For those of you who struggle with anxiety, I’d like to offer some information for you to consider.
CBT consists of two basic elements, the cognitive and the behavioral. Through the therapy process, you can learn to recognize negative thoughts and think about how to prevent them from occurring as an immediate response to a certain situation. You can learn how to think about a stressful situation in a different, positive and less anxiety-provoking way. It’s kind of a “reprogramming” of the brain to follow a more positive set of responses to certain situations. CBT is designed to be reinforced at home and throughout your daily life.
“What if’s” This type of discussion that we have in our minds leads to heightened anxiety, and even panic attacks. Our brain and body are connected to understand when we are in danger (fight or flight). If we talk to ourselves and list all of our worries, or potential losses, our brain tells our body that something is wrong. Our palms get sweaty, our heart races. Our brain has taken our body into a state of flight. For those of us with anxiety, we can make a substantial improvement when we learn how to control this one issue.
Recognize when you are self-talking in this manner. Then, change the conversations that you are having in your mind: I’m safe, my family loves me, and everything is going to be ok. Replace your thoughts of “loss” with positive blessings that you have in your life. Notice, when your brain is calm, your body follows.
Body Influence Towards your Brain
When your mind has put you in a state of anxiety, and you cannot get out of the loop of negative self-talk, another powerful tool is to “control your body”. Close your eyes, take slow deep breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth. Do this for 5-10 minutes. This not only can help you during a high anxiety moment, but if done every day, it will positively influence your brain giving it frequent moments of calm.
Another useful tool to get you out of the anxious loop playing in your head is to distract yourself. This tool is the most beneficial for me when I have to fly. Flying is a monstrous task for me. There are many triggers that start the disabling panic. Noises, turbulence, and people who I have spotted that I’m sure are terrorists. =) These triggers start the negative self-talk in my head. It doesn’t take long for my thoughts to put me in a full-blown panic attack.
Negative self-talk in our mind is destructive. Learn to STOP generating more anxiety. The way to stop, is that once you recognize that you are thinking yourself into anxiety, go for a distraction. Music is a great go-to for me on the plane. As I place my headphones on, the other noises are covered up. The music gives me something different to think about, rather than spending my emotions worrying to keep the plane flying. Start the positive self-talk as you listen to the music.
Music, art, puzzles, Sudoku, crafts can also be excellent distractions. Distractions are necessary to change the direction of your thought process. Don’t give into the urge that you have to go back to your worrying thoughts.
It’s All About Control
Let me give you a “Golden Nugget” as it relates to anxiety. There are chemical factors in our brain that can be adjusted with medication. But, when it comes to our most anxious moments or phobias, it’s all influenced by the feeling “Not Having Control”.
Back to my fear of flying. People can’t understand why I can repel off of 200 foot cliffs, yet I’m horrified to fly. To me, the difference is so obvious. I set the anchor point and inspect the gear each time I throw myself off a cliff and repel. I trust the equipment and have total control over braking, accelerating, etc. Up in a plane, I have no control. I am at the mercy of others who are in charge of my safety. The only way that I can participate is to worry about all of the things that might go wrong, so that I can jump in to action and take control when something bad happens.
Think of your extreme anxious moments. Can you relate to it placing you in a circumstance that you have little or no control over?
Let me give you an anxiety moment that many of us can identify with, as well as a solution. “Having a Panic Attack”. If you’ve ever experienced one of these, it’s a tough moment of your life… Perhaps the most difficult experience emotionally that we can have.
The more you think about having them, the more anxious you get… and so on… and so on… and then… “Panic Attack!” We are challenged by theses because “We have no control” of when they come (or so we think), so we worry, and negative self-talk hoping that they won’t come, which eventually turns them into a phobia.
Having A Plan – Your Greatest Tool
Let’s create a plan for your phobia, or high anxiety moment, using a panic attack as the scenario. Panic attacks, feel like a heart attack, yet they will not kill you, and most importantly, when you have one…. They always eventually stop… usually with 15 to 20 minutes. So our plan is simple…. If you feel a panic attack coming…. Just… let it come! Like a seizure perhaps, it will come, and be over in a matter of minutes.
If you truly accept this plan, you will notice that over time, having a panic attack will no longer be a phobia of yours, or a disabling time for you in your day. Why?? Because you have now taken control over this problem. Rather than worrying and trying to prevent it from coming, you have a plan should it come. Having the plan, taking control, now takes the anxious uncertainty of, What if I have a panic attack?… out of your worrying process. You have now taken its power away from controlling your worrying thoughts.
Some of us have extreme anxiety over “Things”. Snakes, spiders, clowns…are just a few to mention. I had some, years ago… too embarrassing even to share with you.
Our bodies are wired to keep us safe. When we sense danger, we are alerted and prompted to stay away. Logical… right? Jumping into the ocean next to a shark feeding on a seal is not brave; it’s just a bad, dangerous idea.
To some of us, just seeing a picture of a snake… feels like you are being asked to jump into that ocean with that shark. Why such an extreme emotional response? “You are in no danger… it’s a picture”, is the response you might hear from others. But to you it’s a real, genuine, and a fearful moment which incites a strong emotional response. Let’s break it down, and work to balance the emotional reaction.
There might be a reason, or series of events that have happened to you in your life that were dramatic and associated with a “snake” (the example we’ll use). You have created a “snake file” in your mind. Over the years you’ve avoided opening the file because it makes you anxious. The only time the file is opened is when you have more “scary” information to put in that file, thus reinforcing the phobia or accelerated fear.
This file contains only emotion…It is not filled with articles or evidence that a snake can be anything positive… It’s simple…. When you open the file….You’re scared to death!
But, what if you had an experience with a snake that was positive, convincing, and something of YOUR learning that we could put in the snake file to dampen the emotion? “No Way… I’m Not Going There”. Might be your response, which is exactly why the snake file is so scary.
So, consider this: Keep the snake file closed, but simply try an experiment. Empower yourself to look at a picture of a snake online. Type in snake cartoon and look at images. You might even type in something of a distraction that you might want to know about a snake, like…. How often snakes have babies?
As you look at the picture, engage in positive self-talk… “Snakes nurture and give birth to little snakes; they are interesting, colorful, and unique”. Acknowledge that you having a positive experience that you can’t wait to place in your snake file.
When comfortable, print a picture of a snake and hold it in your hands. Your thoughts, “I’m strong. I’m in control. I’m finding courage.”
You will find that as you expose yourself to varying levels of your fears, in a safe environment, that your fears will diminish, and even leave given time. Your snake file will grow with positive facts and emotions. It can become one that you are proud of, and even willing to share with others so that they can see your growth.
I care about you all. I understand many of your challenges as I have lived with the disability of depression and extreme anxiety. But, I can also say that I have found tools that when applied can lead you to a very healthy life… and, one not to be feared.
I didn’t spend much time talking about medication for anxiety. If you find that your daily level of anxiety is far beyond finding success with the tools mentioned above, it might be time to talk to you medical provider about a medication that can balance out the challenge.
Please share your responses…. What tools work for you?
I’m sorry for the length of this posting. Too many Mt. Dew’s =)