Monday, October 18, 2010

Is anxiety a mental illness?

At the end of August, a professor from the University of Arizona contacted me about submitting a "first person account" of anxiety for a new text book he and his colleagues are writing. They've received a number of submissions from people dealing with various forms of mental malaise. I'm getting ready to submit my story, but am still hung up on the books title "First Person Accounts of Mental Illness". It just feels like there's a big difference between an anxiety disorder and, say, paranoid schizophrenia with delusions. My Dad, a clinical psychologist, used to say that anxiety and depression were the common colds of mental health. I tend to agree.

The professor said that he was open to alternate titles for this text. Any ideas? What do you think? Is anxiety a mental illness? And, if not, is there a better description for what we experience?

Hope everyone is enjoying this amazing fall weather!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Exercise and Anxiety

I've got to tell you, I've been really noticing the positive effects of exercise on my mood and energy level these past few months. I'm not knocking yoga or a good power walk, but it's the days where I get some good cardio in and really sweat that seem to make the biggest difference. This is not new information in the world of anxiety and health, but it's interesting how difficult it is to prioritize self care.

Between taking care of three children and getting a second wind around 10pm, I can find lots of reasons to turn my alarm off at 6am. Frequently my husband and I will say to each other, "Ok, this is the week we're going to bed by 10:30pm and getting up early!" Signing up for a couple triathlons this summer certainly helped get me up in the morning, but my motivation can dwindle when race season is complete and daylight grows shorter. When I'm tired and not exercising, the world seems more overwhelming and my wheels spin.

This week, I've made a new pact with my husband to go to bed by 11pm-ish and I've gotten up the past five mornings to exercise. Depending on how much time I have, I'm doing a mix of running a faster 2-3 miles (a 10 minute mile is speedy for me); a favorite 20 minute video; swimming; and biking with a friend on the weekends. Even a little dance break in the day can help my body and brain play nice.

What's changed? I had to sit myself down during the daytime hours and say, "Look, girl, this is good for you & it makes you feel so much better! You are not going to find time to exercise after 7am. Now get your butt to bed! Whatever still needs doing can wait until tomorrow!" Again, while exercise and enough sleep does not make anxiety go away for me, it helps make it more manageable by using up some of that super-power adrenaline and starting each day with a more rested brain.

Will I be singing a different tune, next week? Perhaps, but accountability is a good motivator, too! What effect does enough sleep and exercise have on your mental health and outlook? What's working for you?

Friday, September 10, 2010

This too shall pass

Ok, so no one could ever accuse me of being current with all things hip. I understand that this video was "everywhere" in January, even though it came into my universe this morning. My husband couldn't believe I had never seen it and pulled it up on YouTube. When we should have been finishing the kids lunches and getting shoes on, the five of us watched and danced a little before heading off to work, school and the playground. Everyone lovingly rolled their eyes when they realized that the end of this song brought tears to my eyes. I'm not sure why - maybe it was the big band finish (I was in the high school marching band), the fabulous creativity or the fact that music bypasses my brain and goes straight to emotion for me.

I love the message of "this too shall pass - let it go" and thought it fitting to share in this space. This phrase reminds me to be ever present and move slowly through all of life's moments. We can find comfort in the fact that emotional turbulence will not last forever. And, an equally, if not more, important message is to wake up to the joy and beauty in our every day lives, because those moments pass, as well. We don't have to feel calm or "together" to be awake to our lives, we only have to show up.

What moments have you been awake to today - what beauty have you seen?

Hugging my girls, looking into their eyes and telling them that I love them; laughing with my handsome husband this morning; holding my 3 year old's soft, tiny hand; watching clouds roll through the breezy sky; taking time to listen to the sounds of outdoors and feel the crisp morning air; making home made pizza dough at my child's pace as she stirred the flour up to her elbows and snitched dough; children racing through the grass to see brilliant green caterpillars at our school garden; listening to a foreign language being spoken; people connecting and reaching out to one another; etc.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mind Traps

"When you go beyond seeing words as words, you're buying into the illusion your mind creates. The thoughts shift from being thoughts to being something dangerously serious. And when that happens, you'll often find yourself trapped in old behavior patterns that are neither helpful nor in your best interest. We call this a mind trap." (pg. 70)

Come again? The idea of a mind trap is actually pretty simple and people (with or without anxiety) do it all the time. Mind traps occur when we make up stories in our heads and respond as if those thoughts are true. If we've imagined something scary, our bodies begin making lots of adrenaline and our physical symptoms kick in, followed by more scary thoughts. Of course, this is a great recipe for a panic attack and, over time, it simply becomes habit.

