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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday

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Now displaying: September, 2022
Sep 30, 2022

SUMMARY: 

Today we have Natasha Daniels, an OCD specialist, talking all about how to help children and teens with OCD and phobias.  In this conversation, we talk all about how to motivate our children and teens to manage their OCD, phobias, and anxiety using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and other treatments such as self-compassion, mindfulness, and ACT. We also address what OCD treatment for children entails and what changes need to be made in OCD treatment for teens. In this episode, Natasha and Kimberley share their experiences of parenting children with phobias and OCD.  



In This Episode:

  • What does sitting with emotions mean? 
  • How to sit with difficult feelings 
  • How to sit with your sadness 
  • How to sit with uncomfortable feelings, 
  • Sit with the feelings 

Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 304. 

Welcome back, everybody. It’s a delight to have you here with me today. 

Oh, I’ve got so much I want to talk to you about and this is actually coming from an emotion of frustration, this episode, which every time I check in and I begin a podcast, I try to come from a place of fun. And am I feeling calm? And am I feeling completely connected to you, the listener? But today, just for fun, I’m coming to you from a place of frustration. And the frustration, promise, this is not going to be a vent episode – it’s actually a frustration in that I caught an error that I’ve made, and I think a lot of clinicians are making. And it’s not an error in that it’s bad or wrong or problematic. It’s just that I caught something in my own practice, and I was like, “Oh, hold up, we have to talk about this.”

So, saddle in, get your cup of tea, settle in, because we’re going to have to have a conversation about wording. It might be really nuanced and I want you to take what’s helpful and leave the rest. I want you to think about it with an open, curious mind, and decide what’s best for you. 

So, before we get into the show, as always, let’s start with the “I did a hard thing.” Let’s do it. This one is actually from someone that says-- the handle name is GottaCatchEmAll, and they said:

“Thank you so much for your recent series on mental compulsions. Your podcast is truly a godsend and I’ve been listening nonstop ever since my friend shared it with me last month.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know, the mental compulsion series was a six-part series that we created here on the podcast. It had so many amazing clinicians on. If you want access to that series, you can go back and listen to previous podcasts. Or, if you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll go to CBTSchool.com/newsletter. I will actually send you an amazing webpage, just one link where all the episodes are there, all the PDFs are there. It’s so pretty. I have to say it is so pretty, and it’s like a one-stop shop for that series. So, go over to the newsletter, CBTSchool.com/newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter. You’ll get an email from me every week. But on the front end, you will receive that link. I’m so proud of it. I love it. So, I digress, sorry.

They went on to say: “I suffer from a plethora of different anxieties, OCD, scrupulosity, hoarding, body dysmorphia, perfectionism. So, basically a bunch of normal human things, right? Exactly. The other day, I told my therapist that dealing with all of these issues felt like playing a game of whack-a-mole in my head, except that instead of the typical game, the mole would pop up and then a zebra and a giraffe, and so on, in a quick succession throughout the course of the day. While sobbing, I told my therapist that I didn’t want to have a zoo in my head and I didn’t know how to treat so many issues simultaneously. Imagine my surprise when I heard a recent episode called Whack-a-mole Obsessions, it was a relief to discover that I wasn’t alone and weird or broken as I thought. I realized, instead of trying to resist or whack the zoo in my head, I could approach my anxieties and compulsions like they were different Pokemons that I could catch and train and carry around with me while I live the rest of my best life. Thank you, Kimberley, for putting on such an incredible content and for helping me and so many others navigate this difficult thing.”

That is so good. Look at you working through that whack-a-mole ongoing struggle with different thoughts, different disorders, and so forth. I think so many of us resonate with this and you are definitely doing hard things. So, so, so cool. 

All right. Real quick, before we get to the frustration that we’re all hanging out for, let’s just quickly do the review of the week. This one is a shorty from Inventedcharm, and they said:

“It is a mental pick me up. I love listening when I need a mental pick me up. Kimberley’s voice is soothing, and she offers great tools for self-compassion and interviews other experts in the field of mental health.”

So, thank you, Inventedcharm, and thank you, GottaCatchEmAll.

304 What Does It Mean to Sit With Emotions Your anxiety toolkit

Okay. So, here we go. I’m going to tell you a story of why I’m landing here on this episode with you today. So, once I got back from Australia, a lot of you know I spent five and a half weeks in Australia over the summer with my children. It was so beautiful. I can’t tell you how full my heart was when I returned. I was energized. I was the happiest I’ve ever been. And you know where this is going. Yeah, we do. I crashed big time. I just went through so much sadness. I missed my family. I was angry. I had so much grief. I was feeling, actually, if I’m going to be completely honest, quite a lot of resent towards even my husband, who I love and is such a wonderful human. But I was observing resent show up because I was like, “I don’t understand. I just want to be with my family and why can’t I have all the things I want?” So, all these emotions started showing up. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SIT WITH EMOTIONS? 

My therapist – of course, I talked with a therapist – was saying, “Everything, Kimberley, that you’re saying makes complete sense. Why don’t you practice sitting with your emotions?” And of course, I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense. I have given that advice myself.” And so, off I went right onto the roller coaster, or we could say the whack-a-mole to talk about the “I did the hard thing” segment, the whack-a-mole of emotions with the agenda of not numbing them like I often do. Sometimes when I work, I engage in these numbing behaviors where I just numb all of everything out by working. It’s something that I’ve overused as a coping skill, is when I work. So, I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not using any other problematic safety behaviors.

I caught all these problems. So, it’s like, “I think really all you’ve got left to do is just sit with your emotions.” So, I went, “Okay, let’s do it. There’s no solution. There’s nothing I can do about this. Let’s just sit with it.” And I started to play with this idea of, okay, let’s talk about what does it mean to sit with your emotions. Now, this is where, again, I’m going to identify, I’ve given this advice and I’m going to say, I don’t think I’m going to give that advice anymore. Or if I do give it, and for any reason you don’t catch me doing this, you can always bring it to my attention, but I’m going to do my best, is I’m going to add another sentence to the whole “sit with your emotions” concept, because let’s say often you guys have heard me say, “Sit with anxiety, sit with your anxiety.” And that’s helpful because we know that doing compulsions with anxiety is a problem. If you resist or avoid or try and remove your anxiety, it’s going to create more problems. But where that gets in the way is it doesn’t mean you just sit there and do nothing but stare at the wall and just let the anxiety beat you into a pummel. No. I think that the mistake I’ll make, and I’m going to be completely transparent, I think the mistake I make is I’m assuming you guys know what I mean by that, and I’m assuming that you know, I mean, don’t just sit there and stare at the wall. 

There were a couple of days where I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I did just sit there and be like, “Okay, I’m allowing this. I have to allow it. I’m sitting here. I’m allowing it. Oh man, this is hard,” until I was like, “Wait a second. This is not helpful. Just sitting here and letting it pummel me, that’s not the whole picture. There has to be tools and skills associated with it.” That’s where I’m talking about in regards to anxiety. It’s a great concept, but what do we actually mean when we say, “Sit with your emotions”? We mean, allow it, particularly when we’re talking about fear. We’re saying, don’t interfere with it. Don’t engage with it. Don’t wrestle with it. Don’t stir it up. And we’re also saying, don’t run away from it. We don’t thought suppress. So important. 

So, I totally believe that sitting with emotions is an important concept, but we must, and I am sorry if I haven’t mentioned this and I haven’t gone a full explanation, we then must engage back into life. We must engage back into the things that we value. We must engage, even if we don’t like it. Sometimes you have to do the dishes. Sometimes you have to get out of bed. And sometimes we have to allow emotions, embrace emotions, bring on emotions in order to get up and do those things. But that’s just anxiety. 

HOW TO SIT WITH DIFFICULT EMOTIONS? 

Now, let’s talk about which emotions should you sit with and which ones shouldn’t you? Now, number one, there is no bad emotion. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion, a negative emotion, a problematic emotion. They’re all just neutral. And that’s huge to know. But as I was sitting in the chair of the client instead of being the therapist, and I was really going, “Okay, I’m not going to engage in these behaviors. I’m going to instead just allow them and sit with them,” I realized sometimes asking yourself to sit with an emotion, particularly ones like guilt and shame, that too isn’t completely helpful. We need to put an extra sentence on the end of that as well. So, we can say, “Sit with your emotion of shame, but also be aware of the stories it’s telling you, not taking it as a fact.” Because as I was noticing, so much shame showed up for myself in this specific situation. I was thinking, wait, if I told my client to sit with shame, but I hadn’t taught them the skill of diffusing from shame or observing the story of shame, they’re going to have shame and be like, “Oh yeah, it’s true. I am bad. I’m just going to sit with the fact that I’m bad.” So, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not what we mean, again, by sitting with emotions. We’re not saying we’re going to sit with them and accept them as fact. 

Let’s talk about sitting with sadness and grief because, boy oh boy, did I have sadness and grief. And it would come in waves that punch me in the face. I’d be like-- and again, I want to validate grief. Doesn’t matter, it’s not just losing a human body. Nobody passed away. That’s definitely grief. But I was handling grief and loss of like, “Oh, I missed my family. I wish I was there. I wish I lived there. I wish I could just snap my fingers and be there. I wish the world was different. I wish COVID didn’t happen.” All these things. So, I just was getting these waves of sadness. And it was important as I was “sitting with sadness.” That’s okay. We want to do that. We want to allow it. We don’t want to interfere with it. We don’t want to run away from it. We want to embrace it. But we don’t want to thicken it with hopelessness as we sit there. We don’t want to thicken it with like, “Yeah, bad things are going to keep happening and there’s not hope.” That will only create more problems. 

HOW TO SIT WITH SADNESS? 

So, when we say “sit with your emotions,” particularly the one of sadness, we actually want to sit in sadness again with non-judgment, with curiosity, with awareness of other things. And when I did that, when I sat with my emotions and was curious and open, I noticed like LA’s got a beautiful, beautiful scene. The vibe is really cool. I love my house. I really do love my house. I love the fact that my house is surrounded by trees. I love my family. And I allowed me to be open to sadness and other parts of my life here. So, again, I’m bringing this up of just like in that moment of doing the action, I was thinking, oh my goodness, we need to make sure we expand our description of what it means to sit with your emotions. 

