The Huddle Blog

Sharing thoughts on a cognitive-based understanding of anxiety and how online group support can help us get better, together.

Uncertainty! Great! Now’s my chance!

By maggie

Hi there, Group. Great week. I loved hearing how you run after the bus. You’re sweaty. You’re embarrassed. Whatever. You got somewhere to be. Great! I want more of that. Tell me more!  When you’re anxious, you can think There’s the bus. I gotta run after it!You can also think, Great! Uncertainty! Now’s my chance! Your body and mind work great. We are all emotion driven. Feelings and urges cue us into our needs and wants. Our values guide our actions in relation to our feelings and urges. Here’s an example: Need to pee is a feeling that arrives with an urge to urinate. The feeling tells you what you need. Your values inspire you to hold it until you reach a toilet. Look at you and your values-driven behavior! Great job! So, your mind works great, but you have a problematic relationship with uncertainty that is negatively reinforced by obvious and subtle behavioral patterns. It’s thought-action fusion. Having the thought feels like the content of the thought is true. You don’t have to act right away. You have a thought, a feeling, and an urge but you don’t have to act. The urge to pee will not go away until you actually pee. …

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Run after the bus, sometimes.

By maggie

Hi there, Group. Great week. Question for you: When you are half a block away and people are getting on the bus you’re about to miss, what do you do?  Your answer helps us understand your experience during incidental exposure.  The short answer is run after the bus, sometimes. Flexibly. Humorously. Like your life depends on it. Group had a disagreement about this: Some of you feel empathic anxiety and embarrassment when you see someone running after a bus. You feel anxious and embarrassed on behalf of those that try. You would never do it yourself. You think, “Look at how hard they are trying. They’re going to fail. That’s so embarrassing.”  Some of you think, “Of course, I run after the bus. I would feel anxiety and shame if I didn’t catch it. I’m mad at myself already for being in that hypothetical situation. I should have planned better. When I see someone missing the bus, I feel empathy for them because of the harsh internal self-criticism they must feel.”  Calm down. It’s just a story. You haven’t missed the bus. Everybody’s okay. What’s happening here?  For those that have the first answer: We all know that your content doesn’t …

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Intentional Practice – Part II

By maggie

Good exposure and response prevention is like the fun and playful part of childhood. What comes to mind for you?  Young kids practice winning. Try playing cards with a four-year-old. They can’t wait to show you what they can do. First, they change the rules. Then, they change the game. It’s always fun because they always win.  As an adult in the external world, you will make mistakes and you won’t always win. Pursuits you attempt may not work out. You can still win on the inside. You can change your game if you change your rules.  Here is the new game: Internally, always ask for whatever is happening.  Here are the new rules:  Commit to the smallest next step towards what you value. If you want more, do more. Here is how this might sound internally when you are moving towards what you value:“I feel anxious. Great! I was hoping for that… There’s shame. thank u, next.I feel angry. Also, great! I need more practice with that one… Oh, sadness. It was under the anger… The sadness makes me long for connection. Interesting. Hm… I feel peace… How can I get more peace?”  So, you’re setting up your formal exposure and response …

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Intentional Practice – Part I

By maggie

You’re wondering if you are doing ERP correctly and if it will make you better. Great question. There’s a lot to discuss, so we’ll break this up over the next several weeks.  ERP stands for exposure and response prevention. It is a cognitive behavioral treatment technique. Anxiety is created, maintained, and intensified by experiential avoidance. We’re trying to do the opposite of experiential avoidance to recover from anxiety and OCD. Your past behavior helps us identify what will trigger your anxiety and in what way you will want to avoid. As an example, if you have previously felt anxious and stopped driving when you had a thought about hitting someone with your car, the next time you drive, you will likely have that thought, feel anxiety, and have the urge to stop driving. You aren’t having that thought and feeling anxious because it is more likely happen. You are having that thought and feeling because you acted as though it was threat in the past. For this example, exposure is driving and response prevention is not stopping. Easy, right? Just do the opposite of what your anxiety wants.  I hope this concept is actually easy for you to understand and …

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Paradoxical effort

By maggie

Try to remember that your present is a gift. Don’t try too hard. Let’s talk more about paradoxical effort.  As we’ve discussed, if you try to use mindfulness to suppress or control your thoughts and feelings, they will increase and grow stronger. Mindfulness in any given moment is not meant to alleviate psychological suffering. A habit of mindfulness practice over time will likely reduce your overall sensitization and make it easier to notice that your thoughts are just thoughts in any given moment. In the moment of suffering, though, mindfulness is a therapeutic attitude that helps you stay committed to what you were already planning to do without making your internal experience worse.  If this doesn’t seem to be working for you, you’re likely struggling with paradoxical effort. It’s not that you aren’t trying hard enough or being lazy about your mental health or your treatment. You’re probably trying too hard to use the right strategies and coping skills. Because you are also hoping that the strategies will make your thoughts and feelings go away, it’s getting worse. Oops. It was paradoxical effort.  Paradoxical effort can be the issue with your struggle with yourself. It may also be the issue …

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The present is a gift.

