May 4

How to Face the Dragon

“Don’t worry! Be happy.” says the one who knows there are dragons, but fears that giving them attention will invite trouble.

“No, I don’t want to. I don’t know why, but no.” replies the one who sees the dragon and is terrified of being burned, and will do anything to avoid being burned, even if it means saying “no” to almost everything, even if it means risking relationships and embarrassment.

The dragon doesn’t try to hide from us, but we often times feel the need to hide from it. Makes sense, right? Why would we put ourselves in the path of possible danger? Dragons breathe fire, they’re big and scary, and unpredictable. But what if I told you that you could shrink, and even discipline dragons?

Where there are dragons, there is magic. 🙂

Anxiety and depression are the two most common diagnosis given to patients. When we understand the behavior of someone who we know has, or suspect has a mental health condition, it’s easier to help them. When we understand why our loved ones behave the way they do, it’s easier to have empathy, and maybe even find ways to relate.

When we feel something isn’t right in ourselves, the more we know why we behave the way we do, the more empowered we are to make a positive change in our own lives – and that’s a great feeling! That means there is hope- and there is! Nothing is beyond healing…

I hope my story below can give clarity to what I like to refer to as ‘the dragon’. Anxiety is intimidating, it can be scary and sometimes feel life-threatening. The feelings are very REAL. Our bodies physically react to the emotions we experience.

The feelings from anxiety make you feel like you’re going crazy and sometimes you would do anything, give anything, to make them go away. I would have never believed the prison I felt I was in would release me had I not experienced being set free myself. So I hope my story, and what I’ve learned, and continue to learn, can help you move forward with hope in your future – because nothing is beyond the reach of healing and recovery.

The dragon of anxiety and panic first manifested in its full glory back in 2008 for me, a year after Clark and I got married. I had never seen myself like this, not just being nervous or cautious – but terrified at the thought of leaving home. I didn’t understand… why was I suddenly feeling and reacting this way – over simple things, like just driving down to the store? Logically, I knew I would be fine… but this dragon had a spell on me that made me feel a deep sense of fear and panic. I was afraid to face what felt like real danger. It didn’t look like danger, it FELT like danger.

Anxiety is commonly brought on by a traumatic event. A few years prior to getting married my best-friend had committed suicide, and 4 years after getting married, my brother passed away unexpectedly. Anxiety doesn’t always manifest the same way for everyone, and it’s not always debilitating. Mine was so bad that I would fall apart crying at the thought of leaving the house, mostly overwhelmed with despair that I even felt the way I did – because I wanted to be free of those feelings! I didn’t want to be afraid! I wanted to feel normal – so desperately wanted to feel normal again…

What does a dragon look like? What are the symptoms of anxiety & panic disorder?

There is anxiety that is very obvious and then there’s the ‘wolf in sheeps clothing’ type of anxiety.

The obvious anxiety is someone who worries all the time, is quick to say no to invitations or seems easily overwhelmed… doesn’t want to leave the house ever, and seems to always see the worst case scenario. You can often hear the anxiety in their voice as they go on and on about the list of things that could go wrong and have gone wrong.

The subtle ‘wolf in sheeps clothing’ can be the “don’t worry be happy” person who quickly dismisses concerns, is quick to be irritable and can be explosive when their anxiety is triggered. Their anxiety/panic is smothered with “don’t worry about it” because the fear of facing the reality that the worry could be true is too much to bear. So focusing on the positive is a quick relief to the anxiety.

People with anxiety can often be found shopping excessively, throw parties, become overly busy people as they seek for ways to distract themselves from their feelings. They tend to stuff the worry away, can be impulsive (i.e. buy a last minute ticket to travel the world), find other ways to cope with stress (avoiding conflict), anything to avoid issues or topics that seem painful or uncomfortable to think about.

Some people seem perfectly calm, but if you place them in an environment of emotional people, or an unexpected emotional event occurs, they’ll become quickly overwhelmed and can be irritable or ‘snappy’.

Anxiety can look like a pristinely clean home, anything out of place can be a quick embarrassment for them or uncomfortable stress.