If you need more step by step, in my book, The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD, if you have OCD, I actually have a full chapter on managing strong emotions. And in that book, I actually did, I believe, a good degree of explanation. But I wanted to get on here and set the-- what do you say? Set you straight? That’s not right. Set the story straight. I don’t really know what that saying is, forgive me. But I wanted to be really clear and actually correct if I’ve ever said this term, “sit with your emotions.” It’s not a bad term. I actually almost called this episode “Why I’ll never say sit with your emotions again.” But the truth is, I won’t. I can’t hold that as true. So, I changed it to “What does it really mean to sit with your emotions,” and how can we add additional context to that statement so that it doesn’t mean you’re just indulging the emotion and all of the trash that some emotions can leave behind. And what I mean by trash, I’m not judging, it is like, with sadness comes hopelessness sometimes. So, we want to be careful not to engage with that and infuse too much with that. With shame comes a story that you’re bad, that you’re wrong, that you don’t have any worth. We don’t want to indulge or engage in that while we allow and experience the emotion of shame. 

HOW TO SIT WITH ANGER? 

Anger was another one. I went through these crazy waves of anger and talking with a therapist like, “Okay, you’re having your anger.” Of course, don’t lash out or say me unkind things, or catch yourself if you’re starting to feel highly dysregulated. And then just sit with your emotions. And I thought, wow, again, there’s that saying. But if I’m angry and I’m sitting with it, I could easily percolate on some pretty hateful thoughts. I could be sitting with and ruminating with that emotion. And that is not what we mean when we say “sit with your emotions.”

So, I really wanted to just drop into this. If I were to sum up this whole episode, the thing I want you to think about the most is, there is no right way to manage an emotion and there is no right or wrong emotion. There is no-- and I talk with my patients all the time about this. There is no playbook on how this is supposed to go. The metaphor I often use is, it’s like any sport. Some of you may know, I’m learning tennis. I actually pretty suck at it, but that’s a whole nother story. The whole thing I’m learning is, and the reason that I suck, and I don’t say that in a judgmental way, I actually think it’s hilarious, is it’s all about being super flexible. So, I’m standing and my knees are bent and I’m holding my racket and I’m going left to right, left to right on my feet, and I’m getting ready for this constantly changing direction of a ball. And I have to stay really flexible. So, if the ball goes all the way to the right, I have to move my legs so I can move to the right. And then if next time it goes to the left, I have to be ready to make that maneuver. 

HOW TO SIT WITH OTHER DIFFICULT EMOTIONS

Same goes with emotions. Your emotions are going to flip flop and go from left to right and north to west, and it’s going to give you a run for your money. And we have to be able to adjust the strategy depending on what’s coming to us. And that’s true of emotions. In simple, we’re always going to observe it, allow it, acknowledge it. In some points, we have to be curious instead of being closed and judgmental. These are skills you can use with all of them. But as I’ve gone through some of the more difficult emotions today, sometimes we have to catch the themes that percolate and loop us into it when “sitting with emotions.”

So, that’s the main thing I want to talk to you. Again, I’ll tell you, as I-- I was actually driving to the dentist and I called a very dear friend of mine, and I just said, “I actually just had a major epiphany. We can’t keep saying ‘sit with your emotions’ as clinicians. We have to make sure we add context to what that looks like, and it means not just sitting still and doing nothing, except focusing on the emotion.”

So, if this resonates with you, I hope it does. It was such an important thing I wanted to talk with you about again. Does it mean it’s wrong? Absolutely not. If you’re a clinician or you hear this, or you’ve probably even heard it from me – if you’ve heard it, it doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong. I just want you to understand what it actually means when they say that and to add those extra sentences at the end and give context to like-- again, don’t interfere with them. Don’t run away from them. Allow them. Also, don’t calculate and ruminate on them either. 

Sending you so much love. As always, this is really hard work. So, please do remember, it is a beautiful day to do these hard things. And I will add, for any of you who are writing out waves of emotion right now, I salute you. I have such deep respect for you because it’s no easy feat to choose an emotion, to choose to tolerate it and interrupt behaviors that are problematic and allow emotions to rise and fall. That is some pretty impressive work you’re doing. And I just want to give you a massive shout out because it’s not fun. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s skillful work. It takes some stamina to do it, and it’s exhausting. And so, if you’re doing even 10% of this work, I applaud you. 

All right, my friends, I will see you next week. Have a wonderful, wonderful week. Again, please do go to CBTSchool.com/newsletter if you want access to that mental compulsions worksheet. And I’ll be seeing you in a week.

Sep 23, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this episode, I addressed a question that was asked of me by a loyal follower.  They asked, “What do I do if the present moment totally sucks? Like, what if I have a migraine , nausea , chills , pain?  Any suggestions ?!”

This is such a great question and one we probably have all asked ourselves or our therapist at some point.  



Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

Ep. 303 What if the present moment totally sucks?

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 303.

Welcome back, everybody. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here with me. Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting me. I know how valuable your time is, and I know there are so many people that you could spend your time with, especially out on the podcast field. So, I am so, so grateful to have you here with me. Really, really, really I am. I hope that you find these episodes incredibly helpful. My hope is to give you bite-size tools so that you can get on with your life and live your best life. I hope this podcast is everything that you wanted to learn. 

This week’s episode, I am totally, totally amped for. The reason being is, it was actually a response to a previous podcast where we talked about being present. Somebody had written back because they subscribe to my newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, please do so. I will leave a link in the show notes, or you can go over to CBTSchool.com and sign up there. They had responded and said, “But Kimberley, what do I do if the present moment totally sucks?” And they went on to say, “I have a migraine or nausea or chills or pains.” And they said, “What are your suggestions?” I figured, this is probably the question you all have for me. I come on, I share with you tools. And then you guys are probably always going to have a question and this is a really common one. 

WHAT TO DO IF THE PRESENT MOMENT TOTALLY SUCKS

Today, I want to talk about what to do when the present moment totally sucks. Before we do that, let’s first do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Rachel and they said:

“My thoughts get the best of me. I recently started teaching and I needed to stay long after the students go home. And I decided it just needs to be a busy time to distract me. I use your book to help me with any meditations and I just let my thoughts come and go. It was scary the first time, but now I’m used to it.”

Thank you so much, Rachel. I’m so grateful my book can be of assistance. I think you’re doing some really, really hard work there. So, congratulations on that. 

And then last of all, before we get into the bulk of the episode, let’s first share a review of the week and this is from Meldevs and they said:

“I am so thankful to have found this podcast! Kimberley is such a compassionate, warm, honest, and insightful person for those struggling with anxiety disorders as I do. I have learned more listening to her than I have in my years of therapy. The way that she presents each and every podcast episode so that I feel challenged and understood. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being there for people struggling with anxiety!”

Thank you, Meldevs. That is such a beautiful review, really. That brings me so much joy and I really, really appreciate all your reviews on the podcast, because it helps me to reach more and more people. Meldevs and Rachel, thank you so much for being a part of my community. Let’s get into the episode. 

What do we do when the present moment totally sucks? Let’s break it down. 

When we talk about being present, one of the biggest mistakes we make, and I talk with my patients about this all the time, is we assume that being present means everything feels great. I think we have in our mind that being present is when we are most mindful, when we are most at peace, when we’re most compassionate. And I’ll tell you honestly, that has not been my experience. Oh no.

HOW TO BE PRESENT WHEN ANXIOUS

Being present, the art of being present, the practice of being present in your most mindful sense has never meant being comfortable in my experience, especially as my experience with it as a clinician, especially as my experience of having my own mental illnesses and my own medical illnesses. No, it’s not that. Most of the time, when we need to be present are the times when things totally suck, when we’re in a great deal of distress. Because otherwise, if you’re not in distress, usually, you don’t have to be as present because often you naturally are. 

So, let’s just remember that our brains, when we are uncomfortable, is wired to focus on that discomfort. That’s how we’ve survived all these years. And it’s going to focus on the pain because it is trying to send a message to you to get the pain to go away. But when we have something where the pain won’t go away, have it be migraine, like you said, nausea, chills, discomfort could be also anxiety or intrusive thoughts because we all know we can’t stop those. When we experience those, yes, naturally, you’re going to want to run away from it. But as a part of this team and as part of this community, you guys know and hopefully, I’ve taught you that running away from discomfort only makes it worse. Resisting the pain we feel and the suffering we feel only makes it worse and increases our suffering. So, what do we do? Friends, we settle in. I’ll give you a personal example of when I actually recently had COVID. 

Some people bless your hearts. And also, I’m really still very mad at these people, but still, bless your hearts. I wish this was the case for everybody. But some people have very few symptoms when it comes to having COVID. I am not one of those people. When I have COVID and when I got COVID, I get bone pain. It is like the deepest pain in my bones. It goes right to the center of my bones and it is so painful. My daughter and my husband both had COVID as well. My daughter came in. And I, when I’m in this state where my bones hurt this bad, I’ve had it several times in my life. She said, “Mama, you’re tensing up. Your face is all squished.” I was holding my muscles tight. And thank goodness, because I was in so much pain that I actually needed somebody outside of my body to tell me this was happening because I just was so entrenched in the pain I was feeling that she said, “Mama, you’re all tense.” Thank goodness I’ve taught her that tensing up around pain actually makes it worse. Her and I have had many conversations around this. 

STEP ONE: VALIDATE

And so, I naturally was able to go, “Oh, okay, Kimberley, let’s pause.” Number one, validate. “Hun, you’re in a lot of pain.” You could even say, “This present moment totally sucks.” Or you could say, “Wow, I’m observing that you’re really uncomfortable right now.” So, if that’s you and your present moment really sucks, I’m strongly encouraging you first validating. The alternative would be you go, “It shouldn’t be this way.” But the truth is, it is this way. So, don’t go down the road of fighting it. 

