“I will not run from me”

Ok, so the screen grab is kinda crazy, but this video is so powerful! Watch as Steven Hayes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy psychologist and researcher, tells the story of his journey into and through panic disorder.

 

 

Mind Traps

“When you go beyond seeing words as words, you’re buying into the illusion your mind creates. The thoughts shift from being thoughts to being something dangerously serious. And when that happens, you’ll often find yourself trapped in old behavior patterns that are neither helpful nor in your best interest. We call this a mind trap.” (pg. 70)

Come again? The idea of a mind trap is actually pretty simple and people (with or without anxiety) do it all the time. Mind traps occur when we make up stories in our heads and respond as if those thoughts are true. If we’ve imagined something scary, our bodies begin making lots of adrenaline and our physical symptoms kick in, followed by more scary thoughts. Of course, this is a great recipe for a panic attack and, over time, it simply becomes habit.

I remember a few years back, my husband took our older girls to a festival. When I couldn’t reach him by phone, I started to imagine that one of the kids got lost and he wasn’t answering until he found her. I imagined her lost in the crowd and crying for us – it was horrible. Even though I knew this scenario was highly unlikely, I found myself believing my imagination and feeling more and more anxious until I was able to reach my husband. The reality was that they were having so much fun that he didn’t hear the phone and everyone came home happy.

I so identified with Brene Brown‘s video when she asked the audience “what happens next?” My brain runs disastrous headlines on a daily basis. Sometimes I shrug them off and other times I get a little wave of adrenaline. What if it’s a sign?

Leaving the pool with my three year old while hubby and the girls stay behind.

“Little did they know that would be the last time anyone saw them alive”.

The phone rings before 8am in the morning.

“And that’s when she first heard that (insert name) had passed away during the night”.

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, we do have a choice in how we respond to thoughts like:

What if?

It would be terrible if . . .

I’m going to have a panic attack and then . . .(this terrible thing will happen). . .

“One of the most courageous things you can do when your WAF’s (worries, anxieties and fears) show up is to sit still with them and not do as they say.” (pg. 76)

This week, I invite you to just notice when your mind starts to set a trap for you. See if you can simply watch the thought without having to respond to it. There’s an exercise on page 76 in our summer book called “Mind Watching” – it’s a good one. And, if you’re not reading the book, try sitting with some basic meditation every day for as long as you like. I’m going to aim for 5 – 10 minutes a day and see how it goes!

“Intense anxiety is not in itself a problem”

I know, did we read that right on page 60? Isn’t that what we struggle and fight not to feel, worrying that we’ll be washed away in all that misplaced intensity?

Let’s look at that again: “Intense anxiety is not in itself a problem. Many people experience intense anxiety, even panic attacks, in their daily lives and continue to do what’s important to them.” ” Intensely felt emotions need not be a barrier . . . they can be welcomed in as a vital part of you.” (p. 60)

We know from research that when people accept or even invite their anxiety, it often dissipates. But this takes that notion one step further. Is it possible to welcome anxiety as a vital part of ourselves? Is there value to our anxiety that we’re overlooking? Anxiety, energy and excitement are so closely related. Some even say that anxiety might be linked with their energy source and, used with intention, can be useful.

The other morning I woke up feeling tense and anxious. I started thinking “what if I used my adrenaline to my advantage – you know, jump into my high energy tasks and/or exercise when my engine is already revved up?” I remembered watching PBS’s “This Emotional Life” a few months back. During episode two, there was a writer who said that his anxiety started getting better when he realized it was something he could learn to use; his anxiety was like his own personal caffeine pump. Accepting what is and making anxiety work for you – now there’s a concept!

Something I’m enjoying about this read is the way the authors are turning old, stubborn beliefs onto their heads. If intense anxiety is not a problem or a barrier to doing what’s important to you, imagine the possibilities!

Summer Reading Notes

I have something to admit . . . I’m one of those people who likes to peek at the end of a book from time to time. You know, just to know what I’m getting into, to make sure everyone is alright in the end, and because I’m really curious.

So, as I was thinking about a post this morning, I’ve been drawn to write about the values chapter. What’s been sticking with me as I read along is the essential questions of “What’s important to you – what do you value in this life — and does how you live your life reflect those values?” Because, I find that when I’m doing something that might make me anxious, I’m more motivated to go for it if it’s important to me.

These past few weeks I’ve been driving carpool with another family that I don’t know as well. Now, you know and I know that anxiety does not affect your ability to drive, but I’ve just gotten caught up in an anxiety cycle where I have thoughts of, “What if I get anxious and can’t drive carpool these five weeks? How will I explain that? What will people think? That would mean . . . . (any number of bad things that I make up in the moment).”

Typically, I feel worst on Monday, anticipating and feeling anxious beforehand. Then, once everyone is in the car and I’m driving it’s really fun. The kids are giggly and hysterical with each other the whole way home and I feel great. I just get caught in that imaginary “bad things will happen” cycle before hand and can’t seem to stop struggling in anticipation. Then I get upset with myself that “here we go again” and I struggle to stop struggling.

So, two things I’ve told myself lately: I’m reminded that it’s alright to have those thoughts and sensations — it’s ok to feel anxious here — and I welcomed all thoughts and sensations to stay for the party. Then, I reminded myself that being able to drive my child and her friends where they need to go is important to me. Doing something that might make me internally uncomfortable, but is safe, is an example I want to set for my kids.

We’re in the last week and just this morning I noticed some thoughts and feelings creep up. They poked their heads around to see who wanted to play and left when it was clear there was no one around. Tomorrow might be different, but I’m learning that the most important thing is that I’m willing to show up and do my job no matter what.

How are you doing what’s important to you this week, even if anxiety shows up?