Anxiety could also be a very disorganized house with piles of laundry, dishes in the sink from two weeks ago, moving boxes from years ago not yet emptied.

For students, anxiety can be high grades on homework, but failed tests and quizzes. It can manifest in a dislike for reading books (because they either don’t read well or feel they can’t read fast enough).

Anxiety has often been expressed as a fear of not being perfect at whatever it is they’re trying to do, or trying to be. So people will either avoid the task all together because if it can’t be done right, why do it at all. Or don’t just do it right, but do more, and then some more after that. A false belief that an A+ isn’t good enough. Some students will experience panic attacks over not completing the extra credit work at school.

The medical list of symptoms for anxiety are as follows:

Keep in mind that those who have anxiety will not necessarily exhibit all of these symptoms…

  • hypervigilance, irritability, or restlessness…
  • lack of concentration, racing thoughts, unwanted thoughts…
  • unusually tired…
  • excessive worry, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, nausea, heart palpitations, or trembling…
  • avoidance of people or places, due to a fear of having a panic or anxiety attack…
  • muscle tension (headaches, sore muscles, hand tremor)…
  • tendency to predict the worst, people tell you “you worry too much”…
  • conflict avoidance…
  • excessive fear of being judged or scrutinized by others…
  • being easily startled or tendency to freeze in anxiety provoking or intense situations…
  • shyness, timidity, getting easily embarrassed…
  • biting fingernails or picking skin…
  • eating more than normal (‘stress eating’), or not eating enough (skipping meals)…
  • forgetfulness…
  • difficulty expressing feelings…
  • procrastination…
  • trouble keeping focus…
  • easily distracted…
  • fidgety, can’t sit still, markedly increased energy…
  • easily provoked to anger…
  • poor judgment…
  • known for always being late…
  • inappropriate social behavior…
  • decreased need of sleep…
  • intense dislike for change…
  • needing to have things done a certain way…
  • phobias (stuck on fear)…
  • upset when things are out of place or things don’t go the way you planned…

…there are more symptoms explained in further detail below in Dr. Amen’s list of 7 types of anxiety…

75% of the time, anxiety and depression will occur together.

Because anxiety and depression often are paired together, it is important that you learn what type of anxiety you might have and receive the right diagnosis so you can start on the right treatment plan for the greatest outcome of success…

Double board certified psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen has sub-typed 7 different types of Anxiety & Depression. From his website, these are his descriptions for each type:

Type 1 – Pure Anxiety

Pure Anxiety often results from too much activity in the basal ganglia, setting one’s “idle speed” on overdrive. People with pure anxiety often feel a great deal of tension and nervousness, and are overwhelmed by feelings of panic, fear and self-doubt; they tend to predict the worst and look to the future with fear. Their symptoms may be a consistently disruptive problem or may come in unpredictable waves.

Type 2 – Pure Depression

Pure Depression often results from excessive activity in the deep limbic system—the brain’s emotional center. People with this type struggle with depressive symptoms that range from chronic mild sadness (dysthymia) to crippling major depression, where it’s difficult to even get out of bed.

Type 3 – Mixed Anxiety / Depression

Mixed Anxiety/Depression involves a combination of both Pure Anxiety symptoms and Pure Depression symptoms (listed above). This type shows excessive activity in the brain’s basal ganglia and the deep limbic system. One type may predominate at any point in time, but both symptom clusters are present on a regular basis.

Type 4 – Over-focused Anxiety/Depression

Over-Focused Anxiety/Depression involves excessive activity in the brain’s anterior cingulate gyrus, basal ganglia and/or the deep limbic system. People with this type have trouble shifting attention and often get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors.

When “difficulty shifting” is combined with excessive basal ganglia activity, people get stuck on anxious thoughts. When combined with excessive deep limbic activity, people get stuck on negative and depressing thoughts. Many people get stuck on both anxiety-provoking and depressive thoughts at the same time. This can look like:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (stuck on negative thoughts or actions)
  • Phobias (stuck on a fear)
  • Eating disorders (stuck on negative eating behavior)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (stuck on a past traumatic event)

Type 5 – Temporal Lobe Anxiety/Depression

Temporal Lobe Anxiety/Depression is related to too little or too much activity in the temporal lobes, in addition to overactivity in the basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. The temporal lobes are very important to memory, moods and emotions.

