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!

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!

Face it Fridays!

Good morning! So, I have to admit that I did my face it friday challenge yesterday. We’re heading out of town for a few days & I knew there would be no time today. Although, I should count (mostly) keeping my cool while we try to pack up the mini-van; negotiate. . .you know, who’s way to pack is the “right way”; and three gorgeous, but wild and excited, children scream & run through the house.

“Mommy – she hit me! Mama – look at my slip knot – woohoo, I’m a cowgirl! Mom – did you pick up the 3rd Percy Jackson book yet? I can’t clean that up – I’m too tiiired!” Thank God for a little PBS Kids in times like these!

Alright, so yesterday I chipped away at that bridge/roller coaster exit some more. I crossed the downtown bridge, took the first exit, came back across & then jumped onto the downtown expressway exit. I should videotape that for you – it really is a silly design – all loopy & rollercoastery right over our downtown area. Who thought up that design?

With exposure like this, I like to repeat it over & over & over again until I’m not getting rushes of adrenaline. Yesterday, I went in reminding myself of the attitude “I want this anxiety” & tried to increase symptoms. Turning around on the exit, I noticed that I, um, really didn’t want to be anxious after all, and had to talk to myself again when the rushes came back, “I do want this anxiety. This is how I get over it. I can handle it.”

I hope you have a wonderful weekend & take some time to get out there & stir up some trouble for yourself!

Face it Fridays!

I’d love to say that I’ve been conquering my every fear these days, super hero cape flying in the wind . . . but truth be told, I’ve taken to struggling with my anxiety lately & even feeding that sly little gorilla when no one is looking these past few weeks.

I know, struggling and resisting and avoiding (oh my!), make anxiety SO much worse.

So, when I start feeling like I’ve slid down that slippery slope & am looking at an uphill battle I do one of two things. Sometimes, I jump right into lots of exposure & it makes me feel worse at first & then so much better as I realize that I’ve been tricked by fear again. What we fear might happen – our worst what if’s – never truly come to light. And, even the uncomfortable stuff, is still manageable.

My second route is to hide it, don’t tell anyone & quietly freak out a little while going on with my life. Sure, I’m still showing up, but all the while hoping that anxiety stands me up. People with anxiety frequently have the super power of an amazing imagination & this can get us into trouble as we see and feel the terrible things we are SURE will come true.

After I’ve felt bad for a while, I start opening up and talking to people, and, slowly, it doesn’t seem so terrible. Then it’s time to do some more exposure work.

So, what a perfect opportunity to begin “Face it Fridays!” Every Friday I’m going to set an exposure goal for myself, write about it & hope that others will join me for the adventure!

Today I chose a driving exposure goal — to drive downtown through harrowing interchanges, take a bridge-like exit onto the expressway & come out alive on the other side! This is not part of my daily driving life & I really don’t like how this particular exit feels like a roller coaster. So, first thing after dropping my older children off at school, my toddler & I set off for adventure. I wore my cowgirl boots for added spunk & confidence. As I approached the exit, I did feel my heart beating faster & a rush of adrenaline. I remembered Dr. Wilson’s advice of asking your anxiety to make your symptoms worse. “Come on anxiety, give me your best shot!”

The excitement was short lived – the exit was no big deal & I wasn’t able to physically make myself more anxious. I called my husband to tell him the news.

Me: “Babe, so I just drove over the roller coaster exit & I lived to tell the story.”

Him: “Seriously? You made it out alive?”

Me: “Yeah, and I know this may come as a surprise, but it was really no big deal at all.”

Him: “Wow, that’s shocking.”

So, maybe my superhero cape was flying a little bit today and maybe, just maybe I’m really an adrenaline junkie at heart.

I’d love to hear about how you’ve been inviting your fears this week!

Dr. Reid Wilson’s Three Principles to Address Anxiety

“The Three Principles*”

“Can I down what I have learned over the last 30 years into three basic strategies to address anxiety? That was my assignment recently, and here, briefly, is what I came up with. I’ll write this as though I am talking directly to those who struggle with their form of anxiety.”

“#1. Focus solely on a new frame of reference, not on techniques.

#2. Create an offensive strategy—seek to be clumsy, awkward, uncomfortable, and uncertain.

#3. Believe you can cope with failure.”

Click here to finish reading Dr. Wilson’s fantastic article as he delves into each of the three principles & consider signing up for his mailing list at the bottom of the page. Enjoy & let me know what you think!