STEP TWO: STOP RESISTING THE PRESENT MOMENT

The second piece is then check for where you are resisting the present moment and how much it sucks. Now I’m going to keep saying the word “sucks” really passionately because it does sometimes really suck, like really suck. And so, when it really sucks, it’s almost like the more it sucks, the more we have to soften around how much it sucks. If you have a migraine, the worse it is, the more you need to soften your brow and close your eyes and soften the environment that you’re in. The more you feel nausea, the more you feel your stomach nodding up. And some of you may feel that just by me mentioning it. The more you feel that, the more you need to soften around that physically by relaxing your muscles and softening your thoughts around it. Meaning now is not the time to beat yourself up for it. Now is not the time. Some people are going, “Yeah, but it’s my fault. I have nausea because I drank too much,” or “I ate too much,” or whatever it may be. Now is not the time to go through that. Now, the facts are, the present moment totally sucks. And so, let’s be gentle around it because our resistance makes it worse. 

If you were like me and you have the chills and you’ve got literal, like feels like every bone in your body is broken, now is not the time to fight that and tense your muscles. Now is the time to soften. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, first acknowledge, “Okay, I’m noticing I’m having a panic attack.” And then soften around it physically and cognitively in your thoughts. Don’t resist it. 

Now, that being said, let me bring a very important concept to the table. And this actually just came up this morning. So, as many of you know, I have my online business, which is CBTSchool.com, and then I also have a private practice where we see clients. Because I can’t see all the clients that come to me, I have 10 amazing therapists who work for me and who I have trained and who I supervise every single week. We have a meeting every Monday, and we talk about cases. One of my staff was telling me today that one of her patients took what she said literally, which actually is pretty common. She was explaining to her patients that when you have anxiety and panic or discomfort, you sit in the discomfort or sit with the discomfort, or be with the discomfort. And this patient and client took it literally, which is fair. We have to be really descriptive and give lots of steps and explanations. And so, while they were feeling this discomfort, they literally sat in a chair and just stared and suffered. So, if I’ve ever said, sit with your discomfort, please don’t take it literally.

And so, what I want to remember here and what I remind you of, I should say, is once we’ve acknowledged and we stop the resistance to it, we must then reengage in something we value. So, let’s use me as an example. I had COVID. I literally felt like every bone in my body was broken. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and go for a run. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and see patients because I’m actually in pain. I wasn’t able to. But what I can do is instead of putting my attention on how much it’s painful, I’m going to put my attention onto something else. And it could be as little or as minute as the sound of the leaves rustling outside, the sound of music, the, the smell of the cough medicine I had taken, the taste of the cough medicine I had taken, the touch of the blanket. So, you just get really in touch with that. And then you catch how your mind then keeps offering you thoughts that make you want to reengage back with the pain. 

Now, again, I’ll give you another example. Most of you know, I have a chronic illness. I have postural orthostatic tachycardic syndrome. I am dizzy almost all the time. It’s under control now. I don’t faint nearly as much as I used to. But dizziness is actually a very normal part of my existence, particularly when I’m standing up. And so, my job is to allow it and then to catch when my brain starts to say, “It shouldn’t be this way. This isn’t fair. It’s not good. This is bad. It could be better. Your life could be better.” My brain offers me those thoughts and I choose not to entertain them.

Now, I’m not perfect at this, and this is something I’ve been practicing for a long time, so please be gentle with yourself. My job and your job, when the present moment totally sucks, is to be an observer to our brain. And of course, as I said, at the beginning, it’s going to present to us all the problems and why this shouldn’t be the problem. And you just say, “Thank you for showing up. I totally get what you’re saying, brain. Thank you for being there for me, but I’m going to keep directing my attention to whatever it is in front of me.” 

If you have anxiety and you’re having panic, you’re having high levels of anxiety, I’m going to say to you, ask yourself the question, what can I do or what would I be doing if anxiety wasn’t here right now? And go do those things. Don’t just sit in the discomfort. Only go engage back with life. Do the most that you can with your life WHILE you have anxiety.

Now, let’s also address one other main issue. In no way am I saying to dump toxic positivity on yourself here. In no way am I saying things like, “Oh, you should be happy. The leaves are so beautiful.” Again, like I was saying to you, no, absolutely not. That is not what we’re talking about. 

If you feel sad about this, if you feel down about it, if you feel a little discouraged or irritable, that’s okay. We can also be mindful and acknowledge, “Yeah, I’m feeling really frustrated with how I feel so terrible.” We’re not here when we’re mindful. We’re not here to say it shouldn’t be this way and just be happy about it. No, like I said to you, in my experience being present, my most mindful is actually when things totally suck. And I don’t try and change it that often. In fact, I just try to allow it, bring it in and then add other valuable things into my life. 

Can it be positive? Absolutely, if you want it to be. But if the suffering you’re experiencing is depression or hopelessness or grief or panic, we don’t need to throw a bunch of positivity on there unless it’s really helpful to you. All I’m here trying to do is get you to not fight how painful it is because that usually makes it more painful. And also, we don’t want to thicken the pot of it by going, “You’re right. It does suck. It’s not fair,” and all those things. That can actually often-- we have research to show that that rumination actually makes our suffering worse.

I know I said that was the last thing, but I have one more important thing to say, which is, please, please practice nonjudgment. If you’re going to be mindful, you have to practice nonjudgment. You can’t have mindfulness without nonjudgment. I have a whole episode on that. The whole point here with nonjudgment is, when we say this moment totally sucks, it’s actually a judgment. And I don’t want to take that from you. I don’t want to take that from you. It’s okay. You’re allowed to acknowledge it. But we also want to catch that how sometimes when we’re judgmental, this is good and this is bad, we actually train our brains to send out more anxiety hormones when we have that experience the next time, especially when we tell ourselves it sucks and it shouldn’t be there. So, keep that in mind. 

Anytime I’m going through something difficult, and this is very true of my work that I did around dizziness, with my POTS, is I had to take all the judgment out of it to reduce my suffering around my dizziness. Because the more I judged it, the more I felt completely hopeless and depressed about the situation. The more I felt like, oh, I just don’t have an answer, there is no answer. 

Again, I didn’t say, “Wow, I love dizziness. It’s so positive and wonderful.” I just said, it’s a sensation. I’m going to be gentle. I’m going to acknowledge it and allow it and lean into it, but not give it too much attention. And it’s neither good nor bad. And that was a conscious, intentional decision. Again, be careful that it doesn’t become toxic in that you’re pushing too much positivity on yourself, but again, it’s a balance.

So, there it is. That is what I would encourage you to do when the present moment totally sucks. And as I said, the present moment, especially when you’re suffering, it will totally suck sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you’re going in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever. There’s another piece to catch. 

I am just in love with you guys. I really am. What an amazing, amazing community. Please, if you want to be part of my community, you can go over to Instagram @YourAnxietyToolkit. You can listen to this podcast and go right back to the beginning and listen to the beginning ones. You can go over to Facebook. We actually have a private Facebook group called CBT School Campus. You’re welcome to come and join us there. Thank you. Just love you, love you, love you. 

Have a wonderful day and I’ll talk to you next week.

Sep 16, 2022

In This Episode:

  • What is the difference between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety attack? 
  • What is the prevalence of Panic Disorder? 
  • Are anxiety attacks dangerous? 
  • Are Panic Attacks dangerous? 
  • How does anxiety affect the body? 
  • What anxiety does to your body when expereincing a panic attack?  
  • What is the best treatment for panic disorder

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

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302 Are Panic Attacks Dangerous Your anxiety toolkit

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 302. 

Welcome back, everybody. Today, we are talking about a question I get asked very commonly: Are panic attacks dangerous?

Now I get this question a lot from clients who are just starting treatment. However, I will say I do get this question a lot on social media. People like doing the last-minute panic DM. What’s happened usually is they’ve experienced a panic attack or an anxiety attack, and then they have the thought, what if this panic attack is dangerous? What if this panic attack creates some illness in my body or is unhealthy for my body or unhealthy for my baby, if they’re pregnant. And so, from there, now they’re having anxiety about their anxiety and, as you guys know, then anxiety just takes off from there. So, I wanted to address this with you first. I’ve got a series of questions that I want to go through here with you. I will be looking a little bit at my notes because I wanted to make sure I got everything today. 

Before we do that, let’s first do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is a segment where you guys write into me and tell me the hard things that you’ve been doing – facing your fears, staring your fear in the face, or maybe it’s something not related to fear. It’s just something that you’ve been going through. So, go ahead and submit those to me anytime you would like. Let’s go over. This one is amazing. It says:

“Honestly, Kimberley, you have changed my life in the last two weeks. I was in such a low place and coming across your podcast gave me so much power. I even faced my fear of heights last weekend and I went bungee jumping.” Love it. “That was frightening. And as I was falling, I screamed F-U-C-K,” but they said it in real life, excuse the language. “And I just thought, if I can do this, which is honestly terrifying, I can stop my mental rituals that are just so hard and scary.”

This message is so good and it’s exactly the epitome of the work that we do and you do, which is when we face our fear, we realize how strong we actually are. And then we go on to face our fears again, which helps us to feel even more strong and courageous, which makes us do even harder things. And from there, our life turns away from getting smaller and smaller to getting bigger and bigger. So, I love this. 

All right, let’s get to the show. So, we really want to pull apart, are panic attacks dangerous? But what’s interesting about this is, often when we talk about panic attacks, people start to talk about what’s called an anxiety attack. So, let’s first just pause and really talk about what is what. So, what is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack? Let’s just go through that first so that we all know we’re talking about the same thing. 

What Is The Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack? 

A panic attack or panic disorder is a disorder that is in the DSM, which is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That’s what we use to diagnose people. It usually involves a sudden onset of panic. It can last for minutes, sometimes longer than that or hours. For some people who are really struggling, it usually involves shaking or trembling or it may be heat flashing, hot flashes through your body. Some people experience a sense of detachment from their body. They may experience dizziness, sweating, heart pounding, maybe depersonalization and derealization, which we have episodes on if you want to go back and listen, trembling, sweating, weakness, feeling of extreme terror. Some people have numbness in their hands and feet, again, which is why they then question, is this dangerous? You can imagine, if you’re having any of these symptoms, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying. But once we really get educated about what that is, then we can actually work with it.

