Clinical psychologist Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., founder and director of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety, is one of the nation’s leading experts on anxiety disorder. She is also my personal coach on trying to tame my overactive amygdala, the almond-shaped structure inside your brain whose day job is to yell “Run for cover!”
The last few weeks, I’ve walked around the house with her books safeguarded under my arms, as my anxiety has had me in a half-nelson of sorts, making it extremely difficult to accomplish the usual stuff of my day: getting the kids to do things without uttering too many four-letter words, writing blog posts that make sense, not yelling at co-workers for leaving dirty dishes, and so forth. In “Freeing Yourself from Anxiety,” Dr. Chansky offers a four-step method for overcoming worry and changing the story lines in our mind from an R-rated horror picture to a PG humorous flick. They constitute a cheat-sheet for anxiety.
Step One: Pause and Relabel
There are the voices of absolutes. They sound like your mom. They say that things are this way because they are. End of story. In step one, you become the bad girl who questions the authority—kind of like I did in outpatient therapy, which prolonged my discharge by about three weeks. By inquiring why something is so urgent—recalibrating the significance of its message–you relabel it to any priority you want. You can stamp it as “false alarm,” “exaggeration,” or “mommy dearest. ”
Step Two: Get Specific
In step two, you place your worries in a context … because nothing really belongs in a vacuum except for dust and bobby pins. Per Chansky: “This step is about narrowing down your focus to the actual issues that you’re facing and putting them into the smallest box, rather than the large and unwieldy package that you are first presented with: ‘Here’s my whole life—I have to fix it!’”
Step Three: Optimize
Halfway there! In step three, you look at your situation from multiple vantage points—calling on your wisest self, your sister, your best friend, your favorite barista– for their perspectives. Then you imagine that you are at a outdoor concert or the Super Bowl or some place that is crowded with bald guys eating hotdogs blocking your view. But you get to pick whatever seat you want. So you try out a few until you find one where you can see all the action. That’s where you go in your mind—to a spot that renders a clear vision (or as clear as you can have) of your problem and of possible solutions.
Step Four: Mobilize
The final step is getting unstuck by considering one of the alternatives that was made visible in step three. Per Chansky: “By understanding the problems and solutions, we create action by mobilizing.” I always get overwhelmed when I come to this part. Actually I feel overwhelmed at step two, but my breath doesn’t grow short until four. So let me say this: the small solution that we decide to implement can be as slight as setting our alarm clocks two minutes earlier to allow a few minutes of deep breathing. If that’s too much, we can start with 30 seconds. My amygdala does not like the words “solution” or “implement” so I must remind myself that it is okay to take these steps (and especially the last one) v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.
Originally published on “Sanity Break” at Everyday Health.