Tackling Anxiety Series, Part One

How to Make Your Worry & Anxiety Worse!

Diana L Paulk, PhD

From time to time, a client will call me right before their session to cancel because they are in the midst of a panic attack. My response? “Nope. Let’s do that session, because the best and safest place to have a panic attack is when you are with your therapist!” Listen, the desire to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings as quickly as possible is completely understandable. Here’s the problem: Trying to avoid your negative thoughts and feelings around anxiety is actually the number one way to increase worry and anxiety

Avoidance is a natural and instinctive response to anything that is unpleasant, but avoiding negative thoughts can sometimes increase those thoughts.  Afterall, aren’t we trying to get away from worry and anxiety? Absolutely! But it actually helps to become more aware of what you are feeling and thinking. Turning toward the feelings and thoughts – and getting curious about them –  gives you the opportunity to find out more about what is behind them. This will enable you to find a solution to relieving your pain much more quickly, even though that feels incredibly pointless. 

One way to get curious about your anxiety and worry is to view the anxiety and worry as separate parts of yourself. This approach is based in Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). Birmingham Anxiety & Trauma Therapy has several therapists who specialize in this approach to helping people. When you work with an IFS counselor, that counselor can help you to interview the parts of you that experience anxiety and worry by showing some compassion toward those parts of you and assuming that they showed up for a good reason. For example, your therapist might have you ask the part of you that is feeling anxious when it first started to experience anxiety, or what it might be like not to have to hold anxiety.This will allow you to resolve your anxiety & worry much more quickly than avoiding it. For more on IFS therapy, please check out our blogs next month….

Another way to get curious about your anxiety and worry is by starting what I call an FTD Journal.

  • F=Feelings: Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now at this moment?”  Let’s say you are feeling anxious. Write down ‘anxiety,’ and then rank your anxiety on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero means you don’t have any anxiety at all. Ten means you need to go to the nearest emergency room! 
  • T=Thoughts: Write down exactly what you are thinking right at that moment in time. For example, you may be thinking, “Geez, I hope this journaling thing works.” 
  • D=Doing: Write down exactly what you are doing. For example, you may be sitting at your desk at work.

I recommend you do check-ins throughout the day – maybe about four times a day. The first advantage is that the FTD journal will allow you to see that anxiety is not static – it doesn’t just stay at one intensity level. In fact, it goes up and down throughout the day for just about everyone. Knowing this on a personal level helps take away the intensity of anxiety and makes things less scary. Remember the saying: “What goes up must come down?” Today, begin to monitor your feelings on that scale of 0 to 10, and even if your anxiety goes up on the scale, hang in there a little bit longer and watch your anxiety come right back down! 

For more in our periodic Tackling Anxiety Series, check out our very next post, Part Two: Developing an Action Plan…. 

Birmingham Anxiety & Trauma Therapy is Birmingham’s premier provider of therapy for anxiety. We are here to help you find a more enjoyable tomorrow. Contact us to learn more. We are located near Birmingham, Alabama and can assist anyone across Alabama.

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