Finding your people – a guide to starting a DIY anxiety support group

Recently, I posted a page called “Finding Help” which talks about the steps to finding a great therapist. But, maybe you’re more of a self help kind of person and just want a community of people who you can talk to openly about life, including anxiety. Pull up a chair and let’s talk!


A few years ago, I invited some fellow Anxiety Girls to work through Reid Wilson’s book “Don’t Panic” and set exposure goals for ourselves. There’s just something about being accountable to someone else that helps with goal setting in any arena. It’s also comforting to talk with people who really get it.  My sister-in-law & I joke that it’s nice to have people with whom you can let your crazy out. Because whether or not you can see it – we all have a little crazy.

We met for coffee every other week, at first, to discuss the book and our goals.  As we got more comfortable and grew in our relationships, we hit the roads to do some exposure work together – highways, bridges, traveling distances were all part of our repertoire.

The group joined me as I drove highway routes and bridges that bothered me.  Another time, we literally drove back and forth across the same bridge for 45 minutes, coaching and cheering on another Anxiety Girl as she faced her fears.

Life has gotten busy, though, and there are times where we don’t meet for months. That’s just the way it goes.  But, it never seems to fail that one of us sends a a catch up email or text.

This past winter, we sat down in the hopefulness of a new year and imagined doing something big like an Anxiety Girl road trip. Laughing, we envisioned a reality show based on our superheroes. Anxiety girls take off cross country in an RV, armed only with a GoPro camera, travel journals and lots of snacks. By the time we got to the west coast, surely we would be anxiety free!

One of us said, “Yes! That sounds amazing – AND – what steps can we take right now to work toward something bigger?  What if we started with a smaller road trip? You know, just for the day? Getting out of town would target highway driving & traveling distances, while we got to spend time together. And maybe we could go for a hike & grab brunch.” A month later, two of us took that trip! We both had moments of high anxiety and had a fabulous time!

In the future, we’re hoping to plan an adventure by plane or train.  Or maybe we’ll take that cross country trip. Who knows? You may find us riding roller coasters & sky diving this time next year. 🙂


So, getting back to you . . .

Are you finding yourself facing anxiety alone and wanting community? Maybe it’s time to gather a few friends and start your own DIY anxiety support group.

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t my first attempt. I gathered some folks together many years ago to work through a workbook. It was great at first, but not everyone worked at the same rate. Some folks wanted to talk but not do the workbook.  Others were uncomfortable hearing about other people’s fears.  Life got busy, then it just fizzled. I really hungered for community, though, so I tried again a few years later and it took.

Here are some tips for getting started:

*If a DIY support group is in your future, start by talking to a few people who are interested in getting together to talk about anxiety.

*If you don’t think you know anyone with anxiety (really?), start by trying to open up the topic (when appropriate), step back and listen. Oftentimes you’ll find an “in” and people are relieved to know they’re not alone.

*Invite people to get together wherever suits – go for a hike, head to a coffee shop, meet out for a drink.

*Share what feels comfortable. Listen. See what people are looking for in a support group. Do your expectations match up?

*Maybe this becomes an anxiety book group. If so, check out the list of books in the sidebar, titled “Bookshelf” for inspiration or find a book that works for your group.

*Maybe this is a goal setting group with regular check ins for accountability.

*Maybe folks just want to get together socially and talk with others who get it.

*And maybe you want to go crazy, get out in the world and do some exposure work together.

Whatever you do, go find your people!  It may take time. It may not take at first. It might be just 2 or 3 of you. That’s ok.  Make the time to get together and support each other. A bigger life is out there waiting for you!

Want to read more about DIY anxiety support groups? Check out this great article by Jessica Spires about how she started an informal support group in a pub. If you’re someone who wants something more formal, check out this thorough guideline on creating peer support groups.

Healthy Habits

In the rush of September, I’ve been thinking more about what makes me feel my best and what kind of daily habits I consistently follow.  In my head, I’m a person who meditates, exercises, prioritizes relationships and creates time for myself, but in actuality, I tend to go to bed way too late, skip meditating because I missed my “window of opportunity” and get my work done at home in front a computer screen instead of getting out and being with people.