Type 6 – Cyclic Anxiety/Depression

Cyclic Anxiety/Depression is associated with extremely high activity in the brain’s basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. These areas of excessive activity act like “emotional seizures” as the emotional centers hijack the brain for periods of time. Those with Type 6 Anxiety/Depression often have little or no control over these intense emotional episodes.

Cyclical disorders, such as bipolar disorder, cyclothymia, premenstrual tension syndrome and panic attacks are part of this category, because they are episodic and unpredictable. A cyclical pattern is the hallmark of this type. Like other types, Cyclic Anxiety/Depression is a spectrum disorder, which means that it can range from mild to severe.

Type 7 – Unfocused Anxiety/Depression

Unfocused Anxiety/Depression is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in addition to high activity in the basal ganglia and/or deep limbic system. The PFC is the brain’s CEO and helps with the executive functions such as attention, focus, impulse control, judgment, organization, planning and motivation. When the PFC is underactive, people often have problems with these executive functions.

Distinguishing Unfocused Anxiety/Depression from ADD can be difficult because of the similarity in symptoms; however, ADD—in its classic form—starts in childhood and can be seen consistently throughout a person’s life. Unfocused Anxiety/Depression may not arise until later in life, and may be misdiagnosed as Adult ADD.

If you find the above list interesting, there is more information found in Dr. Amen’s article here. “Anxiety and Depression

There Is Hope for Healing

It’s important that you don’t self-diagnose (the wrong treatment can make symptoms worse!), but rather reach out to a professional for help and clarity on what the right path for treatment looks like for you. It helps to better understand why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, but it’s even better when the right treatment plan is put in place and you can start to feel free. Trust me, it’s so worth it to learn how to better manage the dragon!

Here is a list of professionals you can reach out to right now, these people have helped me in the past, and might help you too. No therapist or counselor is a one size fits all, so if the relationship doesn’t fit or feel right for your personality, keep looking – because the right person is out there who can help you!

Nadine Kennington Cooper, Sandy UT, specializes in NLP Therapy: (801) 205-0386

Laura Nielson Denke, Los Angeles CA, specializes in LMHC & LMFT Counseling: (206) 789-1011

Dr. Mark Chamberlain, Salt Lake City UT, specializes in addiction recovery: (801) 564-7566

Dr. Daniel Amen has several clinics worldwide. I’m currently taking a Mental Health course that he offers, and hope to be certified in the near future as a Mental Health Coach. He specializes in brain trauma, and focuses his practice on brain scans (physically looking at the part of the body that is in need of treatment, and thus getting a more accurate and proof of diagnosis). Visit his website to learn more about what services his clinic provides that might help you or your loved one:

Fast forward 10 years later, after several years of therapy, help with medication and supplements, I finally was able to make the dragon itty-bitty small. But now the familiar feelings have returned with this worldwide pandemic. Having been freed of the prison my mind was in, I was determined to face this dragon, again, reminding it that it will not intimidate me again and have a hold on me like it used to once before.

Nothing is beyond healing. I have proven this to myself, and I have seen the truth of that in countless people who have discovered healing in their life. Anxiety makes you feel hopeless, tired, “feeling crazy”, and afraid of the world. It can feel like a never-ending prison. But with the right tools learned through therapy, the right diet, medication as needed, and supplements, you can learn how to tame the dragon. Make the once thought of scary dragon down to a very small dragon that no longer takes command of your life.

Why not slay the dragon, instead of just shrinking it?

Dr. Daniel Amen, one of America’s leading psychiatrists and brain health experts, feels strongly that a little anxiety is GOOD.

“A little anxiety and worry are okay, and in fact, it’s actually healthy. A longevity study found that “don’t worry, be happy” types die the earliest from accidents and preventable illnesses. “

So while we don’t want to fully embrace the dragon into our lives, allowing it to be around in a small way is a good thing. So, how do we shrink and discipline the dragon?

