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Welcome to CombatCounselor Chronicle, an E-zine dedicated to giving you the most current, pertinent information on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based CBT available.

Chris Sorrentino, a.k.a CombatCounselor, is a leader and expert in cognitive behavioral therapy. He combines 30 years of experience in psychology with the discipline from having served as a U.S. Air Force officer for 20 years, 4 of those in combat zones, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2005.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

You Think, You Are: Anxious...A Journey from Avoidance to Acceptance

You only THINK you are anxious. If the thought did not enter your mind, you could not feel anxiety. What I am saying is that YOU can control anxiety (or depression, etc.) by altering the way you react to and experience anxious thoughts, sensations, or even other emotions you may be interpreting to be anxiety (e.g. anger).
That is why I say "You Think, You Are" anxious. If you Think anxious thoughts, you will experience anxiety unless...
you decide to experience anxious thoughts, feelings, and memories simply for what they are: thoughts, feelings, and memories!
Anxiety is the fear of fear. When we were roaming the plains, prairies, and mountains as hunter-gatherers, it was adaptive to be anxious about things that could kill us (bears, lions, falls, lightening, etc.), otherwise our species would have died off long ago. Anxiety is still adaptive when it involves fear of things that can honestly harm us. The problem is that many of us are anxious about many arbitrary things in life that are not necessarily dangerous, we only PERCEIVE them to be dangerous.
For example, public speaking is the #1 fear around the world, yet nobody has ever died from public speaking (excluding Julius Ceasar and a few others who happened to be speaking when killed). Other common fears include fear of heights (acrophobia) and of spiders (arachnophobia) as well as some less common such as germs (OCD) and open spaces (agoraphobia). Some people even fear intense anxiety or panic (panic disorder).
So, when we fear things that are not necessarily inherently dangerous, we are limiting our ability to experience and enjoy the present moment because we are so enveloped in thoughts and sensations caused by the fear inducing event or thing.
In Body-Mimd-Behavior Therapy (BMBT), I teach my clients first to learn mindful meditation or the ability to focus on the present moment (StayPresent ©). Next, I teach them to expect and accept the  unexpected nonjudgmentally and with curiosity (BeResilient ©). Finally, we explore and identify the clients's core values (e.g. integrity, honor) and help them develop goals and commit to actions that are in accordance with those values, even though those actions may make them uncomfortable or even anxious (StayTheCourse ©). Because they are acting based on things that are important to them, they are more likely to act in the face of fear or other painful emotions.
Avoidance is the cause of anxiety, depression and many other inorganic disorders because it is very rewarding in the short-term. When you avoid something that frightens you, anxiety goes away for a while and that is very rewarding. The problem being that if you are avoiding life, it is rarely joyful and leads to more and more problems. The key is to accept and experience intense, uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, learning by approaching rather than avoiding, that anxiety goes away on its own given that you can withstand the situation long enough to prove it. That is the biggest problem, that most people avoid or escape the anxious situation BEFORE they get a chance to learn that 1) anxiety will not kill you; and 2) anxiety will NATURALLY diminish (disappear) on its own (that's called habituation). It is impossible to stay in a highly aroused state of fear or anxiety for long.
So, the next time you experience fear in a situation the is not inherently dangerous, take a deep breath, experience and accept the thoughts and sensations for what they are, and face whatever your particular demon happens to be, knowing that you are acting based on what is important to you...YOUR VALUES!

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