I remember a few years back, my husband took our older girls to a festival. When I couldn't reach him by phone, I started to imagine that one of the kids got lost and he wasn't answering until he found her. I imagined her lost in the crowd and crying for us - it was horrible. Even though I knew this scenario was highly unlikely, I found myself believing my imagination and feeling more and more anxious until I was able to reach my husband. The reality was that they were having so much fun that he didn't hear the phone and everyone came home happy.

I so identified with Brene Brown's video when she asked the audience "what happens next?" My brain runs disastrous headlines on a daily basis. Sometimes I shrug them off and other times I get a little wave of adrenaline. What if it's a sign?

Leaving the pool with my three year old while hubby and the girls stay behind.

"Little did they know that would be the last time anyone saw them alive".

The phone rings before 8am in the morning.

"And that's when she first heard that (insert name) had passed away during the night".

Even though it doesn't feel like it, we do have a choice in how we respond to thoughts like:

What if?

It would be terrible if . . .

I'm going to have a panic attack and then . . .(this terrible thing will happen). . .

"One of the most courageous things you can do when your WAF's (worries, anxieties and fears) show up is to sit still with them and not do as they say." (pg. 76)

This week, I invite you to just notice when your mind starts to set a trap for you. See if you can simply watch the thought without having to respond to it. There's an exercise on page 76 in our summer book called "Mind Watching" - it's a good one. And, if you're not reading the book, try sitting with some basic meditation every day for as long as you like. I'm going to aim for 5 - 10 minutes a day and see how it goes!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Home again

I'm just getting settled back in after being away for two weeks. My Mom and Step-Dad live by the water and we had the chance to house sit for them while they adventured off to Alaska. It was so nice to be away and long enough that I was excited as we drove back into our cozy, little neighborhood this past weekend. One of these days, we'll have enough money to fly our family of five somewhere exotic, but for now, house sitting in a beautiful location was just what we all needed.

As I was getting our kitchen back in order the other night, I found myself needing to take frequent breaks and pop into some favorite blogs. (Speaking of distraction - this is fabulous ice cream and you can sub 1 tsp vanilla extract for the vanilla bean.) I also found this wonderful video by Brene Brown. I was so touched by her talk and am still processing what she had to say. Enjoy and I'd love to hear what you think.

Watch live streaming video from tedxkc at

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Intense anxiety is not in itself a problem"

I know, did we read that right on page 60? Isn't that what we struggle and fight not to feel, worrying that we'll be washed away in all that misplaced intensity?

Let's look at that again: "Intense anxiety is not in itself a problem. Many people experience intense anxiety, even panic attacks, in their daily lives and continue to do what's important to them." " Intensely felt emotions need not be a barrier . . . they can be welcomed in as a vital part of you." (p. 60)

We know from research that when people accept or even invite their anxiety, it often dissipates. But this takes that notion one step further. Is it possible to welcome anxiety as a vital part of ourselves? Is there value to our anxiety that we're overlooking? Anxiety, energy and excitement are so closely related. Some even say that anxiety might be linked with their energy source and, used with intention, can be useful.

The other morning I woke up feeling tense and anxious. I started thinking "what if I used my adrenaline to my advantage - you know, jump into my high energy tasks and/or exercise when my engine is already revved up?" I remembered watching PBS's "This Emotional Life" a few months back. During episode two, there was a writer who said that his anxiety started getting better when he realized it was something he could learn to use; his anxiety was like his own personal caffeine pump. Accepting what is and making anxiety work for you - now there's a concept!

Something I'm enjoying about this read is the way the authors are turning old, stubborn beliefs onto their heads. If intense anxiety is not a problem or a barrier to doing what's important to you, imagine the possibilities!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Reading Notes

I have something to admit . . . I'm one of those people who likes to peek at the end of a book from time to time. You know, just to know what I'm getting into, to make sure everyone is alright in the end, and because I'm really curious.

So, as I was thinking about a post this morning, I've been drawn to write about the values chapter. What's been sticking with me as I read along is the essential questions of "What's important to you - what do you value in this life -- and does how you live your life reflect those values?" Because, I find that when I'm doing something that might make me anxious, I'm more motivated to go for it if it's important to me.

These past few weeks I've been driving carpool with another family that I don't know as well. Now, you know and I know that anxiety does not affect your ability to drive, but I've just gotten caught up in an anxiety cycle where I have thoughts of, "What if I get anxious and can't drive carpool these five weeks? How will I explain that? What will people think? That would mean . . . . (any number of bad things that I make up in the moment)."