A few days ago, though, I stole away for 15 minutes and meditated between getting my older two kids out the door. After walking the youngest to school, I got a text from a friend asking if I could go for a walk. A chance for exercise and social contact – yes! We walked for over an hour, caught up and discussed an upcoming project. I came back home feeling so much more energized with a happy outlook on life.

It’s not rocket science, right? But somehow it becomes difficult to make time for self care – even when we know that taking care of ourselves makes us happier people, easier to live with and more productive to boot. Seems like lots of folks have been thinking about how healthy habits like meditation, movement and sleep can affect overall health and outlook.

Here are a few reads to check out this week:

*I popped onto a blog I like called Hey Sigmund the other day and followed a link to this article on how exercise and mindfulness meditation can significantly drop rates of depression. The study referenced looked at how a consistent course of exercise and meditation effected people with and without symptoms of depression. Check out the link to see what they discovered & then also look at this article on exercise and anti-depressants.

*Taking exercise farther, Outside magazine online talks about finding ways to add movement throughout your work day. It’s not that getting an hour run in the morning doesn’t cut it, it’s just that slow, constant motion throughout the day, in a variety of positions, can greatly increase our overall health and wellbeing.

*Katy Bowman, who is interviewed in the above article, show us here how she lives a movement based lifestyle. Yes, a little hippy for sure, but I really enjoy her fresh perspective.

*The Chopra Center discusses the benefits of exercise, meditation and healthy eating for anxiety reduction.

*And two articles on sleep and anxiety plus this one from one of my favorite doctors!

*Need help finding ways to make your habits stick? Gretchen Rubin has a few free downloads to help us on our way.

How about you? What makes you feel your best and what’s stopping you from making those healthy habits a part of your daily life?

Own your story


Superheroes in Disguise

Back at headquarters, there was an impromptu meeting of the Anxiety Girls! The situation – processing  recent run-ins with the notorious villain Anxiety, also known as “Eunice the Evil”.

Eunice had been lurking around our Anxiety Girls, mostly hiding in the shadows, until recently when she attacked unexpectedly – Kapow! – leaving our superheroes to wonder – how did she penetrate their industrial grade, anxiety proof armor?

Our superheroes processed events, jotted down ideas and came up with a plan. Here are some notes from the meeting:

  1. Eunice may feel big and scary, but her moves are always the same. Catastrophizing thoughts + physical sensations + backing away = anxiety and panic. Once you’ve experienced a panic attack, you’ve really experienced the worst she can bring. Yes, it’s absolutely uncomfortable, but nothing new here.
  1. The villain Eunice can only survive if we fight back/resist – Whap! Biff! Ooof! – or run away from her/avoid. The harder we push back and the faster we run, the stronger she gets.
  1. To decrease her power, we have to find ways to seek her out – like every day. This is not our favorite piece of wisdom, but it’s true. Face her every day in both big and small ways. Go out for lunch with a new friend, drive a route that’s been bothering you, say yes to that trip where you’ll have to fly, volunteer to present at the company meeting.
  1. Sometimes Eunice hangs around for a while, just out of habit – even if we aren’t resisting and avoiding anymore. That’s ok. Just keep doing life, choosing what’s important to you and she’ll eventually get bored and lurk elsewhere.
  1. When Eunice shows up and we invite her to stick around – “Want to sit in the passenger seat and go for a drive, Eunice? It’s fine that you stay” – she can transform from the villain “Eunice the Evil” to just plain ol’ Eunice.
  1. And when it’s just plain ol’ Eunice, and we’re not resisting, we hear her warnings differently. “Oh, Eunice wants to make sure I’m safe.” We can then take her by the hand, look her in the eyes and say, “Thanks for your concern and vigilance, Eunice, but I’ve got this. Even when I’m terribly anxious, I’ve got this.”

Our superheroes left the meeting with notes in hand, hopped into the Anxiety Girl Mobile, offered Eunice a ride and sped off to their next adventure.

Stay tuned for more adventures of Anxiety Girl!

Another great training video for anxious kids and their parents

Lynn Lyons has another fabulous training video for anxious kids and their parents on YouTube. It’s also a must see for teachers. No kids you say? Guess what – these skills are also great for anxious adults. I hope you can carve out some time to make a cup of tea and watch Lynn as she educates us about building emotionally healthy human beings. Thanks Lynn!





