I certainly want those suffering with anxiety to be encouraged and empowered to self-treat their anxiety if they desire to do so, but it can be tricky. There are many mistakes that are easy to make when going it alone, can lead to secondary depression and continued avoidance working on it.
The following are the top 3 Anxiety DIY mistakes we have seen our clients make before collaborating with us:
Focusing primarily on anxious thoughts
Old school (1980’s) anxiety treatment focused on changing one’s thinking. At the time it was the best treatment we had. But, the reason why people were not getting better was that anxious people know they are often “over-thinking” (as they already spend too much time in their heads!) – It was later found that their primary work has to be on exposing to the things they are avoiding (e.g., worst-case scenarios, their phobia, criticism) and learning to stop engaging in the safety-type behaviors that “protects them (but not really)” i.e., staying in comfort zone, avoiding criticism or rejection, etc. It is more important to ‘walk-the-walk’ the ‘talk-the-talk.”
Journaling (Believe it or Not)
Journaling your anxious thoughts as if you can ‘get them out’ is certainly a well-intended idea, but truth be told, it has been shown to strengthen your anxious thinking, training your brain to think of these worst case scenarios on a loop. How do you become an anxious person?…practice, practice, practice.
On the other hand, a ‘worry-log’ can help you not only identify your anxious thoughts, but it also helps you think through what would happen if that situation really happened ie., how could you constructively deal with it, who can be a resource, etc. This instead trains your brain to go from a What if? To a Then what! Building your confidence. Beating anxiety is not only seeing things are not as dangerous but strengthening your coping to face the possibility.
Talking yourself out of the difficult stuff
Anxious people are such thinkers they can earn honorary PHDs in talking themselves out of anything. Self-treating anxiety makes it more difficult to hold yourself accountable to going out and experimenting facing your fears. It can be quite helpful to set up experiments regarding what you are going to face, what new strategy you will use, what you think will happen and how you believe you will cope and share that experience with others in group or individually therapy.
Whether you DIY your anxiety treatment or decide to work with an experienced therapist believe it or not it can be exhilarating and life changing!
Questions? Send us a note at info@CBTIofSoCal.com