Cold turkey on reassurance

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One of the things that can perpetuate anxiety is receiving reassurance from others. Reassurance gives us the unconscious message that we cannot manage on our own.

I’ve been wrestling with reassurance for a while and I’ve decided to take radical action and go cold turkey: to go without reassurance all together. Part of the reason for going cold turkey is that I need to experience the anxiety in order to beat it, and if I receive reassurance I become less anxious, but addicted to receiving the OK from others.  I’ve also noticed a reluctance to push myself with treatment because I am feeling so much better.  My anxiety is starting to hide.  The only way I can find the anxiety is by challenging myself a bit more.

What I am learning is that much of my reassurance seeking is just a habit – I don’t even need it.  For example, over dinner in the evening my husband and I exchanged stories about what we’d done today.  I noticed that as I told him about my day, I was wanting him to agree with me, particularly over decisions concerning my daughter’s care. Since he knows I’m going cold turkey on reassurance I had to recall parts of my day without looking at him and with him keeping a dead pan face.  It made for a really stilted dinner time conversation – you certainly have to have a sense of humour about GAD sometimes!  However, I’m going to keep going with the cold turkey until I can break the habit – what ever you do don’t leave a post here and reassure me that I’ll be OK!

Update in November 2011.

Just to let you know that I now thing that going cold turkey on reassurance was one of my worst ideas ever!  I eventually came to see that some reassurance – talking things through before I make a decision, or having a hug after a hard day is fine.  The type of reassurance that is not helpful is asking people to confirm decisions when you don’t really need their approval to know you’re doing OK.

Unhelpful reassurance only reassures you for a short time, then you need to ask for more, it also erodes confidence.  Helpful reassurance does not need to be repeated and leaves you feeling loved but not less confident.

How to grow your confidence – an antedote to worry

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I first became alert to the idea that confidence could be an antedote to worry following a comment to this blog from ‘Cher’ (thanks). I wondered at the time, just how do you grow confidence?  Now, I’m beginning to find out.

One way I’ve unexpectantly become more confident is by learning to tolerate uncertainty, which is the second stage of the cognitive behavioural therapy protocol for generalised anxiety disorder by Dugas and Robichaud (2007). Cognitive-behavioral treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: From science to practice.

Here’s how I think it works:  Firstly, I’ve been deliberately putting myself in situations that are uncertain and that I would normally avoid or overanalyse.   The aim has been to find new ways of dealing with uncertainty; I’ve learned that I often overestimate how difficult things will be, and that I can deal with far more situations than I thought I could.

Secondly, I’ve been tolerating anxiety without receiving reassurance from people (accept by accident).  The two things together add up to more confidence.  I’ve learnt that I am more resilent than I thought and that I can face uncertainty in my own strength.  I’ve even had some whole afternoons in which I have not felt at all anxious, which really is a step in the right direction.

Can you banish intrusive thoughts, a CBT approach

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Do you ever have intrusive thoughts? These are described by Wikipedia as ‘unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas’. I certainly do, but for the first time I’ve found some relief…

I sometimes have really unpleasant intrusive thoughts, they creep in like a thief, and leave me distressed.  My  thoughts are usually about death, either my own or those I love.

So, I asked my cognitive behavioural therapist about these thoughts.  He suggested intrusive thoughts are often more persistent when the subject matter is unacceptable to us.  For example, people who have very strong religious or cultural beliefs might be very troubled by intrusive thoughts that are blasphemous, or sexual.

In my case I sometimes picture myself crashing the car; a thought that sometimes occurs, unbidden, when I’m driving.  This directly relates to my dear father’s unexpected death in a car crash 15 years ago.  It’s easy to see why I might have such a thought, but not easy to stop it, and is deeply distressing when I imagine the suffering I might inflict on others if I were in a car crash.

Knowing that intrusive thoughts are most often about thoughts that are unacceptable to the individual has really helped.  I have had no intrusive thoughts though since my last therapy session. I’ve changed the way I’m thinking about things so that instead of feeling guilty and upset about my intrusive thoughts I’m able to be more compassionate with myself.  No wonder these thoughts come along and the fact that I find them so abhorrent shows that I would never act on them.

