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The Myth: "Avoidance is the Best Policy"

 

I have always struggled with anxiety about public speaking, and my career path requires me to do a lot of public speaking. With practice and preparation, I’m usually a pretty good public speaker despite my anxiety, so I’ve been told. However, there was once a time when my worst public speaking fear came true. I completely BOMBED a speech I was giving about the topic of anxiety (ironically!). When I say “BOMBED,” I truly mean “BOMBED.” I mean, I completely froze, as if I was suddenly struck by paralysis of the brain and body, and I did not recover well. I could go into all of the reasons and factors that led to this… e.g., It was a particularly stressful season of my life, I was in the pinnacle of graduate school, working 70 hours per week and getting little sleep and self-care, and I decided to “wing it” this time instead of preparing like usual…, but this still does not change what happened that day. Afterward, I went into a shame storm that lasted weeks if not months. I can still remember how that moment would replay over and over in my mind like a broken video cassette tape from the 90’s. It still makes me cringe to think about it.
These are the moments that we truly and deeply fear, though they may be tied to different underlying triggers or issues (e.g., rejection, abandonment, death, trauma). Mine is tied to my life-long desire to please people- Yes. I am a recovering people pleaser, but that is a story for another day…
The fear of failing ourselves and others in these arenas is incredibly strong and powerful…, and it fuels anxiety. We commonly manage it by using the “Avoidance is the Best Policy” approach… If I avoid it, then I’ll never fail at it! It makes sense, right? The problem is that the potential for failure is pervasive in everything we do. There’s always a chance you could fail. There’s always a chance that your worst fear could come true. Even if you tried to spend your life in a cardboard box to avoid failure, you could still find something to fear and fail at. Maybe you’re afraid you’re too big to fit into that box. Maybe you’re afraid you can’t be complacent enough in that box… Avoiding failure is setting yourself up to fail!
This is because, by avoiding failure, we fail ourselves for not trying. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all…
Do you know what is great about the “failed” speech experience I had? I literally could not ever give a worse speech than that! My worst public speaking fear came true, AND I know that I can handle it and come back from it. I know this because I did handle it, even though it was painful, and I did come back from it. It took me some time to muster up the courage to speak again, but I eventually did, and I have given many successful speeches since then.
I’m not encouraging you to intentionally fail at things, but I am encouraging you not to allow the fear of failure to become a barrier for living a life that you value. I promise that failure is not the worst outcome. Plus, trying to avoid failure makes anxiety stronger.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention, that when we face the potential to fail, we grow and learn what we are truly made of. We do not grow in our comfort zones.
If you are feeling anxious, it is not a sign that you are weak and inadequate. It is a sign that you are challenging yourself to grow and become the person you were meant to be.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067

 

Channeling Anxiety in the Direction of Your Values

 

At times, our emotional struggles can cloud our values and, thereby, cause us to get in the way of our values. For example, you may value forgiveness, but hurt and rage may prompt you to act in the opposite direction by holding a grudge or getting revenge. This process especially rings true for our struggle with anxiety.
 
