Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks

Believe it or not, fear can be a good thing. If our ancestors didn’t feel fear and react to it properly, they wouldn’t have protected themselves when they saw a dangerous predator coming after them, and we would not have survived. Thus, the survival mechanism of fear has thankfully survived, or the human species would not have. In our modern society, we rarely— but sometimes— need our fear responses to save our lives, such as when a dangerous person meaning harm is stalking us. Nevertheless, when this happens, we can fortunately use the fear response to fight or flee.

Physiologically, anxiety is identical to fear, resulting in symptoms that may include shortness of breath, sweating, blushing, muscle weakness or tension, butterflies in your stomach, or constriction of the throat and chest. Fear, however, is about something specific which usually makes it rational, appropriate, and helpful in many ways. Anxiety on the other hand, is not connected to any real danger or life-threatening event. Anxiety—as opposed to fear— generally stifles you from taking any action and sometimes causes you to avoid things you wish you could do.  Oftentimes, anxiety provokes feelings of shame, while fear is rarely shameful, as it is a protective mechanism. Whether yours is minor worrying or more severe  (such as feelings of panic or losing control), if you experience your anxiety as interfering with your ability to function in your daily life, it might be time to take some steps to get it under control. While you may not be able to control what’s happening with the people, places and things around you: you can absolutely learn to control your reaction to an external event.

What specific things in your life trigger anxiety? Make a list of the things that trigger  you on a regular basis.  It can be helpful to write down events that occurred the past week that might have set off your feel anxious feelings. Using one item from your list, think about these questions to figure out what you’re telling yourself that may have created your anxiety and then to challenge your thinking. When this situation occurred, what thoughts were you having? What feelings or emotions did you experience? What were you telling yourself at the time? Were you in any real danger? What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you as a result of the event. Finally, how likely is it that this worst thing will happen?

For example, if you felt anxious when your boss called you into his office, maybe you had the thought that you were going to be fired. It’s possible that you then felt nervous and helpless. Perhaps you told yourself “I won’t ever find another job and therefore I won’t be able to support myself or my family.” In this case, while being laid off might be extremely stressful, it’s not life threatening. If your mind tends to jump to the irrational worst-case scenario, like having to live on the street, this is your anxiety talking since chances are it’s probably quite unlikely that would happen. Begin to practice writing these questions and answers down as you experience anxiety-provoking situations throughout your week, and/ or try this exercise with other items on your list.

What can you tell yourself instead of those things that create and worsen your anxiety? What are some new ways to think about them? A good question to ask yourself is what is a more realistic, rational attitude I could substitute in this situation? For example, if you think you’re going to be fired, you can consider that your boss might have a question for you or even want to praise you for your work. And even if the worst scenario becomes reality, where’s the evidence that you can’t survive it? When you look at your list at a later point after the anxiety has subsided, ask yourself, what does my irrational side say and what does my rational side say? Can I choose to listen to my rational side instead?

Ask yourself what you’d advise someone else whom you cared about do with similar thoughts. If another person thought they’d be fired because they were called into a meeting or that if they were fired, it would be catastrophic , would you agree?  If you’re able to think about it rationally for someone else,  you can certainly do so for yourself.  Another option is to say STOP to yourself aloud or silently when you begin to have worrisome thoughts. While this may seem silly, this simple technique can help shift your attention in the moment away from worrying.

Once you are aware of those things that trigger anxiety, it’s helpful to have a “to do” list on hand you for when you begin to worry. For example, when anxious feelings start, one simple strategy you can try is a deep breathing exercise. Imagine your legs are two giant air balloons. As you inhale, imagine your legs filling up with air. As you exhale, imagine all of the air leaving your body. Try this, breathing in to the count of five and out to the five as many times as necessary to feel the anxiety dissipate.

If you can’t seem to reduce your anxiety, ask yourself if there is purpose your anxiety is serving?  Maybe your anxiety keeps you in a relationship or at a job that you’re afraid to leave. If so, face those issues head on, until you are operating according to your choices—not your anxiety!

As you try these various techniques, notice which ones work best for you. The more you practice a particular strategy, the easier it becomes to gain mastery over your anxiety. Feeling more relaxed something you can achieve. If your anxiety continues to affect your life negatively, I encourage you to seek professional help. For more action steps to reduce your anxiety, download my complimentary audio program Overcoming Your Anxiety.

Is an Affair the Disease or Just a Symptom?

I’ve rarely had as much reaction to any of my blogs or articles as there was to an article I posted here last week: Can an Affair Make Your Relationship Stronger? While affairs certainly don’t always have a positive result, the point of the article was to offer another option and help couples heal from a crisis that often prematurely ends marriages and love relationships.