Typically, I feel worst on Monday, anticipating and feeling anxious beforehand. Then, once everyone is in the car and I'm driving it's really fun. The kids are giggly and hysterical with each other the whole way home and I feel great. I just get caught in that imaginary "bad things will happen" cycle before hand and can't seem to stop struggling in anticipation. Then I get upset with myself that "here we go again" and I struggle to stop struggling.

So, two things I've told myself lately: I'm reminded that it's alright to have those thoughts and sensations -- it's ok to feel anxious here -- and I welcomed all thoughts and sensations to stay for the party. Then, I reminded myself that being able to drive my child and her friends where they need to go is important to me. Doing something that might make me internally uncomfortable, but is safe, is an example I want to set for my kids.

We're in the last week and just this morning I noticed some thoughts and feelings creep up. They poked their heads around to see who wanted to play and left when it was clear there was no one around. Tomorrow might be different, but I'm learning that the most important thing is that I'm willing to show up and do my job no matter what.

How are you doing what's important to you this week, even if anxiety shows up?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Even more summer reading - a few wonderful articles

I've added a new sidebar to my blog where I'm beginning to list articles I think are great. Some are from Reid Wilson's newsletters; others are from Dave Carbonell's website; and I've thrown in a few from Martha Beck over at "O" magazine. Enjoy & see you soon to discuss chapters 4 & 5 of our summer workbook!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Reading - Chapter 3

I hope you all are getting a chance to get caught up in the workbook and enjoying it. Chapter 3 is short and sweet with a resounding main message about struggle and avoidance.

"The most critical element that separates normal from problematic anxiety and fear is this: avoidance, avoidance and more avoidance."

Wouldn't it be great if we could just avoid a few yucky emotions and they would just go away? For some reason, avoidance does really feel toxic for the anxious brain. At this stage of the game, for me, I'm almost more afraid of avoiding something than of entering a situation and knowing I'll be anxious. My experience has taught me that even one little avoidance and the slope is feeling mighty slippery. A few years back, I was driving and had the thought, "Uh oh, I'm feeling kind of anxious today. I think I'll take the back roads instead of the highway." Wouldn't you know, the next day, it felt 10x harder to get back on the highway, even though that route had become part of my routine.

Can you relate to the poison ivy analogy? If you've never had poison ivy, consider yourself lucky! If you have, then you know it's almost impossible not to scratch at that insidious itch! Anxiety can feel alot like that. We want to float through it, drop the rope and not struggle, but the urge to fight/struggle/itch is automatic.

I'm looking forward to learning more about the attitude shift and mindfulness techniques that are soon to come. I like how the authors ask us not to be convinced that their techniques will work, but to simply have an open mind.

Although chapters to come will cover these questions, I'm wondering:

*What are you avoiding right now?

*What would you be doing differently in your life if anxiety was not an issue?

*What messages are sinking in for you from this workbook? What resonates the strongest?

*Are you ready to tackle chapters 4 & 5?

See you soon!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Upcoming Fall Workshops

I know it's the beginning of July and crazy hot (over 100 degrees here today!), but let's look forward to two wonderful workshops available this Fall.

For those of you who live in/around the mid-west, Dave Carbonell is holding a weekend workshop for people with panic attacks. It will be held in Chicago, IL on October 23rd - 24th, 2010. For more information, check out this link. I've never met Dave, but his writing style is so appealing to me and I love his sense of humor. I think this would be well worth your time and money.

If you live close to North Carolina, Reid Wilson is also holding a weekend workshop and it's excellent. His workshop is for people with panic attacks and social anxiety. It will be held in Durham, N.C. on September 11th - 12th, 2010. Reid Wilson has more dates listed at this site.

These guys are both excellent clinicians. I attended Dr. Wilson's workshop almost two years ago and got so much out of it. What would have been even more helpful was to have a group of people working toward their goals to jump into when I got back home. Although, I think that's possible to do online. You can expect to jump right in and work on some of your fears while you're at the workshop. If you're considering attending, you can read a little about my experience here.

Stay cool and I'll check back in with a post on chapter 3 this weekend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Reading: Intro - Chapter 2

So, did you get a chance to grab the workbook? If not, don't worry about being behind, just jump in when you can. I haven't discussed a book "book club style" online before, so I'll start by jotting down some of what stood out for me and I'd love to hear what's speaking to you or creating a strong reaction as you digest the material.

The first thing that I want to make sure we highlight is how the intro tells us "put taking care of yourself on your to-do list". I can't tell you how many times I write down in my planner "make tea & read - 30 min." and how often something else takes priority - dinner prep, email, laundry, a 3 year old who won't nap, or just plain old procrastination. I'm thinking I might need to play around with when I read. Maybe afternoon "quiet time" with three kids in the house isn't going to be where I'm successful. Like exercise, I may need to aim for first thing in the morning.

