Day 30!!

I started at the beginning of the month with a goal that felt challenging: plan and follow through with at least one exposure practice daily, for 30 days. My anxiety has kicked into high gear this Fall/Winter and I was feeling like something needed to change. That old fear of fear was traveling from one space in my life to the next looking for open real estate, and I was buying with my avoidance.

Overall, I feel like the month went really well. I scheduled daily practices and looked for opportunities to get anxious on purpose. Highways, bridges, public speaking, social situations and free floating anxiety have been my biggest areas of work. I’ve done plenty of exposure work before, but this time I’ve been feeling a bigger shift in my attitude toward anxiety.

It’s not happening all the time. But, more and more I’ve been able to think and believe, “I want this”, “I’m willing” and “I can handle this”. I’m also working hard on being patient with the passage of time. Even tonight, as I was feeling some waves of anticipatory anxiety, it finally kicked in that I might always deal with this issue. I can’t control these genes of mine, but I can control how I respond when they show up.

I also realize that I’ve got more work to do. There are still areas where I feel the strong urge to resist and fight the anxiety as it’s coming on. So, I’m setting more goals to include: more exposure work/living an “exposure lifestyle”, improving my self care (sleep, exercise, relaxation and meditation) and finding ways to celebrate each success. I’ve also been talking to my doctor about medication on a short term, as needed basis for those areas I’m still feeling stuck. I don’t love taking meds, but I’m trying to be open minded to all available resources (more on that in a later post).

So, cheers to a month of taking on anxiety! I’d love to hear how you all are doing and how your personal challenges have been going. Let’s keep our brains in training as we work toward living a big life, anxiety or not.

Day 27 – Coming down to the wire

Hi everyone! First of all, let me tell you that we finally have working radiators and a brand new furnace, just in time for some east coast snow! There’s nothing like coming in from some serious snow play, laying mittens and hats on the radiators, and finding them warm and dry in no time! Thanks for the messages and well wishes!

Day 27 – I’m in a place where, like most people, the emotional content of any given day is a mixed bag. I don’t feel anxious all day, every day, but I’m experiencing more consistent anxiety than I was hoping for as I near the end of my 30 day challenge. Which, of course, sends my head into a tail spin of, “Will I feel this way forever? Am I missing something?”

I couldn’t sleep last night and found myself feeling on the verge of panic. You know that free floating anxiety that sneaks up on you as the day comes to an end? To be fair, I did have a lot on my mind: my husband is winter camping with the boys, somewhere in the wilderness (talk about crazy); I’m getting ready to teach a new class; and I’m willingly taking on anxiety daily.

I find it fascinating, though, that a person who is conditioned to feel anxiety/panic can go from an automatic thought to physical panic symptoms before their brain even registers what happened. It’s no wonder, then, that we find ourselves monitoring every little symptom, guarding against every thought.

I was reading an oldy but a goody Claire Weeks book the other day. She talks about the common mistake people make when they “accept 99% of symptoms and experiences but withdraw from the final 1 percent”. (p.69) And, I was thinking, ‘Claire, baby . . .I’m trying here! Can’t 1% of me have the luxury of withdrawing now and again?’ And, the answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. She adds, “The next time you set off to practice acceptance. . . watch for the moment of recoil and go toward it in a loose, floating kind of way. That is the key.” (p. 70)

So, in the midst of late night anxiety, as I was going down too many rabbit holes and trying to argue it away, I remembered to pull out my mental bag of tricks, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m not falling for this again. I want this anxiety, too.” Loosening up as I talked myself into wanting this, I drifted off to sleep, waking up an hour later to more sensation. Again, I took a moment to relax into it, look out the window at the snow, and wait for the sensations to subside. After a few rounds, I eventually fell asleep.

As I write, I feel sleep calling to me, so I’ll wrap it up here. I’d love to hear how your challenges are going and what you’re trying to accept and go toward in your final 1 percent.

Day 19 – Furnaces, Bridges and Haircuts – Oh My!

