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Worry and worrying are problems that many people struggle with along road to recovering from an anxiety disorder.  I’m asked to cover this topic again and again.  So … a few words about worry and worrying.

 

Worry is simply thinking.  Thinking by itself has absolutely no impact on the real world.  Worry, therefore is not protective, predictive or proactive.  Worry does not keep you safe from disaster.  It does not keep bad things from happening.  It does not prepare you for when they do.  Worry is just thinking. Its not terribly useful.

 

Worry is related to planning.  Planning is thinking accompanied by action.  When planning, we take our thoughts and transform them into real world actions required to respond to and react to real world events.  Planning is useful.  Planning is helpful.  We all plan in some way. Worry, on the other hand, is thinking WITHOUT action. Worry is half a plan and has no worth or purpose.

 

Worry is not a life sentence. Being  a “worrier” isn’t your fate for the rest of your life.  You can change this.

 

Being a “worrier” is often a self-applied label that we secretly wear as a badge of honor.  This is also not helpful.  Worry is not a substitute for love and caring, nor does it prove that you are loving or caring.  Worry matters only to the person worrying.  No matter how much you worry about someone, that person can never experience it because worry exists only in your head.  You can love and care for someone without engaging in worry about them. You can drop the “worrier” label and still be a kind, loving and caring person.

 

We can get off the worry train two ways:

 

1. Some worries can be transformed into actual plans.  By adding action, we can convert a worry into a plan.  Once you’ve created a plan, you can remove this item from your worry bucket and move along.  This sometimes involve recognizing that you are simply skipping the action part, or dropping the belief that you are incapable of action.

 

2. Worries for which there is no plan can be dropped on the floor. This is done by learning how to not engage with worrisome thoughts.  Learning to relax and refocus away from worry is a skill that can be developed through practice and repetition.  This can be difficult because you may be confusing worry with action and safety.  Disengaging with your worry thoughts may make you feel vulnerable to disaster.  Through repetition you will learn that you are just as safe when not worrying as you are while worrying.  Learning the skills of refocus and relaxation will help you break the link between worry and safety that perpetuates the habit.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)
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Not really a podcast episode so much as an angry rant about a subject I feel really needed to be addressed.  If you’ve been seeing your “anxiety” therapist for months on end, or years on end, and your progress is kinda nowhere, you may find this helpful.  At a minimum you may be entertained.

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One of the common worries while recovering from an anxiety disorder is the fear that it might “come back” after recovery.  This is something I hear from many many people.  It’s also pretty common in the community surrounding the podcast to see people arrive that have been through these issues before. They thought had it all solved, but find themselves back in the grips of panic, anxiety and associated nastiness.

The Acceptable Bubble – What Is It?

This is closely related to what I’ve been calling the “acceptable bubble”.  This is the bubble we build when we do the “recovery things”, but we engineer them to do them without anxiety.  Often this means that someone has found a panic-free way to do all the required basic life things, then kinda stopped doing the work.  The hallmark of the “acceptable bubble” is the existence of limits and limitations in one’s life.

What Are The Signs Of An Acceptable Bubble?

If you feel like you’ve recovered, but you still “can’t” do things that outside your normal daily experiences, you may be in an acceptable bubble. When are rely on safe people or safety mechanisms to get the bigger tasks done, there’s a chance that you’re in an acceptable bubble. If you are enduring your days, pushing through anxiety and trying desperately to just get through, you’ve built an acceptable bubble.

The REAL Goal of Recovery

When we build a panic free acceptable bubble, we never reach the ultimate goal of recovery.  The real end game of recovery is to learn to not be afraid of our own bodies and minds.  We must learn to experience fear and discomfort without being afraid of being afraid.  This is what recovery is all about.  Going to work, or the supermarket, or on a family vacation are the happy results of achieving this goal.  They are not the goal itself.

Avoiding The Acceptable Bubble – Getting The Job Done For Good!

In the end, avoiding the dreaded acceptable bubble is a personal thing. You must be able to look in the mirror and know that you are truly not afraid of panic or anxiety any longer. You don’t have to love it, but you can’t be afraid of it, in any circumstance.  When the day comes that you can honestly say that a level 10 panic attack while alone 200 miles from home isn’t a scary thought any longer, you’ve achieved your goal.  When you work toward that, you never have to worry about it “coming back” again.  Reach that goal, and this recovery journey will be the last one you’ll ever have to embark on.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)

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“What if I forget how to breathe?”

“What if I just stop breathing?”

“I can’t get enough air in my lungs.”

“I can’t take a deep breath.”

Breath and breathing focused anxiety is quite common among people that suffer from anxiety disorders like panic disorder and agoraphobia.  In this episode I discuss the two most common forms of this anxiety.

[1:30] “I Am Afraid That I Will Forget How To Breathe”

The first is an obsession with the thought that you have to actively, manually breathe, or your body will somehow forget to breathe or you will stop breathing.  This obsessive, irrational thought may grip you during every waking moment, tricking you into thinking that you must stay involved in the process of breathing to avoid some horrible fate.