Something else important to note is taking the time to really read and work through all the exercises, not just skimming. In Dave Carbonell's workbook (another good one), I like how he recommends reading the material thoroughly and not just enough to make you more anxious. How true! How often do we dip into a book, looking for that little piece of wisdom that will make our present anxiety dissipate? As we scramble through the pages, looking at our underlined notes, anxiety can actually increase because we're struggling to make it go away (or is that just me?).

ACT begins by telling us, "If I continue to do what I've always done, then I'm going to get what I've always got." (pg. 11) That makes perfect sense, but it's a fact we rarely think about. This simple truth extends far beyond anxiety and reminds me of how Dr. Phil asks, "How's that working for you?" For our discussion, how is struggling and trying to rid yourself of anxiety working for you?

"Struggle turns out to be the most important toxic element that constricts lives and transforms anxiety from being a normal human experience into a life-shattering problem." (pg. 47)

"ACT is about letting go, showing up to life, and getting yourself moving in directions you want to go." (pg. 13)

"You'll learn how to live out your dreams. You can have that without first winning the war with your anxiety monsters." (pg. 4)

This is so inspiring to me. Since my first panic attack, the good student in me believed that if I worked hard enough and did all of my homework, I could rid myself of anxiety and panic. I thought about what I could accomplish when I was cured and anxiety free. So, I worked and struggled, and did make some big strides. But, I've also felt deep disappointment at times when I looked up and anxiety was still there, running alongside of me.

I've resisted the notion that I just need to accept my anxiety because it felt like surrendering to an anxiety filled existence. But, I think these authors are suggesting that once you're living out what's really important to you, it doesn't matter if you drag anxiety along for the ride. In fact, taking your full attention off of your anxiety can create some lift. Right now, many of us spend too much time managing and trying to cope with anxiety and this takes up precious room when there are many other areas of our lives that are so vital and important.

Going back to the book, I love the use of repetitive themes as a way to sink in the learning. It feels grounding to me and I like the way some of these phrases pop up in my head as I go through my day, anxiety in hand.

"drop the rope
toxic avoidance
false alarms
anxiety needs big thought, fear requires little
I can use my hands, feet, & mouth to move forward, doing what's important to me"

The other night, I drove my youngest home from a swim meet while my husband stayed to cheer on our older two. It had grown late and I was anxious about driving home on a major highway downtown. I was trying to talk myself out of being anxious internally (I've done this one hundred times, nothing bad ever happens, I can handle it, bring it on). Then I remembered that driving my daughter home, on whichever route I chose, and having freedom was important to me - something that I valued highly. I drove the route, allowing the wave of adrenaline to flow through me, and made it home - once again - with no problem.

Finishing up for now:

*How might the ACT philosophy help with your experience of anxiety?

*In what ways do you struggle to control your anxiety and how does that keep you stuck?

*What's so important to you that you'll risk showing up and feeling anxious?

*What's resonating for you in the reading? What's not sitting so well?

Let's read chapter 3 this week!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Reading

After a little spring hiatus, I'm back with a book to add to your summer reading list. I'll be working through this fantastic little workbook throughout the summer and hope you'll join me! You can grab this book at your local library or from most book sellers. Let's aim to read the intro (very important) and first two chapters by July 1st, ok?

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobia's and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Forsyth and Eifert)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Phobia Workshop Sketch

My Dad sent this to me and it's really cute!

However, this sketch has had me thinking about the stereotype of someone with an anxiety disorder. Most of the people I know with anxiety and panic are outgoing, empathic, bright people. They aren't actually afraid of things like driving, elevators or public speaking. Those are just the situations where they have experienced a panic attack before and conditioning has quickly set in. They're afraid that when panic shows up, it will be so intense that something catastrophic will occur like death or insanity. That's how intense these thoughts and sensations can be.

My husband once suggested that I write a post about all the things that don't create anxiety for me (or that are important enough to do anyways), so here are a few: I've given birth naturally three times - twice at home; I like to rock climb; I've run a marathon and completed a handful of triathlons (2 in open water); Riding on the back of a motorcycle is big fun to me; I like to get past small talk and really connect with people; I teach childbirth classes; I spent a year living on top of a mountain taking kids through caves, behind waterfalls and on long hikes; I can ask the hard questions and sit with other peoples pain; I've talked to my older girls about sex; I have attended about 20 births as a doula.

So, while this is really cute, it's important to remember that anxiety is just one piece of what makes you who you are. Or, as a friend says, "Anxiety is just the Side B to being a highly passionate, creative and empathic person. I wouldn't give one side up for the other."

