One of my AG’s (Anxiety Girls) texted the other day and asked how things were going. I told her that my family was planning a vacation and we just booked flights! A connecting flight on the way out and one non-stop on the way home. My text read:
“Terrified but saying yes and will figure it out.”
And that’s how it often goes with anxiety. We can let fear rule all our decision making or we can say yes – knowing things always work out – and figure out coping mechanisms along the way.
Every time I prepare to fly I feel sick to my stomach in anticipation. I imagine fantastic excuses for why I won’t be able to go at the last minute:
“Oh man, we all have lice!”
“Too bad, it’s the stomach flu!”
But, I get on that plane anyways – legs shaking, heart racing – and let the adventure begin.
If anxiety is a normal human reaction to (real or perceived) danger that helps keep us alert and alive, what makes it turn the corner into a problem – something that gets in the way of our day to day lives? What does anxiety look and feel like and how can we best treat it when it comes knocking.
Check out this interview with Dr. Reid Wilson as he talks about anxiety, resisting and how learning about the laws of physics can help us find freedom. And, if you haven’t seen his blog posts on the Psychology Today site, here’s the link.
Love this one from Lynn Lyons where she discusses her own challenges with anxiety and how sharing her story helped a client open up and make huge strides in his life.
Learning to Master Panic is a great article by Dr. Janet Klosko of the Cognitive Therapy Center of Long Island. In it, she does a fantastic job of describing the experience & symptoms of panic, why people resist and avoid and ways to systematically go toward the fear with their sights set on freedom.
If you’re an anxiety geek and enjoy learning about the latest research and best practices, this video is for you. In just under 90 minutes, Dr. Michelle Craske discusses state of the art strategies in exposure work and how best to consolidate learning for lasting change.
Here are a few weekend reads as we roll into the first weekend of July! Enjoy!
*How are people coping with anxiety in 2017? Meds? Therapy? Distraction? Yes, yes and yes. And, more and more research is revealing that the best way of working with anxiety when it pops up is to acknowledge it and let it be! — accept it and keep on doing what you were doing, shaky legs and all. The more you accept scary thoughts and sensations and don’t react like something terrible is about to happen, the quicker your brain learns that – “Hey, this anxiety response is uncomfortable, but I can handle it”. If you’ve tried exposure therapy before, you know that this approach is simple, but certainly not easy. Check out this article in the New York Magazine which focuses on accepting social anxiety – and this one which says that sometimes embarrassing yourself in public can be good medicine.
*A few weeks ago I posted stories about three superstars who travel the world AND have anxiety disorders. I find them to be quite inspirational and found another one to share with you. Meet Hilary White whose travel anxiety doesn’t hold her back from globetrotting, even when she found herself panicked in the ER right before a big trip to Europe. She says:
“my anxiety reached heights I never knew existed . . . I was convinced that I simply couldn’t do it . . . I couldn’t get on that plane, I couldn’t be far away from my comfort zone, I couldn’t. Except, I could. And I did.”
*Wrapping up, this is an excellent post from Scientific American on embracing our discomfort, the cultural phenomenon of trying to avoid emotional pain at all costs and a variety of resources and tools you can begin putting to use today.
Enjoy the weekend & Happy 4th to those living in the States!
So, I have this comic strip image in my head where a woman is inside her house on a beautiful day. The sun is shining through the open windows. As she gazes out, she sees anxiety (personified as a little chimpanzee) lurking outside by the back fence, playing and swinging in the trees. At the sight of him, she’s gripped by fear and begins locking the windows, beads of sweat forming on her brow. Compulsively, she peers out from behind the closed curtains. For a moment, he disappears and all is good again until the chimp (anxiety) opens the front door and playfully taps her on the shoulder. “I’m back!” he seems to say with a smile.
The woman, already hyper vigilant and on guard for any sight of the beast, tackles the chimp to the ground, puts it in a head lock and kicks it back outside. She throws all the locks, as she trembles and shakes, and puts a chair beneath the doorknob to keep it from coming back in.
The more she tries to protect herself, the more frightened she gets. The more she scares herself, the bigger the chimp becomes until it’s as big as King Kong sitting on her house – its eye filling up an entire window as it peers inside.
Finally, after trying everything she can think of to force him to leave (distraction – “Hey, is that a banana tree over there”?, pleading, calling a safe person to rescue her, turning the music up loud, googling expert advice, getting down on her knees to pray), she gives up and opens up the door.
“Come on in”, she gestures with exhaustion.
As soon as the door opens, King Kong shrinks back down to the size of a baby chimp, and jumps onto her lap. The woman strokes his soft fur and smiles. “I’m not afraid of you. In fact, you can stay as long as you like.”
