World Suicide Prevention Day: Resources

We've put together a list of Suicide Prevention resources. We're here to support you.

Emergency/Crisis Support

Whatever you’re facing, you are not alone. If you’re currently in crisis, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or need immediate help, please seek support through the following channels: 

CANADA

UNITED STATES

Resources

On-Going Support

We offer non-emergency traditional and alternative mental health therapies, including treatment resistant conditions that could contribute to suicidality. Click here to view our services and book an informational call with a health navigator.

Pride Month: Fostering Mental Health & Advocacy

Numinus Stands with the LGBTQ2+ Community

June 6th, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading LGBTQ+ advocacy group, declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States due to a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, primarily targeting transgender Americans. In 2023 alone, legislators from 41 US states introduced more than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with 220 of them specifically aimed at transgender people. These bills encompass a wide range of measures, such as denying transgender students the right to participate in sports, restricting access to gender-affirming healthcare, and prohibiting transgender individuals from using certain bathrooms.

Statistics derived from the Trevor Project's 2023 National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People reveal alarming figures. Within the past year, nearly 50% of transmen, transwomen, and nonbinary/genderqueer youth aged 13-25 seriously contemplated suicide, while over 20% of transgender young individuals attempted suicide. The survey also uncovered that rates of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, depression, and anxiety among LGBTQ+ youth are two-to-three times higher compared to cisgender, heterosexual peers. The adverse effects of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation directly impact the mental health of queer youth.

We are currently facing an unprecedented mental health crisis within the LGBTQ2+ community. Without decisive and meaningful action, the social and political climate in the United States will continue to jeopardize the health and well-being of queer individuals. As a queer healthcare provider myself, I am devastated and appalled by the ongoing threats to the basic rights of queer people in our country. This Pride Season, it is my hope that mental health providers and organizations will reflect on how we can further advocate for and support the LGBTQ2+ community. Mere symbolic gestures, such as flying flags or posting on social media, will not suffice. We require fundamental and structural changes that permeate every aspect of mental healthcare, including the creation of affirming patient-care spaces and the elevation of queer voices in decision-making processes within institutions. The choices we make today will have a direct impact on the mental health outcomes of LGBTQ2+ individuals for generations to come.

At Numinus, we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ2+ community. We prioritize creating a space where individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations feel respected, affirmed, and free from discrimination. We strive to ensure that our services are accessible, sensitive, and tailored to meet the diverse needs of the LGBTQ2+ community. To our LGBTQ2+ clients and fellow providers, please know that you are seen, valid, and indispensable. Each of you brings unique contributions to this world that no one else can replicate, and together, we collectively enhance the beauty of this world.

 

LGBTQ+ Mental Health Resources

If you require emergency support or assistance, please reach out to the available support networks:

 

Written by Dr. Deven Jennings DNP, PMHNP-BC, APRN

Anxiety Response Plan

By Bob Mcnutt, LCSW

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life for most humans. Each of us has a different ability to cope with or accept it. Anxiety typically promotes action or avoidance depending on our response style to distress. While there are a lot of “right” ways to deal with anxiety, avoidance is an inadequate response to get past distress in the long run.  Outlined below is a response plan that combines both coping and acceptance skills for dealing with anxiety.

Notice and label the physical symptoms of anxiety. Rate their severity independent of each other.  (The fuzzy pressure in my chest: 7/10, energy in my limbs 5/10, heat and pressure in the head 3/10, increased breathing rate 5/10, increased heart rate 7/10 . . . etc.) Notice the difference between discomfort and acute pain. Many times, anxiety is uncomfortable without creating active pain in our body, and it can be useful to note that difference when it is present. If useful, try to compare it to other uncomfortable experiences such as headaches or diarrhea that affect, but don’t ruin your day.  “Well at least it isn’t as bad as a migraine.”

Ask yourself: “am I in physical danger?” (Is there immediate harm to my body) and “am I in emotional danger?” (Is there immediate danger to my ability to maintain relationships, employment, self-worth? Is anyone emotionally attacking/berating me?).  If you feel you are in acute danger, find a way to increase your safety. If you can evaluate that you are not in danger, acknowledge that (out loud if possible) to help reduce chances of entering fight/flight/freeze mode.

Take 10 deep breaths (yes 10, not 1 or 2), and focus on connecting with the current moment and experience non-judgmentally (this is neither good nor bad, it just is). In your free time do some internet research around mindfulness skills to help with this process.