Many incorrectly thought that I was promoting or justifying affairs. To call me pro-affair is like calling a dentist pro-tooth decay. People come to my office when they are in crisis and I help them to heal, pick up the pieces and become empowered once again by identifying and then making the best choices for moving forward in their unique situation. It’s that simple. My perspective is based on many years of clinical experience, where I’ve seen every possible outcome. And among some of the saddest I’ve seen are situations where someone reacted to the news or discovery of his or her partner’s affair by immediately and without further discussion, ending the relationship and burning all bridges back to it—only to deeply regret it, later.  I have also seen more than one situation where someone who would have sworn that their marriage or even their life was ruined by a spouse having an affair, come in many years later to deal with issues around having an affair themselves with their next spouse.  Hopefully, they get the irony.

The many reactions I received ranged from profound gratitude toward me for this article’s perspective and insights to intense rage, and literally everything in between. I even received a call from the CEO of, the web’s largest dating/hookup service for people looking to start affairs. The reason I first agreed to speak with him was to capture “the devil’s” point of view, but surprisingly, I found an important piece of common ground with him. We agreed that affairs are usually not the “disease” that infects marriages or love relationships, but a symptom of bigger issues that loom under the surface.

For me, the key word here is “usually”. The affair, whether sexual, emotional or both, is usually a symptom when sex in your primary relationship is going downhill either in frequency or quality and neither partner—especially the one who feels it the most and reacts with infidelity—sees fit to address it with his or her partner. The reasons for this can include the common decrease in desire that often occurs as time goes by, a more serious desire discrepancy between the partners (where one wants much more sex than the other), a sexual dysfunction, fear of commitment, unresolved anger, feeling ignored, a gradual emotional distancing or some ongoing problem in the relationship that may not even be related to sex or passion at all—in other words a communication or conflict resolution issue— that is being ignored. As you can see, any of these issues (or a unique combination of them) can then take on a life of its own.

On the other hand it’s the “disease” when the partner who strays is acting out his or her sexual addiction (which is actually an addiction to the dopamine high that is typical of the initial passion experienced during the highly charged romantic phase of the beginning of most relationships) or simply strays because he or she can.

My wife, Dr. Arlene Goldman is also a psychologist. She specializes in couples and sex therapy; and treats many couples in the aftermath of an affair by one partner. Her approach, even when one partner is clearly a sex addict, is often to help the couple reframe their crisis as a blessing that triggered the help needed to mark the beginning of a much better relationship on many levels. To do this, however, she emphasizes that the partner who had the affair needs to accept responsibility for the pain he or she caused the other; and both partners need to acknowledge their roles in creating and maintaining the climate that existed before the crisis escalated. This has been my experience as well.

The point is that I’m not here to judge, but to help those who seek help! I have seen all of these things play out in many relationships; and it’s quite sad to see a relationship go up in flames partly because of the angry thinking that preempts any desire to forgive and at least try to resolve the issues in order to move on. Many strategies for healing, addressing your options and evaluating your relationship can be found in my book Can Your Relationship be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go.

So for those of you who took offense at me even addressing this issue, I hope that you can use this information to sooth some of your painful and unhealthy angry feelings; and let me suggest that to do otherwise would be to help ignore what for too many is the elephant in the room. Of course, in some cases trust cannot be rebuilt after infidelity occurs within a relationship.  No behavior can be undone and thus we can’t always control the consequences.  But my best advice is to step back and address the situation with the mindset to focus on the best long-term solution to this crisis for everyone it affects.

How Many Frogs Must You Kiss to Find Your Prince (or Princess) Charming?

Have you been on what feels like hundreds of dates, but found no one who fits the bill? While this might at times feel discouraging, the truth is if you were willing to accept almost anyone, you probably could have a relationship tomorrow.  Think about it-if the only thing you chose about a person was their gender, how long would it take to find your next relationship?  You could probably be in some kind of a “relationship” this time tomorrow.  But thankfully, this isn’t the case for most people.  While we all have certain criteria we want in a partner, mindfully fine tuning just what this is, can be the key to finding what you want and feeling empowered until you do!

Realistically, finding the right relationship is a numbers game.  The more stringent your requirements are for a partner, the fewer are the people who will be able to meet them.  This is a mathematical truism. As an extreme example that characterizes the thinking of many singles I’ve talked to over the years: if your “must have” list includes someone who’s won a Nobel Prize, speaks 6 languages, and has green eyes, there might only be one person in the world—if that— who fits the bill. And he or she might be already married!  So unless you’re willing to wait until this mythical person gets divorced and you somehow miraculously meet—and then you may not even like each other— the obvious solution is to reconsider your what you’re looking for.

So what realistic criteria does your next partner have to meet in order to have a chance with you?  Be very clear to yourself about what’s really important.  This doesn’t mean having low standards, only ones that are acceptable to you and attainable by you.  Make a list of the traits and characteristics that are non-negotiable, consider each one individually to make sure that it meets that “realistic” test.