I'd love to hear what defines you outside of your anxiety!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musings on a cure

I've been thinking about Meredith's comment from a few weeks ago. She and I have talked back and forth about that stubborn, last little bit of anxiety that doesn't want to go away and looking for a cure that doesn't seem to exist.

I'm realizing and working on growing more comfortable with the fact that I may experience more anxiety than I would like to in my lifetime. This will probably be my challenge until I'm an old lady; that there may be no cure, but there is freedom in living a big life not run by fear and avoidance. There is also freedom in accepting all of our emotional states. Later in life, Dr. Claire Weekes was asked if she still experienced anxiety and panic and she responded, 'yes, but so what!'

My deep learning continues to be the lessons of showing up, experience and compassion. Every time I dread and anticipate an event - certain that I'll go crazy and make a fool of myself - and show up anyways, I get stronger. Every time I allow myself to feel anxious and not demand that it goes away, it feels a little more manageable. And, every time I am compassionate with myself when I do go down that anxiety rabbit hole and not make it such a big deal in my head, I worry less about having this thing forever.

So, a cure for anxiety and panic? Perhaps not. But freedom is certainly available in every choice we make.

*For further reading, check out Aimee's post on recovering from social anxiety.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Murals exhibit

Have you seen Brian Rea's new art exhibit called Murals? I don't think I knew there were so many different types of fears in the world! Rea has been writing down his own fears, and those of people around him, for the past 11 years. In this work of art, he's organized the more interesting ones into six categories: Physical, natural, supernatural, emotional, political, and random. It's quite a visual display and I love he's channeled fear into creativity - check it out!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spreading Love

My girlfriend Patience has created a "Guerrilla Goodness" challenge for Valentines Day through her inspirational blog, Kindness Girl. I invite you to spread the love everywhere you go and remember to take that message to heart, as well!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 30!!

I started at the beginning of the month with a goal that felt challenging: plan and follow through with at least one exposure practice daily, for 30 days. My anxiety has kicked into high gear this Fall/Winter and I was feeling like something needed to change. That old fear of fear was traveling from one space in my life to the next looking for open real estate, and I was buying with my avoidance.

Overall, I feel like the month went really well. I scheduled daily practices and looked for opportunities to get anxious on purpose. Highways, bridges, public speaking, social situations and free floating anxiety have been my biggest areas of work. I’ve done plenty of exposure work before, but this time I’ve been feeling a bigger shift in my attitude toward anxiety.

It’s not happening all the time. But, more and more I’ve been able to think and believe, “I want this”, “I’m willing” and “I can handle this”. I’m also working hard on being patient with the passage of time. Even tonight, as I was feeling some waves of anticipatory anxiety, it finally kicked in that I might always deal with this issue. I can’t control these genes of mine, but I can control how I respond when they show up.

I also realize that I've got more work to do. There are still areas where I feel the strong urge to resist and fight the anxiety as it’s coming on. So, I’m setting more goals to include: more exposure work/living an “exposure lifestyle”, improving my self care (sleep, exercise, relaxation and meditation) and finding ways to celebrate each success. I’ve also been talking to my doctor about medication on a short term, as needed basis for those areas I’m still feeling stuck. I don’t love taking meds, but I’m trying to be open minded to all available resources (more on that in a later post).

So, cheers to a month of taking on anxiety! I'd love to hear how you all are doing and how your personal challenges have been going. Let's keep our brains in training as we work toward living a big life, anxiety or not.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 27 - Coming down to the wire

Hi everyone! First of all, let me tell you that we finally have working radiators and a brand new furnace, just in time for some east coast snow! There's nothing like coming in from some serious snow play, laying mittens and hats on the radiators, and finding them warm and dry in no time! Thanks for the messages and well wishes!

Day 27 - I'm in a place where, like most people, the emotional content of any given day is a mixed bag. I don't feel anxious all day, every day, but I'm experiencing more consistent anxiety than I was hoping for as I near the end of my 30 day challenge. Which, of course, sends my head into a tail spin of, "Will I feel this way forever? Am I missing something?"

I couldn't sleep last night and found myself feeling on the verge of panic. You know that free floating anxiety that sneaks up on you as the day comes to an end? To be fair, I did have a lot on my mind: my husband is winter camping with the boys, somewhere in the wilderness (talk about crazy); I'm getting ready to teach a new class; and I'm willingly taking on anxiety daily.

I find it fascinating, though, that a person who is conditioned to feel anxiety/panic can go from an automatic thought to physical panic symptoms before their brain even registers what happened. It's no wonder, then, that we find ourselves monitoring every little symptom, guarding against every thought.