Investigate the message behind the anxiety: 

Evaluate your ability to act towards the stressor. Can you take effective action to reduce the stressor now? (This can be problem solving behavior, acceptance behavior or internal shifts in thinking).  Do you have to wait for a future condition to be met before you can take effective action towards the problem?  Are you powerless to take effective action to influence the problem?

If you can take effective action, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY. Do not procrastinate or avoid an effective solution. If you are unable to act in the moment, make a plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based) to address the problem when you are able. If you are unable to take effective action, acknowledge this lack of control and power. Combine soothing skills with this attempt to accept powerlessness.

COVID-19: Anxiety and Cognitive Distortions

By Kathleen Jones, PA-C

I came across an early study out of China where 1,210 people rated the psychological impact COVID-19 was having on them:

53.8% - Moderate - severe impact

28.8% - Moderate - severe anxiety

16.5% - Moderate - severe depression

Have you felt anxious in the past 2 months? I think we all have. I’m sure a study conducted within our own community would reflect similar numbers.

Our thoughts can run wild during times like these - it is important to try and catch these cognitive distortions until they spiral.

“Cognitive distortions” are thought patterns that cause us to view reality in inaccurate and usually negative ways. Left unchecked, they can worsen depression, increase anxiety and strain relationships.

Examples of cognitive distortions:

Overgeneralization:  “I heard of someone younger/healthier than me that died of COVID-19, so I will die too.”

Jumping to conclusions: “I will definitely get COVID-19 because I work in a hospital.”

Catastrophizing: “The world/economy is heading into chaos and won’t recover.”

Magnification/minimization: “This is not a big deal. The media is blowing it way out of proportion.” Or “This will lead to our ruin as a nation.”

Labeling: “I just found out I have COVID-19. When I felt sick, I didn’t practice social distancing. I am a failure.”

Emotional reasoning (belief that your emotions are the truth): “I am afraid, so we must all be in danger.”

I have definitely had some of these thoughts. So what can you do?

1 - Identify the thought.

2 - Try to reframe it (Any objective evidence? Alternate explanations? Gray areas?)

3 - Ask, is the thought helpful to you/others?

4 - Take what you learned and either dismiss the thought or grow (Could the thought be reframed to encourage change?)

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Neurologist/Psychiatrist, and a Holocaust survivor. He wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We are nowhere near the atrocities of the Holocaust, but we are in a unique and trying time. What can you do to make things a little easier on yourself, and others?

Friends With Myself: How Ketamine Helped a Frontline Therapist Overcome Panic Attacks

By Greg Ferenstein

On the surface, Emily* had a blessed life: a supportive husband, a loving son, and a solid career as a frontline therapist. She had all the professional training and social support to manage her mental health, yet she was plagued by debilitating panic attacks.

Even when nothing was wrong, she couldn’t escape intrusive, catastrophic daydreaming of how she was likely to wreck her family and community. She knew the thoughts were purely imaginary, yet the uncontrollable episodes of sobbing that accompanied these ruminations took a toll on both her family and office administrators.

As an example, Emily recalls being mildly afraid that she might cheat on her husband. That same day, she went through a grocery checkout line with a male cashier and was bombarded with thoughts of cheating on her husband.

“I immediately just lost it,” she says. “I cheated on my husband because I went through this line that had a male cashier.”

She burst into her home, began crying, and apologized to a very confused partner. She remembers thinking that “I just can't, I can't live like this.”

As a working mental health professional and current master’s degree student, Emily was surrounded by treatments and strategies to help her deal with her panic attacks.

And she did on occasion find them helpful.

Yoga, for example, helped give her space to contemplate quietly. “I was able to lay there and relieve some of my self-loathing and self-hatred and difficulty in accepting myself as a human.”

Unfortunately, nothing seemed to stick, partly because Emily was terrified to let her mind wander. “I get a little skittish around trying to create images in my mind because I don't trust my brain; any moment, this self-compassion exercise could be totally taken over by myself.”

As bad as the attacks were, Emily could still function as a loving mother and run a therapy practice while going to grad school.

But COVID tipped the scale; intrusive fears became too intense. Shopping at Target was a panic-inducing experience. “What if the girl that is spraying the carts right now doesn't believe in COVID? And so she actually just put water in the spray bottle …. And now I'm going to take it home, and we're all going to die?”

The constant fear became too much. She needed new solutions.

