It’s been a while since I’ve last posted. There are a number of reasons I can point to (e.g. the fact that my midterm exams seem to go all the way up until finals week), but honestly, the main culprit is my lack of symptoms. Sure, I’ve had my share of anxieties and stresses over the past two months, but there haven’t been any tangible things to write about.

At first, it seemed to me that I had hit a roadblock of sorts; I’m out of symptoms to write about, so I guess the blog is over. But then, who would I be doing justice? Isn’t the whole point of this blog to explore the many ways that we can get over our anxiety? 

I’m not saying that I’ve been “cured” or that I’m fully free of my anxiety and depression (don’t listen to people who tell you that), I’ve just learned how to cope better. I still get a bit overwhelmed in large public areas, I doubt I will ever feel totally calm while travelling, and I know I will not have my last panic attack anytime soon. But I do feel like I’m controlling my anxiety, rather than living a life where it controls me. My anxiety may influence the activities I choose to partake in, but it won’t dictate my life.

This whole journey for me really started two years ago when I had my first panic attack. I’ve written about my past experiences with mental health issues before on this blog, so I won’t go too far back. Today, I just wanted to give an overview of the progress I’ve made over the past year to perhaps give hope to those who aren’t quite there yet.

Just under a year ago, when I dropped out of my psychology degree because of the onset of panic attacks and depression, I was in a very unstable state. My emotions were all over the place, I was constantly in a state of terror, and I had very little control over myself in general. I couldn’t get on a bus to go back to school because of a particularly nasty panic attack. I moved back in my parents, and I am incredibly lucky for the support they’ve given me. I spent a few weeks in the house without ever setting foot outside because I was too scared of what might happen.

Eventually, I started going to group therapy sessions. I was terribly anxious whenever I had to walk to the clinic, but I knew that at least my peers would understand the feeling. I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one suffering with crippling anxiety. In fact, I wasn’t even the worst off.

Slowly but surely, I started getting out of the house. I walked to the grocery store once in awhile, and while I could barely last ten minutes, it was a small step in the right direction. I went out for meals a couple times with my parents, careful to make sure I had a clear escape if needed, but I made it through.

Starting this blog was one of the main outlets I had at the time. Writing down my thoughts and feelings helped me to come to terms with the fact that my mental health isn’t always stellar. It brought up memories of my occasionally depressed, and often anxious, childhood and adolescence, and helped me let go of some resentment I felt (mostly towards myself). Seeing my experiences in writing was a way of validating them. I wasn’t just being selfish and indulgent, I really did (and still do) have a problem. 

By the time I went back to my apartment in Montreal in early May, I was almost completely over the agoraphobia that I had fallen into. I still had a lot of growing to do over the summer, but it was much easier without the constant panic attacks I was having before. I slowly built back my work ethic. I had a couple part-time jobs that I found online so I could work from home, and they helped me regain my attention span that I seemed to have lost.

That’s one thing that doesn’t seemed to get talked about enough: chronic anxiety really does a number on your attention span. I hesitate to say that I suffer from ADHD symptoms, but I really did have a tough time re-adjusting to the life of a student (long hours studying). I had troubles managing my time when I first got back to school, but luckily I had the foresight to give myself a bit of a break and take a lighter course load.

Now, a full year later from when my panic attacks started to get the best of me, I can say that I feel like a new person. I’m not rid of my anxiety, I’m not rid of my mood swings, and I certainly haven’t mastered my attention span, but I feel much more self-aware. I’m aware of the troubles I have and I’m aware of what I need to work on.

My one wish this holiday season is that everyone out there is able to get a little bit more of a grasp on their mental health. Happy New Year to all.

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agoraphobiaSince I’ve moved back to school, I’ve found that my agoraphobia has been hardly ever present. I had such great support during my time back home that I’ve been able to overcome many of the fears that plagued me. I have very little “floating” anxiety, I rarely think of panic attacks anymore, and I’m perfectly comfortable going out and doing things.

