Tag Archives: anxiety

What to Do When Anxiety Takes Over Your Life (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

If you’re someone who has been dealing with an anxiety disorder for some time, you probably know as much or more about them than I do. But perhaps this post will offer some useful tidbits. If you’re newly diagnosed and/or finally focusing on how one or more of these disorders is controlling your life, this will provide an overview of what to do when anxiety takes over.

The Gold Standard of Treatment

Only two types of anxiety disorder are curable at this point in the history of the science of psychology. Specific phobias and some social phobias, such as fear of public speaking, are almost always learned reactions, although they are deeply ingrained in the cerebellum (as I mentioned in my last post on this subject) and do not respond well to conscious efforts to control them.

But they can usually be unlearned via a process of systematic desensitization. While practicing relaxation techniques, the person is gradually exposed to more and more of the stimuli that they are afraid of, whether it be heights or spiders or whatever.

For the other anxiety disorders, a combination of medication and talk therapy is the gold standard of care. Plus, there are a lot of other things one can do—lifestyle changes that can reduce the anxiety and make it more controllable.

Medications

Meds can be the best thing when anxiety takes over.
Photo by Pina Messina on Unsplash

Better living through chemistry. There are over a 100 drugs on the market today that affect anxiety in one way or another. The trick is finding the right one for you, and getting used to it.

But, again with the exception of phobias (and some versions of social anxiety), there is no other way to truly control the anxiety. The body is producing it, so it must be treated biologically.

Now, if you have a fairly mild case of an anxiety disorder, there are coping techniques you can learn that may be sufficient. But for most folks suffering from these disorders… the brain chemistry is broken, and it takes adjusting that chemistry through medication to get somewhere close to normal.

1. Finding the right meds for you.

First of all, consult a psychiatrist. Don’t rely on your family doctor for this. The brain is incredibly complicated, and scientists are learning new things about it every day. And there are many different meds, each with its own pros and cons, its own way of operating on brain chemistry. There is no way that a general practitioner can keep up with all that. So find a good psychiatrist—they are the doctors who understand psychoactive drugs—and preferably find one who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Secondly, give the meds a chance to work. Most anti-anxiety meds take several weeks to start to make an impact. The best way to find the right med for you is through trial and error, which takes patience. Yes, I know it’s hard to be patient when you are anxious ALL THE TIME.

But if you eliminate a med too soon, before it has had a chance to show what it can do for you, well, that might have been the best one for you and you passed it by, out of impatience.

2. Getting used to the meds.

Folks with anxiety disorders tend to become hyper-alert to changes in their bodies and brains. Feel a little lightheaded or queasy and immediately your mind jumps to the conclusion that a panic attack is starting up.

But psychoactive drugs, by definition, are going to make you feel different. Yes, it’s really, really hard to do, but try to ride out those odd feelings until they don’t seem so odd anymore.

(For more on anxiety meds, check out this article.)

Talk Therapy

The most commonly used approach in psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). That’s psychobabble for the therapist is going to help you retrain your thinking and your behavior to lessen your anxiety and learn how to manage what’s left.

By definition, psychotherapy is a bit abstract and therefore hard to test scientifically, but cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most studied form of therapy—it has a lot of fairly concrete techniques that can and have been scientifically analyzed. And it has been found to be a very effective approach to anxiety disorders.

There are a lot of these CBT techniques, but two very commonly used ones are:

Journalling can help figure out the Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence, when anxiety takes over.
Journalling is often used to pinpoint antecedents, behaviors and consequences. (Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash)

1. An A-B-C Assessment

A-B-C stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence.

In other words, what proceeds the anxiety attack, how does the person respond to the anxiety behaviorally, and what is the consequence of that behavior. The antecedent can be an external trigger—anything from a loud noise to a weather or news report to a fight with your boss or spouse. Or it can be internal—a thought or feeling that gets things rolling.

Once the anxiety is running rampant, how does the person react? Do they become physically ill, do they hide from the world, lash out, have a drink (or several), try to pretend nothing is wrong (while anger and resentment builds up inside)?