The ketamine experience

At this point, Emily was open to anything that could help. She heard about a clinical pilot for frontline healthcare workers offered by Novamind, a mental health startup specializing in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthesia, was showing promise for a range of mental health issues, including suicidal ideation and depression.

Novamind’s clinic pioneered a method of pairing ketamine sessions with intensive psychotherapy.

Growing up in a religious community, Emily felt uncomfortable with psychedelics. But she was desperate for solutions and decided to sign up.

Emily was placed in a trial with other frontline healthcare workers exploring how ketamine-assisted therapy could help them overcome their mental health challenges.

In preparation for the treatment, they were given worksheets and instructions on how to mentally navigate the psychedelic experience. In between treatments, the group would come together for discussions and integration.

Emily recalls one particularly powerful psychedelic episode that rooted out the source of her panic attacks.

As she began to feel the effects of the ketamine, she remembers seeing a visualization of a black hole and asking the overseeing physician how she should interact with the bizarre object.

“The doctor encouraged me to go toward it and that he would be there if I needed. I asked to hold his hand.”

Images morphed, and she recalled herself a young religious missionary in South America. As an adult, she was no longer a member of her same church, and since leaving, maintained intense shame around trying to force religious beliefs on the local residents.

During the psychedelic experience, Emily felt the people of the town forgive her. They told her that her missionary work did not harm the community and that they were grateful to have known her.

Then, with that same compassion, Emily turned to speak to her childhood self, “I told her these thoughts that you have are called ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’, and you don't have to repent for them.”

Emily and her younger self openly discussed all the complex feelings around moral purity and guilt they would experience in their life. She forgave herself. And, in that moment, Emily acknowledged it as a significant source of panic attacks.

“It was a closure I didn't even know I needed.”

Better at managing attacks

Emily still experiences episodes of shame, but now, they don’t spiral out of control.

She recalls one recent example of an incident that would have triggered a panic attack prior to her ketamine treatment.

One day, she had thrown away a bunch of plastic. Normally this slight moral transgression would trigger intense feelings of guilt about how she was wrecking the planet.

“Yes, I will have the thought of like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing to the earth’, but within moments, I'm able to go to a place of ‘Emily’, this is so hard for you, I'm so sorry that you struggle with this—everything's going to be okay.”

Emily estimates that before, she would have a debilitating episode about once every three weeks, and then more minor attacks in between.

Since her treatment, she has experienced just one triggering episode, but it was not as severe, and she was able to adopt new coping mechanisms.

In addition to a more stable family life, Emily believes she’s become a more empathetic and present therapist. “I'm able to be fully present in their story, instead of letting my mind wander off into my own story.”

Emily is a therapist in a community with a lot of mental health distress around religion. Her clients have become curious about her personal transformation and the role of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Emily says that she would recommend Novamind.

“Dr. Reid Robison and Dr. Stephen Thayer were really great at setting us up for success,” she exclaims. “I can't imagine doing this with any other people.”

*Emily is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity.

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Interested in sharing your story? We'd love to talk.

Fully Present: How Ketamine-Assisted Therapy Helped One Woman Out of Depression

By Greg Ferenstein

Michelle* lived with constant anxiety that she would explode during an argument and enter into a months-long depressive episode. She’d tried so many strategies to manage her mental health, from group discussions to cognitive behavioral therapy, but nothing seemed to work well.

“Most of the therapy I’ve done just kind of muted my symptoms mostly, but I am still walking around with heavy, heavy depression and really terrible anxiety.”

Depressive episodes would socially paralyze her.

“I wouldn’t feel like I had any energy to do anything. I’d isolate myself,” she says. “I'm not social. I don't function besides what I absolutely have to function for.”

She could work but that was about it.

Unfortunately, the most effective solutions for her had intolerable side effects. The generic version of Zoloft, Sertraline, managed her major mood swings but came with “horrible” sweats that left her “drenched” in the middle of the night. Perhaps worse, it severed her emotions.

“It made me not care at all,” Michelle recalls. “I just kind of didn't feel anything.”

After her doctors recommended trying a higher dose, she went looking for something else. Her friends said good things about ketamine, a dissociative psychedelic that is known to help people confront painful topics and manage a range of mental health conditions, including depression.

Michelle was nervous. She had some not-so-positive experiences with psychedelics when she was younger. Even though it was years ago, she didn’t like the idea of losing control of her mind.

The therapists at Numinus made her feel more at ease with their Emotion-Focused Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, which pairs intensive emotional management and trained mental health professionals with multiple rounds of in-person ketamine sessions.