So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I started panicking before my first midterm. I’ve never been one to get much test anxiety; I naturally test well, and I was well prepared for this exam, so I had nothing concrete to worry about. It took me some time to realize I wasn’t feeling test anxiety at all. I was feeling agoraphobia.

Many people see agoraphobia as a fear of leaving the house, but in fact it’s more complicated than that. As per the DSM criteria, agoraphobia is a fear of situations that are perceived to be dangerous or unfamiliar, or where there is a lack of control. For some people, simply leaving the house may elicit agoraphobic fear. But for many, agoraphobia manifests as a fear of certain types of situations, like taking public transport or shopping at big grocery stores.

I have a particular fear of situations where escape isn’t immediately possible. Luckily for me, those sorts of situations don’t occur too frequently in my daily life. I’m still not quite able to get onto a long-distance bus (e.g. to travel from Montreal to Toronto), and I’m even a bit squeamish when I have to take local buses around town. I don’t really travel much, so that isn’t much of a problem for me.

Sitting through an exam is another good example of a seemingly inescapable situation. Once you enter the exam room and write your name on the paper, you really can’t leave (barring certain extreme situations). There’s even a warning at the beginning of most exams: “If you’re sick, get up and leave now, or else you’re locked into the exam.” For a student that takes his grades pretty seriously, the thought of failing a class because I was too anxious to stay in the exam room is just not an option. Hence the “inescapable” feeling.

I’m sure I could talk to the student disability service on campus and get special arrangements, but I really don’t want this agoraphobia to stick around any longer, so I’d prefer to take direct action. So I’ve come up with some techniques that work well for me. I got through my first exam in one piece, and the second one was even easier.

Here’s how I tackle my agoraphobia:

Before the agoraphobic situation

  • Visualize yourself in the situation. What are you feeling? What is making you anxious? What’s the worst that could happen? In most cases, the worst case scenario is really not that bad. In my case, I have a panic attack during the exam and I have to leave the room for a little while. I actually have had a panic attack during an exam, and I managed to stick around long enough to finish the exam and run off. Maybe you’re afraid of elevators. Worst case scenario? The elevator breaks down and you’re stuck for a little while.
  • Intellectualize. Take your worst case scenario and explain to yourself why it’s not really that scary. In the elevator example, you know that there’s nothing that’s going to hurt you. You’ll be stuck in a small space for maybe a half-hour, until someone comes and rescues you. It may sound terrifying, but really, you’re in no danger. Maybe you’ll be late for an appointment or meeting, but at least you’ll have an interesting story to tell!
  • Take a few deep breaths

During the situation. 

  • Take a few more deep breaths. 
  • Tell someone about your anxiety. This may not always be possible, but if you’re really worried about panicking, it can be very helpful to let someone know. If I thought I was really going to panic during an exam, I might tell my professor at the onset. “I may have to run out of the room if that’s okay. But I’ll be back.” If you can’t tell someone who is with you, maybe call someone or send a text letting a close friend or family member know you’re in a situation that makes you anxious and you have to stay there. Just acknowledging to the outside world that you’re anxious is sometimes enough to calm down.
  • Take note of escape routes or other sources of comfort. It’s not a good thing to become reliant on this (because really, it’s a safety behavior), but we’re talking about baby steps here! In my exam situation, I take note of the exits, the closest bathrooms I can run to, and I make sure to get an aisle seat for quick escape. I’ve never had to actually act on these safety behaviors, but I know they’re there. (Eventually I’ll start phasing these behaviors out as my anxiety decreases.)
  • Focus on something other than your anxiety. For me, it’s easy: I have an exam in front of me. I’ve spent hours upon hours studying. Once the exam starts, my anxiety usually melts away as I enter a deep focus. For you, it may be more difficult. If you’re afraid of public transport, try taking some word puzzles or sudoku to keep your mind occupied.

After the situation. 

