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The Power of Equine Therapy

Alexandria and Little Man

Have you ever seen a horse gallop? Have you studied their flowing mane and their graceful stride? Have you noticed how they run with reckless abandon, leaping past obstacles and into freedom? These spirit animals have healed me in ways that not much else can. They have a sensitivity about them – they can feel your energy and emotions more than any other animal. Horses naturally live in the moment, and you learn the practice of mindfulness by being with them. They are flight animals. You must quiet your movements and let down your guard to approach these majestic creatures. Trust is key.  

When I relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan nearly three years ago, I followed my dream to get involved with horses and became a volunteer at Roanoke Ranch for Kids, a therapeutic ranch for at-risk youth. I came to this ranch at age 21 with very low self-esteem, battered and bruised from a long battle of anxiety, depression, and scrupulosity (a religious form of OCD). My heart went out to this black and white miniature horse named Little Man. He had been rescued from an abusive situation and did not trust a soul. I would spend hours upon hours at his fence, beckoning him to come near. It was weeks, then months before he dared to come close and snatch a carrot out of my hand. I would put my forehead on his through the fence – he felt safest with this form of human contact as opposed to my hands. It was as though we were transmitting our pain to another. We were not a threat to each other. We both deeply understood pain and fear. I loved him the way he was, and he loved me for who I was.

Horses naturally live in the moment, and you learn the practice of mindfulness by being with them. They are flight animals. You must quiet your movements and let down your guard to approach these majestic creatures. Trust is key.

Scrupulosity involves pathological guilt, obsessive confessions, and, in my case, an intense fear of God as a cruel slave master. I came from a wonderful family who showed me God’s love, but OCD is ruthless when it comes to fear. Inwardly I felt like a failure in life. In school I had been the top of my class for years, but OCD had paralyzed me so severely that I had to drop out of my senior year of high school and be admitted to the hospital. I eventually finished up home schooling, but OCD prevented me from attending college, pursuing classical piano performance, or getting a job I was truly passionate about. I still struggled a lot. But Little Man saw past all that. He showed me that I COULD do something of value – I could change his life. With no horse experience, I was the only one to get to him and help him trust humans again. When Aaron saw the work I’d done with him, he was astounded and couldn’t believe what a natural gift I had with horses. Another volunteer and I have done some training with him and since then, he’s been a showcase horse for several events and is quite a favorite! Roanoke Ranch has given me the opportunity to learn to groom and care for horses, help out in farm chores, get to know these beautiful animals, and mentor kids in the summer camps, guiding them towards a healing relationship with a horse.  

In the summer of 2016, my therapist recommended I switch to Outside In Stables in Grand Haven where I began therapy with Jennifer McVoy, a psychotherapist and accomplished rider. She takes in retired racehorses and rehabilitates them, using them in her sessions and then adopting them out when they are ready. Therapy with Jen has taught me to believe in myself, see the goodness in myself, and be brave. Equine therapy can involve specific groundwork exercises related to self-confidence, problem-solving, or decision making, or the client might ride a horse bareback while the therapist leads them around as they discuss personal issues. Certain clients might also work on goals in riding, building self-confidence as they accomplish these goals and relate them to real life. I fondly remember riding Joey, a dashing thoroughbred over 17 hands tall with an energy that seemed to match my own. He challenged me to take charge and believe in my ability as we cantered through the arena.  

Horses have changed my life. I can’t express my gratitude for the amazing gift they have been to me, especially Little Man and a chestnut paint named Ozzie who has carried me through deep darkness and great joy. Learning to ride has empowered me and given me something to be proud of. To be in control of a 1500 pound animal, riding through fields of green and sunlit trails, is a thrill of its own. Since my entrance into this horse world three years ago, I’ve interned at a couple ranches out of state, galloped on beaches in Costa Rica, and have had the chance to ride more times than I can count. I’ve come to see that anything is possible, dreams can come true, and I am a person worth fighting for. My tainted view of God has shifted and I am able to see Him as a more loving and caring Father now. I’ve come to love myself and not be afraid to shine my true colors. Whenever I am with horses, it’s like I get a break from my brain. My racing thoughts stop, and I’m ushered into a world more peaceful and spacious than the one I am used to. Though horses don’t “cure” mental illness, they can infuse you with strength to fight, believe for you when you’ve lost hope, and give you moments of pure joy that make any night worth walking through.  

Find yourself a horse to love, a horse who will love you. Whether you go to equine- assisted therapy sessions with a psychotherapist or volunteer at therapeutic horse ranch, there are many options in the greater Grand Rapids area, including Outside In Stables in Grand Haven, Equine Assisted Development, Dorr to Eden, HUGS Ranch, Roanoke Ranch for Kids, Equest Center, The Barn for Equine Learning, and more. Any moments you share with horses are priceless and healing. Give yourself fully to them, and I encourage you to see what magic occurs.

Anxiety Uncovered

Anxiety is a lurking sense of distress that is perhaps in all of us to some degree, but no one really wants to acknowledge it. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to disguise it in a more acceptable form. We try and gym it away, drink it away or get busy with more activities in an attempt to be too busy to notice it.

Appropriate stress is really good for us when it is in moderation and in the right time and place. Our bones need stress in order to grow, our muscles get stronger if we stress them moderately a few times a week with intervals of rest, and we learn by ‘stressing’ our brains to form new neural grooves.