The Ketamine Experience

The psychedelic portions of ketamine treatment typically last an hour and many people report hazy dreams representing unprocessed challenges.

After years of therapy, Michelle believed she knew the source of what she might encounter: being abandoned by her mother as an adolescent and subsequent years in-and-out of near homelessness.

Instead, her most healing psychedelic experiences were simple and pleasant experiences.

She remembers telling her husband, “Maybe this is what it feels like to feel normal.”

The simple absence of anxiety was profound. After one session, she burst into tears.

“I just started crying and crying and crying,” she recalls. “I really felt like it helped me release those emotions, and relieve some of that pain and all of the struggle that I had when I was a child with my family.”

During another psychedelic experience, Michelle set an intention and drifted into a meditative state, daydreaming of swimming. Usually, when water was involved in Michelle’s dreams, it was a nightmare drowning sensation. This watery dream, though, was superbly healing.

“I have been a hyper-vigilant person, always looking for the next thing to crumble in my life,” she says. “But with ketamine, just to even have that feeling that I'm okay—and that I'm happy—was huge for me.”

Introspection, fewer explosions, less depression

In the three months since Michelle had her first ketamine treatment with Numinus, she has learned to better manage her emotional triggers.

One example stands out. Because of their shared traumatizing past, her family has had a tendency to set her off. But the last time they had a fight, Michelle recalls being able to remove herself from the argument, sensing that she was about to explode, and embrace her feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.

“It's getting easier for me to recognize, even in conversation.”

She feels more in touch with her emotions, and if things start feeling really bad, she can discuss her emotions openly in a way that defuses the situation.

Her relationship with her husband has improved and she is no longer burdened with extended bouts of depression. She’s made incredible progress, but Michelle still struggles with explosive episodes and depression. So, she continues to go in for occasional ketamine treatments.

But she no longer needs antidepressants.

“It has really, really, honestly been the only thing that has helped me feel normal without taking a pill every single day.”

*Michelle is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Managing Anxiety in Troubled Times

This has been a unique and challenging time for our patients, our community, and the world. But along with challenge comes the opportunity for growth. Over the next several weeks we will be periodically posting ideas for maintaining or improving mental health during this time of social distancing and increased anxiety. Covid-19 has presented us with several unique challenges all at once. These range from fear of ourselves or loved ones contracting the illness, to job insecurity, relationship stress and many others. One helpful technique that you can try today is thought labeling.

writing.jpeg

Thought labeling has been used for thousands of years for meditation practice but can be used for more mindful daily living as well. The problem with anxiety is that it is your minds way of telling you that something needs to change or be done. That’s not always a problem, especially if it is a problem that you can take some time and work it through to a solution. The issue arises when now is not the time to solve this problem. So, when an anxious thought comes into your mind ask yourself is this a problem I can solve? If yes, then ask, is now the time to solve this? If yes, then do so. Pull up a chair and a notepad, write it all down and work out some possible solutions. If the answer is no to either of the previous questions, then it’s time to let it go.

Our brains are funny things. They like everything to make sense and each idea or mental object to have its proper place in the filing cabinet of our mind’s storeroom. Anxiety is worse when a problem or idea doesn’t have a neat place designated in that storeroom, but we can create a mental box to place it in. This is where thought labeling really works and here is what you do. When you notice a thought that is anxiety producing and you have answered no to the questions “can I solve this” or “is now the time to solve this”, you label that thought with a word. Any word will do. This is your box. I like the labels of “Past” for thoughts that come from the past or “Future” for anxieties about the future. You can also use “Useful”, “Not Useful”, or “Fear”, “Judgment”, but really anything can work.

Once the thought has been labeled you will find that it’s much easier to move past it and get on with things that you find more helpful, fulfilling, or meaningful. This is a practice and you are strengthening your mindfulness muscles. The thoughts may return but when they do be kind to yourself; just label them again and put them back on the mental shelf. Try this first with low or medium intensity anxieties and then move on to the more difficult ones. Doing this each day will bring you one step closer to a more peaceful and “in the moment” existence where you can give your full attention to what matters most.

Be kind to each other and remember, be kind to yourself.

Sincerely,

Landon Moyers, DNP

Social Anxiety: A Modern Issue for an Ancient Brain

Written by Dr. Landon Moyers, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC

Consider the strange and wonderful world we live in.

Many of us are lucky enough to have what we need to survive: food, shelter, safety, and people who love us. Despite this relative security, many of us still find ourselves stuck in a cycle of social anxiety.

