In this episode, Dr. Charles Barr and Erica discuss:
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The Antidote to Anxiety: Relaxation
[00:00:00] Erica: Hello again, I'm glad you're back because the next few episodes are going to be about the single most important skill you can develop to defeat anxiety. Sounds pretty important, doesn't it? It is. And more importantly, how this skill is something within your control, which is so rare when you're anxious.
Stick around. I think you'll get a lot out of this series.
[00:00:20] Erica: Welcome to the Life Free of Anxiety Podcast, where each week we'll bring you another discussion to help you on your way to overcoming your fears. I'm Erica and together with Dr. Charles Barr, a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in anxiety, we'll be your guides on this journey. Because you are not broken, you are not alone.
And you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety.
[00:00:55] Erica: Well, welcome back to the life free of anxiety podcast. It's Erica with Dr. Barr. Hi, Dr. Barr.
[00:01:01] Dr. Charles Barr: Hello. Well, it's good to be back with you again.
[00:01:05] Dr. Charles Barr: Today, we are going to be talking about three forms of relaxation that can help you overcome your anxiety. And so we want to talk about what relaxation is and some of the exercises we do and what we have found that has been effective.
[00:01:22] Erica: Yeah. And before we start, I just want to say. One thing I observed by being friends with your wife on Facebook, Dr. Barr, is you guys really live it up. And the reason I bring that up is because I think it's cool that you are living such a fun life and I could tell you guys are so into experiences, and without these relaxation exercises, I don't know that you would be living such a fun, eventful travel filled life.
Do you agree with that?
[00:01:52] Dr. Charles Barr: I do agree with that. I think that anxiety limits your life tremendously, and that's part of what I really disliked about it. And, it is one of the things that I enjoy being able to do. We just got back from Denver this weekend and we were there celebrating my nephew's 50th birthday. We had a great time.
It's the first time I'd ever been to Denver, so that was really fun.
[00:02:19] Erica: And you took a trip last year and how many people did you visit on your trip? This is what I'm talking about, what I talk about Dr. Barr living it up. You visited how many people.
[00:02:28] Dr. Charles Barr: Oh my goodness. I think we, I think we had a total of something like 75 people that we saw.
[00:02:34] Erica: I'm exhausted just thinking about that. Oh my goodness. I'm an introvert. After 10 visits, I'd be like, I gotta go home, guys. I need to be alone really badly right now. That's the kind of life you're living and you did struggle with anxiety at one point, and you did use these breathing exercises to see your way out of it.
So I just wanted to note that at the beginning of our show that you can be living Dr. Barr's amazing life, with some practice...
[00:02:59] Dr. Charles Barr: Well actually. Actually, I don't want them to live Dr. Barr's amazing life. I want them to live their own amazing life.
[00:03:07] Erica: Okay,
[00:03:07] Dr. Charles Barr: So whatever that would look like for them, and I want their world to be expanded and, and be free to live the life that they got pictured for themselves. Just because you're free of anxiety doesn't mean that you're gonna fly around. You still may not enjoy flying, even if you're free of anxiety. So I don't know that they're going to be flying places and you don't have to, that's not a requirement. So it's the life that you have pictured that I want you to be free to live.
[00:03:38] Erica: Life that you're craving to live right now is. With anxiety.
All right. So first of all, I wanted to discuss what an anxious person loves most, and the answer is control.
[00:03:50] Dr. Charles Barr: Oh control.
[00:03:52] Erica: And that's what I love about these exercises is this is your control. We're giving it to you. This is it. I got this really interesting question the other day and I, I love this question because it's, it makes so much sense. Somebody wanted to know how do I figure out what my triggers are?
And I'm like, well, you don't. You don't have to figure out your triggers. We don't have to think about your triggers. We can use this form of control to get your body and your mind on the same page so that you're on your way to living a life free of anxiety. And I love that question because it was so rational.
What's setting me off? Well, it could be anything, but we know how to fix it. So we're going to go with that.