I see stress like an artist’s canvas stretched over a frame of wood. It provides a healthy background on which to paint different aspects of my life. It is only when the canvas is put under extra strain or I try to put the same painting onto a bigger frame, that the inflexible paint begins to crack off. As much as I try to hide the flaws and touch up the painting to appear perfect, the flaws begin to be quite conspicuous. Instead of acknowledging my feelings, I try to hide them under hurried splashes of paint. This then makes me feel anxious about who may notice which makes me feel insecure and undermines my confidence. This increases my stress and anxiety levels, causing a vicious cycle of self-destruction.

What is this pressure in society that makes us feel like a failure if we have an imperfection? I sometimes wonder who wrote the rules for perfect living and why needing help is such a shame. I have spent so much time living according to what I think others expect of me. It really takes up a lot of energy that I could use more efficiently. Even my own expectations of myself are generally harsher than I would set for my friends. It also makes me say the words, “should” quite often, which underlines my perceived inability to cope. Missing the standard set for me only wears down my confidence about being able to successfully achieve what I have set out to do.  

Perceptions play a big part of anxiety. The gap between what I perceive needs to happen and what is actually happening, is what is causing the tension. This is where it is helpful to get an outsiders insight into my situation and to ask me the right questions to help me see the reality of my expectations.

Time to take control of my thoughts.

Being in charge of my own thoughts is very powerful as it is just that – being in charge. I came across a saying recently that has been a very helpful tool in dealing with excess anxiety and fear. It goes like this, “If you don’t like what you see, change what you like.” Initially this seemed to me like a cop out. Now I find it quite helpful, if I can get my brain around it!  

Even a small issue can cause stress. I really dislike leaving the house with the bed unmade. I feel that this is a respectful act of stewardship that all self-honouring people should do daily. Notice the word ‘should’. If I do not do it, the implication is that I am being disrespectful, dishonouring and lack a sense of stewardship. This sounds a bit harsh in reverse, but it shows us how much pressure I may put on myself…or my family…when there could be a perfectly good reason that the making of the bed is a trivial exploit compared to the magnitude of other unforeseen situations – like needing to lead a meeting for a sick colleague or change the flat tire on the car. Having such high inflexible standards puts extra stress on relationships and increases agitation and stress.

The other big cause of angst is fear. Anxiety and fear are big buddies that love to hold hands all the way. Fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of what others may think, and fear of making a mistake, embarrassing myself, looking like an idiot or any other logical or illogical thought that may lead to a negative outcome. Weighing up the seriousness of the resultant negative feeling may allow us to face the fear head on. Unveiling the fear may uncover the truth, or possibly, an untruth. Instead of running in an anxious panic, realizing the truth can be quite sobering and even humorous. I find my heart trying to deceive my head, or the other way around, just to make a false peace. It is time for anxiety to unfriend fear so that it can get a grip on a healthier outlook.

Another good friend of anxiety – change.

Change can be stressful. Any new situation creates stress. It could be a new job that creates stress or an illness, a loss, increased tension in a relationship, new challenges of children or parents facing new stages in their development.

I find that the possibility of future change can also cause me increased tension especially if there are many unknown factors. The saying, “better the devil that you know than the devil you don’t know,’’ suggests knowing what is ahead can settle my mind as I can start planning a strategy for coping with the change.

We all have it – now let’s deal with it.

We all have anxiety, but when it becomes debilitating and affects our health, relationships, work or sleep then it is time to do something about it. We can’t carry on doing the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome. As discussed, change itself is stressful. So this means that we are going to have to face the new stress of getting help, if we want to deal with current anxiety. If anxiety is slowly letting you down there is no shame in getting help. It takes strength and trust to let someone else peek into our own decision making.

This means swallowing our pride to prevent a fall – less stressful than getting up after one.

Myra Espey, creator of Anxiety Free Life, has always been a pioneer and a change agent. For the last 20 years, she has been at the forefront of new developments in her field of people development and people centered management. She has qualifications in psychology, education, nutrition and counseling. Myra and her husband had their own journey of living with and combatting anxiety.

Anxiety and Support

What Your Support Actually Means For Someone Going Through Anxiety

Dealing with anxiety is not easy.

It has an adverse effect on the people who experience it, and those around them. Knowing someone with anxiety prompts us to reach out and help. However, we end up finding ourselves unaware of how exactly we can aid them to get out of the situation. Showing support to people suffering from anxiety is important. Although this might not be a physical condition, it also isn’t something that can be cured purely by logical reasoning. People going through anxiety requires special treatment and attention. For us to be able to show support to friends and family going through such a difficult phase, understanding what anxiety is, as a disorder, is an essential step.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety and stress are normal among human beings, especially when faced with stressful situations, such as taking an examination, meeting new people and moving to a new town.

However, if someone has excessive anxiety and stress which hinders them from performing their daily activities, then there might be a problem.

People with anxiety can continuously experience overwhelming worry and fear. There are different kinds of anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, and selective mutism to name a few.

What causes an anxiety disorder?

Researchers cannot pinpoint the exact cause of an anxiety disorder. But just like other mental illnesses, it stems from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A study by the National Library of Medicine concludes that people who experienced child abuse or has a family history of mental disorder are more likely to have anxiety disorder when they grow up.

Here are some tips to help in supporting your loved ones who has anxiety:

Educate Yourself

As stated earlier in this article, there are several types of anxieties. Once you know what specific type of anxiety your friend or family has, use different resources available to educate yourself about its symptoms and effects.

