The Anxious Mind: 8 “Steps” To Transform Your Thoughts

This past week the basement in our home began to flood.

It was the exact scenario that I had been dreading since the moment we signed the commitment papers last summer. We had been told that the basement had not had a water issue since they had installed the sump pump but neither of us was naive enough to believe that – without a real waterproofing system – we were destined for a permanently dry basement. We had almost made it through an entire year in our house and then it happened… I walked downstairs to do laundry and discovered that water had welcomed itself in.

As I began to wet vac, my stomach sank. As quickly as I was removing the water, it was coming in. In one corner of the basement, there were cracks developing in the concrete floor, moisture seeping in through holes in the walls; the more I examined the situation, the more anxious I became. There was nowhere else for this water to go… it was going to continue to come in, slowing destroying the foundation of our home.

My thoughts began to spiral: there is no way that we can afford to fix this foundation right now.

By the time AJ got home, I was in total panic mode. I could not keep up with the water and had convinced myself that the one wall in our basement had to be replaced. I was running downstairs every ten minutes to see how much more water had come in; I couldn’t focus on anything else – my mind was consumed.

It is no coincidence that this week I decided to tackle Chapter 6 in The Anxiety and Worry Workbook (for more information about Dr. Beck’s cognitive behavioral solution workbook, check out my recent post). The topic this week: transforming the anxious mind. And holy shit did I need it.

In this chapter (which starts on pg. 97), Dr. Beck outlines his eight cognitive strategies for reducing anxiety. He refers to them as “steps”, summarized below (pg. 101):

  1. Normalizing from the start – ask yourself “how could I think more normally about my anxious concern”
  2. Catching automatic anxious thoughts – use “thought monitoring” to help you better understand your anxious episodes
  3. Gathering evidence – develop a skeptical attitude towards your anxious thought by constantly questioning it
  4. Doing a cost-benefit analysis – think about the costs (both short and long term) of your anxious thinking in order to strengthen your doubt in its validity
  5. Decatastrophizing the fear – create a coping plan to help you face your core fear (“worst case scenario”) effectively and work through it as realistically as possible
  6. Correcting cognitive errors – become more aware of your anxious thinking errors
  7. Generating alternative perspectives – learn how to distance yourself from your anxious concerns in order to develop a different perspective towards your anxious thought
  8. Practicing the normalization approach – taking all previous steps and putting it all into motion to create more normalized thinking

As I was reading through this chapter, I began working to apply it to my own anxious mind. Currently, I was feeling helpless over the water in our basement. I was so focused on overestimated the severity of the situation that I had allowed my anxiety to quickly intensify.

So I decided that my flooded basement scenario was a great excuse to practice applying these eight strategies to my own anxiety… and I am happy to report that they really did help!

Below I have outlined the personal notes that I took as I went through this chapter – the first step was to define the four aspects that made up my anxious thinking (as defined by Dr. Beck on pg. 100):

  1. High threat likelihood:
    • we need to replace the one wall in our foundation
  2. Exaggerated threat severity:
    • the wall is going to collapse
  3. Helplessness assumption:
    • we can’t afford to fix it
  4. Underestimate safety:
    • there are no other solutions to fix the water issue/foundation cracks

The second step was to structure his eight strategies, based on my own anxious thoughts:

  • Step 1: How can I think more normally about my anxious concern? 
    • People deal with water in their basement all the time. There are many other solutions out there to fix our problem until we are able to repair the foundation. The wall is not collapsing, it is leaking – that can be fixed.
  • Step 2: What first made me feel anxious? What am I afraid of? What concerns me the most? 
    • The water in our basement first made me anxious because I immediately assumed we had a major problem. I am afraid that we are now going to have constant flooding in our basement and that all of the water is damaging the foundation.
  • Step 3: What is my core fear? Why shouldn’t I be afraid of it? Why should I be afraid of it? What is the likelihood that my core fear will happen?
    • My core fear is that our foundation is crumbling. I should not be afraid of this because our foundation was inspected twice in the last year and I know it is solid. I should be reasonably aware of the fact that water coming in is not good and will need to be addressed but the likelihood of our foundation walls suddenly crumbling is very unlikely.
  • Step 4: What are the costs of my anxious thinking? What are short and long term advantages and disadvantages? 
    • The way that I am reacting to the water in our basement not only affects my mood but also AJ’s mood. Short term, there is nothing that I can do to fix the water right now… I accept the situation and wait to fix the problem when I can. Long term, it is good that we are aware that there is an issue that needs to be addressed and we can look into finding ways to fix the problem; we can also plan to start saving in case we need to do any major repairs down the road. Getting anxious over our finances in the short term is pointless because we don’t know what needs to be done or what it will cost. By allowing myself to be consumed by my anxiety in the present moment, I am ruining my Friday night with AJ because I am stressing over something that is out of my control. 
  • Step 5: What is the worst case scenario? What is my coping plan, should it occur?
    • The worst case scenario is that my foundation starts to crumble, leaving our house uninhabitable. If this were to happen, AJ and I would have to find a way to finance the repairs. Together, we would be able to figure out how to get through this both emotionally and financially. I need to remember that I am not alone; if anything bad were to happen, I have a teammate that will be there to support me.
  • Step 6: What are some of my “thinking errors” and how can I correct them?
    • Convincing myself that we can not afford to pay to fix this problem due to our dwindling savings is a major cognitive error. There are many other financing options that we could consider, should we have to.
    • Convincing myself that all of this falls onto my shoulders is not unnecessary. Not only do I have my life partner in AJ but we both also have many wonderful friends and family members that are always willing to help us in whatever ways they can.
  • Step 7: How can I look at this situation from a different perspective? 
    • Luckily, this step is easy for me as AJ and I are pretty much polar opposite. He rarely gets anxious about anything which helps to balance my high anxiety tendencies. Looking at the situation through his lens helps me distance myself from my anxious concern and realize that the situation is not as bad as I am making it out to be in my head.
  • Step 8: What is the most probable outcome in this situation? Is it really that severe? How am I going to use my normal anxiety alternatives to cope with it?
    • Given the water coming into the basement, AJ and I will most likely have to have a professional install a secondary sump pump. Also, the foundation damage will not fix itself so we should start saving to do some repairs on that wall in the future. The solution at this time is to have somebody come over and take a look. Once we have a professional opinion, we can decide together how we are going to move forward. In the meantime, we need to focus on cleaning up the water as often as we can to avoid any additional damage or mildew (a valid anxiety/concern).

As you can see, these 8 steps are a great tool for anyone that is looking for help with normalizing their thinking. The key is to practice using them as often as you can so that the process itself becomes second nature and you begin to learn how to normalize your anxiety right from the start.

Now excuse me while I go [calmly] wet vac my basement…

Sending all the love,

Alyssa

 

 

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