The Huddle Blog

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

The anxiety effort paradox

By maggie

You arrive at this community with the intent of reducing or eliminating anxiety. You have heard that there are tools, techniques, and coping skills that will either help you manage your anxiety or cure it completely. Other people around you seem to be less anxious and seem to use methods like meditation, yoga, nutrition, sleep, and exercise to stay calm and healthy. For some reason, the more you try these methods, the more anxious you feel. Or, you’re having trouble consistency engaging in these behaviors, even though you commit with your whole heart and you completely believe they would be helpful for you. Welcome to the anxiety effort paradox! First off, remember that anxiety disorders in general are a paradox. Don’t think of a white bear. Don’t think of a white elephant. Don’t think of a gorilla. Don’t think about all of them dancing together. When you tell yourself not to think about something, you will think about it more. If you desperately fear specific sensations or feelings, they are more likely to occur in your experience. An example is feeling lonely, then thinking that you shouldn’t feel lonely, and then feeling lonelier. This is a loneliness loop. A loop …

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The attitude of active, willing acceptance

By maggie

So, how do you relate effectively to your unanswerable, catastrophic thoughts?  Your anxiety disorder will be cured when you overcome your anxiety sensitivity, or second fear. Anxiety treatment can’t and shouldn’t mean that you’ll never be anxious again. Becoming anxious is a normal, healthy adaptive reaction to doing challenging things with uncertain outcomes. I would never want to take the capacity to become anxious away from you. Instead, I want to teach you to respond to anxiety in a way that helps you rather than hurts you.   When you feel anxious, here are your steps: #1 – Label it as anxiety #2 – Switch from content to process. #3 – Do the opposite of avoidance: Get unfused from your thoughts. Open up to sensations. #4 – Actively allow your anxiety. Make it worse. Ask for more of it. There will be other posts going into detail on each of these points. For now, let’s discuss how to help yourself learn how active, willing acceptance. There is a right way to self-monitor.  In order to practice the steps above, you’ll benefit from seeking out triggering situations and watching your experience. You want to observe the following aspects of your experience:  1) …

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The role of a healthy lifestyle in managing anxiety disorders

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 would you do if you didn’t feel anxious?

By maggie

You will have recovered from your anxiety disorder when you overcome your anxiety sensitivity, or second fear. Anxiety treatment can’t and shouldn’t mean that you’ll never be anxious again. Becoming anxious is a normal, healthy adaptive reaction to doing challenging things with uncertain outcomes. I would never want to take the capacity to become anxious away from you. Instead, I want to teach you to respond to anxiety in a way that helps you rather than hurts you. You overcome fear of fear by inviting in fear when it shows up and choosing to see it as an opportunity, not a threat. This week I also asked several members, to ask themselves, “If I didn’t feel anxious, what would I do?” and “If I am feeling more than just anxiety, what else do I feel?” These two questions seem simple, but they target two very important concepts: “If I didn’t feel anxious, what would I do?” targets values driven behavior. We’re trying to wade through the anxiety to the values underneath it and act according to that value, rather than according to what our anxiety urgently tells us we must do. “If I felt more than just anxiety, what else do I feel?” increases …

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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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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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Anxiety sensitivity as fear of all strong affects

By maggie

Anxiety sensitivity as fear of all strong affects In my last post, I explained that anxiety sensitivity is the fear of arousal-related sensations, arising from beliefs that the sensations will have adverse consequences such as death, insanity, or social rejection. Fear of fear is common when you are in a neurologically vulnerable state, including being hungry, tired, angry, lonely, and stressed. We discussed how to make a plan to prevent and manage your sensitized states. Let’s focus on other thoughts, feelings, memories, and situations that contribute to sensitization. We can try to predict and prevent sensitization, but triggers happen. The paradox of introspection is that when you are very triggered and sensitized, all the thinking you engage in to try to “figure out” why you’re upset will likely make you more upset. It isn’t your fault. Your amygdala is doing its job searching through your memories and fears in an attempt to figure out why it’s happening, how to get out, and how to prevent it again in the future. Most people get caught in this attempt to figure it out and their rumination and worry make them feel worse. Even if you gain insight every once in a while, the …

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The biological basis of anxiety sensitivity

By maggie

Anxiety sensitivity is the fear of arousal-related sensations, arising from beliefs that the sensations will have adverse consequences such as death, insanity, or social rejection. You can think about it as second fear. Whereas first fear is the automatic fight-or-flight reaction that arrives in response to a perceived threat, second fear is the interpretation that the sensations themselves are a threat. Anxiety sensitivity amplifies the automatic anxiety reaction. The tendency to respond to arousal-related sensations with terror is heritable. Sensitivity runs in families and the thinking patterns that perpetuate terror are socialized. Taking responsibility for your anxiety disorder requires that you learn what sensitizes you and make a plan for those situations.The best way to disarm anxiety sensitivity is to get accurate information about your sensations. Pay attention to the sensations that scare you and ask about them in group. Here are some common sensitizing situations and what you can say to yourself when they happen: Hungry – “My mind might be sticky because I’m hungry. I should have a snack before I fuel or act on these thoughts.” Angry – “My mind is building a case, so I probably feel angry. In the presence of anger, rather than fueling my case, I …

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Intolerance of uncertainty and exposure to uncertainty as an opportunity

By maggie

I described the nature of intolerance of uncertainty in my last post. Let’s talk more about shifting your interpretation of uncertainty to opportunity, rather than fear. When you’re feeling very anxious, it’s normal to attend to your anxious sensations, uncomfortable feelings, and catastrophic thoughts over everything else. You are not being selfish or going crazy. The nature of the anxious response is such that your mind fixes your attention on potential threat in order to help you survive. Some part of you knows that you aren’t running from a tiger and it would be okay to stop scanning the environment for danger. Another part of you does not know whether or not you are in danger. That part of you is uncertain. It’s okay. You’re not doing it on purpose, it isn’t your fault that it’s happening, and you aren’t doomed to feel this way forever. You just need to be more strategic. Let’s first honor evolution. Way to go fellow homo sapien! We made it! Your response to fear was adaptive the first time it happened. If you are in danger and you avoid, you survive. If you are not in danger and you avoid, you will develop an intolerance of …

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The role of intolerance of uncertainty in all anxiety disorders

By maggie

Intolerance of uncertainty is the tendency to react negatively on an emotional, cognitive, and behavioral level to uncertain situations and events. There are two beliefs that maintain Intolerance of Uncertainty 1) Uncertainty has negative behavioral implications for me and means something bad. 2) Uncertainty is unfair and spoils everything. I shouldn’t feel uncertain. There are two types of Intolerance of Uncertainty 1) Fearful anticipation of uncertainty often leads to avoidance. 2) Inhibitory anxiety in the face of uncertainty often leads to difficulty thinking, talking, making decisions, and taking action. Self-talk that reduces Intolerance of Uncertainty includes: “It’s okay to feel uncertain. Feeling uncertainty doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong.” “Anticipatory anxiety is a feeling, not a fact or prediction. That is, it predicts my past, not my future.” “Uncertainty signals opportunity. I don’t know if something will go poorly, but I also don’t know what could go well.” “It’s okay for me to take the next small step in the presence of uncertainty.” Behavior that reduces Intolerance of Uncertainty includes: Commit to valued behavior to reduce indecisiveness. Practice guessing at the smallest next step. Live in your decision, including taking responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Bring up an attitude of curiosity …

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