Disappointed and bored now that the game is over, the chimp slips out the back door, swings over the fence and moves to play in the trees next door.
*How are you greeting the chimps playing just outside your window? What are you fighting and resisting that’s growing bigger and stronger as a result? Where can you give up the fight?
*Anyone who is an illustrator and wants to draw this, I’d love to see it!
*Dr. Martin Seligman, often referred to as the father of positive psychology, shows us four “well being workouts” to increase both daily & overall happiness in our lives.
*Having three kids who just finished up SOL’s and final exams, we’ve talked a lot about self care and how to handle the pressures of school. Often these conversations are initiated by adults, but check out how a small group of teens is setting out to decrease stress, depression and anxiety among their peers at Lexington High School in Massachusetts.
(And if painting rocks is becoming big in your neighborhood, check out this article with tips and info!)
*Finally, here are few articles on coping with anxiety that I’ve been drawn to lately. The author is Dr. Eric Goodman who is an anxiety and exposure therapist in sunny California.
“A Day in the Life of an Exposure Therapist” is a great read! Driving up and down the coast with a phobic driver, having someone with OCD hold a knife to your throat (to prove that the thoughts are pure anxiety) and taking a field trip downtown with a germaphobe to touch trashcans – it’s all in a days work!
A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law & I went to a talk on happiness by Catherine Sanderson. She was an informative, engaging and fun speaker. And one of the things she talked about that can detract from our happiness is comparing ourselves with others on social media like Facebook – or what she called “Fakebook”.
Rachel, my SIL, had recently taken a break by deactivating her account and I’d been meaning to try for a long time. It’s not that Facebook is all bad. I love keeping up with friends and family who I don’t see regularly. Sometimes it’s a great source for news and articles I may not have seen. And, I think it can be a powerful way to spread ideas and advocacy.
However, after that talk I intentionally checked in with my feelings when I was scrolling through FB. What I found was that it regularly made me unhappy and that I used it when I was bored, procrastinating or numbing out.
And, for the most part, my connections online didn’t feel like they translated to seeing people in real time. So why not just connect with people I love in person, through a letter or on the phone?
In real time, I want to know what is good and joyful in your life. But I also want to know what you are carrying inside that feels heavy. And I want to share those things with you about my life, too.
We don’t do that with everyone, but when we choose to share well rounded, real stories from our lives, it helps us connect and have intimacy. And, as Catherine Sanderson reminded us during her talk, it’s in the hard work of building and maintaining relationships with real people that we find the greatest happiness.
If or when I go back to Facebook, I’m going to do it with more intention and less frequency. I can ask myself – Why am I going online right now? Is this making me feel connected and engaged? Or am I feeling unhappy and numb?
What do you think about Facebook and how do you use it in your life? Have you taken a break before and how did that go?
Here’s Catherine Sanderson’s talk on “The Science of Happiness” and be sure to see her speak if she comes to your town!
So, my sweet 97 year old Grandma just passed away on Sunday and I’ll be boarding a plane tomorrow to fly to her funeral service. She was a strong and gentle soul who gave the best hugs and loved us all unconditionally. Flying kinda terrifies me. But I loved my Grandma & it’s important that I show up to support my Dad and family so I’m doing it anyways.
If you’re someone who experiences anxiety/panic, especially around flying, you know that I’ve been a hot mess of anticipatory anxiety this week. Upset stomach, waves of adrenaline, moments of sheer terror as I imagine being up 35,000 feet in the air.
What’s frustrating is that, just like any anxiety producing situation, it will all be fine no matter what. “Good gracious”, I tell my brain – “All this fuss and distress over a 2 hour plane ride is ridiculous!”
What terrible thing has happened in the past? Sure, I’ve felt waves of panic while on a plane before. The feelings and thoughts are scary when you can’t leave the situation, but they pass. And, really, what are you going to do? To the best of my ability, I ride the waves of adrenaline – I work on allowing the feelings as much as possible – and sometimes I even get bold & ask for more (paradox). After that, I return to what I was doing before. Sometimes I have to do this over and over until the sensations go away, but they always do. Promise. And honestly, on every flight I have a moment where I love looking out the window, admiring the beautiful clouds.
I’ve also felt super anxious before a flight only to feel fairly calm during the whole ride. But in both cases, I’ve lived to tell the tale and the worst thing that happened was I felt scared. I have never gone all Ricky Bobby on a plane or impersonated Kristen Wig in Bridesmaids.
