Thursday, January 26, 2017

Anxiety & Retraining Your Thoughts: The "D" List

I've lived my entire life to this point not knowing I suffer from anxiety. I had always felt an underlying anxiousness about things outside of my control, but never had it surfaced so ferociously as it did in 2016. Maybe it's because I got divorced last year and suddenly found myself solely responsible for two children, a heap of animals, a mortgage, and a full-time job. Now add to that: Dating in 2016. What a shitshow.

Last year, I had been driving home from work not once, but twice, when it hit me. Both times I was experiencing massive anxiety around my dating life. All of the sudden, my hands and feet started shaking uncontrollably. I was sweating and my eyes were watering. I couldn't depress the gas pedal without my foot jumping up and down on it, and it was affecting my driving. One of those times, I had to pull over until I calmed down. That's when I kind of knew what I was dealing with. 

I immediately called a therapist because, as I mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of feeling out of control. Within a couple of months of therapy, we were able to get to a place where we could pinpoint my level of anxiety and determine that medication wasn't absolutely necessary at this point (though I wouldn't hesitate to take it, if needed). We were also able to figure out particular situations that trigger it - for me, it mostly revolves around dating and love and trust (or lack thereof). 

My therapist is an older gentleman and a total psychology nerd. Let's call him Glen. Glen reads all the books and knows all the science behind psychological disorders. Glen is also a giant dick but in a good way. He gets on my case when I'm not taking care of myself properly and comes down equally as hard on me when I'm letting my anxiety sabotage my life. I'm a tough broad so I need someone to be in my face or I'd just blow him off. And so Glen and I have spent countless hours now talking about the triggers and patterns of my anxiety. Lack of control, distrust, abandonment, disappointment - you name it - and they all more or less play off of each other and can turn on a dime into a vicious cycle. I don't really let people in all the way, and I for damn sure don't trust them or depend on them. 

But something else happened in 2016 that challenged my comfort zone - I met the man with whom I plan to spend the rest of my life. Suffice it to say, he's everything that I've ever wanted or asked the universe for. I could go on and on about him (and I do - hat tip to my friends who gotta listen to all that mess), but let's just say that I've never experienced the level of intimacy and trust as I have with him. He's incredible. We are incredible together.

Ah, but there's a catch: He lives in another state, far, far away. Every anxious person's worst nightmare.

We've done phenomenally well so far, despite the distance and anxiety, but sometimes I let it creep in and that always feels shitty. What can I say? Old habits die hard. Even when I can see it playing out in front of my face, I sometimes can't stop it. I can recognize it, but I couldn't figure out how to make it go away or squash it. What's a hot-mess basketcase to do? Ask the pscych nerd, of course. Duh.

So Glen and I discussed the situation and he gave me my first psych tool to use when my anxiety starts getting cray-cray. It's called The "D" List. It's worked extremely well so far when I've remembered to use it, so I thought I would share with you in case it might come in handy for you as well. Full disclosure - you have to be able to recognize when your anxiety is flaring up for this to be helpful. But if you can see it when it is happening, The "D" List is indispensable. Here's how it works:

Anxious Pattern:
Step A: You have a negative thought. (Ex: He doesn't love me.)
Step B: You have resulting negative feelings from that thought. (Ex: I feel abandoned and alone.)
Step C: You behave in a way that reflects your negative feelings. (Ex: Text him 8,584 times about how it doesn't feel like he loves you.)

The "D" List Pattern:
Step A: You have a negative thought.
Step B: You have resulting negative feelings from that thought.
Step D: This is the interrupting step. It comes before Step C (behavior) so you can interrupt your negative thoughts and feelings before you do anything based solely on your anxiousness. It grounds you to reality. You refer to your "D" list once you feel the negativity creep in and replace Step A (thoughts) with something positive from your list.
Step A: You now have a positive thought.
Step B: You now have resulting positive feelings.
Step C: You behave in a way the reflects your positive feelings, thus not acting like a wild basketcase.

Some comments on The "D" List: This is a list you create yourself. You carry it with you always. My list is in my Notes on my phone. When you are in a good place emotionally, you write down a list of positive thoughts that pertain to your anxiety trigger. You refer to this list anytime you feel yourself going through the Anxiety Pattern above.

Some examples of things you could put on your "D" List:

This person has never given me a reason not to trust him.
No amount of worrying is going to change the results of this situation.
It is not my responsibility to ensure this person does the right thing. 
My energy is better used to work toward something positive right now.
I can create my own predictability and my own priorities.
I am only in charge of my response to this situation and nothing else.

So, go on - go make your own "D" list. Don't get bogged down by your anxiety and let it sabotage your life and your goals. We want to be ass-kickers and shit-stompers; we don't have time to get hung up on unrealistic, negative thoughts. We have the power to turn it around and live our lives intentionally and positively. 

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