You can bet that pursuing your values will eventually lead you out of your comfort zone and into anxious places. Maybe you value connection and intimacy with your partner, but this requires you to go out on a limb and trust that your partner can handle your truth and vulnerability. Maybe you value parenting, but this requires you to endure childbirth and all of the other “unknowns” that come with parenting. Maybe you want to create something or speak up, but you’re concerned with others’ opinions and criticisms…
I can tell you that writing this blog is extremely anxiety-provoking for me… Do I suck at writing? Will people think this information is juvenile or yesterday’s news? Will no one ever read it?… These are just a few of the questions that circle in my mind. Despite my own anxious vulnerability, I write anyway because I sincerely believe I have a message to share and, as corny as it sounds, I want to add courage and kindness to the world. These are my values. Instead of allowing my anxious vulnerability to hide me (and believe me, there are many times I just wanna hide!), I use it. I don’t ignore it. I own it, and I pour it into my work.
As I have mentioned previously, the very nature of anxiety prompts us to avoid the thing that’s causing anxiety. This is simple biology! Because our values often cause anxiety, we often fall into the trap of avoiding anxiety instead of following our values. In other words, we begin living as though we value avoidance instead of our true values. We neglect to have that hard conversation that can grow our relationship or potentially get our needs met. We keep quiet when we know we have something helpful to say. We hide our heart when it could provoke meaning and change in the world.
Anxiety is incredibly uncomfortable and can feel incapacitating (e.g., the racing heart, the tension, the shaking, the vulnerability). But guess what? When we compare the physical feelings of anxiety to the physical feelings of excitement and passion, they are actually quite similar. Think of what truly, deeply gets you excited (e.g., running, traveling, sky diving, Christmas!) and hone in on what you typically feel physically in your body. You probably feel many of the same physical sensations that you feel when you are feeling anxious (e.g., muscle tension, heart pumping, higher energy, shaking). The big difference is our interpretation of vulnerability, weakness, and impending doom that we associate with anxiety.
It is difficult to change your thoughts and emotions as quickly as turning off a light switch. In fact, research shows that this is almost impossible, unless you are a Buddhist monk who has worked on spiritual jedi mind control every day for the past 80 years! Plus! Trying to suppress or get rid of your anxiety adds more pressure, distress, and shame when you feel like you’ve failed at it. It is much easier and more effective to have your anxiety and channel it into motivational energy focused on your values. This leads to greater personal growth, authenticity, and life fulfillment, as well.
So… The next time you feel anxious, a simple and effective technique is to…
1.      Remind yourself that it is OK to be anxious. This takes a fraction of the pressure off.
2.     Identify what your anxiety is telling you to do (i.e., avoidance).
3.     Identify what your values are telling you to do. In other words, what do you want to stand for in this moment?
4.     Behave in line with your values, with or without the anxiety.
I find it helpful to use my personal mantra, “Let your values be stronger than your fear.”
Remember that your values are a gift by God to you. No one else has the right to judge. Let your values help you grow to become the person you were meant to be, no matter your anxious vulnerability or other people’s opinions.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067

 

An Introduction to Values

 

Whether we are aware of it or not, the values we hold are a HUGE part of our lives. In fact, values are incremental to our sense of self, purpose, and fulfillment with life. Yet, it’s so easy to lose touch with our values, especially when we get lost in our struggles and daily stressors. Also, in the midst of it all, we rarely stop and focus on defining and assessing our values.
You might be wondering what values have to do with anxiety, but having clearly defined values are extremely important for managing and overcoming anxiety. In fact, I’d say this is the 2nd step, where the 1st step is gaining a clear understanding of what anxiety is and why we have it (i.e., this was the topic of my first 2 blog posts, “Anxiety Unveiled” and “Anxious Courage Unleashed”).
What are values in the first place? When I speak of values, I speak of intangible aspirations and things that breath meaning and importance to life. Values are not goals that can be achieved, such as getting a high school diploma, or objects that can be bought or sold, like a house or a boat. To list some examples, values are things like honesty, compassion, perseverance, faith, etc… Values encompass things like being a loving and disciplined parent, a devoted spouse, a loyal friend, and so on… Values are essentially who we strive to be and what we live for and stand for in life.
Values are different for everyone. They are on a continuum, meaning that we may hold many values, but some values are more important to us than others. For example, you might value productivity, but not as much as you value stopping and smelling the roses. Some values stay relatively consistent across our lifespans and some values change as we grow and mature and as our life circumstances change. For example, in my youth, my values weighted more on the quantity of my social activities and social circle, but as I’ve grown older, I find that I value the quality and intimacy in my relationships more than the number of relationships and social activities I have.
Some of our values may conflict with other values we hold. Perhaps you value your work ethic and spending time with your family, but your work ethic often precludes you from spending time with family and vice versa. Life is a constant juggling act of our values. Dissonance or fear of dissonance between our values can cause great anxiety and stress. When we believe that we’re coming up short in the areas of life that we deeply value, it hurts the soul and triggers shame. This becomes a vicious cycle when we set impossible expectations for ourselves– that is, believing that we can achieve our values as if it is truly possible to achieve 100% of our values, 100% of the time.
The deal is, you have got to give yourself some grace.
No one is ever perfect at living by their values. It’s an impossible task that can never be checked off the list (And this is coming from someone who is obsessed with list-checking!). That’s what is so beautiful about values, as opposed to goals and material things. Some days we do better than other days. We never officially achieve or obtain our values. Working toward our values is an ongoing, lifelong process. We all have moments, days, or entire seasons of our lives when we feel disconnected from our values or when we’re just flat out behaving against our values… Screaming or saying something hurtful to your spouse… Neglecting to be assertive or speak up… Staying home in your pj pants instead of going to the gym like you wanted…  We all do this!… The great news is that tomorrow is another day when you can reset your steering wheel in the direction of your values.
Whether or not you achieve your values is not important. What’s important is that you continually work TOWARD your values.
Also, when you focus on living by your values, you’ll find that they help you accomplish the goals you wanted to achieve. You’ll also find that your values come back to you as others notice and reciprocate. For example, if you value kindness and you behave with kindness to others, others who value kindness will be kind to you. In other words, when you authentically live by your values, you will attract others with similar values, which will create a more fulfilling life for you.
6 Easy Steps for Identifying, Clarifying, and Living by Your Values:
1              1. Take out a sheet of paper (or the notes app on your iphone).

