Using Your Experience of Anxiety to Reduce Future Symptoms
Overview: As you are experiencing stress at lower levels (see Stress scale) you can use current symptoms to create behavioral change. Understanding the original confusion behind your stress response is a key to creating better resilience for future stress of the same type. Bettina is struggling with her job because she is overworked. When she can stop and look for the cause she realizes that she actually volunteers to do more than her share. Her old identity is the “helpful child” to her overworked parents.
Self-investigation functions as an educational path for change of the stress response in a pivotal moment. This moment is created by catching anxiety in action. When Bettina is at the office tomorrow she has to catch her response to help. When she does this she understands a second response; she is afraid that they won’t think she is valuable.
The mechanisms for neurological plasticity seem to be the action of the brain in response to an experience. In this case choose the largest most dramatic reaction to stress you had in the past month to examine. Pay attention to the small signals as well as the very obvious larger behaviors which you experience.
Adaptive structural plasticity is the growth of neurons generated in the hippocampus. These are sensitive to experience as they participate in two functions; learning and modulation of the stress response. In Adaptive Behavioral therapy clients are educated on their own anxiety history in view of developmental adaptation to environment including interpersonal behavioral cues and memories. A stress scale is developed along with an identity and role review. Each client uses their own anxiety both historic and current to discover behavioral cues and triggers. Prevention of future high levels of anxiety may create resilience.
Bettina had a similar and dramatic example with her boyfriend a few months ago when he was leaving for a trip back to India. She was busy helping him pack his clothes and “running around like a crazy woman”, when he asked her to stop. She broke down in tears with a feeling of uselessness and that he would not return. When he told he that she was worried for no reason she became angry and walked out. The key factor of adaptive behavioral therapy is the creation of a ‘Pivotal Moment’ a turning point in which the new awareness of the coping mechanism (known as the primed response) is in mind at the same time that the desire for a new outcome exists.
What she can do: Bettina needs to understand her confusion is coming from a previous experience. When she creates an investigation of the roles she has been in as a young girl she can see that she took on a lot of responsibility to maintain the attention and love of her very big family. Catch Anxiety symptoms in the lower end of the scale in the roles she is in throughout her week.
Resilience is created each time you undergo some stress. Like lifting weights you can train in the lower regions every day. Lifting the heavy (super stress) weight should be easier and hopefully less frequent.
Examples of the process: Below are some areas in which she can catch symptoms as they occur and use them to interrupt her behavior. Most of these originated when she was a teenager and have continued into her late twenties. With the interruption she can evaluate what to do with her feelings now as a grown woman.
Thoughts: Confused, I do and I don’t feel appreciated.
Sleep: too much/ little, avoiding sleep due to need to worry, reorganize thoughts.
Body: too much/little exercise, thinking she is unattractive.
Social: talking less to friends, going out only with her boyfriend, or withdrawal.
Emotions: Overwhelmed, scared, confused, depressed.
Behaviors: Take charge of everything, sexually, erratic, isolating, crying.
With this information Bettina can begin to interrupt the process of her stress reactions. To get a step closer to permanent change she needs to understand where and when these behavioral reactions became her style of coping or avoiding anxiety.
This article is written from an excerpt of My Anxiety Notebook Part I. Sara Denning is a clinical psychologist and mental health counselor in New York City. For more information go to MyAnxietyNotebook.com, SaraDenning.com or AdaptiveBehavioralTherapy.com.
Dr. Sara Denning Ph.D.
1 Union Square West Ste. 509
New York New York 10003