Finding Help

Finding help can be tricky business, but so is staying stuck. First of all, we people with anxiety are not usually all that vocal about what we’re going through. Finding help has to begin by reaching out and telling someone what’s going on. Yes, you can just hang out on the internet searching symptom checkers and reading blogs, but your best bet on feeling better includes interacting with a live person in real time.

Are you ready?

  1. The best way to start is by making an appointment with your primary physician. It’s important to rule out any physical conditions that could be causing anxiety and panic.
  2. Before the appointment, jot down some notes about symptoms you’ve been experiencing, both physical and emotional, and for how long. It’s easy to forget what we want to discuss when someone in a white coat enters the room.
  3. We all hope that our anxiety is just something physical like a thyroid condition that can be cured with medication. For some people this is the case. But for the vast majority, we will be given a clean bill of health and the green light to go forth and find a therapist.
  4. Finding the right therapist is hard work and takes time but it is worth the effort.
  5. You can look at sites like the ADAA and ABCT but I’ve found them to only generate a few names and never the names of people I know to be amazing clinicians. Still it can be a good place to begin.
  6. Asking family and friends for therapist referrals is a good next step. You’d be surprised at how many people have seen or are seeing a therapist or they’ve heard friends rave about someone who is excellent.
  7. Once you have a few names and numbers, it’s time to be brave and make some phone calls. Think of it as shopping around for a therapist. Ask lots of questions. What is their professional background? Area of expertise? Thoughts on medication? Theory base?  How long do people typically come to see them? Do they assign homework between sessions to keep up the work and momentum? What’s your gut feeling after talking to them? For anxiety, you want your therapist to have experience with and a thorough understanding of cognitive behavioral therapy, the gold standard for anxiety. I would also ask about experience helping clients with exposure therapy. Lots of therapists say they treat anxiety, but make sure it’s their area of expertise.
  8. Schedule an appointment and show up. Expect to feel nervous and show up anyways, just like exposure work.  Give the therapist a few sessions and see how you all connect. If it’s not a good fit, move on and keep trying until you find the right person.
  9. Once you’ve found a great therapist, remember you have to do the work to create actual change.
  10. For further reading, check out a few links:  Wall Street Journal, Anxiety Coach, Huff Post, Oprah.

*More of a self help/support group kinda person? Read this.

Keep going

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O’Keefe

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt


Anxiety Superhero: Erin Craig

Today I’d like to highlight Anxiety Superhero Erin Craig. Check out this BBC video of Erin taking on Scuba Diving certification! I love how she talks about not letting her panic disorder get in the way of trying something challenging and way out of her comfort zone. But also be sure to read the post which describes her experiences with travel and anxiety and how she found herself in Thailand in a scuba suit in the first place. Go Erin!

Image from






A Few Resources for Anxious Parents and their Kids

Recently I’ve had a number of friends ask about resources for their anxious children.  Most of these friends deal with anxiety themselves & are either beginning to see signs of anxiety in their kids or are worried they’ll somehow pass down their “crazy genes”.

I’m a big fan of Lynn Lyons who co-authored Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents with Reid Wilson. Check out the website with links to the book  and Casey’s Guide (a companion book for kids & teens – find the free download here and “real” book for sale here). Each chapter has info you can use right now with your family.

And this is the video I’ve been sharing with everyone. I listened to it a few weeks ago while making dinner and it’s excellent.   Lynn has years of experience working with anxious kids and their parents, and I love that she’s a straight shooter and delivers information with humor.

Wanting more? If you haven’t already, check out this article, plus this one and the exciting research about using CBT to prevent anxiety disorders in children before they can pop up. Anxious parenting behavior, it turns out, is more indicative of an anxious child than genetics. That’s not to say genetics and an anxious pre-disposition aren’t at play, but it’s nice to know there is much we can do to help educate and build skills within the whole family.

The video is just under 90 minutes. Why not make it a movie night, along with some stove popped popcorn and limeade spritzers? (Jenn’s recipe: Fill glass with ice. Pour 3/4 glass with seltzer water & 1/4 limeade – pop in a straw & enjoy!)

Enjoy & let me know what you think!