Reflections: Struggles

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain. ~ Vivian Greene

Struggle is an innate aspect of the human experience.  Difficult situations happen every day, whether related to the stressors of daily life, or to particular struggles such as skin picking or hair pulling.  If you suffer from Dermatillomania or Trichotillomania you are no stranger to difficulties.  But how you respond to any challenging situation is a choice.

People often tell themselves things like, “Life is so stressful all the time.  I can’t possibly work on changing my behavior until things calm down.”  But the simple truth is that life will continue to endlessly bring you more challenges, and if you are waiting for life to calm down before you make changes, you will likely have a very long wait.  Ultimately, telling yourself that you need to wait before making an effort to change is the same as saying “I can’t”.  This kind of negative self-talk only increases feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and feeds into “the storm”.

Struggles are all around us, and suffering with Skin Picking Disorder or Trichotillomania certainly adds an extra layer of difficulty to life.  Given this truth, you are better served by accepting the existence of all of the difficulties that life presents to you, and choosing more effective ways of responding to them.  For many, the mere idea of being willing to accept the unwanted difficulties that arise in life seems like resignation or surrender.  But to deny these struggles is to deny reality.

Everyone responds to difficulties and stressors differently.  While some learn to “dance in the rain”, others may respond with compulsive coping behaviors such as disordered eating, sex addiction, abusing drugs or alcohol…or skin picking and hair pulling.  In the short term, these and other self-destructive behaviors may serve as effective ways to avoid coping with the inevitable struggles of life.  But in the long-term, these behaviors are maladaptive, and will slowly destroy your self-image, your relationships, and your joy.

So how does one learn to “dance in the rain”?  The first step is to accept, even embrace, the storm.  It’s not going to stop, so you may as well accept its presence!   And an essential aspect of acceptance is accepting all of yourself as you are, including the existence of your unwanted urges to pick or pull.  Then your goal is to find different ways of responding to the storm – ways that include tolerating the temporary discomfort of your picking and pulling urges, without capitulating to them.

While it is certainly difficult to give up an action that initially provides comfort, gratification, and relief, doing so will better serve you in the long run.  With commitment and practice, you will gradually learn that you are capable of making these difficult changes, and you will then be dancing in the rain.

1. In what ways do you overtly or covertly tell yourself “I can’t” when faced with life’s struggles?

2. What self-destructive actions do you do when life becomes difficult?

3. What could you do differently when face with these struggles?

Tip of the week: This week, notice when you are telling yourself “I can’t”.   Challenge this self-defeating thought by gently reminding yourself that change is a process, and telling yourself “I am willing to accept that life is difficult right now, and I am doing my best.” While these may seem like minor changes, they will open you up to more acceptance, and improve your ability to change how you respond during stressful times.

Written by
Kelley Franke, BA and Tom Corboy, MFT
© 2014 OCD Center of Los Angeles

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GABA and Anxiety

In Julia Ross’ book, The Mood Cure, she discusses many amino acids and how that can benefit your mood.  As someone who suffers from anxiety, I was interested in her prescription of GABA for anxiety.  After reading her book I started taking GABA when my anxiety is extra high or before a situation I know will stress me out.  I take 500mg capsules. I notice decreased anxiety about 15 minutes after taking the supplement.  It makes me so calm I feel sleepy and therefore usually only take it in the evening.

GABA For Anxiety – Does It Work

Most of the substances used to relieve anxiety – alcohol, cannabis, tranquilisers – get their effect through boosting GABA in your brain. So could GABA itself be a useful supplement to stop anxiety?

In fact, many people find that a GABA supplement is the perfect natural remedy for anxiety – though like any other remedy, it does not work for everyone.

Before you decide to take a GABA supplement, you might want to learn more about GABA and even more, how different types of anxiety might respond differently to a GABA supplement.

What is GABA?

GABA – it’s full scientific name is gamma-aminobutyric acid – occurs naturally in your brain, where it functions as a neurotransmitter and helps regulate brain activity. It is also needed in other parts of your body, where its most important function is regulating muscle tone.

Unlike other neurotransmitters, GABA has an inhibitory function – it tends to slow down neuron firing. Other neurotransmitters – adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate – have an excitatory function, i.e. they stimulate neuron firing. It’s important to remember this difference when you are deciding which is the best supplement to take for anxiety or depression.

Without enough GABA, neurons fire too easily and too often.

Too much, and you can’t get moving….

GABA is technically an amino acid, though it’s not part of any protein either in the food you eat, or in your body. You can get small amounts from food, but most of it in synthesized in your body from glutamate – something you most likely have plenty of.

Many of the medications and remedies for anxiety that are used today affect the levels of GABA and how it works in your brain.

Benzodiazepines (medications such as valium and xanax) reduce anxiety through the way they interact with the GABA receptors. (On the other hand, coffee inhibits GABA, and so can make you more anxious or buzzed up.)

How can I boost GABA naturally?

Whether or not you decide to try a GABA supplement (see below for more information about GABA supplements), you need to enhance the way GABA works in your brain.

One way to do this is by taking extra Vitamin B6, which is needed for GABA synthesis. Many GABA supplements include B6 – if not, make sure you take a separate B6 supplement.

Magnesium is also essential for GABA activity, enhancing GABA sensitivity on nerve receptors (just one of the many essential functions of magnesium In your body). Magnesium is great as a muscle relaxant, and also has a calming effect – and it’s is one of the many minerals that is generally deficient in our modern diet, which goes a long way to explaining the increased levels of anxiety we see today. Low levels of magnesium are associated with a whole range of disorders, including high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid imbalances as well as anxiety, so a magnesium supplement makes sense if you have any of these conditions.

There are other natural supplements, such as Theanine, which can be highly effective in boosting GABA activity in your brain … read more about Theanine for Anxiety here.