I was reading an oldy but a goody Claire Weeks book the other day. She talks about the common mistake people make when they "accept 99% of symptoms and experiences but withdraw from the final 1 percent". (p.69) And, I was thinking, 'Claire, baby . . .I'm trying here! Can't 1% of me have the luxury of withdrawing now and again?' And, the answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. She adds, "The next time you set off to practice acceptance. . . watch for the moment of recoil and go toward it in a loose, floating kind of way. That is the key." (p. 70)

So, in the midst of late night anxiety, as I was going down too many rabbit holes and trying to argue it away, I remembered to pull out my mental bag of tricks, "Oh, wait a minute, I'm not falling for this again. I want this anxiety, too." Loosening up as I talked myself into wanting this, I drifted off to sleep, waking up an hour later to more sensation. Again, I took a moment to relax into it, look out the window at the snow, and wait for the sensations to subside. After a few rounds, I eventually fell asleep.

As I write, I feel sleep calling to me, so I'll wrap it up here. I'd love to hear how your challenges are going and what you're trying to accept and go toward in your final 1 percent.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 19 - Furnaces, Bridges and Haircuts - Oh My!

Here we are on Day 19! So far, this week has been a good mix of a couple great practices (meaning I felt super anxious and welcomed it) and lots of stress management over buying a new furnace - ouch! Over the weekend, I got a chance to drive over the Enon bridge. Even on the way there, I said once or twice, "You know, I might choose to just be a passenger. OK? It's alright if I choose that." And then, as we approached it I thought, "OK, I can do this. I want this," and it wasn't so bad. Such was the case with other practices, like getting my hair cut and highlighted. Even as I moved forward, ready to show up, I had worries about getting panicky and feeling embarrassed. I'm really working on dropping the critics voice that says I should be ashamed of having anxiety in everyday situations. I've been fighting that internal battle for too long and getting nowhere. It turned out that I handled the few big waves of adrenaline, accepted that my face was red and thoroughly enjoyed the pampering afternoon!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our Friend Adrenaline

We woke to the strangest sound yesterday morning around 5:25am - boom! My husband and I both shot awake, looked at each other and said, "What the hell was that?" I thought it was something outside, peered out the windows and went to check on my babies. Steve ran down stairs and came up quickly, motioning me to talk in the hall. "Our boiler blew and there's a lot of gas and water in the basement. Get the kids. We need to get out of the house."

Our oldest woke to the sound as well and was pretty nervous already. Her alarm system was going off and she started to cry, wondering what would happen. I woke our middle child and picked up our sleeping toddler out of the bed. We opened the front door and grabbed jackets in the same motion, getting out to the van within a minute's time.

Huddled together with the heater blowing, jackets on, stocking feet, we waited for the cavalry to arrive. We had no experience with this kind of situation. I was wondering, "Would the house blow? Did we need to alert the neighbors and get the hell out of Dodge before the whole thing blew?"

Minutes later, we heard sirens and saw lights flashing as three firetrucks arrived, a police car and the gas company. Sitting in the van, I couldn't help but observe our different reactions. Our oldest was still crying, probably taking in a more complex view of the situation. Our middle said, "Oh yeah! A firetruck in front of our house! Dad - can you ask they would let me climb inside?" The baby was curled up in my lap sucking her thumb, happy as long as she was with her family.

Steve and I had responded quickly and without hesitation. He's pretty unflappable during an emergency. In this situation, I didn't feel fear at all. My body gave me just the right amount of adrenaline to get everyone out of the house to safety. I didn't notice the effects until I was sitting with the baby on my lap and she giggled, noticing my legs shaking. We all laughed and I knew it was just a matter of time until the adrenaline wore off and the shaking ceased. I also knew that my goal was to approach future symptoms with the same knowledge and patience, emergency or not.

Tonight as we make phone calls to buy a new furnace (ouch) from the warmth and comfort of Grandma's house and received lots of support from friends and family, we feel so very blessed. This is an inconvenience, but certainly in light of world events, very manageable.

If you haven't had a chance to send money to relief efforts in Haiti, please consider sending what you can to your charity of choice.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day Thirteen - Today's challenges

Todays challenges:

*Take my girls skating about 30 minutes from our home.
*Drive over the very evil Enon bridge
*Drive to my Mom's house and cross another two (big, but not so evil) bridges
*Continue to work on wanting that free floating anxiety/agitation that seems to stay with me some days and not resist it so much.
*Stop obsessing about whether 150 feet above the water will feel too high and work with the feelings it brings up. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day Ten - Interesting Interview