 

2             2. Write down as many of your values as you can think of.
3             3. Select your top 5 values that are most important to you… When I do this exercise with my clients and with myself, I often find that the top 5 are similar to or encompassing of many of the other values on the list. In other words, picking your top 5 will reveal themes to you about what is truly important to you in life—What you should be prioritizing.
4            4. Now identify at least 1 action or behavior for each value.
5            5. Commit to acting on each of your 5 values every day. Focusing on 5 values (as opposed to a bagillion values!- yes, I said “bagillion”) is one way to be gracious and reasonable with yourself. In fact, if you want to chose 3 values instead of 5, that works too!
6            6. Occasionally, you’ll want to revisit this exercise and reassess, as you may get side-tracked and as your values may morph and change over time.

 

Now that we have hopefully laid a solid foundation for identifying/clarifying values, next week’s post will include an empowering discussion of how to channel anxiety in the direction of our values. Until then,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067
References:
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.

 

Anxious Courage Unleashed

 

Part of why anxiety attracts so much stigma and shame in our society is because anxiety is so uncomfortable! Physically and emotionally! As someone who has developed a deep appreciation for anxiety and its value to our survival and well-being, I admit the experience of anxiety sucks! At times, it can even be excruciating. “Why does anxiety have to be so uncomfortable,” you may ask?
Well, first of all, anxiety would not effectively motivate us to fight or flee from danger if it weren’t so uncomfortable. Part of what makes anxiety so effective for our survival is our strong desire to alleviate the uncomfortable experience of anxiety. Therefore, anxiety naturally incites the urge to AVOID AVOID AVOID.
Also, at the heart of anxiety is vulnerability, a concept defined by Brenё Brown, researcher and leading expert on shame and vulnerability, as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” We feel vulnerable when we’re anxious. In other words, we feel exposed, uncertain, seen, insecure, weak, inferior, and so on. This feeling of vulnerability tricks us into believing that anxiety renders us weak and unworthy, but it is simply not true. Vulnerability speaks shame loudly to us (e.g., “You’re not good enough!” “You’re not attractive!” “You’re a terrible parent!” “You can’t handle it!” “They see right through you!” “They see how flawed and broken you really are!”). These are, of course, lies, but painful and powerful, nonetheless.
Naturally, we want to hide and escape to stay safe and prevent being found out (e.g., isolate, drink, binge-watch a TV series, put on a stage face). Why wouldn’t we? Isn’t escaping easier? Absolutely! At least, in the short-term. In the long-term, we buy in to the belief that we’re weak, unworthy, and unable to do [you fill in the blank]. When we fall into this vicious cycle, we get stuck in our comfort zone, we never grow, and we feel very unfulfilled with life. This is the place where depression often overlaps with anxiety.
So how do we combat anxious vulnerability? We combat it with anxious courage. That is, instead of fearing and resisting your anxious vulnerability, own it, acknowledge its presence (because when we own it and acknowledge it, we dismantle its power over us), and do what you want to do WITH your anxious vulnerability.
Contrary to popular belief, courage is not mutually exclusive of anxiety or vulnerability. Courage is having anxious vulnerability and doing it anyway. In fact, courage flourishes in the midst of anxiety when we learn to channel our anxiety for good and authenticity. I have lived it, and I have witnessed it in all of my clients. I know it is possible for all of us, because we are all inherently worthy of courageous living.
When you hear that loud, shaming voice of vulnerability, speak back to it louder. I post daily mantras and affirmations on my social media for this purpose. These can be used as tools to help us embrace anxious courage and ACT on our values and goals despite anxious vulnerability.
I am dedicated to helping people enhance courageous living defined by their values. I hope the message of today’s blog post is contagious. In fact, I encourage you to try at least one anxiously courageous act each day over the next week, even if its something as small as sending a text or letting someone see that your home isn’t perfectly spotless. Even committing to one anxiously courageous act each day can be life changing.
Since I have been talking a lot about values, next week’s blog post will include a discussion of defining values and using them as guides in courageous living. Until then,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067
References:
Barlow, D.H., Sauer-Zavala, S., Latin, H.M., Ellard, K.K., Bullis, J.R.,… Cassiello-Robbins, C. (2018). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders: 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.