And — here’s Dr. Wilson’s workshop schedule, including weekend treatment groups coming up in November for clients & some great trainings for anxiety professionals.

Travelogue Part Two – In Flight Adventures

So I’ll be honest with you. I was not happy to be sitting on that first plane before 7am in the morning.

As the aircraft sped up to takeoff speed & gradually lifted off the ground, soaring upward towards the clouds, I felt waves of anxiety coursing through my body. I figured that I had two choices: freak out the whole way to the Carribean or do my best to accept that I was going to be 35,000 feet in the air for a few more hours and get as comfortable as possible.

I thought about my tool belt of coping skills and started saying to myself, “I want this anxiety. I want it to get stronger.” And, you know what? It was working. I couldn’t make the symptoms any stronger than they already were.

Then, I thought about Dave Carbonell‘s “Rule of Opposites” – doing the opposite of what feels “safe” in an anxiety provoking situation. So, instead of pulling down the shades & pretending I wasn’t on a plane, I started looking out the windows. I found that I really do like to see the tree tops, little tiny houses, and the outline of roads. Who lives in those homes & what is their story, I wondered.

Something else that really helped was the Truth Based Technique I read about in David Burn’s book. I wrote in my notebook:
*How many times have I gotten so anxious that I ran down the aisle of the plane screaming?
*How many times have planes had to land for me because I absolutely couldn’t handle symptoms of anxiety?
*How many times have I curled up in the fetal position under my chair & cried until it was all over?
Ahem, I think we know the answers to all of the above.

There were more moments with waves of fear and extended periods of time where I felt that pit in my stomach , but it was all manageable & my skills came in handy. Before I knew it, we were in Atlanta & preparing to board our second flight.

For our second flight, the longer flight, our seats were in the back of the plane. I’m not sure why the back of the plane is worse, but I kinda feel more claustrophobic back there. Our flight time was 3 hours & 12 minutes (but whose counting) & in my head I felt like a 2.5 hour flight would be so much easier. Isn’t it funny how our brains make up rules about what’s safe & what’s not?

Once we found our seats, we looked at each other at the same time — we were definitely in the “party” section of the plane. Three babies were in the back with us & some rowdy folks were starting the party early with cocktails. I wondered if some of them were drinking to cope with their own anxiety. A moment before take off, the 5 year old cherub behind me started to giggle & said, “Hey Mom! What if the plane catches on fire & we crash? Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

Hey kid – who asked you? Huh?

Finally, we landed in St. Thomas, USVI – just a ferry & a few taxi rides away from our final destination, St. John. The whole plane cheered & clapped at the successful landing. Steve & I stepped off the plane, walked down the roll away staircase out onto the tarmac & just kept grinning. This was going to be a blast.

So, let’s recap. What helped?

*Showing up & being willing to try something that creates anxiety
*Paradox/Bring it on mentality/Make the symptoms stronger
(Reid Wilson, Don’t Panic – newly revised)
*Truth based techniques (David Burns, When Panic Attacks)
*Rule of Opposites (Dave Carbonell, Panic Attacks Workbook)
*Supportive mate
*Engaging with others/humor
*Being ok if none of these worked

Stay tuned! The next installment will be about our adventures in paradise!

What are you willing to risk?

So, I’ve been talking about this weekend treatment group I attended in November with Reid Wilson – a world renowned psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Something he asked right from the beginning was, what have you avoided or given up as a result of your anxiety? And, now, what are you willing to risk to gain those things back?

So much of the work is a change of attitude and asking the question every time anxiety arises – what am I willing to risk? If I’m feeling anxious one day & someone asks to meet for coffee – am I willing to risk that I might feel anxious & that they might notice? Because, choosing NOT to go because of something that MIGHT happen will only strengthen the anxiety. Choosing to have someone else join us or having an out is still avoidance and strengthens the anxiety as well.

The second piece of that attitude shift is learning to love my anxiety – to get excited that I’ll have another opportunity to practice with feelings of anxiety and doubt/uncertainty. That’s a hard attitude shift, but the only way to win. As Dr.Wilson said, we’ve been worshipping at the altar of anxiety for far too long – We bow down and plead – “Please anxiety, I’ll do anything – just please don’t make me feel edgy & out of control – I can’t bear it”. The shift also encompasses changing your relationship with anxiety. When you begin feeling nervous – perhaps the adrenaline is flowing through your chest, your heart is pounding and you’re telling yourself that bad things are about to happen – you can talk to your anxiety & ask it to make the symptoms stronger. If you’re going to feel symptoms anyways, why not surprise the bully and invite anxiety to take it’s coat off and stay a while.