  • Pat yourself on the back: You did it! Every time you make it through an anxiety-provoking situation, you’ve make a great step in the right direction. Take note of the things you did well, and also the things you can improve on. Maybe next exam I’ll sit farther from the exit. Eventually I could start sitting in the middle of a row. Baby steps.

How do you deal with your agoraphobia? Let me know in the comments!

photo by: dcJohn
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grounding techniquesAround the time that I started this blog (back in late January/early February), I started experiencing very bad dissociation for the first time. I’ve written about my experiences with dissociation for Summer Beretsky’s blog Panic About Anxiety before, so I won’t rehash that for you in this post. I’m not experiencing the sort of acutely disturbing dissociation that I described in that post. Instead, I’ve been experiencing a sort of low-grade depersonalization for the past few months.

Unlike my bad experiences where I feel like I’m a video game character, lately I find myself just zoning in and out of awareness more often. A good example: once in awhile, when I’m alone, I’ll forget where I am or how I got there. The memories flood back almost immediately, but it’s unsettling, and it used to cause me a great deal of anxiety. Occasionally, it feels like I’m not physically present, but merely an observer to some alternate reality. It’s sounds a bit odd, but I’ve come to accept it just comes with the package of chronic anxiety.

Luckily for me, while I can’t seem to escape these experiences, I can certainly control how they affect me. Unless I’m in a particularly troubling situation, I’m generally not scared of these dissociative episodes anymore. To combat my anxiety, I’ve learned a host of grounding techniques that have really helped me. I wanted to share a few concrete examples with you today.

Also, just a quick note: grounding techniques are often prescribed for sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I’ve found them useful in many different contexts. They are especially effective at diminishing the effects of my dissociation, but are also great for keeping panic attacks at bay as well.

Mental Grounding is all about keeping your mind focused in the present reality. Here are some examples:

  • Orient yourself in your physical surroundings. Sometimes I get so lost in my anxiety, I lose tract of myself and where I am. Try asking questions like, “Where am I?” or “How did I get here?” Sometimes just providing yourself with an answer to these simple questions is enough to pull you back down from your anxious plane. 
  • Orient yourself in the present moment. Similarly to losing myself, sometimes I also lose track of time (on a small scale and a large scale). If you have a watch or cell phone, check the time. Remind yourself of the date and day of the week. Ask yourself what month it is, and why you like or dislike that month.
  • Be intellectual. I use this tactic a lot. Remind yourself that you’re not actually floating away from the present moment, you’re just experiencing anxiety/dissociation. A typical reminder I might give myself goes something like, “Justin, you are present in this moment right now, you just feel otherwise because of your anxiety. You are experiencing dissociation, which is a common phenomenon among sufferers of anxiety like yourself. There is no danger.”
  • Keep your mind occupied with other, more difficult, things. During some of my worst panic attacks, I find doing mental arithmetic helps me stay grounded. Starting at 2, begin doubling numbers until you lose track of where you are or can’t do the mental arithmetic anymore. When you reach that point, start over. Keep going until you get bored. Chances are, if you are able to feel boredom, you’ve outlasted your anxiety. (This doesn’t work as well for dissociation, unfortunately.)

Physical Grounding is about taking advantage of your senses to bring you back into the moment. Here are some examples:

  • Try the “3 by 5″ technique. List three things you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. 
  • Become more aware of your body. Think about your arms as you move them around, and pay attention to how they feel. Touch your face and note how it feels. Does your skin feel warm or cool?
  • Take a hot shower. The constant flow of warm water on your body will keep you grounded in the moment.
  • Try a progressive muscle relaxation. The goal is feel your muscles tense and relax. It’s tedious and often doesn’t hold my attention very well, but if you can manage to concentrate, it really does help relieve anxiety (and definitely keeps you grounded).

Try out these different grounding techniques and see which ones work well for you. Some will work better than others. Maybe you’ll even come up with your own techniques.

Do you have any other grounding techniques that work well for you? If so, leave them in the comments below!