Now, as I said, when it comes to having panic disorder, you need to have had at least one of those panic attacks. And then that’s usually followed by one month or more of the person then fearing having another panic attack. And that can actually lead to some people having panic disorder with agoraphobia. Some have it with agoraphobia, which is where you feel like you can’t leave the house, and some do not. 

So then the other part of this question is, what about an anxiety attack? Now, here’s the thing to remember. I asked quite a few clinicians, what do you think the difference between these is? And I actually got a ton of different answers, which I know isn’t super helpful for you guys, but some just basically said, “I don’t consider them any different at all.” Others said, yes, there is a difference in that an anxiety attack isn’t usually a disorder of its own, and it’s usually in relation to an actual threat. So, let’s say, panic disorder is very sudden, it’s often irrational, but not always. And so, it’s coming on very strong out of nowhere. However, an anxiety attack often gradually builds. It can last for several months. It can cause restlessness, sleep issues, fatigue, muscle, tension, and irritability. That though can all show up with panic disorder as well, but the main key thing that a lot of clinicians, and I’ve done some research online, is some people believe that it’s about what the trigger is. So, with an anxiety attack, if the trigger is an actual threat, like there is a dog running towards you and it’s going to bite you, or there is an actual threat in your society, a gun or weather issues, extreme weather, that that would be a trigger that would cause an anxiety attack and that’s how you would separate them. 

Now, for the sake of today, I’m going to use them interchangeably. Whether it’s from a current stressor in your life that is actually a danger or whether it’s panic disorder in that it’s just sudden and out of the blue or related to a specific fear or phobia you have, I’m going to talk about them as if they’re the same, given that their symptoms are often the same. And really, what I want to look at today is about whether these symptoms are dangerous or not.

What Is The Prevalence Of Panic Disorder?   

Before we move on, let me quickly give you a little prevalence here, because I just wanted to normalize if you’re having panic, and I’m going to read directly here. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 2.7% of the adult population in the United States experience panic disorder each year. That’s pretty big. They went on to say, approximately 44.8% of those individuals experience a panic disorder that is classified as severe. 

Now, I think that’s actually really interesting because anyone who’s had a panic attack is going to say it’s severe because a panic attack is 10 out of 10. So, I think that that’s actually-- I’m surprised. I would be surprised if it’s actually not way more than that. But what I’m guessing they’re also talking about here is the degree in which it impacts their functioning. Because a panic attack in and of itself, and we’ll talk about this here in a second, isn’t a problem. What can get in the way is it starts to make your life very, very small and can impact your functioning, your ability to have conversations, interact with people, go to work, go to school, sleep, eat, and so forth. So, really important that you get those points. 

Are Anxiety Attacks And Panic Attacks Dangerous? 

But then we want to move over to: Are these anxiety and panic attacks dangerous? So, let’s talk about that. Let’s look at those symptoms – chest pain, hot flashes, dizziness, pounding heart. Often when we experience those symptoms, we would make the assumption that something is terribly wrong with our body and we better get to the hospital pretty quick. Chest pain – what do you see often on advertisements and so forth?

You can imagine, when you have those sensations, it makes complete sense that your brain is going to set off the alarm. I do encourage you all, if you’ve had these symptoms, go and see a doctor, explain to them what happened and have them do a check on you so that you are really clear that what you’re experiencing is a panic disorder or a panic attack or an anxiety attack. We all know the common TV show where they get rushed to the hospital and they’re having a heart attack. And then the doctor, in a comedic way, says, “You’re having a panic attack. It’s common.” It is true. Statistics show it. I think this is correct that the most admissions into an ER is panic attacks. Isn’t that so fascinating? So, it makes sense that people are afraid.

But once you’ve had that clearance and I do encourage you to get clearance and just speak with your doctor always about that stuff, and if they’ve defined like you’re having a panic attack, then your job is actually, when you have those sensations, to not respond to them as if they are threats. If you respond to them as if they’re threats, you’re going to create more panic. We’ve got a whole ton of other episodes out about panic, so I’m not going to talk about too much there. But what I want to talk about is, are they dangerous? And the same goes for anxiety attacks. 

What I’m going to tell you once and once only is, no, they’re not dangerous. Our body can withstand all of these symptoms many, many times. Lots of people who’ve been through very difficult times or had panic disorder can go on to live wonderful, healthy lives. But here is where I want to maybe address the elephant in the room. If you don’t follow me already, there is a chance you found this podcast because you saw the title and you were like, “Oh yes, I want to know if they’re dangerous.” And once you listen, you may actually feel compelled to come back and listen to this episode again and again to reassure yourself that they’re not. If that is the case, I’m going to strongly encourage you not to keep listening after you’ve listened to the first time. 

Let me give you some information about that. When I see a patient for the first time, I do a lot of psychoeducation. I share with them, these are common sensations, this is normal if you’ve got panic. If you have these sensations, we’re going to treat them like we would treat panic symptoms. I would educate them if they’re concerned about the dangerousness. But then I would say to them, after today, we’re actually not going to keep revisiting these questions because what will happen is, the more you tend to these questions, the more you actually be fueling your panic disorder. Anytime you respond in a way that’s urgent and need to reduce your anxiety or your uncertainty, the chances are, you’re making the anxiety worse. So, I want to give you permission to go and see your doctor. I want you to get permission to share all of the details that you’re experiencing. Then I want you to give yourself permission to have your panic attacks without trying to solve whether they’re dangerous or not. Not tending to all of this, because the truth is, number one, nobody knows, number two, even I don’t know for certain, for every different person, and number three, the more you try and solve it, the more that you’re putting too much attention on this question that can actually keep you stuck in the cycle.

How Does Anxiety Affect The Body?  

Once we look at that, and that’s probably as far as I would go with my patients as well in terms of addressing that, often people have questions like, well, then what’s the impact of anxiety on my body? How does anxiety affect my body? How does panic impact my body? And again, I want to tread very gently because you deserve to have some psychoeducation about that, but we also want to be careful that we don’t spend too much time, again, tending to fears about what anxiety is doing to our body. Remember here, a lot of anxiety disorders is ultimately the fear of fear itself. Even though the content might be on something specific, it’s usually our resistance to having fear and experiencing fear and doing so without response or reaction. 

So, does it impact the body? Yes and no. Meaning it does tend to make us increase sleep struggles. It makes it difficult to eat. There are many impacts that it can have on the body. But again, catch – the question, how does it impact my body – if that’s actually you saying, is this dangerous? 

Think of it this way. When we ask questions and we pose questions to our mind, the words we choose and the emphasis we ask them can actually create more anxiety. If we say, “That’s so dangerous, we shouldn’t be doing that,” it’s true of anything. When you label anything as good and bad, you actually increase your resistance and your wrestle with it. If you say something is bad, you’re going to have anxiety about it next time. 

And so, what we want to look at here is, yes, it does impact our body in terms of it’s exhausting and it creates struggles without regular functioning. So then what I would encourage you to do, instead of tending to back and forward on, is this anxiety good or bad for my body, what does it do to my body, does this anxiety impact my body in a healthy way – instead, put your attention on, what will help me overcome this anxiety in the long term? Anytime we ask for the short term, we’re always going to do something that’s a safety behavior or a compulsion, an avoidant behavior, a reassurance-seeking behavior. So, just keep asking yourself, what will help me in the long term overcome this fear? And often that involves not ruminating about whether it will be dangerous or not because when we ruminate, we get stuck. And when we get stuck, it makes the fears look bigger. 

Isn’t it interesting, and I’m going to call myself out here, in that in my attempt to address the question, are panic attacks dangerous, my advice or my encouragement to you is to practice not trying to solve that question, i not giving attention to that question. Yes, you can get basic psychoeducation or you can go to your doctor and get a checkup, but anything beyond there, you’re always, and hear me if you can, if you can take one thing away from today’s episode, is really remember that anxiety is about willingness to tolerate discomfort and it’s about your willingness to be uncertain, especially if you have disorders like panic disorder, OCD, phobia, social anxiety, generalized anxiety. It’s almost always going to be, can I be uncertain? How can I be more uncertain? How can I practice riding the waves of uncertainty? And that’s very much the case with this specific question. 

So, I hope that is helpful. Again, catch your urgency to listen to this over and over and do your best to acknowledge the thought that you’re having, treat it like a thought and not a fact, and then move on into the things that actually bring you value into your life because that is what recovery looks like. 

Thank you so much for being here with me today. I am honored to have this special time with you. I hope that was helpful. Do please remember, it is a beautiful day to do hard things because this work is hard, but it is done in effort to really serve and nurture the future you. Even though it’s hard right now, we’re really tending to the wellness of the future you when we take on these really difficult concepts

Have a wonderful day, everybody, and I will see you next week.

Sep 9, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 301.

Managing OCD Relapse (with Jazzmin Johnson) 

Welcome back, everybody. I am covered in goosebumps. I literally, as we speak, just finished the recording of this episode. I wanted to come on and do the intro right away just because I’m so moved by this week’s guest.



This week, we had Jazzmin Johnson. She’s a mental health advocate and she came on to talk about something she felt really, really passionate about, which is relapse, particularly related to relapse with anxiety disorders, even more particular and specific is with OCD. And she brought to the conversation the same struggles that I have seen my patients have over and over with relapse and how hard we can be on ourselves when we relapse and how difficult it can be to pull ourselves out of relapse. It’s a topic that I haven’t touched on nearly enough. And so, I’m just so grateful for her to come on and share her story and the steps she took to overcome any kind of relapse that she was experiencing, and identifying the difference between a lapse and a relapse I thought was really profound.

