The foundation of anxiety for many people is the emotion of fear. Whether it is fear of the anxiety itself or fear of harm coming to them or others, fear drives the anxiety. For some people with anxiety disorders the over-riding emotion might be guilt—feelings of responsibility for events over which they have no control.
Yet, too often people accept emotions as absolute truth. In cognitive therapy, this is referred to as “emotional reasoning.” Our emotions are important messengers but they need to be evaluated for accuracy. Sometimes we feel something because we want it to be true. Other times we feel something because it triggers a memory from the past. For instance, “I'm afraid of driving because I'm afraid I will have a panic attack like I did before.”
Have you ever tried to discuss something with someone who declares “Well, that's how I feel” as if the feeling is evidence itself and makes their opinion valid? Isn't it frustrating because no matter what evidence you have, their feeling trumps all? It shuts down the discussion. Read more...
Anxiety sometimes is a message. Many people who have problems with anxiety are so caught up in their fears of it they don't truly receive the message of the anxiety. As a result they are unable to resolve the problem the anxiety is trying to illustrate.
For instance, I had a client who had a fear of driving long distances, or even riding with someone, due to having panic attacks while traveling on a highway. When we explored this I found that it started when she went to visit her family who lived a couple hours away. Although she didn't want to acknowledge it, she had a tumultuous relationship with her mother who tended to be very critical. Due to the panic attacks she was unable to visit her family. The panic attack was an emotional signal that she didn't want to visit her family and for her to resolve the panic she needed to accept that was okay.
Distinguishing whether anxiety is physical or emotional and the message it is trying to convey can help resolve the anxiety. Some common messages: Read more...
Anxiety is body arousal which can be due to any number of triggers. For many people with anxiety, they become confused about the anxiety when it doesn't manifest in its usual way. Frequently I've had clients I treated for anxiety who were managing their anxiety well but had a sudden flare-up they didn't understand and which caused additional distress: “I don't really feel anxious about anything, why am I having these symptoms?”
When I explore with them recent changes or possible triggers, we often discover there are other reasons for the symptoms. The reason there are many triggers for anxiety symptoms is because the symptoms are due to the arousal of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is a natural system of the body when the body feels threatened or in danger--it prepares us to react to the threat. To understand this further, read: A Brief Primer on the Biology of Stress and How CBT Can Help.
Many times when my clients have anxiety symptoms they don't understand they become even more anxious due to the concern about why the symptoms are suddenly occurring. Sometimes just knowing the reason for the symptoms can be reassuring. By understanding your body you can tolerate the symptoms better and/or decrease the symptoms. Some of the possible triggers: Read more...
Some people spend a considerable amount of time focused on “what if” types of worries. “What ifs” are different from worries about an actual event. “What ifs” refer to the constant reviewing in your head of possible negative events or outcomes. These thoughts aren't evaluated for probability or importance or solutions, but only serve to maintain a heightened state of anxiety.
A coping statement such as “worries are not reality” can be useful if your worries meet the following conditions:
1) Unlikely. What is the actual probability? Something “could” happen is true for a 10% chance or for a 90% chance but one is a more realistic concern. Worrying about someone breaking into your home and harming your family when you live in a safe neighborhood and have taken proper precautions is a waste of energy because it is unlikely. Read more...
For those with anxiety disorders, Panic Disorder especially, the anxiety symptoms feel so out-of-control it seems that something must be terribly wrong. As a result, they become fearful of the anxiety symptoms thinking they might be having a heart attack or some other physical ailment, will faint and hurt themselves, or will lose control in some way. The obsessive focus on even minute expression of symptoms due to these beliefs cause increased anxiety and even panic.
Frequently, those with these beliefs are not very in tune with their physical self because such body awareness can trigger the fears. This fear of bodily sensations can cause them to reject useful management tools such as breathing methods or relaxation. Such tools rely on heightened awareness of the body which can be uncomfortable initially. Read more...
Question: I have a brother who has always been lagging in studies compared to me. My father (who, by the way, has severe aggressiveness and an inferiority complex) would constantly praise one of us while belittling the other--like mocking my height and mocking my brother for his academic performance. I would never bother about those comments but my brother took them seriously so has been indirectly jealous of me.