So instead of asking, “how many people must I screen before finding the ideal relationship?”, ask yourself, “what’s really important to me in the relationship I am seeking?” This way you are clear about your choices. And that’s the main message here: Be clear on what you want. That way you are most likely to find it. But most importantly, until you do, know that you’re living this part of your life according to your own choices.

The Dark Side of Perfectionism

Do you find that setting standards too high by trying to do things too perfectly is a source of stress for you?  While doing your best is certainly a virtue, perfectionism— that is settling for nothing less than perfect— has a major down side. The problem is that many people mistake perfectionism for working their hardest, or trying to do their best.  But these two things are really not the same at all. Perfectionism is a bad habit and one that you can quickly kick!

In the real world perfection is an impossible standard to meet. It can potentially keep you in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, because it’s the demand that you do better than your best. Is this likely?  Striving towards perfection is also like aiming for a moving target.  And when you miss, it it’s likely that you negate what you have accomplished and berate yourself for what you didn’t.

Thus, it’s not hard to see how to the extent that you’re perfectionistic, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.  The irony of perfectionism is that you usually end up performing worse, because you inevitably hit a wall, put yourself down, and then fail to do your best because of the self-generated negativity that follows.  What do you tell yourself when you can’t do something seamlessly?   Maybe you think, “I must be flawless,” or “If I don’t do this perfectly it means I’m a failure and I can’t stand failure.”  This type of black and white thinking can be quite consuming.  For example, the public speaker that’s concerned with executing a perfectly flawless presentation will usually be so self-conscious, that he’s unable to be as animated and engaging as he could be.   Another classic example is in sexual performance.  The anxiety that comes from being overly concerned about performing perfectly well is a leading psychological cause of erectile dysfunction. For you, a similar pattern might be evident in the work you do; in parenting or any important goal you set for yourself.

The best way to conquer perfectionism is prevention.  When you see perfection for what it is, this cycle can be broken. If you’re truly giving it all you have, that’s the best you can do. Notice if you have a tendency toward black and white thinking. If so, see if you can move a few inches inside the grey area.  For example, if you’re telling yourself “if I mess up at all, I’m in idiot,” try replacing this thought with, “As much as I’ll try not to, everyone makes mistakes” or “I did everything I could and that’s the best I can do.” Removing negative thoughts from your life will allow you to approach any obstacle from a place of fearlessness and empowerment, where you can truly perform at your highest potential!

Can an Affair Make Your Relationship Stronger?

If you’ve recently found out your partner has had an affair (or perhaps you’re the one who has), your first reaction might be to assume it’s inevitable that the relationship will end. With the emotional rollercoaster you might be experiencing, this can seem like the only logical outcome. And if you’re someone who usually plays by the often black and white rules of society (or relationships), it may be difficult to see it any other way. In some cases, an affair will put the spotlight on certain differences that are irreconcilable. But on the other side of the pain, lies the possibility that an act of infidelity can actually make your marriage or love relationship stronger! Step one is to get past the rage, the finger pointing and the blaming. Then, there might be something to learn that can reignite your relationship and remind you of the reasons you got together in the first place. Think of this as the wakeup call.

If you were the one who strayed—as difficult as it may be—don’t lose sight of the reality that it’s unfair to compare an affair and primary relationship. An affair is usually conducted under idealized circumstances: no financial issues and no kids to worry about. Obviously, none of the mundane aspects of life like income taxes and household chores are a part of the mix. If someone gets the flu, you simply don’t get together that week. The frustrating or stressful elements of day-to-day life simply don’t exist. In a way it’s like comparing normal life to a vacation!

Instead, ask yourself what it was that you needed or weren’t getting in your primary relationship that may have led you to the choices you made. Whether it was emotional, physical or something else, identifying the aspect(s) of your relationship that drove you to look elsewhere to meet this need can be invaluable information going forward. For example, in most relationships for sex to be optimal, both partners need to work on it. This certainly doesn’t mean the relationship is bad or has run its course. Maybe your drive to seek sex elsewhere can illuminate the fact that this is an area that needs attention. Perhaps you’ve not been feeling validated in the areas of love or sex and that drove you to seek a connection with someone else.

And if your partner was unfaithful, obsessing about that “other person” is only going to deepen your pain. Sure you can blame and live in a state of victimhood; and you may get lots of support in the way of sympathy to reinforce your rage. But my best advice to you is to look at the affair as a symptom of some ongoing issue that is or was not being addressed. So now is the time to have a civil and thoughtful discussion about what needs to change and/or be worked on now. Chances are there was an elephant in the room you both knew about, but tried to ignore. I can’t tell you what it is, but urge you to take this opportunity to address it. In my book, Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, I offer many strategies for identifying and resolving these issues and making your relationship what it could be when you are able to get through a profoundly difficult crisis such as this— together.

You can give your relationship a new life and even make it far better than ever with the commitment of both of you to do this, by either by yourselves or with the help of a couple’s counselor. With some hard work and that commitment, it’s absolutely possible to regain trust and have a fresh start.