Social anxiety is the psychological and physiological discomfort that we feel when we are faced with potential evaluation by others. This can look like fear of meeting new people, speaking in public, or being in large crowds.

Why do humans feel strongly about what others think about us? And why do we let these feelings affect us so much that we avoid participating in the activities we love or achieving the goals we are passionate about?

The answer lies in the fact that human beings are built for connection. We are a social species that ultimately depends on group efforts, knowledge, and strength of resources for survival.

Imagine for a moment that you are living several thousand years ago. If you are like most people, you do not live in a town or city. Your social group most likely consists of 10-50 who include your immediate and extended family members.

You may occasionally meet up with other groups for weddings or rituals. It is likely that at some point, you will likely be involved in a coming-of-age ceremony or ritual as a rite of passage into adulthood, ensuring your status in the group, as well as the ability to find a mate. You have prepared for this throughout your lifetime as an event that will take place sometime just after puberty, or at the least your early twenties.

Failing this rite of passage might result in the rejection by your group, not to mention the loss of your status, the right to a mate, and the protection and support of your clan—not an ideal time to be left isolated without a social group, especially in a world of large predators, environmental exposure, and constant threats from rivals. This is the world in which the human brain developed.

Only in the last thousand to several hundred years has our world and social environment required a very different approach to life. We live next to people we hardly know. We send our children to school with hundreds (or even thousands) of fellow social competitors and we expect them to get along and learn well. We have splintered into smaller social groups or families that have much higher levels of fluidity and impermanence.

In our increasingly secular society, we have removed many of the traditional rights of passage and replaced them with an academic/career system that often does not award any level of achievement or status until our late 20s-30s. This aligns perfectly with the age groups in which social anxiety is most prevalent (ages 15-35) where it is at its worst in the early twenties and decreases as people age.

Interestingly, we are wired for anxiety because we are wired for connection. We are wired to respond to rejection or lack of status as a threat to our survival.

Today, the significance of rejection is far less and the opportunity for it is far higher. But our alarm system still says it is significant and it makes us feel terrible. The problem is that human brains have not evolved as fast as our modern world.

The ancient alarm system built into the amygdala—the feeling part of the brain—tells us we will die or lose the chance for a mate or access to resources if we are “rejected.” Our neocortex—the thinking part of the brain—however, can be used to calm our brain’s ancient structures and help us recognize that the threat is not as dangerous as it may seem.

In moments of social anxiety, taking a moment to thank your body for the natural responses it provides to your environment. Second, recognize that the threat is not as dangerous as your amygdala says it is.

Finally, take a moment to reorient yourself to the here and now. Breathe in deeply for several seconds or try to focus on and name the things you can see. Choose to move forward mindfully, with a deep respect for the past and a strong commitment to living in the present moment.

Eco-Anxiety: What It Is and What To Do About It

About a year ago, a friend of mine mentioned to me that she was interested in attending a “climate change bereavement group” in our neighbourhood. I’d never heard of such a thing, but on reflection it really made sense. People are really upset about climate change and don’t know what to do about it. I’m seeing more and more clients show up with these concerns in my office. I’m seeing more and more news and social media stories about it. And I’ve even begun speaking about it in the media myself. The technical term for this upset feeling is “eco-anxiety” and it’s definitely a thing.

Climate change and mental health

So what is it exactly? The term has emerged from an increasing concern for the diverse set of mental health problems that can arise from climate change. Superstorms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme climate events can have disastrous consequences on people’s lives. Individuals can be killed, injured, or forced to leave their homes and this can be devastating to families and communities. Mass migrations can disrupt lives at a larger scale. Post-Traumatic Stress following extreme climate events is becoming more common, as are spikes in fear, anxiety, depression, and irritability. It is worth noting that climate change events are more likely to affect the lives of the vulnerable, such as the poor, and therefore these populations are more susceptible to the acute impact on mental health.

What is eco-anxiety?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” (report). As the definition suggests, eco-anxiety not a response to an acute event, but a state of mind that arises gradually as we watch the slow and frightening consequences of climate change unfold. Eco-anxiety can manifest in intense worry and rumination, generalized anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, feelings of sadness, loss, guilt, hopelessness, and irritability – in other words, symptoms of anxiety and depression. The term has not made it into the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (2013), but it will surely be considered in future editions as the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. A 2018 Yale survey estimated that 70% of Americans are “worried” and 29% are “very worried” about climate change, while 51% feel “helpless.” While little data is available, eco-anxiety appears to affect younger generations (e.g. Millennials, Gen Z) more than older (e.g. Gen X, Baby boomers). The mental health community is increasingly engaged with the impacts of climate change: The APA assembled a task force in 2008 and published this 70 page report in 2017 to build awareness and educate professionals.

