The Huddle Blog

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

The role of anticipatory anxiety

By maggie

As you learn to disarm anxiety, knowing its patterns is one of your best strategies. One part of the pattern of suffering that anxious people experience is anticipatory anxiety, which is the feeling of dread about an upcoming thought, feeling, sensation, or situation that might bring about the feared situation. Individuals with anxiety disorders typically have difficulty staying with the feeling long enough to recognize that it’s a feeling, not a fact or prediction. As I’ve discussed, the nature of your anxiety disorder is that your mind is experiencing your thoughts, feelings, memories, or sensations as unwanted and dangerous and is getting you away from them as soon as possible. Whether or not you have a formal self-monitoring practice, identifying and labeling dread when its happening is a powerful step because it is the opposite of avoidance. Here’s a suggestion of what to say to yourself: “What I’m experiencing right now is anticipatory anxiety. My dread is a feeling, not a fact or prediction. It’s an indication that I feel uncertain. The feeling of uncertainty does not mean something bad is about to happen. In fact, uncertain might indicate that something good is about to happen! This is just a …

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Tricked into listening to dread

By maggie

Let’s discuss what individuals with anxiety disorders often do instead of self-monitoring, identifying, labeling and allowing dread: Listening to dread by avoiding Because individuals with anxiety disorders characteristically avoid what they are thinking and feeling, they don’t recognize their dread as part of the pattern of anxiety. Rather it feels like information, as though whatever its saying is truth. Feeling dread, you may think, “I’m so nervous right now. What if my anxiety just gets worse and worse? What if something bad is going to happen? Maybe I shouldn’t do it. Maybe I should do it some other time when I don’t feel like this. Maybe I don’t actually want to do this because I feel so bad when I think about it.” Dread, when interpreted as information, triggers indecision and doubts; avoiding based on doubting thoughts causes more anxiety and more dread. Listening to dread and becoming depressed Dread can feel more like depression, and can hit you like a sudden lack of energy and motivation. If there are many thoughts, feelings, sensations, and situations that trigger your anxiety, you may feel a consistent and pervasive sense of dread that doesn’t feel like a passing feeling. Similarly, if you always …

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The relationship between dread and confidence

By maggie

Responding effectively to anxiety is a challenging skill that develops experientially with time and practice. Think of a challenging skill you’ve acquired in your life: riding a bike, learning to read, speaking a foreign language or learning a programming language, or playing a sport. You didn’t have trust in your ability to execute those skills — that is, you didn’t have confidence — until you had many experiences of practicing and succeeding. If the skill was important to you, you likely had feelings of anticipatory anxiety prior to experiences that would test your ability because you didn’t know what would happen. That’s perfect! That’s exactly how anticipatory anxiety works! It’s not alerting you that you can’t do something. It’s alerting you that you don’t know yet how you’ll do. For this reason, decreases in your anticipatory anxiety will be the last part of overcoming your anxiety disorder. For many people, the anticipatory anxiety is the worst part. They want it to go away now! Anticipatory anxiety is a clever trickster that causes people to avoid, become demoralized, self-criticize, and waver in their decision-making. Do not be fooled! Your mind is actually working adaptively. Like learning anything else, your body won’t …

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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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Self-compassion precedes confidence

By maggie

It takes humility and courage to accurately assess where you are and commit to the next step. If you feel intense anxiety getting out of your house, the idea of obtaining and committing to a job on a daily basis might seem beyond what’s possible for you.  If you feel intense anxiety sending an introductory text message to a potential romantic partner, the ongoing vulnerability required to sustain a long-term relationship might seem overwhelming. Thinking about this, many individuals with anxiety disorders get so discouraged that they lose motivation to take the next step. It’s important to see this as part of the pattern of anxiety’s game. Anxiety (and his allies self-criticism and depression) will tell you: “What you’re currently doing isn’t good enough. This shouldn’t be hard for you. You shouldn’t have to practice this. You’ll never get where you want to be.” You need to be ready for this type of message and say back to it: “Every time I identify, label, and allow an uncomfortable thought, feeling, or sensation, you get less power. What I’m practicing is a new process; it’s not about my outcome in any given moment. It’s okay that this is where I am …

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Setting goals to gain confidence