I’m just so excited to share this episode with you. I actually had scheduled it to be out much later and I’m like, “No, no, no, we just have to get this out. This is so, so important.” So, I’m so thrilled. I’m not even going to do an “I did a hard thing” because this whole episode is Jazzmin explaining to us how to do hard things. So, I’m again impressed with how she’s handled it. So, let’s get straight to the show.

I love you guys. I hope you can squeeze every ounce of goodness out of this episode. I think the main real message we took away is it’s a beautiful day to do hard things. So, enjoy the show.

301 Managing OCD Relapse with Jazzmin Johnson Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, everybody. I am so excited to have a special guest on the show that I’ve actually been wanting. We’ve been talking back and forth. I’m so excited to have Jazzmin Johnson on today. Thank you for being here, Jazzmin.

Jazzmin: Thank you so much. I’m absolutely honored and really, really excited to chat.

Can OCD Relapse? 

Kimberley: Yeah. So, let’s dive in. We are going to talk about relapse, which is a topic I think you brought to my attention. I have not covered barely at all. So, let’s dive into that. But before we do that, can you give us a little background and fill us in up to where we’re at with relapse? Can OCD Relapse? 

Jazzmin: Yeah, absolutely. So, my name is Jazzmin. I’m 28 years old. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was just freshly 23. So, it’s been a while. Looking back on my life, I’ve had OCD for a very long time, long before I was 23. So, definitely fun to look back on your life and the moments and say, “Oh, that was an interesting behavior and no one really caught that.”

My story is I always love to tell it, but it started off with a really simple night of not sleeping, something that we think we’ve all experienced. And up until that point, I had assumed I was this rock-solid girl who was tough and I skateboarded on the weekends and just knew that nothing could touch me. And I remember having a hard night of sleep one night and my heart was beating really fast and I just felt really panicky. It was such a bizarre feeling for me. I remember at the time reaching out to my sister who also struggles with anxiety and OCD as well, and I just said, “Hey, have you ever dealt with this weird heart palpitation thing at night and you can’t relax?” And she just sent me a text in all caps and was like, “Yes, that’s anxiety.” And I think it was just this bonding moment where we were just like, “Oh, okay, I guess I’m like you like. Let’s do this.”

But with that I think came a lot of fear too, because as someone who was assuming I was this rock-solid gal, who was tough and never stressed about anything, to have that identity switch that happened when I was told that I might have anxiety. As all of us know, listen to this, anxiety is a terrible feeling and it’s even harder when it really sticks around for a long time. I remember feeling like my body was buzzing all the time and I remember trying to explain it to my boyfriend and he was just like, “That’s really strange.” And I’m like, “You don’t understand. My whole body feels like it’s vibrating all the time and I just couldn’t sleep at night.” And so, I ended up reaching out to my mom and she helped me find a therapist, which I’m really grateful that my family is really pro helping people with mental health disorders. So, they knew exactly how to help me.

So, I popped in with a therapist and was just like, “I don’t have anxiety. Why am I having anxiety? What’s going on?” And she just asked me if there were things that made me anxious. And I just remember telling her, “No, there’s no reason. My life is really good. I really enjoy where I’m at and I love my job and I love my boyfriend and I love my life. So, why am I feeling this way?” And she just said, “Well, have you talked to anybody about it?” And I remember telling her, “Yeah, my mom and my sister, and they’ve told me the things that make them anxious.” And so, now when I think about those things, I plan to be anxious in those scenarios too. And I just told her I was having a hard time figuring out what was causing this anxiety. And she just said-- I will remember these words forever because they started everything for me. But she said, “Maybe you just need to find yourself in all of this.”

And so, I went home and was just like, “What does that even mean, how do you find yourself?” I was so lost. And at the time, I was thinking, okay, I’m 23 years old. What do I need to do? Do I need to eat, pray, love, and go to Italy and dump my boyfriend? And then that’s when that thought popped in my head. And I thought, what if I need to leave my boyfriend in order to not feel anxious anymore? And of course, that terrified me at the time. I’d been with my boyfriend for five years. We were high school sweethearts. I knew in my bones I would marry him one day. And the idea that the only way out of how I was feeling was to lose something that I really valued was just life-shattering. And so, I just spent so much time thinking to myself, no, that can’t be it.

But OCD is the doubting disorder and I just hated this idea that what if that was the key to it all and it was something I didn’t want to do. And so, I fought it and I probably struggled with that thought for another three or four months. I spent every day thinking about it the first time I woke up in the morning. And it got to a point where my body and my brain was trying really hard to convince me to leave because it wanted this relief from this anxiety. So, I was almost trying to convince myself and arguing with my mind on why I need to leave. And it would jump from maybe I didn’t like the way he looked or he has a mustache this week and I don’t like mustaches, so maybe I need to leave. Or his jokes are really bad. I can’t be with someone whose jokes are bad. I mean, it’s almost comical to the point where the things that my brain was trying to do to get me out of this scenario that felt like anxiety was ruling at all.

I remember going to therapy every week, and my therapist just said, “You’ve been talking about this for a long time and it sounds like you might be struggling with some obsessive thinking, and it might be OCD.” And that crushed me because at the time, I thought of OCD as flicking light, switches on and off, and I did not know what it was and that it could look different. So, I just got really scared and she just said, “Nope, we’re going to work through this. You’re going to be fine.”

And so, we did my first exposure in that appointment and it was absolutely horrible and it was so hard, but we sat down and we mapped out what my life would look like for the next five years if I chose to leave. My life looked great. I was like, “I would move. I would go to LA and become a fashion designer,” whatever I was into at the time. And she was like, “You’d probably be okay. So, why is this so scary to you?” And I just told her, “I just don’t like this feeling of losing agency over my choices and feeling like anxiety was making those choices for me.” And that really made me spiral into a bit of a depression and just really struggled with feeling like I could do anything really.

My therapist and I, we talked and I was prescribed antidepressant, which I owe my life to because that antidepressant gave me the strength to stand up against OCD for the first time in my life. And so, I started and I started just diving into the OCD community and listening to stories online, reading about it. Not just reading about people that were struggling, but people that had made it out or had worked through it and were doing really well. I just loved listening to specifically Stuart Ralph’s The OCD Stories podcast and your podcast really. I just loved hearing people’s stories about OCD, because I would listen to it on my way to and from work on my hour-long commute. And I would always smile when I was listening to these people’s poor traumatic stories, just because I could hear how different our obsessions were, yet we were all doing the same thing. There were so many similarities that I heard and I just felt such a sense of community and belonging. And so, I just really dove into that and was like, “Hey, let’s talk about this. Now, why isn’t anyone talking about relationship, anxiety, and relationship OCD?”

I reached out to Stuart Ralph and he let me post a little blurb on his website about what I was going through and that started my advocacy journey. And so, now I just float through life and deal with what it throws at me. And of course, I struggle at times. OCD will always stick around, but I try really hard to always have all of my social media channels open for people that just want to talk. And I find that’s just such a good space to have for people when they just need someone to understand. So, that’s a brief, little rundown of my life with OCD so far. 

Kimberley: I had goosebumps for quite a bit of that. It’s just like it gives me the chills in the best way and that you’ve gotten through so many bumps and windy corners and stuff. Then we come to here now. So, you’ve got this progression, this windy story and you arrive. And obviously, you’re doing pretty well. Tell me about this idea of relapse and what that means to you.

How to Deal with OCD Relapse

Jazzmin: Yeah. So, I look at lapses and relapses, in my opinion, a little differently. So, of course, in my journey, I had a few lapses. There were things that life happens and stress trauma happens. A few instances, I was really unfortunate to be in a space at my work where someone chose to take their life. And I was not at work, but I walked in about two minutes after it happened, because it happened at my work. I didn’t see anything, but just the feelings of the people around me just was really traumatic. And so, my OCD latched onto that for a while and that sense of safety that I felt and the fear of being in another instance or something else that would be traumatic. And of course, there’s been other moments in my life where really wild, crazy things have happened. And my OCD does always find something to latch onto for a short while. But usually, I’m able to notice a behavior and feel like, “Oh, that feels familiar. Uh-oh, I think I might be stuck again,” and then I can usually spot it. But this last spring, I had a bit of a relapse and I call it a relapse more than a lapse because it looped back into my old themes that I had worked through a lot. And it lasted for a really long time. And I really had a hard time finding that kind of pathway out. I couldn’t really find where on the cycle, the OCD cycle I was to where I could see where to get out.

And so, at the time, I looked at relapses as failure and I think that’s one thing I really wanted to talk about. But I imagined that since I had come so far in my recovery, that when OCD shows its face again, I would know that it was OCD. I would see it and I’d be ready and I’d have my warrior gear on and I’d fight it and I’d carry on with my life. I think this last spring, just with the chaos that happened in my life, I learned that that’s not always the case. And sometimes it takes a little bit longer. But also, I think it always unlocks new layers to your recovery journey and healing that I think I needed to learn. So, I’m really grateful that it happened, which is so funny. I wish I could tell myself that four months ago and I was really in the thick of it, but yeah, I’m really grateful that I had that experience.

OCD Relapse Story…or is that not the right wording? 

Kimberley: Why do you think-- because I really resonate with what you’re saying and I think I’ve had, even in the last couple of weeks, some clients who’ve come back to treatment after doing really well with ERP and therapy. Can you tell us your OCD relapse story? Why do you think we consider it a failure to relapse? Where did that come from, do you think?

Jazzmin: I think for me, I hear a lot about in the OCD community of just this idea of being fighters and warriors and we’re going into this battle. And once you’ve won the battle once, you feel not untouchable, but you just have that upper hand. And I think with every new theme that it throws at you, which it always will, it’s something new and it might take longer to recognize that, oh, this is the same thing. But for me, it felt like I was just losing a game, losing a battle, and that I knew how to fight. And I always would use this metaphor with my therapist that I felt like I had my toolkit with all of the things I had learned over the years, all of the exposures I can do and scripts and stuff I can write, but it felt like it was in a toolbox that was locked. Like I had to find the key before I could get to that toolbox. And when you’re feeling so terrible, you’re frantically searching to find that specific key. And I just found myself fumbling.