The emergence of the term eco-anxiety has been met with some resistance. Some skeptics roll their eyes at yet another buzzword for navel-gazing complainers. Others object to medicalizing a very real and appropriate feeling. As someone who counsels clients with eco-anxiety (and experiences it personally), let me tell you that it is real and causing a lot of suffering. I also believe that, whether there is a diagnostic term for it or not, anxiety is a perfectly rational response to a real threat to our way of life on this planet. And labeling the response with a diagnostic term should not invalidate or diminish the scope of the problem nor the person suffering. All of that said, we need to learn how to cope with it and get on with the job of finding solutions.

Understanding anxiety

Fundamentally, eco-anxiety is a form of anxiety like any other. It is a psychophysiological response to a threat to our safety or well-being. While fear involves a specific reaction to an imminent threat, anxiety is a diffuse response to a non-specific or uncertain threat. So if you’re an antelope in Africa and a lion jumps out at you from the bush, you feel fear. If you have health anxiety (aka hypochondriasis), you worry about aches and pains being signs of serious or fatal health problems. In eco-anxiety, the threat is broad and abstract and therefore hard to contain and resolve. It is somewhat similar to the anxiety many people felt in the 60s when they believed the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The content of anxious thoughts may vary, but the underlying mechanisms and emotions are the same. And that’s good news because many of the same coping strategies are helpful.

The key to coping with eco-anxiety is to build psychological resilience. That is to say climate change is happening right now and it is affecting people all over the world. We all need to find a way to be with the difficult emotions that arise in consequence and continue to be engaged with the process of finding a solution. Here’s how to get there:

What to do about it

1. Manage your mood

Because climate change is an abstract threat, whether you experience eco-anxiety or not will depend on how you think about it. Unfortunately, it is also complex, multi-faceted, and highly technical, which means it’s difficult to get your thoughts straight about it. Our brains prefer information that is packaged in simple, concrete narratives and therefore rely on heuristics and shortcuts to cope with complexity. This pragmatic bias can be helpful – necessary even – for surviving and getting things done. But it can also create biases and distortions in our thinking, especially in the face of threat. People fall victim to a number of classic Cognitive Distortions when stuck in an eco-anxiety worry loop, such as catastrophizing, black and white thinking, and emotional reasoning. For example, I worked with a client who became very preoccupied with death following the release of a major climate change report last year. We were able to get him unstuck by unpacking all of the automatic appraisals he made of the danger. It’s not that there isn’t any danger, it just that the danger needs to be appropriately contextualized.

Unfortunately, the news and social media are not necessarily helping in this respect. Our screens are perpetually showing us provocative content about climate change. Sometimes the information is accurate, but often it is distorted – one way or another – by some hidden agenda and designed to hijack our attention. So it’s important to manage your “information diet,” by assuring an intake of high-quality, nourishing content.

Climate change is stressful enough; you don’t need your brain piling on exaggerated or false beliefs about what’s actually going on in the world. So, you need to become an expert at catching and correcting these cognitive errors. If books such as “Mind Over Mood” and “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” aren’t sufficient, a direct plan of action with a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist can help. Once these patterns of negative thoughts become familiar to you, mindfulness can be a useful tool for letting go of the unhelpful ruminations churning in the background of awareness. Mindfulness can help with cultivating the clarity and focus required to make sense of all the news, social media, and chatter on the topic and then engage actively with what matters most to you. Check out The Mindful Way Through Anxiety or attend a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy workshop near you.

2. Connect with others

Humans are social animals. We don’t have big teeth, strong muscles, or speedy legs. It’s our capacity to cooperate with others at a large scale that allowed us to adapt to basically every niche on the planet. As such, evolution has made us highly dependent on one-another for a sense of safety and well-being. This is especially true when we are upset. Nothing helps calm our nervous system more reliably and sustainably than a safe and secure connection with another human.

Unfortunately, withdrawal and avoidance are common features of anxiety and mood disorders. This is one of the cruel realities of the mood feedback loop. When we feel down or worried, we often turn our attention inward and seek refuge, rather than searching for a solution outside of ourselves. This internal shift pulls us away from others and we spend more time alone in our heads, ruminating and worrying. Overtime, our energy and motivation decline and the whole thing snowballs.