Then the Consequence—how does the outcome then reinforce the behavior and/or the anxiety?

Ha, I bet you thought I was gonna say how does the behavior impact on the person. Well, often that is the problem. Hiding from the world (agoraphobia) definitely has a negative impact on the person’s life. But to break the pattern there’s a need to analyze how the avoidance behavior of not leaving the house is being REWARDED.

A person with panic disorder contemplates going out (antecedent), then they start to worry about having a panic attack while they are out among strangers, and how that will be so embarrassing and they won’t be able to get any help, etc. Then they decide not to go out after all (behavior), and the anxiety/worrying subsides a good bit (consequence). The avoidance behavior has just been rewarded by a reduction in anxiety.

The goal with an A-B-C assessment is to figure out where and how to break the cycle. (For more on ABC assessment, see this article.)

Which brings us to another CBT technique commonly used with anxiety disorders.

2. Changing Self-Talk

This is probably the simplest and yet most effective technique in a therapist’s toolbox. Have the person pay attention to what they are saying to themselves internally. And work with them to change those automatic internal ruminations.

Because almost always, self-talk is negative. “I’m going to screw up.” “This is going to be horrible.” yada-yada

People with anxiety disorders are NOT the only ones who tend to have negative self-talk. It’s very common in a lot of folks.

But those without anxiety disorders do not already have a constant sense of anxiety and impending doom coming from their faulty body chemistry. So they negotiate life’s twists and turns with mild to moderate insecurity, muddling through the things they’re sure are going to go badly and then breathing a big sigh of relief when it wasn’t all that bad after all.

And maybe they even gain a little confidence and are a little less negative next time.

But for folks with anxiety disorders, their self-talk often takes the form of “awfulizing.” Their already anxious minds immediately jump to the worst case scenario, and they quickly convince themselves that this is exactly what will happen, the most awful possible outcome imaginable.

When anxiety takes over your life, learning to monitor and change self-talk can be crucial.
photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Once the exact nature of a person’s negative self-talk is identified, the therapist helps them come up with good counter-messages. Not just some bland “Everything’s going to be okay,” but something specific, like, “I’ve dealt with this _________ (fill in the situation) before and handled it. I can do this.”

And then the therapist will use role-playing to help the person practice that new self-talk again and again. Until it becomes fairly easy to catch the negatives and switch gears, when out in the real world.

Again, there are more CBT techniques than these two, but this should give you an idea of what to expect in therapy.

Other Things You Can Do

1. Learn and Use Relaxation Techniques
Yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, etc. Again, there are multiple options. Check them out until you find the one or ones that work for you. And then USE them. Every day, multiple times a day, and especially if you start to feel anxious.

2. Be Physically Active
Nothing reduces daily stress (which contributes to anxiety) quite like physical activity! Find an activity that you like, or at least can tolerate, and then make it part of your routine. Twenty-five to thirty minutes every other day is sufficient. More often is better.

And if your anxiety disorder has led to other issues, such as fibromyalgia, find a gentle way to be active. Yoga or swimming are great options.

3. Take Care of Your Body
Of course, all of us should be doing this, but if you have an anxiety disorder, this is CRITICAL. Develop a healthy eating plan, with nutritious foods that you LIKE. Make a point of going to bed at a consistent time each night, and develop a wind-down routine that helps you go to sleep more readily.

Again, experiment with different possibilities. Does reading work for you, or watching TV? Whatever you do, don’t do household chores or other stressful activities past a certain hour in the evening!

(She says as she is writing a blog post at eleven p.m…. Do as I say, not as I do. 😀 )

When anxiety takes over, it's tempting to self-medicate.
Resist the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs. (photo by Sergio Alves-Santos on Unsplash)

4. Avoid Self-Medicating
Alcohol and recreational drugs can backfire on you. They may help initially in small quantities, but their addictive tendencies and the development of tolerance can lead to more anxiety in the long run. And alcohol suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. So it can contribute to insomnia big-time!

