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Monophobia – the fear of being alone – is a common component of the panic, anxiety and agoraphobia complex.  When left unchecked, panic disorder leads to agoraphobia.  When this happens, monophobia often develops at the same time.   If your coping mechanisms rely heavily on a “safe” person, or safe people, then you are more likely to develop monophobia.  Monophobics expend a great deal of effort and energy in an attempt to never be alone.  This can be VERY disruptive and impactful when it comes to daily life, and relationships with those people designated as safe or rescue people.  
Monophobia is not a different or special kind of problem.  It’s simply your fear of anxiety and related symptoms expressed in a given context – being alone and out of reach of your safe or rescue people.  This is simply the mistaken belief that you need someone to safe you from panic and its related sensations.  When deprived of that rescuer or rescuers, the monophobic perceives an even greater danger and reacts accordingly.  This is why monophobics often say they have no safe place.  In monophobia, safe places are replaced by safe people.
Overcoming monophobia is handled the same way we handle everything else we discuss here.  Moving toward the fear and exposing oneself systematically and incrementally to those fearful sensations and thoughts without reacting to them.  This can be done by working on other situations – driving, shopping, going to work, going for a walk – or by attacking the “alone” context directly via systematic and incremental periods spent alone, confronting the fear and the associated sensations and symptoms.
Repeated experiences with positive outcomes – afraid but still safe and OK – will break the connection between fear and danger.  Once the monophobic person is no longer afraid of his or her own body and mind in any situation, they no longer require rescue and therefore no longer fear being alone.

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

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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)
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

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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