  • Check out articles and forums about this issue online. Most of these are free so go ahead and take little steps in learning more about anxiety.
  • Gather all necessary information to help you find ways on how you can help your loved ones ease their pain.
  • Encourage your loved ones to shake off their anxiety by integrating more physical activities to their daily routine such as:
    • Exercise together or try out any physical activities
    • Join a yoga class and meditate together
    • Talk about the things that make your friend feel anxious at least one hour per week

Be Patient

People with anxiety can often sound like a broken record – they usually talk about the same topics over and over again without them even noticing. The things they shared with you yesterday on how their stress levels are getting the best of them, might be the very same scenarios they will tell you in the next two days. In these situations:

  • You have to understand that even if you see their struggle, the sufferer doesn’t.
  • Remain patient and always listen. This may appear like a complicated task to do. However, in this little way, you can slowly lessen the weight of their load.

Reassure that everything will be okay

There are certain types of anxiety which require aggressive reassurance for the sufferer to feel calm. For instance, a partner who has interpersonal anxiety might ask you, “Do you promise to love me no matter what?” or a random “Do you still love me?” These strong responses can create intense emotions and feelings from the sufferer. All of these are normal for someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder and does not mean that they are needy or hopeless.

  • If you notice these patterns, reassure them that everything will be okay.
  • Come up with ways that can help minimize episodes like these.

Always be available

Let your loved ones know that you are there for them. This will make a significant difference in their recovery.

  • Create an environment which will make it easier for them to communicate how they feel.
  • Never forget to tell them that you are always available for them whenever they need someone to talk.  
  • Reassure them that you are not there to judge them or the things they do because of their anxiety
  • Let them feel that you are there to show support.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Although self-help paves a long way towards your friend’s recovery, do not expect that this alone will do the trick.

  • One of the best solutions is to access a therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders.
  • You can still show support by asking the sufferer how the session was, or helping them with therapy homework such as doing thinking exercises together.

Regardless of the amount of their progress, let them know that you are happy with what they are engaging themselves with.

To conclude

There are more than five ways to show support to someone who is suffering from anxiety disorder. Find an approach that you find manageable for you and your loved one.

No matter what you decide to do, keep in mind that results vary in every person. The important thing is, you are supporting the sufferer in whatever they choose to do – you’ll never know, your support could be one of the biggest reasons for their complete healing. We hope you enjoyed our TG Psychology article.

Todd Griffin is the Director and Principal Psychologist at TG Psychology, in Penrith, NSW. He has over 14 years of experience working with adults and young people in both public health and private practice settings. He has treated people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a variety of emotional health and behavioral issues, including: depression, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, addictions, trauma and grief. He has also facilitated a number of group programs, treating a wide range of issues: from quitting cannabis, to social skills training, self-esteem development and deliberate self-harm behaviors.


Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation: The Not-So-Strange Bedfellows

Is your anxiety keeping you up at night?

“Get some rest!” So goes the advice commonly dispensed to those of us who struggle with anxiety. If we tend to respond with a bit of an eye roll if only on the inside, there’s a good reason for it: We know we need to get sleep and there’s nothing we’d want more than that!

Alas, as many between 50 and 70 million American adults who chronically suffer from a sleep disorder know, sleep does not come easily to sufferers of insidious worry. And when it does come, slumber does not tend to grace us for long. Middle-of-the-night wake-ups, inability to fall asleep, sleepwalking, daytime drowsiness—they are all types of sleep deprivation we know all too well.

Seven out of 10 adults who report persistent stress or anxiety have trouble sleeping. According to The Cleveland Clinic, two-thirds of patients referred to sleep disorders centers have a psychiatric disorder. Anxiety and sleep deprivation are not-so-strange, codependent bedfellows. One frequently triggers the other. There are scientifically established reasons why people living with anxiety have a hard time sleeping—and why people who suffer from sleep deprivation tend to struggle with worry and anxiety. In sum, anxiety wakes us up and not getting enough sleep makes us anxious. Let’s take a look at how that happens.

Anxiety wakes us up.

The reality that anxiety sufferers are saddled with is the curse of what sleep researchers and psychologists call anticipatory anxiety. The more you give in to worry, the more likely you are to lose sleep over it. This is even more insidious with worry over not being able to sleep. You start fretting that you won’t be able to get rest—after all, it happened many nights before—and then, the prophecy of worry fulfills itself. You do not get much rest, which only reinforces your stress and worry and adds to the power of anxiety over your future nights. Insufficient sleep worsens anticipatory anxiety by “firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing.” The results resemble neural activity seen in anxiety disorders.

“Anxiety is an emotion that actually wakes us up,” says Dr. Steve Orma, who wrote Stop Worrying and Go to Sleep: How to Put Insomnia to Bed for Good. “There are all kinds of physical changes happening that ramp you up, which is the exact opposite state of what you need to be in when you’re trying to fall asleep.”

Sleep deprivation makes us anxious.

Healthy rest facilitates self-awareness and mindfulness. It gives us the ability to put negative experiences in context and resist exaggerating them and giving them too much power. Researchers at University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory found that sleep deprivation makes our brains revert back to more primitive patterns of activity. The study participants who were kept awake were less likely to put emotionally challenging information in context. And vice versa: Getting healthy sleep enables us to discount the fearful exaggerations introduced by stress and worry.