Also, nicotine is a sneaky drug. Smoking may make you feel more relaxed, but it is an illusion. Nicotine has a muscle-relaxant quality, which we feel almost immediately with each drag on a cigarette. But make no mistake, it is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate, your blood pressure, your muscle tension…i.e. your anxiety.

Caffeine can also be sneaky in its own way. I can’t begin to tell you how many people (my own husband included) have told me that “caffeine doesn’t affect me.”

Yeah, it does! But you’ve developed a tolerance for it so you no longer notice how it is affecting you. My husband eventually (not due to caffeine, due to aging) developed heart arrhythmia and had to cut back on his caffeine. He was amazed at how much calmer he felt and how much better he slept.

5. Break the Cycle
Do not let anxiety make itself at home. When you start to feel anxious, break the cycle. This may be through self-talk, or you may need to literally get up and move. Take a walk, read a book, watch TV, pursue a hobby. Do something that distracts your mind before it starts to awfulize.

6. Make a Commitment to Your Routine
Establish a routine of taking your meds regularly, paying attention to your self-talk, exercising, etc. And then when something knocks it out of whack, as life inevitably will—a holiday, a vacation, illness, etc.—make a point of getting back into your routine as quickly as possible afterwards.

7. Socialize and Seek Support
Make an effort to spend time with friends and family. Socializing is a great stress reliever and also a wonderful distraction from your worries. And finding a support group of people who are dealing with similar struggles can make the process so much more bearable. Google “anxiety disorder support” and your city and/or check out the websites of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

I hope you find all this helpful.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I’ll answer as best I can. Also, if you have discovered something in particular that works for you, please share.

And I have a new release in my Kate Huntington Mysteries, Police Protection. To celebrate, I’ve put Anxiety Attack, the book before this new one, on sale for just 99 cents (through 5/24/19).

Anxiety Attack, in part, explores the experience of someone with social anxiety.

Kate Huntington’s P.I. husband had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives is in the hospital fighting for his life, and Kate believes the alleged shooter the police arrested—one of her psychotherapy clients who suffers from social anxiety—is innocent.

Tensions build between the couple, until a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the spy/killer tying up loose ends?

Almost too late, Skip realizes he may be one of those loose ends, and someone seems to have no qualms about destroying his agency or getting to him through his family.

JUST $0.99 ~ THRU 5/24/19

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And Book #10, the last in the series, is here!! Just $2.99 during PREORDER and until after its release on 5/24 (goes up to $4.99 after that)

POLICE PROTECTION, A Kate Huntington Mystery

A story ripped from real-life headlines.

A police detective is found in an alley, standing over the body of an unarmed African-American boy. Groggy from a concussion, he has no memory of what happened, and he is literally holding the smoking gun.

To the Baltimore County Internal Affairs division, it’s a slam-dunk. But various forces push psychotherapist Kate Huntington and her P.I. husband to investigate behind the scenes, and what they find doesn’t add up. Why did the boy’s oldest brother disappear on the same day? And did the third brother, who’s on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, witness something relevant?

When seemingly unrelated events emerge as a pattern of intentional obstruction and diversion, it becomes apparent that what happened in that alley was more than just a bad shoot by a stressed-out cop. And for Kate, the case has become personal as she’s connected with the grieving mother, whose dead son was the same age as her Billy.

The answers may come from unexpected sources, but she and Skip better find them soon… before another life is lost.

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

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When Anxiety Is a Bad Thing, Part I

by Kassandra Lamb

Last month, I posted about how a controllable amount of anxiety can be a good thing when performing. It can keep us on our toes and animate our performance. But what happens when it’s not controllable? Then, anxiety is a bad thing.

when anixety is a bad thing
Street art on the island of Uto, Finland (Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash)

Basically, this happens when our survival mechanisms go awry. One of these survival mechanism is our fight or flight response.

