As you set yourself up to relate effectively to anxiety, you want to predict the phases of your anxious pattern, so that you know what strategies you will need. The phases tend to be different depending on whether the trigger was external or internal.
Anticipatory anxiety, situational anxiety, and post-event processing
In the case of an external or situational trigger, there are 3 phases to the anxious moment. Many people experience anticipatory anxiety, situational anxiety, and post-event processing. We’ve discussed each of these phases in great detail and you can read more about them by clicking on the above links.
Here’s your self-talk for an external trigger:
Anticipatory anxiety self-talk: “Anticipatory is a feeling, not a fact, prediction, message, or threat. It doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong or that something is going to go wrong. If it must mean something, it is just indicating to me that I have had anxiety in situations like this in the past. If I can stay with this anticipatory anxiety, and not do anything to make it worse, I am on my way to having less anticipatory anxiety in situations like this in the future.”
Situational anxiety self-talk: “During this situation, I want to focus on my task. I want to make reasonable behavioral goals, such as talk to one person, rather than focusing on not being anxious. I want to redirect my attention to the present any time I have the urge to check on my sensations, thoughts, or feelings.”
Post-event processing self-talk: “I am sensitized because I just did something that was anxiety-provoking. I am proud of the way I moved towards my values and goals. I have the urge to replay it because I am sensitized, not necessarily because I did anything incorrectly. I refuse to self-criticize because it is not helpful. I choose to interpret my sensitization as pride for doing something that scared me.”
Shame, doubt and uncertainty, guilt
In the case of an intrusive internal trigger, there are also 3 phases to the anxious moment. Many people experience shame, doubt and uncertainty, and guilt. We will discuss this pattern in greater detail over the next few weeks.
Here’s your self-talk for an internal trigger:
Shame self-talk: “It’s okay that I am having this experience. I didn’t ask for it or I don’t deserve suffering. I am stuck in a cognitive behavioral loop and it is challenging to relate to it. Having this experience doesn’t mean that I’m broken in some way. Humans have intrusive thoughts and uncomfortable feelings and I am having a human experience. In the presence of shame, I’m going to offer myself compassion.”
Doubt and uncertainty self-talk: “I’m choosing to take a leap of faith and act as though this is OCD or anxiety. This means that the doubt and uncertainty I feel is not an indication of a problem to solve, but rather a feeling I’m experiencing. I can move forward in accordance with my values in the presence of this feeling.”
Guilt self-talk: “I may have gotten tricked and started to engage in compulsions and avoidances in response to my doubt and uncertainty. My guilt is signaling that I have acted in a way that was not in accordance with my values. Rather than self-criticism in the presence of my guilt, I can bring up an attitude of curiosity and see what I can learn here. What are my options for how else I can respond in the future?”
For Community Time, reflect on whether most of your triggers fit the anticipatory anxiety, situational anxiety, post event processing pattern or the shame, uncertainty, guilt pattern.