“By restoring good quality sleep in people suffering from anxiety, we may be able to help ameliorate their excessive worry and disabling fearful expectations,” says Allison Harvey, one of the authors of a sleep study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

How do you break this vicious cycle?

Tell yourself that just like more anxiety means less sleep and less sleep means more anxiety, the reverse is also true. Less anxiety means better chances of sleeping soundly and getting good rest means less anxiety. Zero in on the power of your own thinking—and appreciate it. Since your niggling worries can keep you up, your peaceful and centered thoughts can have a calming effect. Interrupt either anxiety or sleep deprivation, and you’re well on your way.

How to do that? There’s no overestimating the benefits of healthy sleep hygiene—sleep in a dark, cool, room on a well-chosen comfortable mattress, with no alcohol or exposure to blue light two hours prior to bedtime, etc. In addition, use the remedies that are proven to work against both anxiety and insomnia, such as mindfulness meditation and exercise. The “mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment” has been demonstrated to diminish anxiety and enable anxiety sufferers to get rest at night. And exercise (aerobic earlier during the day and strength training later during the day) promotes a healthy sleep schedule by decreasing arousal, anxiety, and depression in the long run.

There’s no use pretending that taking charge of anxious thoughts is easy. It may well be that the help of a behavioral therapist or a medical doctor might be required. But sleep medicine has shown us that it is sometimes possible, to some degree, to think yourself into drowsiness and to “sleep yourself” into a calm, centered state of mind. Try it tonight.

Agnes Green is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She holds two master’s degrees in the social sciences from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. She sleeps most soundly after a kettlebell workout, on a medium-firm mattress, to the sound of a drizzle wafting in through a cracked window in Portland, Oregon.


How Crochet and Knitting Help the Brain

I am a nurse and lifelong knitter with a calling to bring my best self in service to others.

My background in neuro-developmental pediatrics and experience working with children and adults with brain injury, spinal cord injury, strokes, and neurological disorders, led to a fascination with neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to “rewire” itself.

Because the practice of knitting/crochet is so helpful in dealing with anxiety, the ARC was the first organization I approached, and they, and you, were interested! I’m very excited for this opportunity to teach these skills as a tool to quiet the mind, mend the brain, and soothe the soul. 

My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was about 8 years old, and I could hardly wait to join 4H knitting! I’ve been knitting or crocheting ever since. Now I’m exploring ways to combine these interests and abilities to improve the health and well-being of others.

Betty Corkhill, Knit for Health & Wellness – How to Knit a Flexible Mind and More, really helped me get started on my mission. I feel it is the best collection of anecdotes and evidence available.

Consider these seven reasons why knitting and crocheting can help you with your anxiety:

Hand movements

Bilateral, coordinated, precise hand movements are hard work for the brain, and crossing over midline requires even more brainwork. As a result, we are less able to pay attention to other issues and concerns. In other words, knitting “distracts” the brain.

Repetitive movement

Many of us use repetitive, rhythmic movement like pacing, rocking, tapping, picking, hair pulling, smoking, drinking, or eating, to calm ourselves when we are stressed or traumatized.  There are many, many stories of people who have replaced an anxiety crutch with knitting or crochet.  Knitters with PTSD report they have fewer flashbacks and other symptoms.

Safety “bubble”

Holding the hands together in front of the body creates the sensation of having a protective “bubble” of personal space and comfort and is especially helpful in threatening or anxiety-producing situations.

Eye contact is optional

It’s totally acceptable in knitting groups to make eye contact only when you choose to.  Same thing with conversation, although greeting others upon arrival, and saying goodbye when you leave, is recommended. Knitting groups are safe places where conversations about knitting often lead to other topics: and choosing whether or not to participate means that you are in control.


Knitting and crochet can go almost anywhere with you!  Just tuck it into a pocket, purse, or tote, and a solution is always nearby for when symptoms of anxiety and panic arise. Even visualizing the movements and feelings of knitting can help in most situations. Any easy (mindless) project is best for places with distractions;  a new pattern or technique is best for distracting the mind and growing new brain pathways.


There are so many beautiful colors, an array of textures, and soft, bristly, smooth, or bumpy fibers to choose from!  They provide pleasing visual, tactile, and perceptual feedback to our bodies and brains.

Hormone level

More serotonin is released with repetitive movement, which improves mood and sense of calmness. After you’ve learned knitting or crochet, it can also reduce blood levels of cortisol-the stress hormone.

New neuropathways can be created and strengthened by learning new skills and movements. As they become stronger with use, we “change our minds” to become quieter and more relaxed.

“The feeling experienced as your mind flows into the movement of knitting can teach you what it feels like to be relaxed, and you can learn to recall this feeling even when you don’t have knitting in hand,” a local knitter commented.

Betty Houtman is a nurse and lifelong knitter/crocheter. She is using her vast skill set to help people learn how to quiet the mind, mend the brain, and soothe the soul.


The Extraordinary Truth

If you were to ask me what is the most painful event in my life, I probably would have lied or simply kept silent. Now, it seems impossible in doing so, considering that my own writings and film projects touch upon what many people tend to avoid in life—to feel something.

Last May, I felt on top of the world. It was my twenty-fourth birthday and it had been a while since I had last gone out to celebrate with my friends. And I got drunk. But I was feeling good and content because everything had fallen into place—I had a business partner who was also eager to get a feature film moving, we were in talks at the time in making a short film for the project. I was growing really close with new friends, and something in which was new for me in a very long time was reuniting with a classmate from college and falling hard for him in a short amount of time.

