Anxious Times, Anxious Thoughts
Anxiety is a common companion for mood disorders, in fact, anxiety is, for many people, the first mood-related symptom they remember from childhood, before other symptoms began to develop. Studies show that as many as 90% of people with bipolar also have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety often takes the form of constantly repeated worry about worst-case scenarios and potential challenges of all kinds. A familiar situation for many is encountering a barrier to progress and beginning to worry about possible consequences whose awfulness rapidly spins out of control. “Traffic is bad, I’m going to be late, I’ll miss out on the introduction portion of the meeting, people will think I’m careless and they won’t like me, I won’t be able to perform my job, I’ll get fired, and I won’t be able to get unemployment, I’ll miss a rent payment and be thrown out on the street.”
See how the causes for anxiety build and build with less and less connection to reality?
Another common pattern is that the anxious thoughts run around and around, repeating and repeating until you are so overwhelmed by the effort of keeping track of them you can’t see any way out of the disaster. Dealing with anxiety is often harder than dealing with the problem that is making you anxious.
In these uncertain times, dealing with anxiety has become urgent for many people. Moodsurfing has looked at anxiety treatment in different ways and we have several tried and tested approaches.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is one way to deal with anxiety that can be adapted for use by the homebound. The underlying idea of CBT is to train your mind to short-circuit the anxiety runaround by bringing rational thinking online. Anxiety moves our brains into a primitive fight-or-flight response that can’t be used by literal fighting or flight. So, the fear response just sits there: high adrenaline, shallow breathing, and constant scanning of the environment for dangerous predators.
To bring rational thought back, we have to force our minds to look at reality, not worst-case scenarios. What evidence do I have that my mistake today will bring about catastrophic consequences tomorrow? On the other hand, do I have any evidence to weigh on the other side? Do I have experience of admitting a mistake, apologizing and being forgiven and helped to move on by the people I live and work with? If so, I need to learn to remember to put this evidence forward every time my mind starts to worry that people are judging me and finding me wanting.
The rational mind that weighs up evidence, compares situations, and views one’s own and others’ actions objectively is the strongest counter to the scared, scuttling, hiding, primitive anxious mind. The more we practice letting the rational mind gain the upper hand, the more we can subdue the tendency of the anxious mind to conjure up catastrophic scenarios to be afraid of.
We have recently been trying out an app that seems to do a good job of coaching people with anxiety using CBT techniques. The app is called Daylight and we will be writing a review of it in a few weeks after we get more experience using it.
For another viewpoint on anxiety, we recommend the Being Well podcasts of Rick Hanson, PhD. Rick is frequently quoted in these pages, and has a lot to offer. His BPHope blog is another great resource, we have found.