[00:04:29] Dr. Charles Barr: And in the program that we use, we do try to help people identify their triggers because that can be important and can help them feel like they have some control. It's like, "Oh, I know what I did," or "I know what I saw," or "I know what I felt and that set me off. "And so that kind of control can be helpful too along with the relaxation, because just knowing what your triggers are doesn't help you stop the anxiety.
[00:04:59] Erica: Yeah.
[00:05:00] Dr. Charles Barr: But once you know how to stop the anxiety, then knowing what your triggers are can be very helpful because then you can put your mind at ease about what, what happened.
[00:05:09] Erica: Definitely. Okay.
[00:05:11] Erica: So do you want to break down some of the benefits of these relaxation exercises? Some of them are kind of surprising, really.
[00:05:20] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, there is a whole host of physiological benefits that scientists have come up with and that we know. Doing relaxation slows your heart rate, it lowers your blood pressure. It slows your breathing rate. And by the way, that's one of the things that you can also do is you can count how often, how many times a minute you're breathing.
If you're breathing more than 14 you're probably breathing a little too fast. That's 14 times a minute. And so if you can slow your breathing down, that probably will help you not be so anxious. Interesting little tidbit. It also improves your digestion because when you're adrenalized and you're ready to fight, your gut shuts off so it doesn't digest food well.
One author even talked about using your digestive mode, so going into the digestion mode so that you can actually digest your food. So relaxing helps you digest your food.
[00:06:26] Erica: I heard from a former therapist, she used to say, now if you end up hungry after relaxing, it's because digestion has turned back on.
[00:06:34] Dr. Charles Barr: That's right.
[00:06:35] Erica: So you can be like, Oh, I need a hamburger now.
[00:06:39] Dr. Charles Barr: That's right. Well, the other thing that frequently happens is as people start relaxing, their stomach starts grumbling.
[00:06:46] Erica: Yeah.
[00:06:47] Dr. Charles Barr: So you start making stomach noises and that kind of thing. And so they get embarrassed, but because their stomachs are grumbling and that kind of thing, and it's like, it's always a good sign to me.
I'm doing relaxation work with the client. Uh, if some would start to grow, I'm laying and carrying on. I know that they're relaxing.
[00:07:04] Erica: Right.
[00:07:05] Dr. Charles Barr: So, if you start, your stomach starts rumbling while you're relaxing, that's a good sign. So don't be embarrassed or shocked or surprised. That's a good sign.
It just means that digestion is turning back on. That's right.
[00:07:20] Erica: Okay. And normalizing blood sugar levels.
[00:07:24] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes, because it's reducing the cortisol that is calling for all the blood sugar to be converted. So then it reduces your blood sugar levels. It also can reduce stress hormone levels, the cortisol levels, and it increases your blood flow, to the exterior of your body as well as to your muscles and to your, your internal organs.
[00:07:46] Erica: What does that do if that happens and why is that important?
[00:07:49] Dr. Charles Barr: It relaxes you. It actually relaxes you. If your, blood is flowing to the exterior of your body, that means you're no longer in the fight mode. Because the stress reaction is fight or flight. And when that happens, your external vessels constrict. And push the blood into the core of your body, so if you're in a fight and you get cut and you're not going to bleed as much.
[00:08:14] Erica: Wow.
[00:08:15] Dr. Charles Barr: So it's a, it's a protective mechanism that our bodies that we developed over time.
[00:08:21] Erica: Is that why when I'm watching 24, Jack Bauer is always surviving somehow, even though I'm in like season eight. Did you watch that show? Because he's like the only person that never dies. And I also, I live in Valencia and Valencia gets nuked in 24 and I just saw that episode the other day.
So side note, sorry. I hope I'm not giving any spoilers cause people are still discovering this show too. I know I am.
[00:08:46] Dr. Charles Barr: That's right. We should have issued a spoiler alert, huh?
[00:08:50] Erica: Well that's why Jack Bauer lives. No other reason. Okay. So we've got reducing muscle tension too, which I think we all know how much once we check on ourselves. For me clenching my jaw, making fists. Is that kind of what we're talking about? So that's, that's reducing as we're doing this.
