Recently I bought a book The Anxiety & Worry Workbook by David A. Clark, PhD and Aaron T. Beck, MD, as I have mentioned earlier. It's interesting that I have never tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that is considered to be one of the best treatments for anxiety. I think the thought of having to do the work (such as exposure therapy for example) was turning me off for a long time. But now when I have probably tried most possible anxiety treatments that exist under the sun, and I do feel much better, I am open to try something new.
In this post I am not going to go into details about what CBT is and how it can be beneficial. Even though I do like to write extensive posts on certain subjects backed up with science, I do realize that there is so much information online that you can just google anything you need and find data, that explains things much better than I do. Take even The Anxiety & Worry Workbook itself. I think first chapters will provide you with everything you need to know about CBT. Here I want to share 5 things that I have learnt from the book so far (I am still in the process of reading), that already started to help my mental health. If it's something you could be interested in, please follow me.
Catastrophizing makes anxiety worse
I have talked a little bit about it before here, when I mentioned my health obsession. When we focus on the worst possible outcome, we are usually feeding our initial fear and making our anxiety even worse.
"Most people find it difficult to catch their anxious thinking because they tend to be overly focused on how bad they feel". Sounds familiar? Most likely, yes! It is important to recognize those thoughts of catastrophizing and work with them using rationality. Many times you will be able to do it after the episode of severe anxiety, not during.
Of course the tendency to catastrophize may go away with time, if we learn from our previous experiences. For example, in my case many health concerns that I used to have in the past started to disappear as I was able to see that I am not feeling worse even though I don't necessarily feel great. I tend to think of the worst possible scenario when it comes down to my health. As I've shared in my anxiety story, I had a full-blown anxiety attack only once in my life, because I understood that the scary symptoms I was experiencing (psychosomatic) were my body's reaction to the trigger, not a heart attack or anything like that. I believe it is different for everyone, but to me it worked that way.
However, we don't need to wait till our experiences teach us something and can start working on our negative way of thinking already now.
Hating anxiety makes it even worse
This one is something I struggle with a lot. Most of the time I can't stand my anxiety. And recently I learnt that it is a problem by itself. Intolerance perpetuates anxiety. I think together with catastrophizing it makes me fear my anxiety much more than I would without it.
I liked the reminder that anxiety is a "normal emotion which is necessary for our survival". I might not become friends with my anxiety over night, but I can see it from a different perspective, look at it as I look at any other emotion I have, and maybe eventually accept it.
When we accept something, it doesn't bother us as much, does it? But acceptance itself is a journey.
It brings me to my next point.
The goal should be not getting rid of anxiety completely, but increasing the quality of life with this disorder
I think many of us have "all or nothing" approach when it comes down to treating anxiety. And it is something that was mentioned in the book. I have been trying to fight my anxiety for years, and there used to be moments in my life that it was so bad I couldn't sleep at night. No wonder I had been worried that even mild anxiety would lead to disaster, but it is not always the case.
When we can accept anxiety as a part of ourselves and our life, we become more tolerant to it, therefore it comes and goes without us being anxious about being anxious. It is important to set realistic goals and train our brain to always be ready to catch those "waves" of anxiety without us crashing down.
I like how it's put in the book that the purpose of the therapy is for us to learn how to control anxiety instead of letting it control us. This is something that I talk about quite a bit on my blog. I really like the idea of our brain being a muscle that we can train.
Discovering the core fear that drives anxiety can help our recovery
This is not new to me, but I think the book reminded me of the importance to dig deeper to understand my anxiety better. However, it is not necessarily about understanding the reasons for that fear (often psychological trauma from our childhood), but about identifying it to be able to work with the consequences of it. For example, the reason for someone being anxious going to a meeting can be the fear of embarrassment.
Last but not least,
Courage is needed to help us deal with anxiety
The authors talk about the courage in the chapter about exposure therapy, but I personally thought it’s amazing to think about myself as about someone who is courageous enough to face her anxiety and fears.
I think one of the main things that stopped me from recovery is my lack of believing in myself, not knowing I was strong enough, although I was able to push through some very terrible anxiety attacks. And I guess that's an important message for all of us.
We are stronger than we think. We often fail to acknowledge how many times we were able to experience the worst anxiety and still kept going. It's very important.
And here is the thing: there is no such thing as a small win, as every win counts and it matters, failing to recognize it and give ourselves credit for it takes away a wonderful opportunity for us to cultivate self-love and take the next step in our recovery.
So here were 5 things I have learnt so far from The Anxiety & Worry Workbook. Of course, it is not only about reading and learning but also about applying this new knowledge in real life, which makes it so much valuable. I will share more as I go. Have you read the book? Share in the comment section below your thoughts on this post, I will be happy to read. Until next time on Pillows&Trees.