And so, I think that idea of failure comes from just knowing better too. I felt like I knew better. I know what OCD looks like. I know this cycle like the back of my hand, yet, somehow it sneaks into my life again. I don’t realize it until either it’s too late and I’ve been doing compulsions for months maybe. And that is always a real letdown just in your personal self-esteem, and your idea of where you were in recovery can sometimes shift. And that’s scary because you think you’re through it or you’re better than that or that you know better. And then to find out maybe you were wrong, it’s really hard to sit with.

Kimberley: Yeah. It’s an interesting reframe, isn’t it? We think of being a fighter and getting through it as if you won the battle and the battle is over. It can be a massive dent to your self-esteem would you say? Or tell me a little bit about, did it shift your perspective of yourself being a fighter for a while or were you able to be like, “No, no, this is the work”? How was that feel?

Jazzmin: I think it’s a little different for me because at the time, I really considered myself an advocate. And I felt as an advocate, I guide other people and I help them through these things. And I remember a really specific moment with my husband after we had just met my baby niece for the first time. And the entire time we were visiting her, I was having intrusive thoughts probably every second and it was jumping themes. It was harm and then pedophilia and then harm again and harming myself. And I remember getting in the car with him as we left and just crying. And he just was like, “What’s going on? Talk to me.” And I just told him, “I’m so tired. I know what this is. I had those thoughts. I knew they were OCD. I knew the moment they showed their face, because why would I ever want to do that to my beautiful baby niece?” And yet, they still made me anxious. And I had made the story to myself that if an intrusive thought made me anxious, I’d already lost. So, my reaction to it was the first thing I could control. And when you get thrown a new theme, it knocks you down because you’ve never seen it before and it’s scary.

I just remember crying to him and just explaining, “I am so frustrated with myself because I know what this is. I know what I’m doing and I can almost step outside of myself and see the cycle. I can draw it on a piece of paper. In fact, I did that often, and yet I couldn’t stop.” It was just a lot of disappointment in myself.

I think as an advocate, you feel like you should know better and I helped people through this. In fact, there were times when I was in that relapse that people reached out to me for help. And I strapped on my booth and helped them and walked, talked them through it all and found them therapists and then was like, “Why can’t I do that for myself? Why am I so good at helping others and not giving myself the tools that I know are sitting right in front of me?”

Kimberley: Yeah. I thought it was really interesting. You said like you were mad at yourself, or maybe I didn’t use that word correctly, for having anxiety about your thoughts. Oh my God, when did the expectations get so high? What are your thoughts about that?

Jazzmin: I have no idea. It’s so funny too, because when I look back on the themes that I’ve always had, it’s always been around feeling anxiety. I have a fear of feeling anxiety. And that first thing I had was, maybe this will get rid of my anxiety. So, all of my obsessions were what’s the key to get rid of it. In fact, I often have an intrusive thought to this day that maybe my anxiety disorder is caused by the fact that I have hair and I need to shave my head to not feeling anxious anymore. And I have the best hair. I love my haircut. I have the best hair stylist, so I’m just like, “No, I don’t want to shave my head.”

Kimberley: You don’t want to go all Britney Spears on yourself.

Jazzmin: No. But it’s so funny to me how that works and the way-- yeah, I lost my train of thought there because we were laughing about Britney Spears, but--

Kimberley: But no, I think going back to what I was saying is I think you’re right. I think that we judge ourselves based on whether we’re anxious about something, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t be anxious about that.” But that’s just our brain doing its thing.

Jazzmin: I was holding a newborn baby that I was related to for the first time in my whole life. Of course, I’m going to be terrified. I’m going to throw her against the wall. That’s a normal thing to feel really anxious about. But I think also when you’re in recovery, there’s a certain acceptance you have with anxiety. You learn that anxiety is going to be a part of my life and I’m going to accept it. And I’d always thought that I had done that. And then I remember doing ERP School this last spring. And you mentioned something about, I believe it’s willingness versus willfulness. Is that what it is?

Kimberley: Yeah.

Jazzmin: And I remember feeling angry with you when you mentioned that because I knew you were right. And I was like, “No,” because that was that missing piece that I had yet to figure out. I was always like, “Yeah, I get that I’ll have to feel anxious sometimes in my life. But I’m only feeling anxious and allowing myself to feel anxious because I hope that that will be the key to get rid of it.” So, it was just, that was always the way out. And for the first time, I had to realize that while I was allowing anxiety to happen, I wasn’t really welcoming it in a way. And so, that was what unlocked that little portion in my head.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I just have a question. The therapist/educator in me is like, tell me more – you obviously took ERP School – what is it about? And I’m so happy that that was helpful. But I want to know, because you’re not alone. I love knowing when things make people mad because it means there’s a roadblock there. There’s a common human roadblock that we all get to. So, what about that made you mad? I’m so curious.

Jazzmin: Yeah. I think in all honesty, it was a little bit of resistance because it was like, I knew that that was that next step and I really didn’t want to do that. Everything that I’ve ever done was to get rid of my anxiety. Even my OCD, all of my research, and all of the exposures that I worked on was only to get rid of that anxiety. And at the beginning of every video, you talked about, you said, “Hey, if that’s your goal, let’s reframe that.” And I was just like, “How do I do that? How does someone want to feel anxious?” I just really struggled with understanding how-- it’s such a terrible feeling. I hate it so much. How am I supposed to be happy to experience that? And I wasn’t sure how to connect those two. 

I also was always looking for someone to just tell me how, like to give me steps and just say, “Hey, this is how you become willing to be anxious, or the willfulness, this is how you do it.” I remember talking to my therapist about it and I just said, “Kimberley was talking about this, and can you just tell me how to do that?” I was like, “How do I lean in? Is that something I should just tell myself? Is it something I need to write down?” And she just said, “I think it’s not something I can tell you. I think it’s a little more abstract than that.” And I just said, “Okay. So, you can’t give me a step-by-step on how to get out of this,” because that’s how I am. And she just said, “No, I think it’s a feeling.” It scared me more than it made me angry. And I think that’s why it made me angry because I knew that that was what I needed to do. So, that anger really comes from fear of just knowing what’s next and what I need to do. And it’s something I think I’ve put off for a very long time.

Kimberley: Yeah. Listen, this week alone, I’ve had multiple of these conversations with my clients. I think it’s such a common roadblock for everybody. Like how often people who have recovered said, “When I stopped trying to not be anxious is when I actually got relief from my anxiety.” And it’s like what you resist, persist, is always this sort of thing.

Jazzmin: Absolutely.

Kimberley: I love that you told me that. Number one, I’m terrible. I always giggle when people say that my stuff made them mad because I’m like, “What happened?” But I think it’s such an important point, right? It’s such an important piece of the work. So, how would you encourage people to manage relapse or lapse?

Jazzmin: Yeah, I think I was really lucky to have my sister by my side through this relapse, especially if someone who understands OCD. And encouragement was a huge thing in having a support system because I had my husband, I had my sister, I have grown a community on Instagram of people that know I have OCD and I don’t shy away from putting on my Instagram like, “I’m relapsing right now. Give me a minute. Let me figure this out.” And my comments are always flooded with like, “You got this. We believe in you. Hang in there if you need anything.” And so, I think that was a huge part of that healing for me, was just the support. 

But I also think there’s a huge part about self-compassion that fits into this, about allowing yourself the opportunity to stumble. And I think it gives us its humanity. We’re going to fall and we’re going to trip and that’s going to happen. And also, life is not perfectly straight and boring where nothing bad ever happens. That’s what makes life exciting. So, I think there’s a big self-compassion piece to it all of just allowing yourself to be wherever you are.

Kimberley: Is the self-compassion piece the work you’d, like you’d said, sometimes when we relapse? And I’ve had these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, there’s a layer of your therapy that you hadn’t done, or that this is a good thing for your long-term recovery.” Was the self-compassion work you had previously done or did you have to take on the self-compassion once you realized you had relapsed?

Jazzmin: Self-compassion was not at all a part of my previous healing and it was something that I was really missing. I bought your book too, The Self-Compassion Workbook. I wrote through when I was on an airplane ride once. And again, it also made me frustrated because I remember you had me write like how I felt about me if my OCD was flaring up or what I thought to myself about the fact that these intrusive thoughts were present. And all of the things that I wrote were really nasty about myself like, “Why are you thinking that? Even if I know everyone has intrusive thoughts, people don’t have those ones or they don’t make them feel the way that mine make me feel. So, I’m not strong enough or I’m not doing well enough or I’m not as well as I thought I was.”

And so, self-compassion was that layer of my healing that I don’t think I had reached yet but I think I really needed because again, I think I have that tough girl mentality and I want to be strong for everybody. And when it comes to doing that for myself, I fall short. So, I think it was really helpful to just learn, to give myself grace and to watch the way that I was speaking to myself when I was struggling and allowing myself to struggle, allowing myself to feel bad because that’s life. 

Kimberley: Yeah. I love that you had support. I love that you had those people cheering you on, like clapping their hands, “You can do this.” What would you encourage people to do if they didn’t have that support? And in the same question, were you able to start to have that voice? Where you were like, “I can do it” and have that kind of coaching voice as well? Or was that not a part of your experience?

Jazzmin: So, I think if anyone doesn’t have that support, the first thing I would encourage them to do was to find the community online because that’s how I mostly got that sport in the beginning, was just finding people that were struggling in a similar way. But also, I think a huge part of that self-compassion in your voice is to be that voice for yourself and to be an advocate for yourself in those moments. And so, yeah, I think there’s a part of just doing it for yourself in a way. And there was a second part of that question you asked.

Kimberley: No, no, you answered it beautifully, because I think that is a piece of it too, is I have found for myself and I could be-- you may not feel this at all or the listeners may not feel this at all, but a huge part of my self-compassion journey was instead of going to other people to cheer me on, I had to learn to do it myself. Not to say you don’t deserve to go and get it. It’s not a problem if they cheer you on, that’s not a problem at all, but that was a huge piece of it. And I try to practice that with my patients as well, like can you cheer yourself on just a little, can you reframe that you’re strong while you suffer kind of thing. I think there’s so many reframes that we can make.