[00:09:11] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes. And, and, uh, you know, people carry tension in, in different parts of their body. And. So that's part of what we do with our progressive muscle relaxation, which is one of our techniques, to try to help people identify where it is they actually carry their anxiety. They may carry it in their shoulders, they may carry it in their jaw, they may carry it in their stomach you know, all kinds of places that we can carry the anxiety.
And so that really does help reduce that and help us figure out where we're carrying it so we can start learning how to recognize it. It also really helps anger and frustration. You know, the old adage of if you're mad, stop and count to 10 before you do anything. That really does work.
You know, if you'll give yourself time and give, take a breath. Then you won't be so reactive and you won't be so explosive and angry, hopefully. And it can really reduce your, your frustration and your anger there and then can boost your ability to handle problems and your confidence in that ability...
[00:10:20] Erica: Hmm..
[00:10:21] Dr. Charles Barr: ...so that, that you feel like, okay, I can face things when they come and I have some tools that I can use to control myself.
[00:10:29] Erica: So clearer thinking.
[00:10:31] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes.
[00:10:32] Erica: Okay,
[00:10:33] Dr. Charles Barr: It is very difficult to think clearly when you're full of anxiety.
[00:10:39] Erica: Definitely.
[00:10:39] Dr. Charles Barr: It is just very difficult. It's one of the things that the adrenaline does, is it cuts off the prefrontal cortex. It says, this is not the time to think. This is the time to react and for actions. So, it shuts off the thinking mechanism.
And so it's very difficult to think clearly when you're feeling scared or anxious and you've got panic going on. There's not much thinking happening.
[00:11:06] Erica: And that can kind of affect all aspects of your life. I mean, thinking about anything where you're having for lunch, who you're going to deal with that day or a conversation, a decision you have to make. I think decisions became very difficult for me with anxiety. Just, what's right?
What's the wrong answer?
[00:11:24] Dr. Charles Barr: Probably so.
[00:11:25] Erica: I just couldn't figure out a lot of things and I felt like everything was so "Oh my gosh, if I don't figure it out, what's going to happen?" You know? I felt a lot of that and that was difficult.
[00:11:36] Dr. Charles Barr: That's right.
[00:11:37] Erica: What about growth to the hippocampus and where is the hippocampus?
[00:11:43] Dr. Charles Barr: The hippocampus is in the limbic system. It's on either side of your brain. So it's in each hemisphere and the hippocampus helps us identify new and novel activity. It likes new and novel activity, and that's part of what helps it grow and it helps us consolidate and recall memory.
[00:12:03] Erica: Okay.
[00:12:03] Dr. Charles Barr: So the hippocampus serves a, really good function in terms of income, encoding and recall. The stress can make the hippocampus less effective, so it may be harder for you to encode things. If you're in school and you're trying to learn complex material and you're feeling anxious, there's likely to be little learning happening. It's gonna make it more difficult for you to learn the material that you're trying to learn because, the hippocampus is interfered with that. And so being more relaxed certainly allows the hippocampus to function better and to be more effective. So we do want that. That's one of the side effects.
We don't go directly after the hippocampus because we can't really do that. It sits at the bottom of the temporal lobe. If people know their brain anatomy, the temporal lobe is sort of on the side of your head, each side of your head. And the temporal lobe is part of the limbic system that controls emotions, feelings and all of those kinds of things that are involved in the anxiety. So we want that to function better and to be better organized and, it will help you in learning. It will actually help you learn this program better, help you learn how to relax better, that kind of thing.
[00:13:24] Erica: I heard that after a certain amount of time though, researchers have found that the hippocampus can grow. Is that true? From relaxation?
[00:13:32] Dr. Charles Barr: I'm not sure whether that's true or not. I know it certainly functions better and, so I think we can at least say that. I'm just not sure about whether it actually grows, but it certainly can become more effective. Yes.
[00:13:44] Erica: Okay, cool. Well, your brain becoming more effective is always, you know, a good
[00:13:49] Dr. Charles Barr: That's always a good thing.
[00:13:50] Erica: Yeah.