Intolerant of uncertainty, Moi? – next steps in cognitive behavioural therapy

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It’s Valentines night and I am drinking a good glass of wine (or two) and watching ‘Come Dine with Me’, whilst my husband is making a special meal.  I’m truly lucky and beginning to relax, but my anxiety has been awful this week.

I started off with good intentions and did a cognitive behavioural therapy experiment. The only snag was that I picked an experiment that was too challenging and then continued with it even though it was making me really upset. The reason I didn’t stop is because I had made a rule for myself that I had to continue, or else risk not getting better.

What I’ve come to realise is that one of the ways I avoid uncertainty is to live by rules.  These rules prevent me from being flexible.  For example, today at work there was lots to do.  I felt overwhelmed and so made a decision about what to do quickly – so as to prevent the uncertainty – and then stuck to my decision.  This is OK, but it’s inflexible; it would be better to take a bit longer to think about what to do and then be flexible about what to do.  But I can’t yet do that, because it would mean coping with more uncertainty.

The therapist did suggest that I look at examples of ‘experiments’ suggested in ‘Overcoming Worry’ by Kevin Meares & Mark Freeston.  These are smaller easier examples than the one I tried, which deliberately breaking the uncertainty avoidance rules that hem in my life.  Here are some examples:

  • Don’t ask for reassurance on a decision you’ve made
  • Delegate small jobs at work or at home
  • Buy a food you’ve never bought before
  • Go to a different shop for your groceries
  • Send an email without checking it.

I did think that I’d utterly failed on my first experiment because I felt so anxious. Then I read this:

‘As you actively seek out uncertainty it is perfectly normal to notice uncomfortable feelings and worry.  In the normal course of things (and according to your rules) this would be a signal to stop what you are doing and to decrease uncertainty.  If you are using your worry… as an indicator of whether the new way of doing things is working, the logical conclusion is – this isn’t working! … The right indicators are the outcomes (namely what happened) and how you feel about them afterwards.’ (Meares and Freeston 2008)

In my first experiment I felt awful for a couple of hours before I’d finished the experiement.  But afterwards I felt great.  So maybe this CBT is working after all.

Consider this – living today without worry

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I was browsing some websites today and learned with sadness that some Christians who are olympic worriers have a particularly difficult time.  It seems that they think that God wants us to somehow carry the cross of worry, rather than recover from it.  Or worse still that our worry is a failing on our part, proof of sinfulness.  These are really sad distortions of the Christian faith.

I’m a Christian and I don’t believe that my excessive worry is any kind of punishment for sin.  I am remembering the words of the Bible

Do Not Worry

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…

Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you?’

I’ve recently reconsidered this verse of scripture.  I used to focus on the words ‘do not worry’,  and think, ‘not possible for me at the moment’.  However, there are two nuggets here one is ‘do not worry’, the other is the antidote ‘consider the lilies’; focus on the present, be present now, rather than racing off in your mind to the future.

This is very similar to thoughts by cognitive behavioural therapists about mindfulness.  Advice that’s as old as the hills and even if it’s sometimes difficult to follow, does offer an alternative to those who might condemn themselves.

How accurate is my worry? Testing it out with cognitive behavioural therapy

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I did my first cognitive behavioural therapy experiment today.  It was much harder than I thought it would be, but I managed to stick with it.  The result has been good, though I am hoping to paddle to the shallow end and do some easier experiments next time.  Here’s my chronological account of what happened.  This blog is about things that helped and I think this process will help. Continue reading

Finding the root cause of anxiety

Had my third therapy session today and am feeling shockingly sad.  My presumption on starting therapy was that I would learn how to deal with anger and sadness differently and then the difficult feelings would be alleviated.  It turns out the process is a bit different. Here’s what I have learned so far – with apologies to you if you’re an expert in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Continue reading