 

Anxiety Unveiled

 
What is anxiety? Anxiety has been my area of passion and expertise for over 12 years, and I find that, even though the term “anxiety” gets tossed around a lot, it is widely misunderstood and even undervalued. That’s right. I said “undervalued.” Anxiety often gets a bad rep in our society and becomes a centerpiece for stigma and shame. One of my favorite parts about treating anxiety-related struggles is setting the record straight about the concept of anxiety itself. If this is sounding a bit foreign to you (or even blasphemous!), I hope you will keep reading so that I can explain.
Anxiety is a common, natural experience for all of us. If you are a human being, you’ve experienced anxiety in some way, shape, or form, whether you realize it or not. Anxiety is remarkably multi-dimensional. It may take the form of stress, worry, panic, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism… Anxiety can be feeling so overwhelmed and scatter-brained that you feel paralyzed to even try anything… Anxiety can be that sensation of dry mouth, heart pounding, or shaking in your boots while you’re speaking in front of a group of people… Anxiety can be that subtle feeling of reservation or withdrawal when you meet someone new because you’re having trouble trusting… Anxiety can be feeling terrified to take a leap of faith or an emotional risk due to fear of failure or getting hurt… I could go on and on because anxiety is so pervasive in our lives…
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is good for us, because it is hard-wired into our nervous system to ensure our survival and keep us safe. It is the surge of fear that prompts you to move out of the way of a moving vehicle. It is that uneasy feeling you get that tells you not to enter a dark, creepy ally way at night. It is what keeps us up at night when we’re anticipating something terrible to happen the next day… The problem is that this system that’s built within us to ensure our survival is outdated. That is, this system is functioning as though we are still in the caveman days, a time when we were constantly bombarded by real threats to our survival and basic needs (e.g., predators, starvation, warring clans). Although we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, and we generally have most of our basic needs met, the anxiety system is still trying to figure out where it fits in and how it can serve us. This is why anxiety latches on to everyday life circumstances and stressors, like studying for an exam, meeting new people, or managing time.
Moreover, anxiety loves to latch on to the things that are most important to us. For example, if you value connecting with people and creating meaningful relationships, then you’ll likely feel anxious in social situations. If you value being productive, then you’ll likely feel anxious about getting things done. If you value being a good parent, then you’ll likely feel anxious about parenting…
The good news is that anxiety was designed to be a motivator– It was designed to motivate us to flee or prepare for danger. Therefore, anxiety can be channeled for good! Anxiety can be used to motivate us toward our values and away from things that are against our values.
Unfortunately, this crucial aspect of anxiety often gets missed. When we begin to experience anxiety, we automatically interpret our anxiety as “bad” or “weak.” We become ashamed of our experience of anxiety. And what does shame do? Shame tells us we are unworthy and prompts us to withdraw, tuck our tails in, run, and hide our heads in the ground! Unless you enjoy living this way, this generally makes for a miserable existence. The worst part is, if you feed this path, it becomes a vicious cycle. Anxiety begets more shame, which begets more anxiety, which begets more shame and so on. Hightailing it and running is as good as telling ourselves that we’re not worthy and we can’t do it… We break this cycle by owning our anxiety and channeling it toward our values and authentic selves.
Therapists, like me, who specialize in anxiety, help people connect with this path. As a therapist, I am devoted to helping people break this cycle, own their anxiety, and channel it in the direction of their values. If this resonates with you, give me a call (234-256-0067) or shoot me an email (Dr.Chase.T@gmail.com), and I will be happy to discuss scheduling an appointment with you.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067
References:
Barlow, D.H., Sauer-Zavala, S., Latin, H.M., Ellard, K.K., Bullis, J.R.,… Cassiello-Robbins, C. (2018). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders: 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.