 

 

photo by: aguscr
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fear of small talkAs a social phobe, I have a pretty profound fear of small talk. I’m afraid that I will sound boring or unintelligent. I’m also quite afraid of awkward silences permeating my conversations. For some reason, I’m always convinced that if I allow silence in a conversation, it means I’m inherently a bad conversationalist. I worry that my social ineptitude will prevent me from making friends and forming meaningful relationships.

Obviously, these obsessive thoughts are spawned from a place of catastrophizing, self-deprecating anxieties. My perceived social ineptitude is not a concrete being; it’s just a (flawed) social perception. It’s an opinion I have of myself. It’s not a fact.

I’ve argued for paradigm shifts before when I wrote about not being so hard on yourself. This is another time for one of those paradigm shifts. Unfortunately for most of us, some of our so-called “core beliefs” are so ingrained in our psyches that challenging them with rational thinking is analogous to breaking down a brick wall with a feather. Sometimes, we need a catalyst to overturn (or even simply budge) our core beliefs.

For me, that catalyst was online dating.

As part of my exposure therapy plan from my summer therapy sessions, I had devised a list of small-talk-related situations that caused me anxiety, ranked in order of distress. Dating was near the top of the list. There’s something about sitting down with someone whom you’ve never met (or never spoken to one-on-one) and having to forge conversation that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. What if I run out of things to say? What if I’m uninteresting? What if I laugh too much, or too little? What if my eyes start watering and I look like I’m crying? What if I say something ignorant or offensive without realizing? Obsessive thoughts cloud my mind.

As the old adage goes, “Practice makes perfect.” I think dating — and more generally, small talk — is no different. The first date I went on this summer, I was terrified. While I was waiting at the bar for my date to arrive, I seriously considered just running away and pretending something had come up. But I didn’t. I stayed there, and it was a fairly pleasant time.

The more dates I went on, the easier it got. But over time, I found that it wasn’t just dating that was getting easier. I was (and still am) becoming more confident in my social skills. I may not have the best social skills, but honestly, I could be a lot worse off. I started realizing that it wasn’t always my fault if conversation died out. I realized that, even if I did make ignorant statements or ask unintelligent questions, other people were making the same sort of statements and asking the same sorts of questions at the same (or even a higher) rate.

I’ve now been on about a dozen dates this summer. And I’ve never run out of conversation; I’ve never had a particularly awkward moment; I’ve never said anything offensive. I’ve even felt at times like I was the one driving the conversation, not the other way around like I was used to. I learned that I am perfectly capable of maintaining a conversation, and also that it takes two people to have an awkward silence, not just one.

This isn’t to say that I’ve mastered my social anxiety. I’m far from that. But what I have managed is to start seeing myself in a new light. Instead of focusing on my failures, I have begun to start focusing more on my successes.

Dating may not be your catalyst of choice, but I think there is an outlet waiting for you. There’s an outlet that will teach you to see yourself in a new light. You just have to go out and find it.

What was your catalyst? Have you been able to overcome any of your core beliefs? Let me know in the comments!

photo by: » Zitona «
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not being hard on yourselfThis summer has been a very odd time for me. On the one hand, living in Montreal with great company and lots of entertainment has been a nice vacation from the stresses of school that are looming on the horizon. On the other hand, I’ve been far less productive than I would have liked to have been.

For the large part, I realize that this down time has probably been necessary for my mental well-being. I’ve learned that I need to set aside a significant amount of “me time” in order to beat the panic that inevitably ensues after working too hard for too long. I’ve learned that while I enjoy socializing, I also crave alone time, and my mind never feels quite right if I don’t get it.

But beyond my learning experiences, there’s still a part of me, the driven, perfectionist part that is unarguably causing my anxiety, that can’t help but berate me for my lack of productivity. I can’t help but feel guilty when I think about how infrequently I’ve been blogging, how little I’ve been running, or how few books I’ve read. I feel like I should have been preparing for school (my first full semester in a year) or redesigning Anxiety Really Sucks! or training for a marathon.