Something I loved about the weekend was Reid’s “Anxiety Disorders Game” that we played during lunch and night time breaks. We all got score cards and were able to earn points by doing some of the following:

*Deciding what anxiety provoking event we would enter and following through.
*Truly wanting anxiety to show up and asking for more when it did (with an understanding of why we were practicing this way).
*Extra points could be scored for every minute you asked for more anxiety and you got your wish.

A fly on the wall might have overheard people planning their practices like this:

“Well, I think I’m gonna go to lunch, keep changing my order & maybe spill my drink on purpose. I hate drawing attention to myself, so that should make me really uncomfortable. Afterwards, I’ll probably ride in the big elevator and try to make myself hyperventilate.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go driving around the city, try to get lost & then find my way back. That should get me good & panicky. You do have your cell phone on, right?”

“I’m going to ride in the back of someone’s car with the windows up, heat on & the music blaring. I think that will trigger my claustrophobia and earn me some bonus points.”

On Sunday, during our lunch practice, I drove myself on the downtown expressway for a meal at Elmo’s Diner (delicious!). Reid reminded me that once I got to my destination, and knew where I was, I would probably feel comfortable. Since the weekend was about working with anxiety, discomfort and doubt, he encouraged me to try & think of ways I could make myself more uncomfortable. I was also looking for ways to score more points in the game.

So, as I sat down at the counter, ordered and found myself happy and making small talk with local folks, I remembered what Reid had said. Then something came to mind. Part of my anxiety is feeling embarrassed about it. Oh shit, I thought, as I pulled out my “Self Help for People with Panic Attacks” book and read it at the counter while eating my lunch. As I read, I made sure that the cover was very visible to all those sitting at the counter and to those waiting in line. I thought about how I had encouraged a person with social anxiety to skip through the mall as a practice and how this was just as hard for me.

I put the book down at one point, asked the couple sitting next to me at the counter for advice on the menu. Scoring a few more points, I thanked them and decided to order something else, letting go of the thought that they might be thinking, “Why did she bother asking?”

Coming back from lunch, I put my points on the board, grabbed a prize out of the basket (scotch tape!) and settled in to talk about my experience and learn from the experiences of others. The signs posted around the room reminded me that these were my road maps for the anxiety journey ahead.

I want this anxiety.
I want this doubt and uncertainty.
I can handle this.

What’s holding you back? What are you willing to risk in your day to day life? And, what are your road maps?

Tunnel Vision

We were on vacation at the beach last week & I wanted to share a moment from the journey.

To get to the beach, our route takes us over a handful of bridges and a tunnel that goes underwater. I could have easily gotten my husband to drive, but I knew that I needed to “stir up trouble” for myself & this was a good opportunity to do so. “You driving today?” he asked. “Yeah” I responded & smiled, “No problem.” Of course, it’s easy to be brave when the offending bridges & tunnel are not in view.

As we approached the bridge/tunnel/bridge area, I started questioning why I was doing this, when a perfectly good, non-anxious driver was sitting next to me. I had to keep reminding myself to invite the symptoms – to try & make them stronger – to ask them to stay around – because, all of a sudden, I really didn’t want to be driving & thought, ‘Make them stronger? Are you crazy?’

As I descended into the tunnel, I started wondering how strong the walls were & musing about how this is really an unnatural thing to do – driving underwater and such. Before I knew it, the visual images were rolling in of water crashing in all around us as the light from the exit faded into darkness & I wanted to slam down the gas pedal and get out of there quick!

My 8 year old daughter must have known that I needed a reminder to invite in more sensation. Just as we were about half way through, she chimed in and asked, “Do these tunnels ever flood? What would happen if they did? Would we all drown?” My husband & I smiled at each other & her impeccable timing. We told her that, yes, it would be bad if the tunnel flooded, but that it was built to be extremely strong. And, besides, there are people whose only job is to check it’s safety all the time. And, isn’t it cool that someone came up with the idea to make a tunnel that goes under the water & boats can travel over? (More sensation thinking about being underneath a boat).

I drove us safely into the light and, after that, the bridges didn’t phase me that much. We had a fun week in a beach house with 17 people & I decided that it was alright to take the passenger seat on the way home.