By maggie

Let’s elaborate on building a compassionate attitude towards the present moment.  While anxious, so many sufferers have critical thoughts like, I’m supposed to be mindful right now. I should be using my skills. I’m not doing this right. It makes everything worse. If this is you, try cueing yourself with My present moment is a gift I can offer myself right now, rather than a critical I must be mindful. When I see you, I think that as long as you have your breath, your present moment is a gift. Your breath is always there with you. It’s yours to have and yours to hold. You just have to close your mouth. Even when it feels out of control, you can immediately bring it back into your control. If you’re willing to play, you can even hyperventilate on purpose. Your breath is your friend. It reminds you that you are alive.  The present moment is a gift even and especially when you feel anxious.  When I can’t fall asleep or I wake up too early, my present moment is a gift: The memories I’m having are not presently occurring. The content of my worries has not yet occurred and may not occur. My sheets are comfy and my bed is warm. My heart is racing. I have a strong …

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Shame is a cue to connect.

By maggie

There might be a reason that your anxiety or OCD content is stuck. It isn’t because of the content. It’s never because of the content. It might be because of shame. It’s okay to feel shame. It’s a feeling, not a fact or prediction. Let’s go towards it.  Shame is the feeling you have when you think you are on the outside. Marginalization makes people feel shame. It gives you the urge to hide.  Even if you grew up in a homogenous environment, there’s all kinds of reasons why you could have felt as though you were on the outside of the group you grew up in. Into adulthood, we are all constantly swimming through groups we fit into and groups into which we do not fit. Even more subtly, there are some dimensions of you that fit into some contexts you live in and some dimensions of you that do not fit in. You might feel shame when you notice that. Great job noticing. It’s a feeling, not a fact or prediction. You have a good body. Your mind noticed something and your body gave you a feeling in response. Feelings don’t have to mean more than that, especially the …

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Of course I suffer.

By maggie

Let’s talk more about self-criticism and self-compassion.  Your suffering isn’t just because of recurrent unwanted intrusive thoughts, chronic worry, a depressed mood, or another uncomfortable private experience. The interpretation that you shouldn’t have such an experience and that there is something bad, weak, or crazy about you for such experience creates, maintains, and intensifies your suffering too.  This type of self-criticism hurts. Perhaps it started as the voice of a critical parent or some other significant person. Sometimes you continue to receive criticism from that person and that hurts. Self-criticism, though, is you against you. The critical voice is no longer someone else’s. Now it is yours. You aren’t on your own team. The game isn’t fun and none of you is going to win.  You might criticize yourself as an attempt to control a thought or feeling that you don’t like. I suspect it “works” every once in a while, especially if by “working” you mean that you can avoid your thoughts and feelings to get relief from them for a short amount of time. It doesn’t work to alleviate suffering long-term for anyone ever. Trying to make thoughts go away will make them more likely. Suppressing feelings will make them …

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When in doubt, write it out.

By maggie

 I suggest writing as homework frequently. There are different types of writing exercises that are likely to be helpful for different types of suffering. Here’s a working list. We can add to it when we talk more about it.  Writing for OCD and anxious doubt Self-monitoring for daily anxiety and OCD. This writing has a really specific format because I want you to orient yourself towards observing your experience rather than get caught in your content in the anxious moment. Focus on what is happening, rather than figuring out why it’s happening. See this infographicfor questions to answer in your anxious episode or on a daily basis when you are tracking your anxious experiences.  Scheduled worry time for habitual worry and insomnia due to worry. If you chronically worry about all kinds of different things, try scheduled worry time for 14 days. Try this also if you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. You might not be worried all day long, but if worry is interrupting your sleep, you should work on it during the day.  Modified self-monitoring for mental compulsions. In the groups that we discuss Harm OCD, many members have already done effective exposures to their feared content. You …

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I get to do that.

By maggie

Over-responsibility of thoughts about the futureA few weeks ago, we focused on over-responsibility in both the present and the past. Several people asked about over-responsibility in the future. Thanks for the reminder. I forgot to worry about the future. The short answer is that it’s the same answer minus content plus anticipatory anxiety and emotional perfectionism. Got that?  Thought-action fusion reviewSo, remember that over-responsibility of thought is when you have thought-action fusion. You have a thought that arrives with a spike of uncertainty and you interpret the thought as meaningful because of the accompanying feeling.  For instance, I might have the thought “What if my mom dies?” and then no spike of anxiety, uncertainty, guilt or sadness.“Not an important thought,” says my mind, “she’s not going to die. I don’t need to worry. Back to my other thoughts.” Notice that I have no more or less certainty about my mom’s mortality now than I did before I had that thought. I just had a thought about it. That’s a catastrophic thought without thought-action fusion.  Comparatively, I might have thought, “What if the barista put drugs in my coffee?” and then a SPIKE! of anxiety and uncertainty. “Very important thought,” says my mind, “Did you see that spike? I …

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