After seeing David Barlow on This Emotional Life, I googled some of his articles and found this interview. It's really interesting -- for example, did you know that 10% of the population has non-clinical panic? These are people who experience the same physiological symptoms of a panic attack, but don't label it as such. An aspect that makes panic disorder a disorder is fearing more attacks and avoiding situations where panic may present. People with non-clinical panic might have the symptoms and chock up the feelings to a stressful day or something they ate. I find this fascinating! He also speaks to why some people develop an anxiety disorder and others don't, even with a biological predisposition. Read it if you get the chance and tell me what you think!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day Eight - Pushing Forward

A quick update on Day Eight:

I went driving over the bridge this morning and further down the highway than I've been in over a year. I did a test drive with a fellow superhero last night and felt crazy nervous. This morning, though, I think that attitude of willing to feel anxious helped a great deal. I was also really inspired by my friend who got on the highway last night after not doing so for 10 years. If you were on the road you might have seen our superhero capes flying!

Tonight, I had been invited to attend a financial book group and I only knew one of the women. Standing at the sink washing dishes, I thought about not going because I was tired, it was late and, really, hadn't I already done my anxiety work today? That's the thing about putting your goals out in the open, I felt like if I was going to do this challenge, I really had to go for it. So, off into the cold night I went and had a really nice time.

I don't want to jinx anything, but I'm starting to feel a little more like myself and the din of anxiety radio is beginning to weaken.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day Four - Brain in Training

I remember sitting in the weekend workshop last fall and hearing Dr. Wilson say, "Getting rid of resistance is one of your biggest goals." Even though we know intellectually that nothing dangerous will happen when anxiety and panic arise - we do know that, don't we? - it's so easy to get caught up in the what if's and feel like, "I can't do exposure today. I feel too anxious. That means something bad will happen. Maybe I should wait for another day".

In This Emotional Life, David Barlow, Ph.D. said something I loved about our thoughts and catastrophic predictions. He said, "Don't believe everything you think!" Even if they're not true, we tend to believe these thoughts because we're the ones thinking them.

Sitting at the computer on day four, I've completed 4 driving practices so far, 1 social practice and relaxation every day. Here's a quick update!

Day two - I woke up feeling anxious, kind of raw and tired. You know those mornings when you just don't feel like going out there and doing the work. I'm having lots of those as I work through this resistance. Pushing myself, I drove the bridge loop again and made it longer, adding another exit with a smaller bridge that used to be my nemesis!

Feeling really anxious before even starting, I found myself both asking the symptoms to increase and hoping them away at the same time. The first loop was pretty good, but here's something interesting. Because I was feeling so raw, I thought during the second loop, "it's ok if I turn on some music to keep my mind a little distracted. I just need it today. It's no big deal."

Well, that small act of adding a crutch sent a message to my brain that this was more dangerous than previously anticipated. I got to the mid-way point, turned around at the exit and boom, big waves of anxiety were pulsing through my body. My automatic thoughts were, "Uh oh. I'm in trouble here. I'm feeling really bad, I've got my child in the car & I'm going to have to call someone to pick us up on the side of the road."

Then, I remembered the truth. In 14 years of dealing with anxiety, nothing bad has ever happened and fighting only makes it worse. Knowing it was the only way to go, I said again out loud, "Hit me. Come on anxiety - come and get me. I'm not even fighting back. I want to feel adrenaline coursing through my body by the time we hit the bridge." I dropped my shoulders again and even put my right hand out, as if to say, "I give". What else was I going to do?

Making my way across the bridge, looking over the water and city skyline, I continued to feel strong physical sensations, like I was buzzing with adrenaline. However, when I dropped my guard, I was able to step back and notice that even though it was uncomfortable, the symptoms weren't getting worse, I was driving very well and everything was alright. I felt like this was good practice, what I need to be doing every day.

At this point, I really should have done a third loop to cement the learning. And, this sounds like an excuse, but my 2 year old was getting a little tired of looking for trucks and birds as we went "Sunday driving". This is one of the challenges of finding ways to fit this work into our daily lives.

I tell you what . . . this feels like I'm training for a marathon some days. We are biologically wired to protect ourselves from these feelings, even if they are irrational. Dropping the resistance and choosing to feel it all is exhausting work. When I did my first triathlon, I competed while wearing my "Team in Training" singlet. I think those of us out there doing exposure work should be wearing a team shirt that says, "Brain in Training"!

If you're joining me for 30 days of exposure, here's a great read (very short) about how to know if you're succeeding. I know that I'm not doing all these things regularly, but it's a good reminder of where to set our compass.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day One - Getting Started

Today's practice was a 10 mile loop over the downtown bridge and back, which I did three times in a row. The practice was pretty typical: I felt most anxious the first time and was almost bored with it by the third. What helped the most were the paradoxical techniques of asking anxiety symptoms to increase, purposefully repeating anxiety provoking phrases, and dropping my guard. Knowing intellectually that nothing bad ever happens, I physically dropped the tension in my shoulders and said outloud, "Hit me. Come on. Give you your best shot. I can handle it."