 

Introduction

 

Hi! I’m Dr. Tannah Chase. I am a licensed psychologist, and my area of expertise and passion is anxiety. In fact, I’ve made it my life’s work to help people overcome all forms of anxiety, including some of the most intense forms, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve decided to start a weekly blog to provide some of the tools and tips I’ve learned along the way- things that have helped both my clients and myself.
Before diving in, I’d like to begin by clearly laying out my mission and intentions to ensure that we’re all on the same page…
To inform and, thereby, diminish stigma surrounding anxiety and psychological health.
Unfortunately, psychological health is a topic that is not built into the standard education system, nor is it built into standard parenting classes. As a result, we all live our lives managing our struggles the best we can amidst all of the mixed messages and misconceptions we receive from society about psychological health and processes. My goal is to provide information about psychological health- specifically the broad area of anxiety- that is based in cutting-edge science- not pseudoscience. That being said, it is also important to understand that, of all of the scientific fields, psychology is one of the youngest and most difficult to investigate, given it’s abstract and intangible nature. In other words, psychology is an ever-evolving field, in which there is still much to learn and discover. For example, did you know that we know more about space than we do about the human brain?!… I digress… My hope is that I can begin to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about anxiety and psychological health, so that you can know that you’re not alone in the universe and you can be more equipped to overcome your personal struggles.
To increase courage and kindness in the world.
I realize this may sound cheesy or cliché to some folks- sort of like when the girls in the Ms. America pageants say, “I wish for world peace.” But, truly, this world can sometimes seem so awful, especially when you watch the news. When there are so many people prioritizing their own fears out there and striking fears into the hearts of others, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of courage and kindness out there too. It’s also easy to lose hope that things can change. Take it from someone who has heard personal accounts of some of the worst horror stories you can imagine. If I can still witness and experience hope and change after that, I know you can too. My philosophy is that, we may not be able to eliminate all of the evil in this world, but we can always add good to it. If there’s something you want to see more of, ADD IT! I want to see more courage and kindness, so I am going to add it the best I can. I may not be perfect at it, but I’ll never stop trying.
This blog is not a replacement for therapy.
In this blog, I will provide information, tips, and tools for understanding and managing anxiety, but overcoming anxiety and personal growth are life-long processes. I hate to break it to you, but there is no quick and easy magic eraser for anxiety and struggle. Allow me to re-emphasize– overcoming anxiety and personal growth are ongoing, life-long processes. Furthermore, there are rich experiential learning and relationship processes that ocurr in therapy that cannot be supplemented with a blog (or book, podcast, alcohol, etc…). Also, you might have specific, individual needs and goals that don’t quite map onto this blog. Unlike a blog, a therapist can tailor this information to your individual needs and goals. I encourage you and everyone in the world to try therapy, but until that day comes, I hope this blog is a great start for you.
To reach a broad, diverse audience with diverse values.
I will try my best to speak inclusively to a wide range of people, cultures, ethnicities, orientations, religious/spiritual beliefs, etc. I encourage you to take from this what is most helpful for you and what is most in line with your personal values. All I can do is give you information, and it is up to you to apply it how you will, given your unique personality, background, beliefs, and values.
In this blog, I will be discussing a variety of topics related to anxiety and courage (e.g., worry, control, perfectionism, values, vulnerability, spirituality, and so on). In my next couple of blog posts, I plan to define what anxiety actually is and unpack what I mean by “Anxious Courage.” My hope is that this blog provides you with information and insight that empowers you to overcome anxiety, enhance courageousness, and live life more fully. If this is something that resonates with you, I encourage you to follow me!
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Phone: 234-256-0067
Email: Dr.Chase.T@gmail.com