Summer Reading – Chapter 3

I hope you all are getting a chance to get caught up in the workbook and enjoying it. Chapter 3 is short and sweet with a resounding main message about struggle and avoidance.

“The most critical element that separates normal from problematic anxiety and fear is this: avoidance, avoidance and more avoidance.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just avoid a few yucky emotions and they would just go away? For some reason, avoidance does really feel toxic for the anxious brain. At this stage of the game, for me, I’m almost more afraid of avoiding something than of entering a situation and knowing I’ll be anxious. My experience has taught me that even one little avoidance and the slope is feeling mighty slippery. A few years back, I was driving and had the thought, “Uh oh, I’m feeling kind of anxious today. I think I’ll take the back roads instead of the highway.” Wouldn’t you know, the next day, it felt 10x harder to get back on the highway, even though that route had become part of my routine.

Can you relate to the poison ivy analogy? If you’ve never had poison ivy, consider yourself lucky! If you have, then you know it’s almost impossible not to scratch at that insidious itch! Anxiety can feel alot like that. We want to float through it, drop the rope and not struggle, but the urge to fight/struggle/itch is automatic.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the attitude shift and mindfulness techniques that are soon to come. I like how the authors ask us not to be convinced that their techniques will work, but to simply have an open mind.

Although chapters to come will cover these questions, I’m wondering:

*What are you avoiding right now?

*What would you be doing differently in your life if anxiety was not an issue?

*What messages are sinking in for you from this workbook? What resonates the strongest?

*Are you ready to tackle chapters 4 & 5?

See you soon!

Summer Reading: Intro – Chapter 2

So, did you get a chance to grab the workbook? If not, don’t worry about being behind, just jump in when you can. I haven’t discussed a book “book club style” online before, so I’ll start by jotting down some of what stood out for me and I’d love to hear what’s speaking to you or creating a strong reaction as you digest the material.

The first thing that I want to make sure we highlight is how the intro tells us “put taking care of yourself on your to-do list”. I can’t tell you how many times I write down in my planner “make tea & read – 30 min.” and how often something else takes priority – dinner prep, email, laundry, a 3 year old who won’t nap, or just plain old procrastination. I’m thinking I might need to play around with when I read. Maybe afternoon “quiet time” with three kids in the house isn’t going to be where I’m successful. Like exercise, I may need to aim for first thing in the morning.

Something else important to note is taking the time to really read and work through all the exercises, not just skimming. In Dave Carbonell‘s workbook (another good one), I like how he recommends reading the material thoroughly and not just enough to make you more anxious. How true! How often do we dip into a book, looking for that little piece of wisdom that will make our present anxiety dissipate? As we scramble through the pages, looking at our underlined notes, anxiety can actually increase because we’re struggling to make it go away (or is that just me?).

ACT begins by telling us, “If I continue to do what I’ve always done, then I’m going to get what I’ve always got.” (pg. 11) That makes perfect sense, but it’s a fact we rarely think about. This simple truth extends far beyond anxiety and reminds me of how Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working for you?” For our discussion, how is struggling and trying to rid yourself of anxiety working for you?

“Struggle turns out to be the most important toxic element that constricts lives and transforms anxiety from being a normal human experience into a life-shattering problem.” (pg. 47)

“ACT is about letting go, showing up to life, and getting yourself moving in directions you want to go.” (pg. 13)

“You’ll learn how to live out your dreams. You can have that without first winning the war with your anxiety monsters.” (pg. 4)

This is so inspiring to me. Since my first panic attack, the good student in me believed that if I worked hard enough and did all of my homework, I could rid myself of anxiety and panic. I thought about what I could accomplish when I was cured and anxiety free. So, I worked and struggled, and did make some big strides. But, I’ve also felt deep disappointment at times when I looked up and anxiety was still there, running alongside of me.

I’ve resisted the notion that I just need to accept my anxiety because it felt like surrendering to an anxiety filled existence. But, I think these authors are suggesting that once you’re living out what’s really important to you, it doesn’t matter if you drag anxiety along for the ride. In fact, taking your full attention off of your anxiety can create some lift. Right now, many of us spend too much time managing and trying to cope with anxiety and this takes up precious room when there are many other areas of our lives that are so vital and important.

Going back to the book, I love the use of repetitive themes as a way to sink in the learning. It feels grounding to me and I like the way some of these phrases pop up in my head as I go through my day, anxiety in hand.

“drop the rope
toxic avoidance
willingness
false alarms
anxiety needs big thought, fear requires little
I can use my hands, feet, & mouth to move forward, doing what’s important to me”

The other night, I drove my youngest home from a swim meet while my husband stayed to cheer on our older two. It had grown late and I was anxious about driving home on a major highway downtown. I was trying to talk myself out of being anxious internally (I’ve done this one hundred times, nothing bad ever happens, I can handle it, bring it on). Then I remembered that driving my daughter home, on whichever route I chose, and having freedom was important to me – something that I valued highly. I drove the route, allowing the wave of adrenaline to flow through me, and made it home – once again – with no problem.

Finishing up for now:

*How might the ACT philosophy help with your experience of anxiety?

*In what ways do you struggle to control your anxiety and how does that keep you stuck?

*What’s so important to you that you’ll risk showing up and feeling anxious?

*What’s resonating for you in the reading? What’s not sitting so well?

Let’s read chapter 3 this week!

Summer Reading

After a little spring hiatus, I’m back with a book to add to your summer reading list. I’ll be working through this fantastic little workbook throughout the summer and hope you’ll join me! You can grab this book at your local library or from most book sellers. Let’s aim to read the intro (very important) and first two chapters by July 1st, ok?

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobia’s and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Forsyth and Eifert)