The Huddle Blog

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

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.

Example of self-monitoring for Social Anxiety Disorder

By maggie

1) What was the trigger? Was it internal or external? Being at a social event, having critical thoughts about my competence 2) What sensations do you feel? Stomach in a knot, muscle tension, light-headed, pain in chest  3) What thoughts are you having? “What if other people notice how anxious I am and judge me? What if my mind goes blank when I’m trying to talk to someone? What if I don’t know what to say?”  4) What is your reaction to the sensations and the thoughts? I remembered that I talked about this happening in therapy, but in the moment I just felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t bear it. The sensations felt out of control and I believed my thoughts.  5) What types of avoidance do you want to engage in? Reassuring myself, getting reassurance from my friend who was there, comparing myself to other people there, leaving the party 6) Did you engage in avoidance/neutralization/compulsions? Yes 7) If yes, what did you do? If no, why didn’t you? I did all of them and it just kept getting worse. The more reassurance I tried to get from myself and my friend, the more anxious I felt. Comparing myself to others made me feel awful too.

Example of self-monitoring for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

By maggie

1) What was the trigger? Was it internal or external? My mom told me about her friend that was diagnosed with cancer 2) What sensations do you feel? heart beating faster, tightness in chest, short of breath, light-headedness 3) What thoughts are you having? what if I have cancer?   4) What is your reaction to the sensations and the thoughts? what if I can’t stop thinking about this? what if my anxiety doesn’t go away?   5) What types of avoidance do you want to engage in? I knew it was OCD, but I wanted to check my symptoms on WebMD. I wanted to ask my mom about it. Then I wanted to distract myself. 6) Did you engage in avoidance/neutralization/compulsions? Yes 7) If yes, what did you do? If no, why didn’t you? Immediately after my mom told me about her friend, I told my mom I was anxious and asked her if I could possibly have cancer. She said no, but then I felt a weird sensation in my arm and looked it up online. Later in the night, I kept thinking about it and watched some movies to distract myself.

Belief problem v. Workable Attitude

By maggie

As I described in the section on theories of responding to psychological suffering, I belong to the school of thought that believes that it is your response to yourself and your environment that determines your sense of wellbeing. It is not your circumstances themselves, but rather your interpretation of them and your beliefs about them that determines how you think, feel, and act. I call those thoughts that drive ineffective behavior “belief problems.” Various psychologists throughout the years have used different terms for the same problem. They are called cognitive distortions, negative schemas, problematic scripts, and over-used defense mechanisms in other schools of thought. I use the term belief problem because I want it to cue you to remember that your thought, feeling, sensation, or situation are not your problem. They may cause you pain but they don’t cause your suffering. If you recognize that it is human nature to experience pain and you let the moments of pain occur without resistance, your suffering will decrease over time. I also like the term belief problem because it speaks to the foundational parts of who you are. Typically when people talk about their beliefs, they are referring to a particular set …

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The difference between productive and unproductive worry

By maggie

It is rare that the anxious person will go to a doctor and say, “My problem is that I’m afraid of my thoughts.” You are more likely to complain, “I’m always thinking… I can’t stop thinking… I can’t turn my mind off… I can’t relax… I can’t sleep… I can’t concentrate because of my worries.” This is called fear of thoughts, because of the process that got you to the point where you feel as though you can’t stop thinking.  The more you resist what shows up in your mind, the more likely it will occur in your mind. Make sure you don’t think of a white bear right now. Are you able to do it? It is very likely that the image of a white bear popped in your mind, because of the way your mind works. When you tell your brain not to do something, it has to scan to see if the thing it should be avoiding is there. Thus, you’ll think of what you’re trying not to think of. Worriers have of paradoxical relationship with their worries because a part of them wants to stop worrying, but another part of them thinks that worrying shows them …

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An explanation of worry

By maggie

Worry is a two-part process including an uncertain question and an attempt to answer it. Whether the attempt to answer it occurs via analysis, problem-solving, distracting, or getting reassurance, the attempt to answer is always problematic because it can never “solve” an unanswerable question and it makes the original uncertainty feel more threatening.  We typically say that you have generalized anxiety if you struggle against thoughts that are ego-syntonic— meaning consistent with your sense of what is important. You have obsessive-compulsive disorder if you struggle against thoughts that are ego-dystonic— meaning inconsistent with your sense of what is important. Many anxious people have both. As an example, the person with generalized anxiety fears: “what if my child doesn’t get into college?” and, in thought and action, attempts to answer that uncertain, unanswerable question. The person with obsessive-compulsive disorder fears: “what if my child is in the freezer?” and also, in thought and action, tries to be certain about this uncertain thought. Where worrying about your child’s future seems reasonable to most people, worrying about your child being in the freezer seems “irrational” or “unreasonable” to most people, so they have an added layer of confusion, frustration, and shame about why they …

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