By maggie

A helpful goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This is opposed to non-specific, vague, emotionally-driven, or unattainable goals. As an example, “I’d like to be more confident” is not a helpful goal, because it is not specific, measurable, attainable, or time-bound. It is vague and unmeasurable and unattainable. Sure, you could measure your level of confidence about a specific task one day and then measure your level of confidence using the same questionnaire at another time in the future. However, you would not actually be able to measure the nuances of confidence, because it is feeling state that changes over time. Just because you feel x amount of confidence on Monday at 4pm and y amount of confidence on Thursday at 10am, doesn’t mean that you’ve become more confident throughout every aspect of your life.  By unattainable, I don’t mean that you could never become more confident, but rather there is no objective binary cutoff where you could say either I am confident or I am not confident.  Other questions I have about this goal include: what does it mean to be more confident? Do you want to be more confident in every area of life or just …

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How values relate to goals

By maggie

In contrast to a goal, which is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, values are aspirational traits that you’d like to embody. Your values signify your life process, the journey that you pursue during your time here on earth. Your values are not something that you can complete or check off. They are not a place where you arrive. The underlying philosophy of a person who attempts to clarify and pursue his or her values includes recognizing ongoing learning and development as a good way to live life.  Values and goals are related. If you understand these concepts, you can use your values to inform your goals, aligning your goal-directed behavior with your personal life philosophy.  Here are a few examples:  Goal: Complete each homework assignment in x class and turn it in on-time Values: Ongoing learning and skill acquisition Goal: Research and purchase a gift for my partner’s birthday one week prior to birthday celebration Value: Being a loving, thoughtful partner Many anxious people become too bewildered by their anxiety to be able to clarify and pursue their values.  If your fear of your thoughts, feelings, or sensations drive your behavior, you’ll likely be unable to see what you care …

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Waiting to feel certain to take action

By maggie

I was talking to a client filled with regret about waiting until late in his life to pursue the romantic relationships he always wanted, and I had the thought, “The belief that ‘I have to meet some arbitrary criteria in order to live my life’ is a really problematic one. Later that day I had the presence of mind to write the title “Waiting for my life to start” as the type of problematic belief that deserves its own new entry.  As I wrote it I had the thought, “Oh I’m looking forward to when I write that.” And then, I noticed anxiety wondering when I’d actually do it.  Bingo! This is the problem! And so, because I have some time I am writing the entry now and imperfectly.  Making plans can be very seductive. You may have lots of great ideas about what you want to do and how you’ll do it and thinking about these plans can be very exciting. In addition, “planning” to do something by figuring out when you’ll do it, for how long, with whom, etc., rather than doing it, can feel like you are making progress even though you are not. Sometimes planning is an …

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Using self-monitoring to start facing your anxiety

By maggie

Self – Monitoring is helpful for two reasons: #1 –  One of anxiety’s best tricks is hiding itself from you. You’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding so quickly that you don’t actually observe what’s happening. You are having a thought, the thought is arriving in your body with sensations, and your mind is interpreting the thought as important. Since the thought feels important, you are responding to it as if it is important. Whether you distract yourself, analyze them, get reassurance from others about them, or do anything else to try and make them go away, the point is that you are responding to your thoughts as if they are facts, and threatening facts at that.  Self-monitoring is the opposite of avoidance. The act of slowing yourself down, identifying, and labeling the thought as a thought shifts you from content to process and you are on your way toward mindful observation. If self-monitoring sounds like a good idea while you’re reading about it right now, but practicing it in your real life is a challenge, you’re in good company. It isn’t because you’re lazy, you don’t understand, or it doesn’t work. You don’t need the perfect explanation or the …

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Example of self-monitoring for Panic Disorder

By maggie

1) What was the trigger? Was it internal or external or both? Driving on the highway  2) What sensations do you feel? I’m having the sensations of heart racing, sweating, stomach in a knot, shoulders tight, arms and legs tingling, head hurts a little, dry mouth 3) What thoughts are you having? I’m having the thought, what if I panic while driving?  4) What is your reaction to the sensations and the thoughts? Initially I didn’t like that I was having these sensations and thoughts, but then I remembered that I should practice wanting them, and I told myself, ‘Good job!’ for triggering them. 5) What types of avoidance do you want to engage in? I wanted to avoid driving. 6) Did you engage in avoidance/neutralization/compulsions? No 7) If yes, what did you do? If no, why didn’t you? I didn’t avoid driving because I remembered that I was uncomfortable, but not in danger, and that if I keep driving when I have these sensations and thoughts, they will eventually go away. Once I was a few blocks away, my sensations did in fact subside.