And two weeks later, an unexpected family member had passed. My stepdad had a heart attack while on vacation with my mother. He was fifty-three years old.

Like many people who lose a loved one, especially if taken under their wing, I was mostly shocked and then angry. Lived, if I must say. The remaining summer was a roller coaster of trying to feel “okay,” pretending to be “okay,” and trying to “fit in” and do what a twenty-four-year-old is supposed to do…right?

I felt even crappier when I started to have a few mini meltdowns of crying hysterically. Well, maybe they were not your typical meltdowns, but it was the first time where I had cried in front of a friend, something in which I never do ever.

I was going to therapy on a weekly basis after my stepdad, Jeff, had passed away. In the back of my mind, I understood that some triggers for my own anxiety and depression were grief, let alone when it is unexpected as well. I loved Jeff and a part of me certainly felt pressured to have it together and hold it together to stay strong for everyone else. But I was unaware for the longest time that holding it together for others was only hurting myself because I was not exactly dealing with how I felt emotionally. And emotionally, I wanted to cry and scream most of the time.

It is never a bad thing to admit that you need time for yourself or simply a day off for self-care. This is something I noticed over time – to always apply some therapeutic remedy physically, emotionally, and mentally. To overcome my own worries and fears, as well as maintain my battle with anxiety and depression – to take a step back. –Natalie Rodriguez

Although I had gone to therapy about two years prior to these past few months, I truly understood what it meant in taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally. I experienced another loss when a loved one suddenly passed a few weeks after Jeff, just hours after his funeral. That was the first time where I understood what pain meant—and it still is one of the most painful events to reflect upon, even until this day.

Ironically throughout this time of freshly grieving over the loss of two loved ones, I had slipped in and out of depression while editing and putting together the pitch packet for a film project of mine. The project was called The Extraordinary Ordinary, a story about three young adults and their history with a mental health disorder and the stigmas and shame that, unfortunately, come with it from others being discouraging and unsupportive.

As the weeks had progressed, everything seemed one big cliché, unsure if my anxiety and depression were back or that it was simply the process of grief and that only time would tell.

Well, time had certainly seemed to drag on. A lot had happened within a few months, something that kicked up my stress and worry. It was also the same time when I was truly building the pitch packet for The Extraordinary Ordinary, doing further research on mental health disorders, realizing that I had the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety. The giveaway for me was always worrying and overthinking everything. Or other days, I was purposely (well, more so subconsciously) staying busy so I would not have enough time on my hands to think. I found out that was High Functioning Anxiety. Otherwise, thinking about something would only lead to the possibility of having to deal with my emotions and how I was truly feeling.

Most of the time—I was not okay.

Something that had kept me grounded, or up on my feet, was continuing with my writings and film projects. In fact, it was something that some friends had encouraged me in doing so when I was self-doubting myself or tempted to quit altogether. It took one phone call with a friend, who had strongly advised me that I should keep making movies because there was more for me to say. I sort of ignored their comment until a few days later when another buddy of mine who would go on and star in the film that summer. I had decided that summer needed to end right. I was starting to get fed up with feeling so sad and unmotivated.

But, in reality, I had to allow myself to feel those feelings, something in which I had realized a few days ago after Jeff’s anniversary:

  •  I was being too hard on myself
  • everyone should take a moment for themselves…
  • …and make sure that they are feeling OKAY.

It is always okay to not feel okay. And for me that has certainly been these past twelve months, soon to be going on thirteen. Ironically, I had another moment of self-reflection of everything that has happened from nostalgia to heartbreak, complete utter heartbroken when Jeff had passed, followed by my friend’s sister, Isabelle, passing. Then there were three semi fallouts/breakups/one of those, “What are we/What were you ever” situations.

It is never a bad thing to admit that you need time for yourself or simply a day off for self-care. This is something I noticed over time – to always apply some therapeutic remedy physically, emotionally, and mentally. To overcome my own worries and fears, as well as maintain my battle with anxiety and depression – to take a step back.

That has certainly been the motto from here on out, something that will continue to be work-in-progress because I am always learning. And that is perfectly okay—there is never a prerequisite or a deadline when it comes to self-care and one’s mental health.

Natalie Rodriguez is a writer, filmmaker, and mental health advocate based in Los Angeles, California. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in TV-Film from CSU Fullerton in 2014. She was then selected as one of the ten screenwriters for actor James Franco’s first Studio 4 Master Class.
Her writing has been published and featured on many websites including Amazon Books, The Huffington Post, Zooey Deschanel’s Hello Giggles, and TheRichest. Some upcoming publications include an article on mental health, therapy, and the grieving process, “The Extraordinary Truth,” on Anxiety Resources Center and her first story about night terrors and trauma, “Inner Child,” on The Stray Branch.
Natalie’s extensive background in film includes screenwriting, directing, producing, and editing. Her film works have been featured on Funny or Die and Fictional Café. Some of her other screenplays and films have placed in the final rounds at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, IndieFEST Awards, Script Pipeline, Table Read My Screenplay – Austin Film Festival, CSU Media Arts Film Festival, and more.
Natalie can be contacted at (909) 728-2850 or nataliechristine2010@gmail.com. Follow her at @natchrisrod and @theextraordfilm.