Jazzmin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think back to the things that I did to encourage myself and I remembered one thing that I did is, I would have a full day of negative thoughts and negative intrusive thoughts and really struggling. And then maybe for two minutes out of that day, I would feel this overcome of like, “Hey, I got this. Wait a minute, I can do this.” And I’d always snap a selfie when I was feeling that. And so, over the course of this relapse, I have tons of these selfies and some of them I’m crying in and some of them I’m in the coffee shop or I’m in my car. And when I was really feeling down, I’d look back on that and I’d be like, “Hey, that’s the version of me that’s cheering me on right now.” And I would look back on those photos all the time and be like, “Hey, yesterday at 2:04 PM, I felt okay for a minute.” And even if it was just a minute, I’m going to trust that girl right there, because that’s who I am.

Kimberley: Wow. That’s so cool. I love that. I’ve never heard that before. What an amazing way to capture you in that moment. I love that so much.

Jazzmin: I think I put it in my phone, in my folders as reminders of hope. And I would look at those pictures whenever I needed it because I think seeing proof that you were there at one point too, it’s like, that was me and I could be there again.

Kimberley: I love that so much. I actually think that that’s a piece of the tool belt or the toolkit that we need to have more of, like how can you remind yourself that you’re in the game and you’re doing the game. I love that so much. I remember many months ago, I did a podcast with Laura. I can link it in the show notes. She talked about, she did a collage of photos of her doing her exposures, even though she’s crying or even though-- and I just think that’s it, right? Just to remind ourselves that we’ve been there and we’ve gotten through it is so huge. 

This goes back to the very beginning, but how do you-- is there a difference in how you respond depending on whether it’s a lapse, your version of a lapse or a relapse? For you, is the response and the tools you use the same or is it different? 

Jazzmin: I think for me the tools are about the same. I would almost say I use less tools in my lapses and that’s always what causes them. So, I relax into this anxiety that I’m feeling and I let my guard down maybe a little bit and I start doing something. But generally, the way that I spot myself out of those cycles is to-- I quite literally will map out. I’m like, “What thought just made me anxious, and then what was my initial-- what did I feel like I needed to do to make myself feel better?” And then once I could take that step back, I could see what was going on. And I think my relapse was a little bit different because it reached that core fear of mine about feeling anxious forever or feeling like I wasn’t going to get rid of it. And so, I think it was a little harder to find that exit of that loop because it was something that I was so deeply engraved in my being that I’ve had for so long that I don’t think I ever really looked at. I always treated the surface of my obsessions and never really realized what is the core of this. It’s feeling anxious. It’s just this fear of anxiety.

Kimberley: Yeah. And how are you doing now? Can you give me a realistic description on how to recover with OCD Relapse? 

How to recover from OCD relapse

Jazzmin: Yeah. I would say I’m doing really good right now. I’m actually 16 weeks pregnant. We found out we were pregnant back in May. And so, pregnancy is one big exposure because as someone who doesn’t like not knowing the future and is not great with uncomfortable sensations, that is pretty much all this pregnancy has been. But I remember explaining to a friend like sometimes when you’re pregnant, at least for me, I’ll just have these waves of sadness. Nothing is making me sad. I’m actually having the best day ever, and I’ll just have to go cry really hard for 10 or 20 minutes. And I was thinking to myself, this is something a couple years ago that would really scare me. I’d be really fearful of these feelings. And I have just come so far in my journey with anxiety and OCD that when I feel that way, I just surrender to it and I say, “Hey, babe, I’m going to go upstairs. Give me 10 minutes.” And I’ll just go hang out in the bathroom and let it out and wipe my tears away and just allow that I’m going to feel that way sometimes and it’s okay and I think so.

So, right now, I’m doing really well and navigating, of course, pregnancy as much as I can as it’s super new. And of course, I have a lot of fears about being a mother and when those intrusive thoughts will show their face again, when I’m holding my baby, which I’m sure they will. But I’m really leaning into this idea that the version of me that will make it through that will be born in that moment. So, there’s nothing I can really do right now to make that intrusive thought not stick as much when it happens. All I can do is just trust that when it happens, if it happens in that moment, I’ll gain whatever resilience I need to work through it. And there’s a lot of self-trust that comes into that. And really trusting that I’ve got this and who knows, maybe I’ll stumble and I am fully allowing myself the opportunity to do that. So, I think that’s just been a big part of this journey for me, is allowing the unknown to just exist. 

Kimberley: I love what you’re just saying. In fact, I have had clients who’ve actually written invitations to OCD like, “I welcome you to my baby’s birth,” or “I welcome you to my wedding,” and so forth. And so, I think that this is beautiful in sort of an insurance policy for relapses to say, “I’m inviting you to this big event,” which is what you’re doing.

Jazzmin: Yeah. It’s like, “Let’s join me. I know you’re a part of my life and I want to see what are you going to throw at me. Let’s do this.” Almost like, “Let’s do this together. It’s not a fight and I don’t want you to go away, but I’m curious to see what you’re going to bring to the table and I’m looking forward to seeing how I handle it, learning whatever I need to learn in that moment.”

Kimberley: See, you have a lot of willingness.

Jazzmin: Now I do.

Kimberley: You have got it. I’m so grateful to have you on and to share your story. This is so good. So good. Tell me-- let’s just wrap it up with like, okay, someone is in the depth of their relapse, they’re the lowest of the low. What words of wisdom do you have for them?

Jazzmin: Feel it. I think that’s what I would say. I think when you’re in those lows, you’re always looking for that way out. And of course, naturally, you want a way out. There’s no way you want to be there forever. But I think just really leaning into this idea that the only way out is through and just really feel what you’re feeling and don’t be scared of it, because I think fear really holds us back from a lot of healing.

Kimberley: So beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on.

Jazzmin: Thank you so much. It’s so much fun. And I just want to say, I want to sing your praises for a minute. Your podcast and just you as a person are so kind, and I really found that just your content and just your presence was so comforting in the time of really darkness for me. And I think sometimes when you’re going through OCD, you have a lot of people that have that fight mentality and they’re like, “You got this. Just go at it, run at it.” And you just showed a level of gentleness in approaching that. And that was what really helped me find that self-compassionate voice. So, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the things that you do and what you do on here. It’s incredible.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you. I’m covered in goosebumps. I can’t tell you-- I say this every time, is when you’re here talking to a microphone and no one’s there, sometimes you don’t really know who you’re touching and I just love hearing that. Thank you, because it really means so much to me that I could be there without even knowing that I’m being there. So, it brings me just so--

Jazzmin: Sometimes you just need to know. You need someone to tell you like, “Hey, what you’re going through is hard and it’s okay that it’s hard.” And I think that’s something you’ve always done for people, that we can do hard things.

Kimberley: We can. It’s a beautiful day, right? 

Jazzmin: Uh-hmm.

Kimberley: Thank you, Jazzmin. You have been such an inspiration. If people want to follow you, where can they get ahold of you?

Jazzmin: So, my Instagram is where I’m the most vocal. It’s Jazzmin Lauren. My name is weird. J-A-Z-Z-M-I-N. I have a jazz musician as a father. And I would say I’m not super vocal on big advocacy stuff on my social media. My goal is just to share my life as someone with OCD. So, my DMs are always open though. If you ever want to reach out and just say hi, or if you want help finding a therapist, I know how to do that and I’m always willing to help. So, yeah, you can find me there.

Kimberley: You’re amazing. Thank you so much.

Jazzmin: Thank you.

Sep 2, 2022

Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited to be here. This is my first recording since returning back from Australia, after having five and a half weeks in Australia with my family and I could not be more thrilled. I had the most incredible time. I tell you, my cup was overflowing by the time I left. My heart was full. I didn’t realize that my heart was very empty, even though I have so much love in my life and joy in my life, and in many areas of my life, my cup was so full. But I didn’t realize how much my heart needed to go home and actually just live in Australia for five and a half weeks and let my kids learn what it’s like to live in Australia and be in Australia. It was so wonderful. I’m just so incredibly grateful to have had that opportunity.

That being said, I’m really also very, very sad to be back. However, I am making a choice to love-- how can I say it? Like love all of the parts of my life – the hard parts, the good parts, the easy parts, the parts that still don’t make sense to me. I’m making a point to love all the parts and feel all the parts and be gentle with all those parts. And I’m guessing you have some-- well, it may not be that exact experience. I’m guessing there’s some part of your life that you have to practice that with as well. And I strongly encourage it because it just opens up an opportunity for compassion and kindness and no more fighting in your mind. It’s just like, yes, it’s hard being an adult or a human. It’s hard, right? But again, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things.

300 Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal or Dangerous Your anxiety toolkit

This week on this episode, I’ve actually been wanting to do this episode since I left, because this was one that I was almost going to record before I left and I just ran out of time. It’s funny, I do a lot of Googling for my job, not for reassurance reasons, but often will type in a keyword just to see who’s talking about certain topics and how I can talk about it better with my clients. And often when I type in “intrusive thoughts,” you know how in Google, it auto-populates what it thinks you’re going to ask? It often asks, is intrusive thoughts normal? Are they normal? And the other one that often comes up is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? And so, I wanted to talk about that because if that’s one of the most Googled questions, well, let’s talk about it. Okay, let’s talk about it because it’s another common. It’s the question that we get asked with my staff. I have a private practice. We have 10 amazing therapists. It’s probably one of the most common questions people ask on their first session. So, let’s talk about it. 

Okay. So, the first question is, are intrusive thoughts normal? Well, let’s first get a feel for what is an intrusive thought. Now an intrusive thought is a thought that is intrusive. Meaning you don’t want it. It happens automatically. It just pops into your mind. It’s usually repetitive. It’s usually distressing. Often it will go completely against your values, but not always. Sometimes it could just be a random benign thought, like if you know, we call them “earwigs” here in America. I don’t know what we call them in Australia, but it’s like where a commercial or a song just goes over and over in your mind. That’s actually technically an intrusive thought as well, even though it may not have the presence of anxiety. 