This sort of self-imposed guilt has caused me much depression and anxiety in the past. I’m hard on myself, and no doubt you’re hard on yourself too. Being hard on yourself is probably a huge contributing factor to the anxiety that has brought you to reading my blog.

So how do you learn to stop being so hard on yourself?

The best way I’ve found is to simply change the way I see the situations that cause me guilt. Instead of focusing on the things that I haven’t been doing this summer, I should instead be focusing on the things I have been doing. Leisure time is something that is often condemned in our society, but as I’ve argued before, I think leisure time is just as important as productivity. I’ve had a lot of leisure time this summer; time to recharge and let my mind relax and focus on the things that I don’t have time to think about when I’m in the thick of school.

If you’re not being as productive as you could be, there’s probably a reason for it. Look for that reason. And let yourself be content with it. Maybe you’re spending more time with your kids. Maybe you’re cooking more. Maybe you’re simply catching up on some long-awaited TV series. Whatever it is, there’s a reason you’re doing it; and it’s probably a good reason!

Your mind isn’t designed to be constantly busy. You need some down time. And oftentimes, us anxious folk drive ourselves to be busy simply to avoid our anxiety, rather than face it head on. It’s in our downtime that we have the capacity to reflect on our anxiety and deal with it.

Are you hard on yourself too? Let me know how you deal with self-imposed guilt below in the comments!

photo by: VinothChandar
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Swallowed In The Sea[Note: the following is the second guest post from Jared Friedman.]

Is your spouse acting differently? Are you feeling like something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on the problem?

The changes may be chemical, but are coming out to you as behavioral changes in the person you love most. There are signs you can use to gauge if your spouse needs mental health treatment.

Millions Affected

Depression and anxiety affect millions of people each day, and we often attribute the symptoms to long work hours, lack of sleep, or life changes, but mental illness is not something to take lightly.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are altering the lives of silent sufferers, and the lives of those who care for them the most. When left untreated, mental illness only gets worse.

Warning Signs

Does your spouse show the following symptoms of mental illness? Do you need to look into mental health treatment?

1. Loss of Interest

For many people with the symptoms of a mental illness, activities and hobbies that used to bring joy are no longer of any interest.

Did you and your spouse used to participate in a group of any kind, or a social activity together that he or she no longer wants to do? If your spouse had a hobby that no longer warrants any time, or interest, this may be a significant sign of a mental illness.

Withdrawal from activities, friends, and family members is an indicator of the need for mental health treatment.

2. Changes in Mood

Does your spouse express, verbally or nonverbally, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear, or worry? Depression and anxiety are the most common forms of mental illness, but low self-worth and constant mental and emotional discomfort can also indicate another type of mental illness.

Did your spouse used to be happy and more upbeat than he or she has been lately? Changes in mood that have impact on relationships is a tell-tale sign of mental illness requiring professional assessment.

3. Anger or Hostility

Along with emotional changes and mood swings, newly expressed anger and hostility can indicate underlying issues. Anger can present as an external expression of internal pain and sadness. If you notice progressively worse rage in your spouse, it’s time to think about mental health treatment.

4. Substance Use

In countless mental illness cases, the sufferer attempts to treat the symptoms with drugs and alcohol. If your spouse is drinking or using drugs to self-medicate, mental health treatment is probably needed. Dual diagnosis, the clinical applicability of a mental illness and a substance abuse or eating disorder at the same time, requires special treatment. Your spouse can be treated for two disorders at the same time, and can heal from both concurrently.

5. Detachment From Reality

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder lead people to do things out of their normal character. The chemical imbalance leads to an inability to live a “normal” daily life, and can even lose touch with reality. If you notice a detachment of any kind in your spouse, seek the guidance of a mental health professional.

Treatment is available for every mental illness when approached the right way. Any signs of mental illness are cause for immediate intervention.