Coping effectively with eco-anxiety requires that we reach out to others for support. Do not suffer alone. The emergence of eco-anxiety in public discourse is raising awareness and helping people build a common vocabulary, which should make it that much easier to support one another. The appearance of support groups all over the world and the internet is a really good sign.

3. Stay engaged

Recall that anxiety is our body’s reaction to a threat. It’s essential to understand that all that uncomfortable activity that arises in our bodies and minds in the face of threat – increased heart-rate, muscle tension, surge of energy, hyperfocus, etc. – actually serves an important function: to help us rise to the challenge. If we stay home and worry all day, we just stew in our own restlessness. On the other hand, if we can find a way to leverage that energy and actively meet the threat, we’ll feel much better. This effect is not just about releasing some pent up energy. We may actually be able to solve some problems and enjoy a greater sense of self-efficacy. The benefits of taking action can go even deeper than that. When our actions are aligned with our emotions and our core values and sense of purpose, we gain access to a profound sense of meaning, wholeness, and peace.

Purpose-based coping is an ideal fit for eco-anxiety. In addition to reducing anxiety nerves, it also nurtures more prosocial values. Many of us feel compelled to help with climate change out of compassion. Taking action in this way aligns our nervous and compassionate energies, which really charges up our motivation. All of that said, it is important to balance a desire to do good in the world, with self-care and equanimity. There is only so much we can accomplish in any given day and a burnt-out activist is not going to be much help.

So, in addition to getting your thoughts straight and staying connected to others, here are some things you can actively do to reduce your eco-anxiety and contribute to our collective effort to combat climate change:

You could also get more involved with organizations that are actively working to fight climate change. Here are a few options in Canada:

There’s actually a lot of work to do on climate change and we need everyone’s help. Imagine if all of the energy stimulated by eco-anxiety is channelled into action directed at finding solutions for climate change. People will feel empowered and aligned and together, as a global community, we will be on our way to righting the climate ship. That outcome is incredibly inspiring to me and I hope you share my excitement.

Episode 20: Overcoming Anxiety with Dr. Judson Brewer

 

“How do we resist anxiety? We can hold it with kindness.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Judson Brewer. Jud is a psychiatrist, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University and the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown’s Mindfulness Center. He has become an authority on the application of mindfulness in the treatment of anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders and his work has been featured in some of the top medical and neuroscience journals as well as in the popular media. His 2019 TED talk is ranked the 4th most popular of the year.

Jud’s research and clinical work are highly innovative, partly because of his integration of traditional Buddhist psychology with modern neuroscience and psychology. In recent years he has focused on making his work accessible to the general public and has produced online programs for helping people reduce anxiety (Unwinding Anxiety), overeating (Eat Right Now), and smoking (Craving to Quit). He is also the author of The Craving Mind: from Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

Joe and Jud discussed:

If you’d like to learn how to practice mindfulness to help with your anxiety or any other unhelpful habits, please reach out to Numinus: numinus.com

Connect with Dr. Jud Brewer on his websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Connect with Dr. Joe on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

Follow Numinus on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

 

Stay up to date with the Numinus Podcast by joining the newsletter.

 

Here are some highlights from the interview:

How Does Mindfulness Help with Anxiety?

“The Buddha said that ‘it wasn’t until I explored gratification to its end, that knowledge and vision arose.’”

So you’ve got this model for understanding anxiety as it is driven by reward based learning. And you bring mindfulness into the mix to help people, as you say unwind. So how does that work exactly?

So it goes back to these elements that we’ve been talking about. The first piece is really helping people understand how their mind works because if they can understand that, then they can work with their minds. And in that sense they can start by really just understanding how the process gets perpetuated. So if they have a feeling of anxiety, they can start to map out how it triggers a worry response and how they get caught up in worry thinking. And then what the result of that is–which tends to not be like, ‘Oh. This is great. I want to do it more.’ [Laughs]

So they can just start to see how the elements that they’re actually adding to it are leading to negative outcomes. And what that does is help their brain kind of recalibrate how rewarding the worry behaviour is itself.