This is not a breathing or breath problem.  This is an intrusive and unwanted thought problem. The way to address it is to learn how to not respond to that obsessive thought so that you can learn through repeated experiences that if you don’t follow it and obey it, you still wind up just fine. Rather than look at this as a breath issue, learn to see it and approach is as an intrusive unwanted thought problem. This will enable you to work toward a viable solution.  I discussed intrusive and unwanted thoughts with Dr. Marty Seif in episode 83 of the podcast here.

[12:19] “It Feels Like I Can’t Breathe.  I Can’t Take a Deep Breath!”

This is the second common form of breath and breathing focused anxiety.  You may walk around all day suffering from “air hunger”, feeling like you can’t breathe or that you can’t get a deep enough breath.  You may feel like there is a tight band around your chest, which causes you to attempt to expand your ribcage and “fill” your lungs to maximum capacity to relieve that sensation.

This is all incorrect.  You are breathing just fine, and there is almost never a need to fill your lungs to a point where they feel full to you.  “Air hunger” is a descriptive term for a problem that really does not exist. Your current response – attempting to fill your lungs and engaging in the “heavy sigh” over and over – is likely causing other physical issues like lightheadedness, dizziness, visual issues, and a rapid heartbeat.

The way out of this situation is to learn to do the exact opposite of what the fear center in your brain is telling you to do.  Rather than trying to fill your chest and lungs with air, learn to stop, relax the tension in your body, and breathe slowly and gently into your belly. Expanding the diaphragm rather than the chest.  SLOW your breathing, make it steady, with the exhales being a bit longer than the inhales.  Slow and even breathing is quite sufficient for your body. Its the natural state of your breath when you’re not trying desperately to manipulate the process based on fear.

This will be difficult at first because you will still “feel” like you can’t breathe. Relax.  Be brave. Just let your body take care of itself.  You must practice belly breathing (there’s a good tutorial on YouTube here) several times each day, along with things like progressive muscle relaxation in order to get better at going into relaxed, even breathing mode in response to your “air hunger”.

The Breath Is Not Magic

Its important to understand that while the Internet is full of articles and videos that will tell you that your breath is some magical spiritual force that cleanses, energizes and connects you to the Universe, this is not helpful to you at the moment.  Your breath is just a natural process that your body is REALLY good at managing when you let it.  As a bonus, your breath can be an amazingly helpful tool for you in terms of learning selective focus and relaxation as you go about the business of recovery from an anxiety disorder.  So just for now, throw away all the new-age interpretations of what your breath might be, and respect it for what it actually is.  You may find that this change in mindset will have a greater impact on your daily life than you think.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

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My friend Joyce joined me to talk about her slide into severe panic disorder and agoraphobia, which was followed by an aggressive recovery and rebuilding of her life. Listen to Joyce describe her journey from being frozen in fear on her sofa to being back at work and feeling limitless. Of particular note is the way Joyce used anger and frustration to fuel her recovery efforts. For many, this can be an excellent strategy and I really appreciate Joyce being so open and honest about how she was feeling and how it helped to propel her forward. As always, comments and questions are welcomed. I will do my best to relay any questions or messages to Joyce as they are asked.

 

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Holly and I discuss chapter 9 of Claire Weekes’ “Hope And Help For Your Nerves”. This chapter discusses the nature of recovery and the road to being yourself again. Some of the highlights:

* Your symptoms will not immediately go away, and may even worsen during recovery.

* You cannot simply decide to not be afraid. You must LEARN to not be afraid.

* We discuss the use of medication in conjunction with recovery.

* Keeping occupied – not being wholly consumed at all times with recovery – is essential.

* Quick recovery is possible and does happen for some people.

* A big part of recovery is understanding that what you think is keeping you stuck.

* Setbacks can and likely will happen, but they’re not really setbacks if you frame them properly and learn from them.

 

You can buy Hope and Help From Your Nerves by following the Amazon links from my website:

https://theanxioustruth.com/shop/

 

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When confronted with uncomfortable and scary feelings of anxiety, panic or emotions based on past trauma, the immediate response is to “talk yourself down”.  Trying convince yourself that you are OK using words, phrases and thoughts often does not work.  When this happens, you are at a fork in the road.  You can enlist the aid of your support system to argue with your anxiety or trauma for you, or you can resign yourself to just feel everything without resistance to let it pass through you and end naturally.

Spoiler alert … you want option two.  Facing and accepting anxiety, panic, and feelings based on your past is harder, but its the path that leads to long term change and lasting recovery.  Continuing to argue, or using your support team to argue by proxy for you, may be an attractive option because it’s the “easier” option and may seem like the fast path to feeling better in the moment, but there’s no learning or changing to found there.

Joe and I speak about this process, the need to face and feel what’s in front of you, and how this leads to a deeper understanding of the reality of being capable, competent and safe. This is the direction you want to go.  Trust us.

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to chat!

Comments and questions are always welcomed.