My mom has a soft spot for my brother because he would often cry and complain to her whenever he was being mocked. She has always been fond of me and very supportive until recently. But lately my brother is been making annoyingly passive-aggressive (PA) statements towards me in front of my mom.
For instance, we were having ice-cream with different flavors yesterday. I finished mine and my mom walks in and suddenly my brother offers a portion of his ice cream to me (I don't like that flavor). When I gently refuse he makes a sad face before my mom and says, "she is upset with me again." I reply that I am not upset with him but that I simply don't like the flavor. He keeps on repeating it until my mom urges me to accept a part of the ice cream to prove I am not really upset.
And this is one such example. He constantly tells my mother secretly that I am always angry with him and not talking with him enough. My mom tells me this in private and advises me to talk with him. When I try to comfort him he ignores me.
The only thing bothering me is that my mom is talking to me less and believes I am torturing my brother. So, please tell me how to deal with this as I feel personally betrayed with the lack of love from my parents as well as my brother.
I've noticed in my responses to readers asking about managing a passive-aggressive (PA) person, I often note, “And be sure to say this calmly.” When conflict occurs, often the person who can remain calm is the one in control of the situation. But remaining calm is easier said than done for many people especially when confronted by a PA or aggressive person.
1) Someone has aggressed against you. When someone is taking an aggressive approach, they are seeking aggression or control. Therefore, the more calm you can remain, the more likely you are able to defuse the situation. My training in a psychiatric inpatient unit for paranoid and schizophrenic patients emphasized the importance of being calm when confronted by an aggressive patient.
My karate training also stressed the importance of remaining calm when confronted by an aggressive stranger. Karate taught me to take a stance that appeared to be non-aggressive: stay relaxed, put hands up casually facing outward, slightly back away, and talk calmly. The hope was that we could talk the other person down from aggression but we were also getting in a prepared stance to allow a quick reaction to a physical assault. Read more...
My head nearly exploded when I read that a psychologist writing about “personal responsibility” was called “controversial” and “politically incorrect.”
“Politically incorrect?! Politically incorrect?!” I sputtered. “This is basic psychological science that has been demonstrated repeatedly for decades!”
What got my ire up? Media descriptions of Jordan Peterson, Ph.D. and his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos portrayed his central premise of “personal responsibility” as “controversial.” Sure, the way he presents his ideas may be too Bible-based for some and too irreverent for others but the underlying concept of personal responsibility is politically incorrect?
His ideas are not new but are based on decades of psychological research. Now this research base showing the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other similar methods doesn't fit the politically correct narrative? Read more...
Many people start exercising this time of year because they know it is healthy for them and to get back into shape after the holiday indulgences. Unfortunately, many people don't continue after the first few weeks.
One way to stay motivated and return to your plan day after day is to increase your positive memories of the exercise according to researchers Zenko and colleagues (2016). How can you do this when starting exercise is often painful and unpleasant? And a basic principle of motivational theory is that we tend to do what is pleasant and avoid what is unpleasant? Read more...
Frequently, people question other people's decisions and behavior. “Why did she stay with an abusive husband?” or “Why did he lie and deceive?” or “Why didn't they make better financial decisions?” or “How could a parent abandon his or her family?”
We typically believe that in a similar situation we wouldn't make the same choices. As a result, we may be judgmental and critical of the decisions others' make. Yet, when faced with a similar situation, what we want to believe we would do and what we actually do can be very different.
It is often said that to truly understand someone else we need to walk a mile in their shoes (see the poem below from where this idiom may have been derived). Research shows us, though, that we can't just imagine what someone else experiences and decide what we would do in their situation. Imagining can lead us to the wrong conclusion. Read more...
Event: Starting a new job and wanting to be shown respect.
Emotions: resentful, hostile, revengeful
Distress Rating: 9--Feeling Desperate
Thoughts: Every place I work it is always the same. I work hard and contribute more to the company I work for than anyone else. Yet, at every job I've had the other employees don't respond to my requests and then laugh at me behind my back. My bosses never recognize my accomplishments. They should show me respect because I have more talent than all of them put together. I will make their lives miserable until they show me the proper respect!
Can You Identify the Irrational Thinking in this Example? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.
How Can You Change the Thinking? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of resentment, hostility, and vengefulness?