Jared Friedman has a masters degree in psychology from Pepperdine University.

photo by: KellyB.
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tackling stressLast Friday, I had the final for the summer statistics course I was taking throughout June. It was an intensive course; four months worth of material condensed into a month-long semester. Usually, school isn’t something that actively stresses me out, unless of course I’ve been procrastinating. And yet, the morning of my final exam, I had a panic attack and was forced to take a propranolol so I could get through my exam. (The exam went fine, but not as well as it could have.)

Stress hits us anxiety sufferers particularly hard. While stress and anxiety are distinct states, they do overlap in much of their biological underpinnings and definitely seem to work together. Stress brings on the release of adrenaline, just like anxiety, and thus leaves us with a lot of the same feelings: racing hearts, labored breathing, restlessness, decreased focus.

Acute stress is beneficial in many ways, and for most people it can be a helpful force. Unfortunately for those of us with sensitivities to increased arousal, acute stress can also make us panic. Stress seems to pile on quicker when you’re living with an anxiety disorder, and it seems to be lurking around every corner.

While learning proper stress management techniques is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for us anxious folks. We have brains that are constantly on the look out for potential stressors, so we need to do everything we can to make sure there are as few stressors as possible in our lives. Since we can’t eliminate all sources of stress of course, learning proper stress management is necessary.

So how do we deal with stress?

Tackling stress goes back to the same sorts of coping techniques we used to overcome our anxiety.

Deep breathing is always a good starting point. Remember that proper diaphragmatic breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system that works against your fight-or-flight response to calm you down.

Mindfulness can be another great coping technique. Try to keep yourself in the present rather than letting your mind wander to those “what if” scenarios that are major sources of stress. (“What if I don’t get this paper in on time?” “What if I’m late for that client meeting?” “What if I don’t pass this big exam?”)

If you’re a procrastinator like me, maybe you need to look into methods to reduce your procrastination. Procrastinating is a big source of stress for me. “Why didn’t I start studying for this exam earlier? Maybe I would have been able to finish all the practice problems if I’d just started earlier.” I’m not only stressed that I haven’t studied enough, but I’m also frustrated at myself for putting things off, which just ends up leaving me more unsettled.

Having a health lifestyle is probably the most important, yet most vague, way you can help reduce your stress. Rather than dive into healthy eating and exercise, I will leave you with some great resources that you can peruse if you’d like to know more. (I will delve into eating and exercise later on!)

Coping with Stress from the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Stress Management from the Canadian Mental Health Association

Stress Management from Health Canada

How do you deal with stress? 

 

 

photo by: Helga Weber
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Memories.[Today is a guest post from ex-anxiety sufferer Ryan Rivera.]

If you suffer from anxiety, whether it stems from work, school, a friendship, a romantic relationship, your home life, or post-traumatic stress, it is important for you to have a safe place to retreat to where you can privately examine your thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. This is why many people choose to keep a private journal.

Keeping a journal is an easy, stress-free way to privately express yourself. It can be as simple as writing down a description of what you do each day: you’ll find yourself adding little details about how you felt and what you thought about the people and events you encounter, and pretty soon you will be able to write entries entirely made up of things you are thinking about. If you enjoy writing, keeping a journal is an inherently soothing experience.

Whatever your skill or interest level, you will find that journaling is a reliable way of decreasing your anxiety.

How to “Write Right” and Achieve Anti-Anxiety Effects

Putting pen to paper may not seem like it would be much help at first glance, but that simple action can have a multitude of benefits for anxiety-sufferers. Find out below how allowing yourself to literally “read your own thoughts” can relax you in the short term, while making you less susceptible to anxiety attacks in the long term.