Offering a Hand Despite OCD Fears

My name is Scott Shirey and I suffer from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

I am deathly afraid of bodily waste and bodily fluids and have lived with OCD for almost 25 years. I have a fear of contamination that prevents me from living a normal life. Due to this fear, I live with a lot of rules when I am home. There are probably a million of them.

But before we talk about some of those, allow me to explain briefly how I see contaminants spread throughout the world. Let’s pick a bodily fluid at random. We will go with blood. Let’s say someone spills blood on a chair and doesn’t clean it up. It just sits there on the chair. We will even say the blood dries up.  Now let’s say someone sits on the chair with the dried blood.  Then that person gets up and sits on a new chair. According to my way of thinking, the new chair now has blood on it. It has blood on it whether you can see it or smell it or not. Let’s say someone new sits on that new chair with the second-hand blood on it. Now that new person has blood on them and according to my OCD everywhere they sit or bump will now have blood on it too.

This contamination can spread like wild fire as you can see and that makes it hard for me to think ANYTHING is clean. With all the random fluids or waste throughout the world, everything someone encounters in the world is dirty. When I am at home, I try with everything I have to keep any of the outside world dirtiness out of my home. That’s where the rules come in. They keep me safe and keep my house clean and safe. My home is my fortress of solitude. I have very few people ever in my house. There are probably about 8 people that have been in my house in the last 13 years. Long story short, I rarely have visitors and when they are here they don’t stay long that’s for sure. This week I was presented with a challenge. Some might call it an opportunity but I prefer to use the word challenge. Wait till you hear this.

I really felt like it was now or never. I had to do something. I had to do something or my friends were going to be in trouble and they were going to have to leave my town as I watch and do nothing. That’s not who Scott Shirey is, not now, not ever.

One of my best friends and his girlfriend were living in Portland Oregon for the last few years.  The cost of living, among other things, caused them to leave Portland.  The plan was to explore some new places and decide from there where to live permanently.  After being on the road for a few weeks and staying at camp sites across the US, they made their way to Grand Rapids. For whatever reason, this city was one of their finalists as far as places to live.  Their plan was to stay at a camp site near the city and see how they liked the city.  When they made it here they began to see that camping here is more expensive than other places had been and were already short on money. My friend called me and told me that they would not be staying here and were going to have to figure something else out as far as the future. To be honest, they were both at wits’ end and really did not know what they were going to do. I invited them to meet me for dinner so we could talk about it.

Now I know what you are thinking.  Why don’t I offer them a place to stay with me? Well, it’s simply not that simple. My OCD is a major issue and really makes it impossible for me to live with anyone.  I had never planned on ever having anyone stay with me because the rules I have within my home are tough to follow and it’s too much to expect anyone else to follow them. The mere thought of anyone staying with me for a long period of time was unthinkable.  My good friend knows very well what I deal with and said he refused to even ask me for that favor. He saw it as not being an option despite how close we were.  My friends were going to leave and had no idea what they were going to do. Relying on family is not an option for either of them and I really felt like it was now or never. I had to do something. I had to do something or my friends were going to be in trouble and they were going to have to leave my town as I watch and selfishly do nothing. That’s not who Scott Shirey is, not now, not ever.

I decided to offer them a place to stay with me along with a few conditions. I told them that it would be hard for me to have visitors. Knowing me and my OCD like they do, made them initially doubt it could work. We had a long talk and came up with a few parameters that they were ok with. This was not a permanent situation and the end goal would be to get jobs and earn enough to support getting their own place. This would take time, however. They would have their own room that they could have free reign over aka no rules. They would never wear shoes in the house. They would wash their hands whenever dealing with trash or toilets. They would have their own half of the kitchen and their own places to eat at the dinner table. As long as they could avoid touching any of my personal stuff and sitting on a couple chairs in my home, I could handle it. They could have their own couch in the living room and their own toilet. So they agreed to give it a shot. I told them I would show them respect and I would tell them if things became too much for me. They agreed to leave if it got to that point. I was scared as hell but I had to at least try to help my friends. I have a big house and I had to try. This is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but I’m about to do it. Let’s see how this goes….

If reading this interested you, please read my book Danger Life when it comes out.  I will also be launching a blog soon which I will share with The ARC so people can read how this whole thing with my friends is going.

5 Ways Exercise Helps Relieve Stress and Anxiety

There are a lot of benefits exercise can bring to our body and our health.

We all know that exercise is beneficial to our physical health. Apparently, our mental health also gains plenty of benefits from physical exercise. Some of us may have already heard this claim, but do we really know how it benefits us mentally? Awareness is the key to motivating ourselves to keep exercising so we can have a fit body and a sound mind.

It improves your mood

Generally, being physical and doing exercise can improve one’s mood for a number of reasons. Many people choose to do exercise when they wake up in the morning and before they start their day because sweating out and stretching the muscles can be a great wake up call for the mind and body. This results in an overall light and upbeat physical feeling which would then resonate to a good mood. Individuals who start the day with some cardio and exercise are known to have more energy to last throughout the day, as compared to those who do not do exercise in the morning.

Increases endorphins

Studies have confirmed that being physical, sweating out and working out increases the endorphin production in your body. Endorphins are feel-good hormones and also act as the natural pain reliever. Even if the muscles feel sore after an intense workout, you will notice a satisfied physical feeling that basically improves your overall outlook. After a light workout and exercise, if you feel upbeat and energized, this is the mass production of endorphins at work. Even as simple as walking or jogging can bring great improvement to one’s mood.