I felt hopeful as I finished up that practice, the sun was shining and I thought of all the opportunities in life when anxiety does not rule decision making. I love that dreamy space where everything is a possibility. I even dreamed of the article I'd write after these 30 days are over when I'm feeling so much better.

As evening finds me anxious and tense again, obsessing on how I'm always going to feel this way, I'm trying to remind myself that this is what I expected. There would be no challenge if it was easy from the beginning. Long term conditioning will take a while to reverse. It's normal to be worrying that tomorrow and the days to follow won't be as smooth; that I won't be able to take on harder challenges. But, that's ok. I expected that and can handle whatever arises.

Looking forward to stirring up more trouble for myself tomorrow.

I'll be checking in a couple times per week -- see you soon!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"This Emotional Life"

PBS is coming out with another amazing series that you won't want to miss - "This Emotional Life". It begins airing Monday, January 4th, 2010 (just in time for the challenge!). Check your local PBS station for times.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Preparing: 30 Day Challenge Begins this Monday 1/4/10

Happy New Year!

I hope one of your New Years resolutions is to join me in the 30 day exposure challenge and begin changing your relationship with anxiety. This is not easy work, but I know we can do it together! Some of you may be ready to jump right in while others may watch from the sidelines as they design a program that feels right for them. Still others may be working through 30 days of healthy habits that will create positive change in their lives.

Everyone goes at their own speed and has different goals. The idea is to start with something and begin now, not waiting for a day where you feel like doing it or have less stress or whatever other excuse tugs at you to just stick with the status quo. If you're already uncomfortable. . . why not start today?

My goal is to stop worshiping at the altar of anxiety this year. My hope is that by following a 30 day program of exposure to my feared situations and thoughts, along with a course of relaxation and basic self care, I'll find myself further along the path to recovery. I know that I'm hard wired to default to anxiety when stress comes knocking. Part of that is biology and part years of conditioning. Research shows that these types of practices help smooth out those well worn grooves and perhaps they won't be so deep and easy to slide into in the future. I'm also hoping this will inspire others to take back their lives, moving forward with or without anxiety.

I can't tell you how many people I've spoken with recently who have been experiencing similar feelings. Many talk about having a low to mid-level feeling of anxiety, thoughts like anxiety radio streaming through, or simply a feeling of unease most days. Others experience panic with some regularity and fear it's return. Some talk about waking up each morning with anxiety coursing through their bodies like electricity.

All of these people go on with their days to do amazing things.

Exposure and anxiety work can be a mixed bag, just like life. Some days, I throw on the cowgirl boots and cruise across the bridge, meet someone for coffee and make travel plans. I feel like I can conquer the world and I'm filled with dreamy inspiration. Other days, I think being a hermit isn't such a bad idea; I'm sure my anxiety will always have the upper hand and wreak havoc on my life (catastrophic thinking & fortune telling for you CBT buffs).

That's just the nature of the beast and I can expect and prepare for both types of days to pop up. As we all know, feeling states are not static - happy, sad, anxious, angry, joyful, surprised, nervous, elated - all have their moment and none stick around forever.

So, enough of the intro and pep talk, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get down to work? My 30 day challenge begins Monday, January 4th, 2010 and finishes up Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010.

"Here's the basic strategy. Get anxious on purpose. Once you are anxious, encourage the symptoms to continue for a long time. During this time, stop worrying and start supporting yourself. Let go of your safety crutches. Do this over and over, in all your fearful situations."
(R. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., pg. 33, Facing Panic)

I have many great books and workbooks that help with anxiety, but I'm narrowing this challenge to one and I will be working out of Facing Panic as my main guide. Here are three that I highly recommend and two very helpful websites. Choose a plan that feels good to you, map out your daily goals and stick with it. Here's what my plan entails:


Relaxation & Calming Skills (Chart 1)

*Natural breathing (10xday) -- about 2 minutes
*Calming breath (10xday) - 2-3 minutes
*Progressive muscle relaxation (2xday - am & pm) - about 10 minutes

I'm going to choose from the following each day. Some days I'll be able to do more than others, but the idea is to do something each day.

*Interoceptive exposure (charts 2 and 3)
*Practicing with feared situations (charts 4, 5, 6 & 7)
*Cognitive exposure/Setting aside time to worry (read this)

Ok, so let's get started! If you're joining me in any capacity, please leave a comment and let me know how your progress is coming along! This is a place to talk about days that aren't going so smoothly, as well as a place to celebrate your victories.