So what am I doing to prepare & cope? I’m not a big meds person, but I always take a little xanax when I fly. My doctor prescribes me just enough to get me there & back. It’s not perfect, but does help relax my body. Maybe someday I’ll choose to fly without meds, but for now I’m totally ok with it.
I’m also watching flight videos to try and quickly desensitize and have skimmed Capt. Tom Bunn’s book about flying without fear. In between I may have sent out a few prayers to God that I wake up with an on/off switch for my amygdala. I just think that was an error in our design.
Maybe the biggest thing I’m doing to cope, however, is committing to showing up tomorrow. When my sweet brother (who loves to fly) picks me up to go to the airport I will get in the car. He’ll drive & I’ll be shaky for a few hours as we head to DC. But along the way we’ll sing, play the license plate game and together we’ll board that damn airplane.
Here’s what I’m carrying on board for some healthy distraction tomorrow. And following are some videos I’ve watched this week to get ready.
My carry on bag of goodies:
*Journal and pen -inside the journal I’ll write myself some reminder notes about how to handle anxiety when it shows up
*Grown up coloring book and pretty pencils
*Laptop with a few movies downloaded, plus Harry Potter on Audible.
*Magazines with pretty pictures
*Knitting – I may knit something mindless or start another one of these cute hats.
*Choose a stranger on the plane and write a quick story about who you think they might be. You know, like mini-bio or where they’re headed after the plane lands. When I flew with my buddy Allison this past summer we alternated paragraphs, which makes it even more fun.
*Any game that involves the alphabet – an ABC list of names you would never name your baby, a list of places where you’d like to travel, a list of your favorite book characters.
*Who farted? Yeah, this is getting pretty mature. But laughter is the opposite of fear and this is a funny game. Can you tell who may have just farted on the plane?
A few resources I’ve used this week to prepare:
*These videos are great for info & desensitization.
This video is amazing – a Dad who works for Southwest created this video for his son who is on the autism spectrum:
Children of the 70’s who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood know that he famously encouraged us to look for the helpers in times of crisis and suffering. Spotting the helpers meant we were not alone – that we could trust in a basic sense of goodness in humanity.
Now, you and I both know that he was talking about real life crises – natural disasters, poverty, war. But one day his words hit home for me as I was taking a little drive.
Let me tell you a story.
A few years back I was doing exposure work on this one particular bridge/highway combo. It was just one of those spots that seemed to remain difficult for me no matter how many times I drove it. Because it was a challenge, it became my “go to” route for exposure whenever I would feel my overall anxiety popping up.
Three times a week, for about a month, I drove this loop over and over again, 45 minutes at a time. Students of anxiety will tell you that exposure practice needs frequency, intensity and duration to be effective.
One day while I was driving, I started to get that scrambly, panicky feeling as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was having a hard time remembering that in all my experience driving while anxious, I’ve never had to pull over because it was too intense. Not once. I worked on simply saying,”Yes! I want this discomfort!” but the part of me that wanted to escape quickly was gaining strength.
Just at that moment, I noticed there was a crew of workmen on the side of the road and a sizable pull off just before the bridge began. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? If I really needed help I could simply pull over and ask those guys!
It was like the heavens opened up and the universe provided me with my own highway support crew! I laughed out loud and decided to view their presence as a little gift. Each time I passed by the pull off and gathered strength to cross the bridge, I said, “Hey Fellas! Thanks for being there for me!”
A little while later, I passed by a police officer hiding amongst the trees, looking to catch people speeding. Instead of rationally checking my speedometer to make sure I was within the limit, I smiled again. “Wow, there are helpers everywhere today!” I later texted the story to my husband who noted that most people get anxious when they see a cop on the side of the road. I responded with, “Well, you know, one persons speed trap is another persons ride home!”
It’s kind of amazing how significantly my levels of adrenaline dropped as I utilized the combination of humor, paradox (seeking out anxiety on purpose), gratitude and was distracted by my imagined “out” – the ability to pull over with support. Was the imagined “out” a crutch? Absolutely. But, it also gave me the boost to keep going while saying yes to the anxiety for another few rounds that day.
This isn’t news, but it’s amazing how our beliefs and imagination have the power to either turn on or turn off physical sensations. It works both ways – our beliefs and our imagination can either send us reeling with panic & anxiety or strengthen us with the knowledge we can handle whatever comes up.
Sometimes you just have to find a way to keep going, to stay and linger with your fears and sensations a little bit longer. The best way is to experiment with acceptance and even asking for more. But in aiming for perfection we sometimes wait and wait and never get out the door.
So, today, do whatever it takes to make your world a little bigger. It turns out there are helpers everywhere. We are rarely alone in our pursuits and challenges. But the most important help we will find is right there waiting, inside of ourselves.