[00:13:51] Erica: So I'm curious if you noticed anything unique or unexpected when you had done a period of relaxation exercises for a long time. Was it, did anything come up for you that you remember like, "well, that kind of affected this and I didn't really expect that."
[00:14:11] Dr. Charles Barr: I don't know for me...
[00:14:12] Erica: it's been a while for you.
[00:14:14] Dr. Charles Barr: ...unexpected. Mostly because I had studied it so much. So I already had a lot of concepts in my head about what could happen or might happen and that kind of thing. What I would say probably is that I got a great sense of overall calmness
[00:14:30] Erica: Hmm.
[00:14:31] Dr. Charles Barr: ...and, uh, much more calm in general.
And, along with that, a great sense of freedom that came. So I was impressed with, with the effect that relaxing my body could actually give me a sense of freedom. I thought maybe the calmness would come, and the calmness did come, but the sense of freedom, I wasn't expecting that necessarily.
How about for you? What, what do you, did you have any things that surprised you.
[00:15:02] Erica: Yeah, for me, I think just my expectation of others when I was anxious, I didn't realize how high it was getting. I'm talking about people who weren't following through with things because people are people.
I mean, things would happen and I remember just feeling like I couldn't get past it when other people could write off that, "okay, well they're flaky or they're this way." I just didn't, I found myself getting really frustrated by how people were reacting and how I couldn't control it. So, I noticed that once I did these exercises for a certain period of time, I just stopped having those expectations and much freer now to say, " well, whatever," and move on with my life.
Whereas before, I used to kind of stew and overanalyze, and I still do that sometimes, of course. There was one person in my life in particular who really bothered me and I just kind of forgot about it after doing this and it was only in retrospect that I thought, "wow, I really stopped caring about them a long time ago, didn't I? I?"
just kind of forgot.
[00:16:07] Dr. Charles Barr: They just didn't bother you.
[00:16:09] Erica: Yeah. the other thing was the hormonal help I felt. Always had PMS. I've always had mood swings. I've always had sadness before my period, you know, things like that. And, I felt like this was actually really stabilizing the way I felt beforehand. I just felt way less reactive. Less crying spells, less frustration, I guess.
So it was definitely helping hormones. And then first trimester of pregnancy I had some anxiety. It was very short lived because for the most part, pregnancy was very easy emotionally on me. But, the first trimester I had some anxiety and I did these relaxation exercises nonstop.
And I just did them over and over and I got so calm reinstilling them. Cause I had, I had done this before. And I got very calm. I had a very good pregnancy from then on out. And I have a very calm baby, which I've always wondered if that has anything to do with it. Cause I mean, I was relaxing so much.
Yeah. I mean, did he pick up on it? Maybe. I hope so. I'll do it again if that's the case.
[00:17:14] Dr. Charles Barr: You know, I don't know that we've done any in utero relaxation training.
[00:17:18] Erica: I know. I want to know. I swear they're going to come out with that 10 years later. There is benefits to a mother doing a relaxation exercise as well, pregnant on the baby,
[00:17:28] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes.
[00:17:29] Erica: I think there very Well, could be.
[00:17:31] Dr. Charles Barr: There very well could be. I certainly won't make that as a claim to fame or anything,
[00:17:35] Erica: You have to be careful. You are a doctor here. You're not going to just start, start making things up.
[00:17:40] Dr. Charles Barr: Yeah. We do know that babies do react to their, in utero experience. And so maybe in fact that that was helpful to him, so very good.
[00:17:51] Erica: I hope so.
[00:17:52] Erica: All right, well we've covered the benefits of relaxation exercises and next time we are going to move into three forms of exercises that you should be doing.
Relaxation exercises, that is. Part two is coming your way soon.
[00:18:08] Erica: Thanks so much for tuning in today. I hope that something in today's conversation provided you with a feeling of hope, determination, or purpose. I know what you're going through, and that's why I want to give you some of the tools that helped me in my anxiety journey. To get a free copy of Free From Fears head to freefromfearsbook.com to find out more about the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program.
Find us at CHAANGE.com Thanks again for listening.
And remember you are not broken You are not alone and you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety. See you next week