Calms the mind and fights depression

Doing exercise and sets are generally repetitive and in a routine. That being said, repetitive actions such as the different routines for exercise allow the mind to stay focused and become calm. Exercise is also said to encourage muscle meditation when the muscles are focused on a specific action. This will resonate throughout the whole body and increase the production of endorphins. With regular exercise, it can help fight depression. Another way that exercise helps calm the mind is that being physically active and focusing on your body can help you tone out other thoughts. For a few minutes or hours every day, you can zone out and just focus on your body.

Increases social interaction

As the body increases in feel-good hormones, this will also increase your motivation to spend time with family and friends more. You get more energy to spend time with friends and family after work or every weekend. This increases your social health too. Also, when you regularly exercise, whether you go to a gym or on your regular route when you jog, you get to meet and befriend new people along the way which will grow your social circle.

Improves self-confidence

Exercise improves one’s self-confidence overall. When you exercise regularly, you become more aware of your physical health and mental health. Regular exercise will maintain your body and keep you fit and healthy. This can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. Plus, regular exercise can help you get the body you always wanted which is all good for your confidence.

Exercise is very beneficial to our physical and mental health. Regular exercise can help us maintain peace of mind, while helping us have a strong and fit body. It’s also important to feel comfortable during exercise, so research fitness clothing to find the right gear for you.

Cindy is a blogger and writer at wearaction.com. She has a passion for fitness that she wants to share with you, and anyone else who is interested in living a healthier lifestyle.


Guest Post: A Hero’s Journey

I first met Carol three years ago. We were both at the annual conference of the International OCD Foundation in Minneapolis, she as a local, first-time attendee, and I as a presenter and spokesperson for the organization. I spotted her all but glued to a wall, head down, and arms wrapped tightly around her upper body, almost as if to shield herself from all the conference activity around her. I walked over and asked if perhaps she wanted to talk. She said “No”, and dashed away. I understood. Trust me. I’d been in her shoes at an IOCDF conference not that many years before and had someone walked up to me at that time, I’d have bolted even faster than she had.

The next day I was standing outside a presentation room when I heard a voice from behind: “I’m ready to talk now.”  I turned around to find Carol, tears streaming down her face.

We tucked away in a quiet corner, and I learned all about Carol’s almost unfathomable battles with OCD: a childhood plagued by endless obsessions and compulsions (and their devastating social consequences); dashed dreams of becoming a teacher and working with children; lost jobs and countless other opportunities; dozens (literally) of hospitalizations; months of intensive inpatient treatment. You get the picture.

As an active OCD advocate, I’d met a lot of people with the disorder over the years, but I can honestly say I’d never met anyone as seemingly consumed by her OCD as Carol. And yet, there was something about this quiet, troubled woman that gave me hope—some spark of uncommon determination. Maybe it was the bracelet she wore that read IMAGINE.

With this blog posting, Carol begins her new life as an OCD advocate, and I am certain her story will inspire countless others. I know it has done just that—in a huge way—for me.   -Jeff Bell

We couldn’t have talked for more than 15 minutes that day, but somehow I knew our conversation was just beginning. Our brief encounter had touched something deep inside of me. I gave Carol my email address and asked her to let me know how she was doing.

Just two days later, an email turned up in my inbox from Carol. It began: “I don’t know if you remember me….”

Remember her??  I couldn’t get her off of my mind.

In her note, Carol went on to share how lost she felt, explaining that she just wanted to “throw this (IMAGINE) bracelet in the trash,” but also assuring me that she would continue to work with her OCD therapist as best she could.

I returned her message right away, and we began an email exchange that would fill both of our inboxes for years to come. Somewhere along the way we began chatting on the phone, as well. The more I got to know Carol, the more I grew to admire her tenacity, even in the face of incredible adversity.

Fast forward to several months ago, when Carol surprised the heck out of me by announcing in an email that she wanted to attend this year’s IOCDF national conference in Chicago. My surprise was not that she wanted to put herself back in an environment that had proved so challenging for her, but rather that she was willing to consider doing what it would take to make that happen.

Carol had not left Minneapolis/St. Paul (except for a residential hospitalization) since 1983—nearly three decades! She was deathly afraid of public transit (and the contamination issues it raised). And yet, here she was contemplating a 400-mile road trip to The Windy City. The ultimate OCD exposure therapy!

Now, I’m a big believer in tackling OCD step by step, working one’s way up an exposure hierarchy under the watchful eye of a trained expert. So my first question for Carol was whether her therapist had signed off on this idea.  She assured me he had, even offering to put me in touch with him, so we could all come up with a plan.

As readers of this blog know, I’m also a big believer in the power of what I call Greater Good motivation, encouraging OCD sufferers to identify and pursue specific goals with the potential to empower themselves and/or others. So when Carol mentioned that she wanted to experience Chicago’s deep dish pizza and bring back a meaningful souvenir, I jumped on both goals.

Carol and I talked frequently in the weeks that followed—about pizza, about possible Chicago mementos, and about her ultimate desire to step into advocacy. We also talked about the challenges she’d have to tackle before she could reap any of those rewards–namely, an 8-hour overnight bus trip and a taxi trip to the conference hotel. I lost track of how many times she wondered out loud whether she could actually do this.

