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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remember To Be Who You Are



While working with a client recently, I was reminded how easy it is to forget who we are as an individual. Anxiety is very good at hijacking our identity and forcing us to believe that we become something other than ourselves - that we become anxiety itself.
How is this possible?
Although the term "anxiety" covers several conditions that people deal with - from anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, etc - the one thing that is consistent in all of the conditions is the fact that the mind creates a constant loop of thoughts and images that seem to play over and over again. These loops are either trying to relive the past or predict the future.
In the process of this anxious thinking we forget to pay attention to ourselves. We become conditioned to looking away from the things that define us, and ultimately we allow the anxiety to define who we are. Our identity slips away from us and we lose touch with who we are as individuals.
I asked my client to tell me something about him - and he started talking about his anxiety. I brought him back to the question, "tell me something about YOU". He looked at me almost confused and said he didn't understand. Then I rattled off a list of questions, everything from his favorite color to what he likes to watch on television. As he started to recall all the things in his life that he enjoyed - the things that truly defined him as an individual - there was a tremendous shift in his focus. His focus went from "anxiety" to "me" - almost instantly he was reminded of a confident, empowered self that used to exist before anxiety started to dictate his life.
Having a moment of awakening like this can be extremely beneficial for recovery. One needs to harness this confidence and empowerment and apply it to further recovery over and over again. Anxiety disorders are a conditioning of sorts that may have taken years to get to the point where the client starts to seek help in recovery - therefore no one can expect recovery to happen in a short period of time. We have to learn to string together many moments like this before we can expect any lasting benefit.
How can someone apply this information?
What I suggest is to my clients is to make a list of all the things that they like. Everything they can think of at that moment and the list can be updated and changed as often as they would like. I also suggest that the list be broken down into two categories - one list of things that can be enjoyed on a fairly regular basis (television shows, types of foods, etc.) and the other category can be of things that we can associate with good feelings / happy memories (previous vacations, music, etc.).
I suggest keeping these lists handy to help remind us of who we are. Even if for a few minutes per day to get in touch with who we are as individuals can ultimately have an enormous impact on our recovery. This is just one small piece in creating recovery.
If you have any specific suggestions of topics that you would like me to focus on, please feel free to send me an email outlining what you are interested in specifically, and I will try my best to address every concern in the upcoming newsletters.
I have personally dealt with symptoms of anxiety disorder for many years. Seventeen years ago I entered a program to deal with my own anxiety and since then I have been learning and researching treatments from top experts in their respected fields. I have since completed the required training to become a Certified Anxiety & Phobia Counselor, and am currently employed by a local hospital running 9 week workshops & an ongoing weekly support group focused specifically on controlling anxiety.
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