Here we are on Day 19! So far, this week has been a good mix of a couple great practices (meaning I felt super anxious and welcomed it) and lots of stress management over buying a new furnace – ouch! Over the weekend, I got a chance to drive over the Enon bridge. Even on the way there, I said once or twice, “You know, I might choose to just be a passenger. OK? It’s alright if I choose that.” And then, as we approached it I thought, “OK, I can do this. I want this,” and it wasn’t so bad. Such was the case with other practices, like getting my hair cut and highlighted. Even as I moved forward, ready to show up, I had worries about getting panicky and feeling embarrassed. I’m really working on dropping the critics voice that says I should be ashamed of having anxiety in everyday situations. I’ve been fighting that internal battle for too long and getting nowhere. It turned out that I handled the few big waves of adrenaline, accepted that my face was red and thoroughly enjoyed the pampering afternoon!

Day Thirteen – Today’s challenges

Todays challenges:

*Take my girls skating about 30 minutes from our home.
*Drive over the very evil Enon bridge
*Drive to my Mom’s house and cross another two (big, but not so evil) bridges
*Continue to work on wanting that free floating anxiety/agitation that seems to stay with me some days and not resist it so much.
*Stop obsessing about whether 150 feet above the water will feel too high and work with the feelings it brings up. 🙂

Day Ten – Interesting Interview

After seeing David Barlow on This Emotional Life, I googled some of his articles and found this interview. It’s really interesting — for example, did you know that 10% of the population has non-clinical panic? These are people who experience the same physiological symptoms of a panic attack, but don’t label it as such. An aspect that makes panic disorder a disorder is fearing more attacks and avoiding situations where panic may present. People with non-clinical panic might have the symptoms and chock up the feelings to a stressful day or something they ate. I find this fascinating! He also speaks to why some people develop an anxiety disorder and others don’t, even with a biological predisposition. Read it if you get the chance and tell me what you think!

Day Eight – Pushing Forward

A quick update on Day Eight:

I went driving over the bridge this morning and further down the highway than I’ve been in over a year. I did a test drive with a fellow superhero last night and felt crazy nervous. This morning, though, I think that attitude of willing to feel anxious helped a great deal. I was also really inspired by my friend who got on the highway last night after not doing so for 10 years. If you were on the road you might have seen our superhero capes flying!

Tonight, I had been invited to attend a financial book group and I only knew one of the women. Standing at the sink washing dishes, I thought about not going because I was tired, it was late and, really, hadn’t I already done my anxiety work today? That’s the thing about putting your goals out in the open, I felt like if I was going to do this challenge, I really had to go for it. So, off into the cold night I went and had a really nice time.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m starting to feel a little more like myself and the din of anxiety radio is beginning to weaken.

Day Four – Brain in Training

I remember sitting in the weekend workshop last fall and hearing Dr. Wilson say, “Getting rid of resistance is one of your biggest goals.” Even though we know intellectually that nothing dangerous will happen when anxiety and panic arise – we do know that, don’t we? – it’s so easy to get caught up in the what if’s and feel like, “I can’t do exposure today. I feel too anxious. That means something bad will happen. Maybe I should wait for another day”.

In This Emotional Life, David Barlow, Ph.D. said something I loved about our thoughts and catastrophic predictions. He said, “Don’t believe everything you think!” Even if they’re not true, we tend to believe these thoughts because we’re the ones thinking them.

Sitting at the computer on day four, I’ve completed 4 driving practices so far, 1 social practice and relaxation every day. Here’s a quick update!

Day two – I woke up feeling anxious, kind of raw and tired. You know those mornings when you just don’t feel like going out there and doing the work. I’m having lots of those as I work through this resistance. Pushing myself, I drove the bridge loop again and made it longer, adding another exit with a smaller bridge that used to be my nemesis!

Feeling really anxious before even starting, I found myself both asking the symptoms to increase and hoping them away at the same time. The first loop was pretty good, but here’s something interesting. Because I was feeling so raw, I thought during the second loop, “it’s ok if I turn on some music to keep my mind a little distracted. I just need it today. It’s no big deal.”

