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Here's the Anxiety Coach® Newsletter
January 03, 2011

Simple Ways to Tame Anxiety

Happy New Year!

And welcome back to the Anxiety Coach® newsletter. This issue looks at the Anxiety Trick and identifies six core issues in resolving it.

You'll find this newsletter in your e-mail box the first week each month. I'll bring you tips and suggestions for overcoming fears and phobias in each issue.

If you like this newsletter, please pass it on to friends or groups with an interest in this topic. If you received this issue from a friend and want your own subscription, please subscribe.

January 3, 2011
Volume 11, Issue 1

I'll start 2011 by describing six core ideas that are central to the Anxiety Trick. I'll describe how you can use them to overcome fears and phobias, and invite you to try a small experiment today.

The Anxiety Trick - 6 core ideas

1. It's more helpful to treat chronic anxiety disorders (panic attacks, phobias, worry, and obsessions and compulsions) as a Trick than as a disease or mental illness.

2. The Anxiety Trick is this: you experience Discomfort, and treat it like Danger. This means that when you experience a panic attack, or an upsetting intrusive thought, or a phobic object like a dog, you usually try to protect yourself from the fear by fighting it or running away. This is a common, and understandable, reaction.

3. It also means that you get tricked into reacting in ways that make your anxiety worse rather than better. If you're up against an actual threat, fighting or running away are probably helpful. But if you're up against your own internal sensations, thoughts, and emotions, fighting or fleeing will make things worse. You get a few moments of immediate relief, but feel worse the rest of the day as you think about what happened. Even worse, you fall into a habit of trading away your long term freedom for a few moments of temporary comfort. That's a very bad trade. It's one way the Anxiety Trick maintains a chronic anxiety disorder.

4. You can best recover by taking a more accepting stance toward these anxious thoughts, sensations, and emotions. That means feeling the discomfort and giving it time to pass, rather than fighting or fleeing it. (People often mention to me that "discomfort" is a pretty mild word for the intense fear they experience. I agree. I picked it because I want a word that contrasts with "danger", and this was the best I could do).

5. Overcoming a fear or phobia requires the same kind of ongoing, consistent effort that you need to lose weight, or to stop smoking. It's not accomplished all in one step, but in a series of small steps. It's not done easily or comfortably, but with considerable discomfort, and setbacks, along the way. It doesn't help much to nag or punish yourself. What helps most is to treat yourself with compassion as you do the hard work of taking the small steps.

6. Most importantly, it's not accomplished by resisting or avoiding the fear. It's done by learning how to accept, and ultimately disarm, the feelings.

These six ideas are a key part of the methods I use in my private practice with clients in Chicago. You'll see them in more detail in my web site, and my Panic Attacks Workbook.

My web site continues to expand, so if you want to keep up with the changes and additions, sign up for the RSS feed there.

Something for Today

Did you make a New Year's Resolution? I'm not a big fan, because they usually fade away quickly. But here's an experiment if you want to do something different today.

Think of something you've been putting off because you expect it to be unpleasant. Maybe you have a stack of papers you need to file so you can be ready to figure out your taxes. Maybe you have an overdue paper at school. Maybe you need to start a job hunt, or make an overdue call to a friend who might now be annoyed with you.

Pick something unpleasant, something small, something you need to do, that you've been postponing. If you can only think of large things, break one of them into smaller steps. A job hunt might start with updating your resume, or making a single phone call. A phone call that's too intimidating can be preceded by an e-mail.

Do this small, unpleasant task today. As you do it, notice the ways you think to yourself, and how you react to the task. Take a few notes about your reactions on a 3x5 card, or your iPod.

As you notice your automatic reactions, accept the feelings that come with the actual task (not just the anticipation of it, the actual doing) the same way you might accept getting wet when you go out in the rain. The wetness will pass, you'll be dry again, and you'll also get to where you want to go. You could stay dry, but then you'd have to stay home. In the same way, you can pass through the unpleasantness and gain the benefits of having moved forward with a task.

A few hours after you've done this, take a few minutes to review the experience. How did the task compare to what you expected? What did you notice about how you talk to yourself? What might have been the result of doing this task sooner? Later? Is this applicable to other tasks in your life? Was the Anxiety Trick relevant to your apprehension of this task?

See you next month!

Dave Carbonell,Ph.D.

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