5 Simple Solutions to Start Shrinking & Disciplining The Dragon

1) “ANTS” Exercise. It takes only a few minutes to complete and will help reverse your negative thought progress. ANTS are ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ that come into your mind but are not true. Left unchecked, they infest your mind and ruin your mood. Dr. Amen created this exercise to help assist in reversing the effects that anxiety induces into the mind.

“You do not have to believe every stupid thought that goes through your head.”  Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous, or out of control, write down the thoughts that are bothering you, reveal the facts about the situation and talk back to them.”

– Amen Clinics ‘4 Simple Things You Can DO to Eliminate The Anxiety in Your Life

2) Learn to love a good challenge. Challenge yourself as often as you can to be in situations that make you uncomfortable – that are a challenge to be in because you feel the anxiety. Unless you can prove, with facts, that what you’re afraid is a real and a dangerous threat, it’s just anxiety-driven fear. It’s only imagination, it’s not real. Like standing up to a bully, you must stand up for yourself and face the dragon directly in the eyes, proving to yourself that you are none of the things the dragon, the bully, is telling you that you are, in your mind. Change your inner dialog, rewrite the story and create the scenario that you want to have happen. What is true is that you are strong, you are smart, and you are capable of greatness. Prove the bully wrong – that there is nothing to fear, and you will be set free with greater strength and confidence to take your power back and set yourself free of the mental prison. 🙂

Here are some books that I have found helpful to me in learning strategies to facing dragons:

3) Affirmations. I have a solid testimony that affirmations work. They work in helping to reprogram the brain, to rewire the brain, and rewrite the dialog in your head that tells you lies when you’re stuck feeling anxious. The dragon loves to make you afraid and make you feel small so it can feel big. Reverse this by building a habit of writing out, and saying out loud affirmations to yourself and you will see a positive change happen in your life as you start to believe the positive words. My affirmations began with reading Louise Hay’s book “You Can Heal Your Life“. I highly recommend it.

4) Speak Up! Talk it out with a trusted friend or family member, someone you feel safe with. Often times the scenarios that run through your mind are greatly exaggerated in your head. After speaking your concerns out loud, you will find that they are not nearly as big of a deal as your imagination was making them out to be. Speaking out loud, sharing your feelings, is very healing. Seek professional help if necessary, but please, do not face your battles alone. The dragon loves a dark and isolated cave, and feeds upon your insecurities. Don’t give away your power to the dragon. Ask for help.

These people helped me in my greatest time of need and helped me build a life of healing:

Nadine Kennington Cooper, Sandy UT, specializes in NLP Therapy: (801) 205-0386

Laura Nielson Denke, Los Angeles CA, specializes in LMHC & LMFT Counseling: (206) 789-1011

Dr. Mark Chamberlain, Salt Lake City UT, specializes in addiction recovery: (801) 564-7566

5) Laugh. Laughing releases stress-reducing endorphins into your bloodstream. It can be a great way to find relief from your anxiety, and a positive reminder to not take life too seriously. Find that one friend that makes you laugh and call them up on the phone, watch a funny comedy show, look up some funny internet memes or cat videos, be intentional about finding opportunities to laugh and give yourself permission to not think about your worries for awhile. 🙂

The Magic

I would love to tell you that there is a magic cure for anxiety and depression. I would love to say that I never feel anxious or depressed anymore and my solutions of what has worked for me will work for you.

I still feel anxious, I still fall into episodes of depression, but I have found my power in knowledge and learning about what it is I live with. I know how to respond to anxiety and therefore it does not have power over me, I have power over it, and that’s the magic. You don’t have to be imprisoned by your mind, you can learn to navigate it when the storms arrive, just as we learn to navigate the storms outside of our mind in the ‘real world’, and life carries on. We learn and we grow, and if we allow these emotions and experiences to strengthen us, we will evolve into better versions of ourselves; passing on our knowledge to others of what has helped us. We soon find along the journey that the world becomes a better place than we once believed it to be, because we realized we could not navigate the storms alone. 🙂

I hope that what I have shared in this article can be of help to you. If you have found it to be helpful, please feel free to share with your friends. 🙂 💚

If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, or you may feel they, or you, might be a danger to yourself, please call 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255…


adhd, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Mental Health Monday, ocd, ptsd

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