The Huddle Blog

Sharing thoughts on cognitive-based therapy and how online group therapy can help us get better, together.

The adaptive nature of anxiety

By maggie

Let’s think about what it would have been like to be a cave person in order to understand the evolutionary utility of the anxiety response.  You and me, cave people, are sitting next to each around a fire, discussing our recent drawings on our cave. The fire is warm and the conversation is calm, yet engaging. The feeling we both have is one of calm and ease.  Suddenly, there’s a loud sound just 20 yards away!  Both of our limbic systems immediately respond. Our hearts start pumping, our blood pressure increases, our pupils dilate, we stop digesting. Sweating, we’re now ready for action. These physiological sensations occur before we’re thinking and as our minds catch up, both due to the noise and due to the increase physiological sensations, our minds start generating all kinds of catastrophic possibilities.  “Is it a tiger? Is it a bear? Where are our children and are they safe?”  We’re both on our feet, starting to search for the source of the noise and prepare to take action or run away depending on the threat.  Step out of this imaginary scene for a second… what do you think about the response you and me, as cave people, …

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What is an anxiety state?

By maggie

As we think more about achieving wellbeing, let’s discuss the most common feeling with which people have trouble: Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion that includes thoughts, sensations, and the urge to behave in specific ways. It occurs after your fear circuitry is triggered in the presence of ongoing uncertainty.  Our fear circuitry is a highly perceptive, adaptive, and primitive part of our brain that kept us alive as a species and is up against different challenges in the modern world. When fear is triggered, there is a pattern of sensations, thoughts, and urges that come with it that are adaptive. Specifically:  Sensations present during fear (aka fight-or-flight response): Heart races, blood pressure increases, pupils dilate, sweating, shortness of breath, and digestion rapidly decreases.  Thoughts present during fear: Catastrophic, worst-case scenarios are generated. Thoughts are experienced as “sticky” or as if the presence of the thoughts means that they are actually occurring. This is called thought-action fusion (TAF). Although thought-action fusion is also “irrational,” it is important to recognize that thought-action fusion in the presence of real danger is very adaptive. Pulling your hand away at the same time (or even before) you have the thought “my hand is touching …

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What are the different ways to think about relating to your thoughts?

By maggie

Throughout the brief history of psychology, there have been many schools of thought regarding how thoughts relate to wellbeing. Below is a very brief summary of the beliefs about thoughts that the various theoretical orientations assume. Every theoretical orientation starts from a complex understanding of human experience and skilled clinicians of every modality effectively use their theory to direct their interventions. I refer here to the clinical distinction of what the major theoretical orientations assume about the nature of thought and how it influences their interventions:  Psychoanalytic/psychodynamic – Analyze your thoughts, bringing awareness to what they are, what they’re connected to, and why you have them. As you bring insight and awareness to your thoughts, you become more connected to yourself, work through your feelings, and experience greater wellbeing. Behaviorism – Change your behavior. Regardless of your thoughts, your change in behavior will result in an increase in wellbeing.  Cognitive behaviorism – Change your thoughts in order to change your behavior. Change in thoughts from this perspective occurs from bringing insight and awareness to your thoughts and then challenging the irrational thoughts that lead to maladaptive behavior. More effective behavioral options occur as an individual challenges their irrational thoughts. They experience …

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How is a healthy lifestyle related to my sense of wellbeing?

By maggie

In the search for wellbeing, many people try all kinds of interventions to help themselves feel better before seeking psychotherapy. They or their friends and family see they aren’t acting like themselves, that they are sleeping, eating, drinking, and exercising differently. They are tense and irritable or withdrawn and isolating themselves more often. People try committing to exercise, eating better, drinking and smoking less, sleeping regularly, meditating, putting “boundaries” around work. Sometimes this brings relief and restores a person’s sense of well-being. I am not against any of these healthy lifestyle behaviors.  I want to talk about what’s occurring when healthy lifestyle behavior changes don’t “work.” Let’s discuss what’s happening when no matter how healthy a person’s lifestyle is, he or she still doesn’t have a sense of well-being. Or, no matter how much a person wants to commit to certain behaviors, he or she can’t seem to commit on a regular basis. Suffering or wellbeing occur based on how you relate to your mind and body, not from what you do. It’s not what you do, but how you do it.  People who relate to their thoughts, feelings, and sensations with openness, compassion, and courage do not have the …

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What is wellbeing and how is it achieved?

By maggie

Many people seek psychotherapy because they just don’t feel good. They say they feel stuck or that they don’t feel like themselves. They feel tense and keyed up. They can’t stop worrying about work, money, or their relationships. Many say they’ve been sleeping too much or waking up throughout the night. They’ve started drinking or smoking more often. They’ve started eating less healthfully and they never exercise. They have no sense of energy when they wake up in the morning and instead feel dread and fear about what’s coming next. Some people can articulate that they feel lonely, sad, disappointed, confused, anxious. Many others just feel a vague sense of numbness and fatigue. They just don’t feel well. Sometimes there are external circumstances, like the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a stressful transition, that triggered their change in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is just as likely that there is no external circumstance that explains the change.  Modern evidenced-based psychological theory understands psychological suffering to be the result of the individual’s experience of herself, including internal thoughts, sensations, feelings and urges, as she responses to external circumstances. Put simply:  Psychological suffering = physical or psychological pain + …

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