So, I've been talking about this weekend treatment group I attended in November with Reid Wilson – a world renowned psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Something he asked right from the beginning was, what have you avoided or given up as a result of your anxiety? And, now, what are you willing to risk to gain those things back?
So much of the work is a change of attitude and asking the question every time anxiety arises – what am I willing to risk? If I’m feeling anxious one day & someone asks to meet for coffee – am I willing to risk that I might feel anxious & that they might notice? Because, choosing NOT to go because of something that MIGHT happen will only strengthen the anxiety. Choosing to have someone else join us or having an out is still avoidance and strengthens the anxiety as well.
The second piece of that attitude shift is learning to love my anxiety – to get excited that I’ll have another opportunity to practice with feelings of anxiety and doubt/uncertainty. That’s a hard attitude shift, but the only way to win. As Dr.Wilson said, we’ve been worshipping at the altar of anxiety for far too long – We bow down and plead – “Please anxiety, I’ll do anything – just please don’t make me feel edgy & out of control – I can’t bear it”. The shift also encompasses changing your relationship with anxiety. When you begin feeling nervous – perhaps the adrenaline is flowing through your chest, your heart is pounding and you’re telling yourself that bad things are about to happen - you can talk to your anxiety & ask it to make the symptoms stronger. If you’re going to feel symptoms anyways, why not surprise the bully and invite anxiety to take it’s coat off and stay a while.
Something I loved about the weekend was Reid’s “Anxiety Disorders Game” that we played during lunch and night time breaks. We all got score cards and were able to earn points by doing some of the following:
*Deciding what anxiety provoking event we would enter and following through.
*Truly wanting anxiety to show up and asking for more when it did (with an understanding of why we were practicing this way).
*Extra points could be scored for every minute you asked for more anxiety and you got your wish.
A fly on the wall might have overheard people planning their practices like this:
“Well, I think I’m gonna go to lunch, keep changing my order & maybe spill my drink on purpose. I hate drawing attention to myself, so that should make me really uncomfortable. Afterwards, I’ll probably ride in the big elevator and try to make myself hyperventilate.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna go driving around the city, try to get lost & then find my way back. That should get me good & panicky. You do have your cell phone on, right?”
“I’m going to ride in the back of someone’s car with the windows up, heat on & the music blaring. I think that will trigger my claustrophobia and earn me some bonus points.”
On Sunday, during our lunch practice, I drove myself on the downtown expressway for a meal at Elmo’s Diner (delicious!). Reid reminded me that once I got to my destination, and knew where I was, I would probably feel comfortable. Since the weekend was about working with anxiety, discomfort and doubt, he encouraged me to try & think of ways I could make myself more uncomfortable. I was also looking for ways to score more points in the game.
So, as I sat down at the counter, ordered and found myself happy and making small talk with local folks, I remembered what Reid had said. Then something came to mind. Part of my anxiety is feeling embarrassed about it. Oh shit, I thought, as I pulled out my “Self Help for People with Panic Attacks” book and read it at the counter while eating my lunch. As I read, I made sure that the cover was very visible to all those sitting at the counter and to those waiting in line. I thought about how I had encouraged a person with social anxiety to skip through the mall as a practice and how this was just as hard for me.
I put the book down at one point, asked the couple sitting next to me at the counter for advice on the menu. Scoring a few more points, I thanked them and decided to order something else, letting go of the thought that they might be thinking, “Why did she bother asking?”
Coming back from lunch, I put my points on the board, grabbed a prize out of the basket (scotch tape!) and settled in to talk about my experience and learn from the experiences of others. The signs posted around the room reminded me that these were my road maps for the anxiety journey ahead.
I want this anxiety.
I want this doubt and uncertainty.
I can handle this.
What's holding you back? What are you willing to risk in your day to day life? And, what are your road maps?