  • Create A Familiar Space – Journal writing, when done regularly (for example, right before you go to sleep) becomes more than just a chore. Your journal is a space for you to say whatever you want and examine how you really feel without any judgment or pressure from the outside world (and can be carried with you almost anywhere you go). The anxious brain appreciates reliable routines and spaces where it can feel safe, and over time you will begin to find that just picking up the pen in your hand and opening your journal to a fresh page in and of itself has an instantly calming effect on your mind and body.
  • Take Your Mind Off the Stressor – When you are anxious, sometimes what you need the most is a temporary escape. Journal writing can serve as an opportunity for meditation, not just on the event, person idea causing you stress but upon any subject you can possibly think of. When you need to calm your mind, writing in detail about what you see around you, or things that make you happy (such as baby animals, walks in the woods, your favorite holiday) can help you to stop obsessing and reach a more positive, functional mental state.
  • Get to Know Yourself – The added benefit of journaling is that it forces you to make time for yourself. In the midst of texting and running errands and getting to our jobs and various appointments on time, it’s a rare moment when you are allowed to get in touch with yourself. Use this time to organize your thoughts. This allows you to find out, almost from an “outsider” perspective, what your thoughts/experiences “sound” like when written out, which can give you valuable insight into what parts of your mental process are less rational than you may have realized, and show you how you can behave more rationally next time.
  • “Tell Yourself a Different Story” – To help prepare your mind to better handle anxiety in the future, try writing “stories” or brief narratives in which you encounter and overcome your fears. Describe the scenario as vividly as possible, writing down exactly how you will behave and what you will say. Another good way to “rewrite” bad mental habits is to list any negative thoughts or stresses you are having that day, and then write an accompanying list of positive, believable thoughts or “solutions.”
  • Expose and Halt the Vicious Cycle of Anxious Thoughts – Writing while experiencing anxiety can help you examine your thought patterns when you reread the entry later, or even while you are writing it. Watching for thoughts that reoccur within the writing can reveal to you to the beliefs that trap you in that loop of anxiety, which you can then address directly (for example, by asking yourself “what belief would be more useful to me?”).

Whether you are dying to go out and find a beautiful and artfully designed journal that reflects who you are, want to save a few bucks on an ordinary one you can leave plain-looking or design any way you want, or find it easier to imagine keeping a journal online or in a text document, today is as good a day as any to start using journaling to stop anxiety from your affecting life.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera was someone that suffered from a great deal of anxiety in his life before finding relief from many home methods. Now he has a website about overcoming anxiety at www.calmclinic.com.

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stepping outside of your comfort zoneTonight, I’m going on a date for the first time in almost a year. I don’t know this person very well, and I’m really not sure what to expect. I can’t stop imagining all the possible ways I could give a bad impression of myself or look like a fool. But hey, I’m going ahead with it, so I should give myself a little credit, right?

Avoidance behaviors are some of the most common and universal things that us anxiety sufferers deal with. Us lucky folks with anxiety disorders avoid stepping outside of our comfort zones like other people avoid salmonella or awkward dinner with in-laws. Unfortunately, it’s these very avoidance behaviors that keep us in loops of anxiety, never letting us free from the cycle of worry and discomfort.

There is much evidence to suggest that exposure therapy is one of the most effective methods for overcoming a range of anxiety disorders. This may not come as a surprise to you. But it probably still makes you a little uncomfortable. Why on earth would I want to force myself to do the very things that give me anxiety?

As I’ve explained before, the core of anxiety is associative learning. Your brain learns to make a connection between a particular stimulus (the sight of a bus, the thought of making small talk, the feeling of a racing heart) and the sensation of fear or anxiety. Over time, the association becomes automatic, and you can no longer control yourself from feeling anxious at the onset of whatever stimulus is evoking the anxiety.

To overcome this loop, then, we look to exposure therapy. We teach our brains that we’re not going to die if we sit on a bus. We’re not going to suffocate if we get into an elevator. And we’re certainly not going to irreparably destroy our lives if we make a mistake.

So today, I challenge you. Go out and do something outside of your comfort zone. No matter how big or how small, force yourself to make that leap and do something that may very well be worth the risk.

outside your comfort zone

You can do it!

If you have panic disorder, do some cardio and let yourself feel your heart rate rising. Maybe you’ll find out that exercise isn’t so bad after all.