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Find Joe at https://joeryan.com or on Instagram at @joeryan.

 

Intro Music – “Afterglow” by Ben Drake (With Permission) https://facebook.com/BenDrakeMusic
Photo by Tony Rojas on Unsplash

Heart Rate Tracker Watch

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If you are a regular listener of the podcast, odds are that you’ve had anxiety, worry and fear focused on your heart and your heartbeat at least once or twice. This is quite common. Heart-centered anxiety generally involves being afraid of a rapid, strong, or irregular (flutters/palpitations) heartbeat. This is either due to an underlying fear that something is wrong with your heart or will go wrong, or due to the link between a rapid/strong heartbeat and a panic attack. In either case, the way out, as always, is through. We can use interoceptive exposure techniques to intentionally create the rapid or strong heartbeat we fear in order to desensitize and learn that there is no reason to fear your heartbeat.
Yes, this involves intentionally experiencing that which you fear, but this is almost always the case when solving these problems.
Comments and questions always welcomed.
 

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Music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)

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Today I chatted with Christa Holmans about some of the overlapping issues found in both anxiety disorders and autism and other neurodiversity conditions such as ADHD. Christa had so much excellent insight on how autism influences how one may deal with anxiety issues.

Christa talks about the concept of neurodiversity and how conditions like autism can be viewed as natural variations of brain types and processing styes rather than a disorder or disease. We discuss how Christa’s approach to her issues – going toward the things that are difficult or scary to learn how to do them – mirrors the “facing and floating” approach we use in overcoming problems like panic disorder or agoraphobia.  We also talked about how various aspects of autism and ADHD (for example) may require intelligent modifications to an anxiety recovery plan. Christa was kind enough to answer a couple of listener questions as well.

I really enjoyed this discussion and I hope you will too!

 

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Looking Down A Spiral Staircase

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Today I was fortunate to spend about 30 minutes with Dr. Martin Seif, a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders.  Dr. Seif and I talked about intrusive, obsessive and unwanted thoughts.  What are they?  How do they become so troublesome?  How should we approach this problem?

Everyone Has Intrusive, Irrational Thoughts

We all have odd, irrational thoughts at times.  They are nonsense.  They are meaningless.  We know that we would never act on them, and for most of us, those thoughts come and go within seconds without any impact.  For others, irrational thoughts become “sticky” when these thoughts are viewed as threats in some way. Thoughts that are viewed as threats are put on what Dr. Seif calls a “watch list”. We guard against them and try not to have them, which almost always leads to that thought becoming intrusive, obsessive, or out of control.

Interestingly, it would appear that thoughts are more likely to become intrusive and obsessive when the content of the thought runs counter to our core values, beliefs and self-image.  The gentle person has intrusive thoughts regarding violence and harm.  The person that loves children has obsessive thoughts about harming or abusing children. The religious person has obsessive thoughts about yelling blasphemous statements in church.

The content of intrusive thoughts is generally irrelevant.  The important parts are simply these:

  1. The thought is stuck
  2. The though repeats
  3. The thought causes great distress

Anxiety And Fear Blur The Distinction Between Thoughts And Reality/Action

When calm and rational, we recognize that thoughts are not reality.  They are ways to rehearse things with no real consequence.  Thoughts do not lead to reality nor do they reflect the state of reality.  When anxious and afraid, however, the bluffing nature of anxiety and fear distorts this view.  An anxious mind suddenly follows every thought as if they are real, or accurate descriptions of reality.

An Unwanted Intrusive Thought Is An Obsession

Intrusive, unwanted thoughts are similar to obsessions in OCD, but thoughts can also be compulsive.  In treating OCD we can stop the compulsion that fuels the disorder, but since we can’t stop thoughts, we must “empty the gas tank” of the obsession by learning to not fight, change, or stop the thoughts.  Success comes when we learn to let these thoughts come without resistance, and without reaction or interaction or engagement.  Dr. Seif likens intrusive unwanted thoughts to bullies.  You disarm a bully by simply refusing to interact with him.  You react to a bully by acting as if you simply do not care that he is yelling at you and threatening you.  This is the path to treating intrusive/obsessive thoughts.  Its not easy, but there are ways to learn to do this.

About The “Root Cause”

We’ve talked about this quite often on the podcast.   Digging for root cause as a way to solve the unwanted, intrusive thoughts problem is generally not terribly effective, somewhat outdated in current mental health circles, and can actually be counter productive.  While examining deeper emotional and historical issues can be beneficial in life, it is likely a better strategy to deal with the anxiety disorder first, then go after those items.

Important Links From This Episode

Find Dr. Martin Seif at http://drmartinseif.com

Find the Anxiety and Depression Association of America at https://aada.org

Drs. Seif and Winston’s most excellent book on this topic can be found on Amazon (affiliate link):

 

My Social Media and Other Links:

https://theanxioustruth.com/links

Intro and outro music: “Afterglow” by Ben Drake.
Featured photo by Tine Ivanič on Unsplash