Because that’s what drives future behaviour. Reward based learning is based on reward not on the behaviour itself. So if it were just based on behaviour we’d say, ‘Oh. Stop worrying.’ Which I’m sure many of our parents or spouses or whatever have told us to do. ‘Hey. You worry too much. Stop worrying.’ ‘Oh. Thank you!’ [Laughs] It doesn’t work that way because we end up worrying that we’re worrying, and it spirals out of control. [Laughs]

But if we focus on the results or the reward and say, ‘That’s not very rewarding,’ and see that very clearly. That’s mindfulness can then help us do. Once we’ve mapped this out, we can see, ‘Oh. This is not very rewarding.’ Which then drives disenchantment with the process itself.

And this is actually super clear in the early Buddhist teachings, where the Buddha said, ‘It wasn’t until I explored gratification to its end, that knowledge and vision arose.’ And the way I interpret that is he was really exploring reward based learning. How rewarding is this behaviour? And it’s only when we see that there is no juice left in this fruit that we become disenchanted with the behaviour. And that then starts to have us look for other things. I think of this is looking for the BBO: the bigger, better offer.

So we first have to see how this isn’t serving us. And we’ve learned that by seeing how our minds work. Then our brain starts looking for something better and this is where we can bring in mindfulness practices themselves. And I love that if you think of the second factor of awakening as interest or curiosity. What feels better: Fear, anxiety, panic or curiosity? It’s a no brainer to our brains.

And I see this in my patients with addictions as well. You know curiosity feels much better than craving. So when we can then train them to just be curious about what the feelings of anxiety feel like in their direct experience. They can start to realize a number of things:

1) These are just feelings. These are just thoughts as compared to being identified with these things.

2) They can see that these don’t last forever.

And this is challenging because a lot of folks with anxiety really feel it all throughout the day. And they say, ‘Well, my anxiety does last forever.’ And I say, ‘Well let’s explore that. Does it get stronger? Does it get weaker? Is there worry that feeds it?’ There are lots of ways to explore the impermanent nature of the feelings.

And also ways to explore how we resist the feelings of anxiety itself. How we can change our relationship to it and just hold the feelings, this physical feeling, these emotions in our awareness. We can hold them with kindness and curiosity. And that holding where we’re providing that holding environment rather than pushing away or trying to do something helps us move into a completely different relationship.

And I’ve had a number of folks report back–I remember one person who said that she was really blown away by the curiosity because when she really trained herself to bring curiosity to the fore. When she was having panic, curiosity just felt better and she could notice that these were just feelings, rather than something that she was so identified with. And it really helped her just be with panic attacks and really unwind from that. Which helped that whole process itself unwind.

 

The Default Mode Network

If I’m understanding correctly, self reflection is sort of mediated by or driven by the default mode network. We sort of construct the sense of self by this ongoing story about who we see ourselves as each moment. 

So I’d love to hear you talk about how mindfulness helps decommission the default mode network, at least temporarily and maybe makes us a little less dependent on it on a day to day basis. 

So let’s just start with a clarification to make sure we’re on the same page with the default mode network. There are two main hubs. One is the medial prefrontal cortex and the other is the posterior cingulate cortex. They talk to each other all of the time.

The hypothesis is that the medial prefrontal cortex is more of a conceptual sense of self and a conceptual sense of self is not a problem. It’s taking that conceptual sense of self too personally.

So where mindfulness comes in is it helps with two things. So if we bring in the reinforcement learning process we can say, ‘Well, does it feel to take something personally?’ ‘I love fuming and plotting revenge.’ It’s a painful process. We can bring awareness in by asking ourselves, ‘how’s that going for you taking things personally?’ Not in a ‘I told you so’ way, but with curiosity. So we can start to see the lack of reward in taking things personally.

Which then helps us bring awareness to the next piece, which is that awareness itself can feel better than being identified with ourselves. That kind of curious awareness itself feels better. And so when we’re caught up in anxiety we just bring in that awareness and curiosity. ‘Oh, so that’s what anxiety feels like.’

For example, in our ‘Unwinding Anxiety’ program, on day one, we walk people through the idea that they have this inherent capability of being curious, by saying, “Okay. You’re anxious. Let’s go there. Check in your body to see where you feel anxiety most strongly. And now tell me is it stronger on the right side or the left side? And they have to explore, ‘Is it on the right side more than the left side?’ Now what does this do?

It opens us to curiosity. The answer is that it doesn’t matter what side it’s on. What matters is they just touched into their inherent capacity to be curious. This is on day one. And then they can just go from there.

We can bring this kind curious awareness even to the worst of things and start to crack that a little bit. With this inherent capacity that we have, it feels better. It’s not like anxiety vanishes, but it helps us see, ‘Oh. I can actually be with this.’ Which is better than running away from it.