When I was in the worst month of my anxiety, my brain and body were in a giant, unceasing feedback loop. My body, being over-activated because of heightened medication levels, was communicating to me that I was in danger. My heart was racing, my body was tense, my jaw was clenched. The symptoms, to my mind, were signaling a flight or fight response. My body was acting like it was in danger. So, it makes sense that my brain followed, searching for things to defend me from. Which was pretty much everything.
That plane overhead? It’s going to come crashing down.
I’m going to get into a car accident on the way home from work.
That food I ate for lunch? It’s going to make me sick.
That thing I said yesterday? So and so is going to be mad at me because of it.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s actually a triangle- your thoughts impact your feelings impact your behaviors impact your thoughts, and so on. But here, I just want to focus on thoughts and feelings, and how they feed each other. This is something I’ve only recently began to observe and understand.
I had just favored a psychotherapy approach rather than a cognitive behavioral way of thinking. I was always fascinated with the idea that things from one’s past could lurk in one’s subconscious and impact their actions and behaviors without them knowing. I figured that my current anxieties were based on previous traumas. And they are. But, the thing is, all you can really do with that approach is to develop mindfulness of how these traumas impact your daily life, so as to notice and minimize their impact. In grad school, we used to talk about the “corrective emotional experience.” I used to picture some magical, cathartic “aha!” moment, where the wound stopped hurting and never hurt again. Through my own therapy, I learned that this doesn’t happen.
What happens is that you gain an awareness for the issue and it’s triggers, as well as an acceptance for the way it makes you feel, which does help it to hurt less. From there, you learn how to take care of yourself when you are feeling that way.
So now, I’m finding that, because my anxiety is less in my body, it is less in my mind. However, there is still work to do. Now, my body isn’t feeding my thoughts, but my thoughts are still feeding my body. It’s easier to be cognizant of how this is happening, now that it is coming more from one side and not so much from both.
For example, when I feel my body tense up as I’m lying in bed early in the morning, I now recognize that it is related to my concerns over the day. Will I be anxious today? Will I complete all the tasks that I have ahead of me?
As I work through my CBT workbook, Mind Over Mood, I hope to improve this.