, I’d love to hear back from you! I can be reached at

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