But that’s what an intrusive thought is, and all humans have intrusive thoughts. They’re completely normal. Everyone has them. Even, you may have asked a close friend or a parent or somebody and say, “Hey, I have these intrusive thoughts sometimes, or really bizarre and strange. Do you have them?” And if they say no, I actually don’t believe them. What I’m guessing they’re actually saying is they have them, but they don’t distress them. But they do have them. We all have these thoughts that just randomly pop up in our mind that make absolutely no sense, that have absolutely no relation to what we’re doing. So, as you’re out to lunch with your friends, you might have this most bizarre thought. That’s what our brains do. They come up with some bizarre things, just like sometimes our brains have bizarre dreams. 

So, when we’re talking about this question – the question being, are intrusive thoughts normal – the answer is yes. They’re very, very common.

Now, the next question that often gets asked is a variation of this question, which is, what intrusive thoughts are normal? And I’m here to tell you all of them, every single one of them. When we talk about normal, we’re talking about what is average, what the average human experience is, and all of them are.

Now let’s actually get straight to the weirdness, shall we? You’ll most likely find that you have these intrusive thoughts during the most peculiar times, like when you’re making love to somebody or having sexual relations with someone, while you’re making a phone call to talk to, or when you’re making eye contact with someone. Maybe it’s someone your boss, or someone who you normally wouldn’t have these thoughts about and you normally wouldn’t welcome these thoughts about – that’s when you’re going to probably have them. When you’re on a first date, when you’re changing a baby’s diaper, when you’re handing, let’s say, you’re working behind a cash register. As you hand the money to the person is when you’re likely to have the most bizarre or strange intrusive thought. That’s really, really common, so I want to normalize that for you.

Now when I use the word “bizarre” or “strange,” that still has some judgment to it. So, I want to call myself out on that. Our job is to take judgment out of intrusive thoughts. The reason we often struggle with them is because we tell ourselves, “Oh, there are some thoughts that are good and some thoughts that are bad. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are good. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are bad.” And I’m here to tell you, or I’m here to remind you that there is no good or bad thoughts. They’re all just thoughts. There is no good or bad scenario in which you can have intrusive thoughts. Meaning it’s not bad to have intrusive thoughts during sexual intercourse, because we tell ourselves that, or it’s not good or bad to have thoughts when you’re with your baby or you’re at work with your boss or you’re doing homework, thinking about your teacher, or you’re thinking about someone you deeply love. There’s no right or wrong thoughts to have. They’re just thoughts. They’re thoughts. They’re projections that show up in our brain. 

The only reason they become a problem is when we frame them as a problem that has to go away. And so, again, the main core message of today is, let’s not treat thoughts like problems. Let’s not treat the anxiety associated to it as a problem. And I do understand it’s painful. I do understand there’s a large degree of suffering there, but a lot of the time, the suffering comes from the fact that we’ve told ourselves, or we’ve put this expectation on ourselves that there’s a right and a wrong way to have intrusive thoughts, or there’s a right thought and a wrong thought to experience in your mind. Let’s not do that anymore. Let’s just let thoughts be like raining cats and dogs down on our mind, and we let it rain and rain, cats, and dogs in whatever form it is. Whatever thought and whatever content it is, we just let it come. Okay? 

Now, let’s look at the other big question that people have that seem to be Googling, which breaks my heart, which is, when do intrusive thoughts become a problem? And I’m here again to tell you they’re never a problem. They’re never a problem. I don’t want you to think about intrusive thoughts or frame them as a problem. 

Now, let’s get a little deep into that though, because it’s not as black as white as I’m saying it is. So, if you are someone who experiences intrusive thoughts, which we all do, and yours are associated with a large degree of suffering – anxiety, panic, uncertainty, dread, sadness, grief, like again, raining cats and dogs – it’s like you’re having intrusive thoughts and then all the emotions, rain, cats, and dogs around you too. Am I right? When you’re having that experience, I totally get that that is a large amount of suffering that you experience with the intrusive thoughts. 

So, again, I don’t want you to feel like I’m gaslighting you or diminishing the suffering that you experience around your intrusive thoughts. But we will say that when we get really close and we get the magnifying glass really out and look, when we have the intrusive thought and you have the consequential or resultant anxiety and sadness and suffering, it really only becomes a problem. I don’t love the word problem, but I’m just going off the question. When we respond to that thought with criticism and punishment and self-judgment, and we beat ourselves up for having a brain that created and generated thoughts, that’s the real problem that I see. 

So, when do they become a problem? They’re not, but they can become a problem if we then beat ourselves up because when we beat ourselves up, now we’ve got two problems. We’ve got the suffering of the intrusive thought and we’ve got now you’re beating yourself up and suffering even more. 

Sometimes when we have those thoughts, we then go on to do other compulsions to try and get rid of those thoughts as if those thoughts were problems. So, we could see where this becomes a loop. If you have a thought and you tell yourself they’re wrong and that they’re a problem, you’re probably going to beat yourself up, which is doubled the suffering. And you’re probably going to do some pretty stretching, long painful behaviors to get rid of it, which is adding even more to your suffering.

So, what we want to do is if we look at that like it’s a cycle, instead of judging and instead of responding with some kind of compulsive safety behavior, we can actually intervene at the thought at the top of this chain of reactions and go, “Okay, I’m having thoughts. I’m allowed to have them. I’m going to have them. Humans have them. They’re not a problem. I’m not going to treat them like a problem, even though my whole body wants to treat them like a problem. But I’m going to be really gentle and shift the way I respond from one of being critical and responsive to one of being accepting and compassionate.” 

And the last question here is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? That’s what I consider to be the most extreme framing of an intrusive thought, that thoughts are dangerous. And here I want to say to you, no, thoughts are not dangerous. Thoughts are thoughts.

Now, again, let’s drop down a little bit deeper and look at this a little closer. You can have thoughts about dangerous things. That’s different. Meaning thoughts about unicorns aren’t dangerous. We can all agree with that unless you have a specific phobia about unicorns. We can laugh at that, but some people do. It’s like some people’s thoughts attack many areas in our lives. So, you can have a thought about a unicorn and we can all agree that that’s not dangerous. But for some reason, if we had a thought about hurting someone we love or dying, which might have the theme of dangerousness, we then go, “Oh no, that thought is more important because it’s about danger. It’s more important. My thoughts about what I’m going to have for lunch or my thoughts about will I be late for this meeting, that’s not a big deal. But my thoughts about harming people or hurting people or something bad having to myself, well, that’s a dangerous thought.” No, I’m actually going to say, that’s not a dangerous thought. That’s a thought about danger. Or if we go a little deeper, it’s a thought about a possibility of danger, not even an actual certainty. 

And so, what I’m really wanting you to do as I walk you through these is to learn to have a different perception of thoughts, and learn to be mindful about the thoughts that we’re having. So, instead of having a thought and assuming that your thought is a fact, which thoughts are not facts, instead of doing that, we’re going to go, “Oh, I’m having a thought about such and such,” or “I’m having thoughts about these thoughts,” even to go even more deep into the mindful meta response. 

So, here is where we shift our reaction, and what I’m going to offer you as I finish up this episode is double down here, if you can, on how you frame thoughts and how you perceive thoughts, and how you respond to thoughts. Make it your agenda for this week, month, or year or decade or life in that you start to practice observing thoughts and without framing them as a problem, dangerous, abnormal, as there’s something wrong with you because there’s nothing wrong with you. We all have these thoughts. Some of us have more than others, yes, but that still doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Some have more suffering related to them, absolutely, but I still want to frame that it doesn’t make you a faulty, broken human. That’s not what this is about. Thoughts do not generate worth. Meaning if you have good thoughts, you have lots of worth, and if you have bad thoughts, you have very little worth. That’s not a thing. We just want to go back to thoughts being what gets projected in our mind and not give them all that power. 

So, that’s the pieces that I want you to take. Take as much as you need from today. Some things may feel really true, like I’m speaking directly to you. Some may feel like, “Ah, that doesn’t land for me so much.” That’s okay. Take what you need. Consider what your experience of this conversation was, if you got triggered at some point or you feel really angry at some point or resistant or absolutely wonderful. Sometimes this can actually also start to become a compulsion in that you listen to this over and over to get reassurance that you’re not a bad person. So, check with that as well and ponder on it. Take what you need. Learn from it and what you needed to hear today. 

Before we leave, let’s do the “I did a hard thing.” This one is short and sweet. This is from Natalie. Natalie said: 

“I had pre-cancerous cervical cells removed yesterday and I was so anxious, but I did it.”

So amazing, Natalie. I love this. Now, it’s short and sweet, but I actually think that’s a really, really hard thing. That takes some courage. So, I’m super, super proud of you for that. You should be so proud of yourself. 

And then before we finish up, we have a review from Coronacouchpotato, and they said:

“Brimming with resources. A friend referred me to this podcast and I am so grateful. I had received more helpful information in the past couple weeks listening to this podcast than I have in the past year or so in therapy. I tell everyone I can about this podcast and how it has changed my life. Thank you, Kim!”

Oh my goodness. Coronacouchpotato, I cannot thank you enough for your review. 

I will tell you a little story. I realized while I was away in Australia that I need to slow down enough to really be connected with the people who I am helping. Sometimes I think I go, go, go so fast, and I have this idea of helping all these people. I actually have to slow down and think about like, wow, it’s so cool that Coronacouchpotato and I are doing this together. And Natalie and I, we’re doing this together. And for you, even though I’m not saying your name, we’re doing this together. Isn’t that so cool? 

Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. And so, thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing me to be on this journey with you. I am honored. Thank you for trusting me. And if you would love to leave a review, I would love to feature it. So, go ahead and do that. 

All right, folks, have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to have all the intrusive thoughts. 

I’ll talk to you next week. Thank you again. Amazing for 300 episodes and I’ll talk to you soon.

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