On Friday, July 27th, Carol proved that she COULD.

I was finishing up a talk at the IOCDF conference that morning when I looked out and saw my courageous friend, sitting in a back row of the room, looking more than a bit tired, but sporting a big smile on her face. Almost three years to the day after meeting in Minneapolis, here were Carol and I reuniting in Chicago.

For the next two and a half days, Carol and I methodically tackled her Chicago “bucket list.” We scouted out and ate some of the city’s finest deep dish pizza—unbelievably delicious. We searched far and wide for the perfect souvenirs—a sweatshirt and a Matchbox-car-sized yellow Chicago taxi cab. We found ways for Carol to be of service to others at the conference—helping me staff the table for my nonprofit Adversity 2 Advocacy Alliance. We shared a lot of laughs—and a few tears— along the way, and Carol presented me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received: a handmade clay depiction of me battling my “Octopus Chewing Doubtnuts” (a reference that will mean something to those of you who have read When in Doubt, Make Belief).

At one point during the weekend, I looked over and saw Carol crying. I asked if she was okay, and she tearfully whispered that she couldn’t remember the last time she felt so alive. She pointed out the bracelet she was wearing—the same one that had adorned her wrist the day I’d met her. Staring at the word IMAGINE, I realized that she had managed to do just that. I realized too that, in picturing the possibility of her making this heroic trek to Chicago, she had started a much longer and more important journey that will undoubtedly transform the rest of her life.

With this blog posting, Carol begins her new life as an OCD advocate, and I am certain her story will inspire countless others. I know it has done just that—in a huge way—for me.

This post was republished with permission from Jeff Bell and Psychology Today. You can find the original here. Bell is the founder of the nonprofit Adversity 2 Advocacy Alliance, co-founder of Beyond the Doubt and the author of When In Doubt, Make Belief


Exploring Anxiety and Art

My name is Annalise De Young, and I graduated this spring with my degree in Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy from Lesley University. My thesis project was about exploring anxiety, particularly my own anxiety through art, and I wanted to share a little bit of that journey with this community.

When I look back on human history, I see that there are many constants, things that are always there in some form, and one of those constants is art. When I talk about art, it means more to me than just pictures on a page, it’s all the creative processes and expressions—visual, musical, theatrical and so on. Creating something is a way that we have processed our lives and experiences since the dawn of time. This is why ancient pieces of writing, art, and music still appeal to us because there is something about those human experiences written into that piece of art that we share. So I began the process of exploring my anxiety through art.

For me, anxiety is a very physical experience. A lot of the time I become aware of something physical before my brain kicks in to notice that we are on the fast track to Anxious Land. The biggest clue is that my jaw will be clenched, and once I notice that it usually follows that I notice knots in my stomach and hands that cannot be kept still. Sometimes, it just feels like the overwhelming need to escape. I kept a journal for a couple months focusing just on the physical feelings of being anxious, and then, I brought them into the art studio.

I wanted to make what I felt inside of myself visible to the outside world, and I wondered what these feelings would look like on the outside of my body, painted on my skin. And I wanted to get to know those feelings, so I could name them, face them, and feel them without letting them take control. I began each of the painting sessions by reading through my journal entries until I found something that stuck out to me. I spent time remembering that feeling, trying to find it back within my body, and then I started to paint.

Here is an example of one of the descriptions I found in my journal, and the painting that came from it: This one is sudden—it feels like my air is gone. It radiates and sucks itself in like a swirling vortex of terror, but in slow motion. It pulls everything into a great, big emptiness.



I spent hours in the studio painting what my anxiety felt like, and since this was for research, I was also filming, photographing and documenting along the way. On my last day of painting, I was sitting on the studio floor reading through my journal entries like I had done each of the previous times. I was looking for an image or feeling from the journal that stood out to me that day when I realized I was ready to paint myself strong. As I looked at the journal pages, I felt like I knew those feelings already, I understood them better than I had on the day I started painting, but I wanted to paint myself strong. I survived those feelings, in this body, in this skin, and it was strong—it is strong, and so am I.



Through all the research and my own life experience, I learned a few things, and one of the biggest lessons was that it can be almost impossible to tackle anxiety with just a single approach, like therapy or medication, or meditation. Anxiety becomes part of our train of thought, running on a parallel track until it derails us. It is something that we have to approach from multiple angles in order to really get ahead of it. I also came to recognize that anxiety is well-intentioned, but it is dangerous when it becomes too powerful. Anxiety wants to keep us safe, and it thrives on the unknown.

Art is a useful tool for relaxation and meditation, for keeping the mind calm, which are excellent things for a person who experiences anxiety. But art can also take us through some of the more difficult parts of our journey, the parts that are not easy to talk about. When there are no words for what we feel, we can turn to art to express ourselves. For some of us that could mean dancing, for others writing. It could mean picking up an instrument or picking up a paint brush.

Annalise is a freshly-minted Expressive Arts Therapist born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI. She attended City High School, Alma College, and Lesley University. She has a passion for helping people discover and rediscover creative paths to healing in their lives and their communities, and for helping people to express things without words. Truly ‘smitten with the mitten,’ she is always drawn to the water, loves all four seasons (yes, even winter), and all the adventures that Michigan has to offer. When at home you would likely find her hanging out with her rabbit (Matteo), crocheting, making art, or enjoying the thrills of Netflix. To hear more send her an email at avdeyoung91@gmail.com.


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