Will a GABA supplement help anxiety?

We know that low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety. There are many people who find that boosting GABA with a supplement definitely helps relieve anxiety, even though current medical belief is that GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier, i.e. the GABA you take in a supplement might not be the most effective way to boost brain GABA levels. For example, this is one comment about the effectiveness of GABA:

As a pharmacist I know that in theory this stuff shouldn’t cross the blood brain barrier and have an effect. But from my personal experience, it DEFINITELY does something after I take it. I feel more calm and relaxed.

GABA side-effects and cautions

GABA is designated GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by the FDA, and there are no reports of any toxic effects from taking GABA. But there are some cautions in using it:

Keep to the recommended dose of GABA

It’s been reported that high doses can have unexpected effects – some people have found that a high dose actually increases anxiety. High doses can also result in skin flushing, or skin tingling (you probably won’t notice this at doses under 1 gm, which is what we recommend).

If your main problem is depression, try a serotonin booster instead

If you are susceptible to serious depression, be careful with GABA as it can trigger a depressive episode.

And if you’ve been diagnosed with a cyclic disorder (such as Bipolar Affective Disorder – BPAD), or you are prone to seizures (Dr Amen’s types 5 or 6) you should be especially careful about what you take (only take supplements on the advice of a qualified health professional who knows your history).

Dr Amen recommends GABA supplementation for those suffering from his Type 1 – “Pure Anxiety”. Refer to the summary on the Natural Anxiety Remedies page, to get an idea of what type of anxiety you might have.

It makes sense that if you are low in energy, mood and concentration (common issues in clinical depression) you should not be trying to boost GABA, but instead, your serotonin, dopamine and nor-adrenaline.

While GABA does tend to enhance serotonin in your brain (mostly a good thing), it also tends to reduce some other neurotransmitters (adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, dopamine).

That is helpful if the levels are too high (as is likely with anxiety), but not if you are depressed!

Denver Naturopathic Clinic has an article with more information about GABA for anxiety.

Recommendations for GABA

If you think you are low in GABA, try a GABA supplement for yourself – it’s the only way to find out if it works for you!

In his book, Dr Amen recommends a dose of 100-250 mg, 2-3 times per day. Start with a lower dose and work up – but don’t go above his recommended maximum (750 mg per day).

You can buy pure GABA on Amazon or in your local health shop. But I recommend a supplement that combines GABA with other enhancing factors such as L-Theanine, magnesium and B6 – that way you will avoid the plateau effect and get a better overall brain balancing effect.

NAC Benefits

I am a huge fan of NAC as it has helped myself and many others with trichotillomania.  In addition, this amino acid is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to:

  • enhance immune function
  • enhance respiratory tract function
  • assist detoxification by the liver

Research done at a university in Spain found that NAC improves immune function in postmenopausal women. The study concluded “NAC could contribute to maintenance of good health and quality of life in postmenopausal women by decreasing the probability of immune system related diseases, such as infections in aging.”

In an Italian study, researchers found that NAC 1,500 mg/day, reduced the development of flu symptoms by 75 percent and improved immunity among a group of seniors during an epidemic of H1N1 flu.

In the following article, Byron Richards further explains how NAC can help you fight the flu.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) Improves

Immunity Against the Flu

Byron J. Richards,
Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an important nutrient for respiratory health and immunity, including defense against the flu. The nutrient has been used longer than four decades to help break up and clear mucous from the airways. The latest research continues to show that it is a potent anti-viral compound warranting widespread use in the winter months to help ward off the common cold as well as the flu.

NAC has long been known as a flu-fighting nutrient based on a 1997 study of 262 older adults who participated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study over a six-month period, some taking 600 mg of NAC twice daily or the others placebo. Individuals taking NAC were much less likely to have clinical influenza illness (29 percent of the NAC group compared to 51 percent of the placebo group. Flu that did occur in the NAC group was much less severe. Tests showed that cell-mediated immunity continually improved with NAC supplementation whereas it remained unchanged in the placebo group.

In modern times NAC has continued to impress. Those with compromised lung function are at very high risk for problems should they get a respiratory infection. In such patients NAC has been shown to reduce respiratory symptoms, reduce flu virus replication, and dramatically lower the inflammatory damage caused by viral infection. This means NAC is good nutritional support for any person who typically is susceptible to respiratory infection.

NAC was shown to be effective against the potentially pandemic H5N1 virus, demonstrating direct anti-viral properties and reduction of H5N1 replication. NAC also reduced the inflammatory signaling caused by H5N1, which is what leads to the cytokine storm that causes severe and potentially life threatening infection. The researchers concluded, “antioxidants like NAC represent a potential additional treatment option that could be considered in the case of an influenza A virus pandemic.”

As with any nutrient and an active infection, they do not replace proper medical care or treatment. Rather, they should be viewed as part of your support team to help prevent a problem or to help your body better cope should you get a bug so as to help reduce the severity as much as possible.

Clean Slate

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I’m looking at December as a clean slate.  November was a tough month as I fell back into old patterns.  It started with just 1 hair and from there increased exponentially until my pulling was almost as bad as it had been in June.  Luckily I did not do any noticeable damage.

As I mentioned in my last post, I stopped taking NAC and inositol in September due to morning sickness.  I started taking both supplements again about a week ago.  Already I feel the difference.  My urge to pull has decreased and it is easier to fight the urge.

I remember this sensation from the last time I started these supplements.  I think my initial response to them was faster this time.  I wonder if this is because I have taken them recently.  It took about 2 months for the supplements to reach their full effect last time. I am expecting to see similar result this time around.

Stopping and restarting NAC and inositol has shown me how much they were helping. This has renewed my determination and faith that I can overcome trich.  I am off to a great start this December and plan to keep at it.