Well, that small act of adding a safety behavior sent a message to my brain that this was more dangerous than previously anticipated. I got to the mid-way point, turned around at the exit and boom, big waves of anxiety were pulsing through my body. My automatic thoughts were, “Uh oh. I’m in trouble here. I’m feeling really bad, I’ve got my child in the car & I’m going to have to call someone to pick us up on the side of the road.”

Then, I remembered the truth. In 14 years of dealing with anxiety, nothing bad has ever happened and fighting only makes it worse. Knowing it was the only way to go, I said again out loud, “Hit me. Come on anxiety – come and get me. I’m not even fighting back. I want to feel adrenaline coursing through my body by the time we hit the bridge.” I dropped my shoulders again and even put my right hand out, as if to say, “I give”. What else was I going to do?

Making my way across the bridge, looking over the water and city skyline, I continued to feel strong physical sensations, like I was buzzing with adrenaline. However, when I dropped my guard, I was able to step back and notice that even though it was uncomfortable, the symptoms weren’t getting worse, I was driving very well and everything was alright. I felt like this was good practice, what I need to be doing every day.

At this point, I really should have done a third loop to cement the learning. And, this sounds like an excuse, but my 2 year old was getting a little tired of looking for trucks and birds as we went “Sunday driving”. This is one of the challenges of finding ways to fit this work into our daily lives.

I tell you what . . . this feels like I’m training for a marathon some days. We are biologically wired to protect ourselves from these feelings, even if they are irrational. Dropping the resistance and choosing to feel it all is exhausting work. When I did my first triathlon, I competed while wearing my “Team in Training” singlet. I think those of us out there doing exposure work should be wearing a team shirt that says, “Brain in Training”!

If you’re joining me for 30 days of exposure, here’s a great read (very short) about how to know if you’re succeeding. I know that I’m not doing all these things regularly, but it’s a good reminder of where to set our compass.

Day One – Getting Started

Today’s practice was a 10 mile loop over the downtown bridge and back, which I did three times in a row. The practice was pretty typical: I felt most anxious the first time and was almost bored with it by the third. What helped the most were the paradoxical techniques of asking anxiety symptoms to increase, purposefully repeating anxiety provoking phrases, and dropping my guard. Knowing intellectually that nothing bad ever happens, I physically dropped the tension in my shoulders and said outloud, “Hit me. Come on. Give you your best shot. I can handle it.”

I felt hopeful as I finished up that practice, the sun was shining and I thought of all the opportunities in life when anxiety does not rule decision making. I love that dreamy space where everything is a possibility. I even dreamed of the article I’d write after these 30 days are over when I’m feeling so much better.

As evening finds me anxious and tense again, obsessing on how I’m always going to feel this way, I’m trying to remind myself that this is what I expected. There would be no challenge if it was easy from the beginning. Long term conditioning will take a while to reverse. It’s normal to be worrying that tomorrow and the days to follow won’t be as smooth; that I won’t be able to take on harder challenges. But, that’s ok. I expected that and can handle whatever arises.

Looking forward to stirring up more trouble for myself tomorrow.

I’ll be checking in a couple times per week — see you soon!

30 Day Exposure Challenge Coming Soon!

So, we all know that the best way to knock down the anxiety bully is through exposure to the things you most fear. In January, I’ll be starting a 30 day Exposure Challenge & I hope you’ll join me for the ride. What will this look like? How do you fit exposure into a busy lifestyle? We’ll be talking about that & more in the weeks to come.

While my husband, thankfully, does not deal with anxiety, he’s joining me with a challenge of his own. His challenge – 30 days of exercise! So, consider getting your spouse, partner or a friend to challenge themselves in whatever areas of their lives need attention; bring the idea to your therapist; & jump in whenever you’re ready.

If you’re interested in ways to structure your exposure practice, I highly recommend these three books:

Facing Panic – Self Help for People with Panic Attacks

Don’t Panic (revised edition)

Panic Attacks Workbook – a Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick

If you open the link to Facing Panic, you’ll notice 7 charts below that are available to open & print out. These are great tools to accompany your practice. Check it out!

Happy Holidays!