When Anxiety and Stress Rises

When anxiety or stress rises
I Prune Trees to Relieve Stress


When anxiety and stress rises we need to find good support and resources. As a personal coach working with teams and individuals I don’t pretend to be a medical or psychiatric advisor.  However, when I come across some good information I like to pass it on as a resource.


A few days ago I was intrigued by the title of a book on my shelf called “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. I had never read it.  Opening up the pages I was pulled in! I became intrigued with Chapter 6: Using Plasticity to Stop Worries, Obsessions, Compulsions, and Bad Habits http://www.normandoidge.com/

“All of us have worries. We worry because we are intelligent beings. Intelligence predicts, that is its essence; the same intelligence that allows us to plan, hope, imagine and hypothesize also allows us to worry.  There are many kinds of worriers and many types of anxiety—phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders, and panic attacks. But among the people who suffer most are those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. And in all these cases; worry begets worry.”


“Many people with OCD have obsessive doubts and are always second-guessing themselves: have they turned off the stove, locked the door, or hurt someone’s feelings inadvertently?” OCD has been very difficult to treat.  Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz has developed an effective plasticity-based treatment not only for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder but also those of us with more every day worries.”

“Normally, when we make a mistake, three things happen. First, we get a “mistake feeling”. That nagging sense that something is wrong. Second, we become anxious, and that anxiety drives us to correct the mistake. Third, when we have corrected the mistake, an automatic gearshift in our brain allows us to move on to the next thought or activity. Then both the “mistake feeling “ and the anxiety disappear.”


“But the brain of the obsessive-compulsive does not move on or “turn the page”. Even though he has washed the germs off his hands, or apologized for forgetting his friend’s birthday, he continues to obsess. His automatic gearshift (the caudate) does not work, and the ‘mistake feeling’ and its pursuant anxiety build in intensity.”

“Schwartz wondered whether patients could shift the caudate manually by paying constant, effortful attention and actively focusing on something besides the worry, such as a new, wholesome, pleasurable activity.”

If you having panic attacks or are over- anxious there is an immediate exercise that you can do that might help. I am not giving medical advice. And please  do not go off any medication your doctor has prescribed .


The following exercise has been described by  Dr. Jeffrey M. Shwartz, an American psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroplasticity. It is for  application to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It has also been successful in Dr. Doidge’s practice. It seems to work for any kind of anxiety.

1. Relabel what is happening. eg. I do have a real problem right now, but  it is not germs. It is my OCD.

2.: Realize that the reason the anxiety attack doesn’t go away immediately is because of a faulty circuit.

3. Do something to shift the gear manually. Find some new activity for fifteen to thirty minutes when one has an anxiety attack or (OCD  symptom) If one can’t resist that long of a time span, any time spent resisting is beneficial”.


My first question is: when anxiety and stress rises  how can one think of a wholesome, pleasurable activity to do when they are  in the midst of the anxiety?  Then I had an idea. Make a list of pleasurable activities when we  are not in the throes of anxiety.  Attach it to an easily visual space in our home. For me it would read: Trim trees for 15 minutes, or cycle, or brush out the horses.  I realized that I personally do use a list for myself when the anxiety hits me in the night.

I don’t have OCD but I can identify with waking up  in the middle of the night to anxiety and stress. Stressing  over odd thoughts that were not in my mind during the day will now become paramount . The more I try to put the thought away the more it comes back. So I get up. I am hardly able to navigate because I am so tired but I force myself. Then I watch a 30 minute  comedy on TV or look something up that is wholesome or educational online. I finish with reading a few verses in my Bible. Then I make sure I am  warm and I climb back into bed.

It is amazing how sleep and a sound mind returns. If it does not…I get up and start my day earlier than usual.  I refuse to let  anxiety and stress keep firing away in my brain.

When anxiety and stress rises in the night or daytime….. try Dr. Shwartz’s therapy!

-Karen Moilliet  April 8, 2020

all quotes from “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge, M.D.



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