If you have agoraphobia, go for a stroll around the block, and maybe stop by the grocery store to get a treat. Maybe you’ll realize that being out and about is still as fun as ever!

If you have social phobia, strike up a conversation with someone on the street. You’ll probably realize that no one is out to get you, and you certainly won’t come across as a weirdo or a fool like you think.

I can’t speak for other anxiety disorders, so I will leave it there. Use your imagination and do something awesome today!

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter what you did to step outside of your comfort zone. 

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social anxiety and job huntingTwo weeks ago, I took the leap and moved back to my apartment in Montreal. I had been living at home in Ontario for the past five months with my parents while I worked on overcoming my recently diagnosed panic disorder. But now I’m back, ready for summer school and reintegrating into society.

These two weeks have been great; reconnecting with school friends, exploring my favorite city once again, getting back into the “groove.” But there’s one problem: I need a job.

To me, social anxiety and job hunting seem almost oxymoronic as a pair. The fact that job hunting basically touches on all my social fears makes it a very difficult and frustrating time for me. I’m afraid of talking on the phone, of being judged, of being unfairly categorized, and of making small talk. So how do I find a job?

So far, I’ve had some great leads. I’ve managed to find some online work that involves no face-to-face interaction or phone calls. I’m in the running for a couple writing positions that also require very little interpersonal time. These positions are perfect, because I’m looking for a couple part-time jobs while I’m in summer school (for a little extra pocket money). But what if I were looking for a full-time job?

Today I want to go over a few tips for getting around your social anxiety in the job hunting process. This isn’t a post about overcoming social anxiety (that takes time), but rather about not letting it prevent you from paying bills.

  • Take advantage of your skill set. Everyone has a skill set. For some, it may be a list of fancy degrees and research experience. For others, it may be the ability to lift heavy objects and be comfortable working long hours. Whatever your particular skill set, find jobs that cater to it. If you take jobs that you feel qualified for, then you will be less likely to feel anxious while working and you’ll probably be more confident in your interview. If you have to lie about or embellish your skill set to get a job, chances are your anxiety will be high from the very beginning.
  • Work within your comfort zone. Find jobs that you’re comfortable working. Perhaps, like me, you have a lot of experience in retail from high school/college jobs, but you’re not comfortable working in that environment anymore. Instead, look for jobs that cater to your comfort zone: instead of looking for retail or customer service jobs, I’ve been hunting for writing jobs. I had no formal experience in writing, so I made my own experience (I created this blog). Maybe your job transition can be a little less dramatic. Instead of working as a server, maybe you want to move back to the kitchen where you have less interaction with other people.
  • Be open about your anxiety. (Or not.) Often, being open about your social anxiety can be a huge relief when finding a new job. There are many employers out there who are very understanding when it comes to mental health accommodations. But there are also many employers who would discriminate against a potential employee who has a mental illness. Personally, I would never mention my anxiety in a job interview, but I would bring it up if I thought there was some way I could work around it with the help of my employer. Summer Beretsky wrote an article on requesting workplace accommodations for panic disorder, and a lot of the same points are relevant to social anxiety as well.
  • Practice with a support figure. If you’re nervous about the interview, one of the best ways to prepare is to hold a “mock interview” with a support figure. Sit down with your spouse or parent or close friend and have them ask you a series of questions that a potential interviewer may ask. It may seem too artificial to be helpful, but I’ve found that practicing interviews really does help alleviate some of my anxiety. It helps me gain some clarity as to why I’m anxious and what coping mechanisms I can use during the real interview to keep myself calm.
  • Talk to your doctor. I went to see my psychiatrist about a year ago when I was struggling with giving presentations, and I was prescribed propranolol. Propranolol is a beta blocker that helps me give presentations without any of my characteristic social anxiety symptoms: trembling, stuttering, sweating, heart racing, erratic breathing. If you believe you would benefit from the beta blocking effects of propranolol, mention it to your doctor.

How do you cope with job hunting? Do social anxiety and job hunting mix well for you? Let me know in the comments below. :)

 

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