When we perceive a threat in our environment, our brains and bodies take over. We automatically experience a long list of reactions intended to prepare us to run away from that threat or stand and fight it off—our hearts race to pump blood to our muscles faster, our breathing becomes more rapid to suck in more oxygen, our muscles tense, our pupils dilate to see better, etc.

But what if something biological, a malfunction in our bodies or brains, triggers our fight or flight response, rather than a true threat from the environment?

Biologically Triggered Panic

You’re going about your business, perfectly calm and safe, and suddenly your heart starts thundering in your chest and you’re breathing fast and furious.

You look around, your eyes wide with fright, desperately trying to find the threat. But there is none. Yet, your mind knows that if the fight or flight response has been triggered there must be some threat out there. Right?

This is what people with certain anxiety disorders suffer through on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day.

And they cannot control it!

During a panic attack, their bodies are freaking out on them, without their mental permission. And the sense of impending doom, that is associated with that physiological freaking out, can be quite overwhelming.

Which brings us to the other survival mechanism that can go awry.

Learned Associations

One of the other ways that our brains keep us alive is by making a myriad of associations between certain situations and our emotions. This thing made us feel good in the past (like eating tasty food), so do more of it. That thing was scary and/or hurt us in the past, so avoid it.

We smell food cooking and our stomachs automatically growl, because we’ve learned to associate that smell with something good to eat. We see a snake on the path in front of us in the woods, and we jump back and our hearts start racing. We were not born with the knowledge that cooking smells mean food or that a snake is potentially harmful, and yet these reactions are automatic.

That’s because these are conditioned associations, a different kind of learning than when we intellectually process something and commit it to memory. At some point in the past, we felt the emotion (fear) while in the presence of something (a snake, or an image of a snake on TV, doing something scary) and our minds linked the two together. So now the snake is a “conditioned stimulus” for the “conditioned response” of fear.

For most of us, the fear response can be controlled, once we have assessed the situation. From a safe distance, we take a harder look at the snake and realize it’s just a harmless black snake. So we get a stick, shoo it out of our path and go on about our business.

Cerebellum Images are generated by Life Science Databases (LSDB) ~ CC BY-SA 2.1 jp Wikimedia Commons

But sometimes, these conditioned associations reach phobic levels. As a child, you’re chased and bitten by a dog, and now you are terrified of all dogs.

So why can’t we control that phobic fear?

Because conditioned associations are stored in a different part of our brain (the cerebellum) from where our thinking occurs (the cerebral cortex).

(In the swirling image to the left, the cerebellum is highlighted in red, while the cerebral cortex is the tan part.)

So you see a dog, even a small harmless-looking one, and you are running away, even as your logical brain is saying, “This is stupid, That dog isn’t going to hurt me.”

When These Two Mechanisms Interact

People with biologically-based anxiety disorders (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.) often get a double whammy from these mechanisms. Their fear response is being triggered when nothing scary is happening, but the mind still associates the fear with whatever is going on at the moment.

So the person can develop a phobic-type response to a variety of stimuli. They have a panic attack while at the grocery store, so they can’t grocery shop anymore without freaking out. Then they have one while at the post office and they can’t go there anymore. Then while driving, so they can’t drive anymore. Then while getting their mail at the end of their driveway…

In its worst form, this can become agoraphobia, in which the person is afraid to leave their home.

And none of this is under their conscious control!

What Can Be Done?

For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, the answer to this question is a long one. I’m going to do a separate post on that on May 14th. So please stay tuned.

For those of us who care about someone with an anxiety disorder, we need to be patient and understanding. Chastising the person for letting anxiety control their lives is not helpful.

They are most likely already beating themselves up, on a daily basis.

My mother-in-law had generalized anxiety disorder. The best definition of this disorder is being a worry-wart on steroids. People with GAD worry about everything all the time, and they cannot control this! GAD is partly biologically based, and partly a learned pattern of coping that becomes ingrained early in life.

When anixety is a bad thing, it can be overwhelming.
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

When my MIL was in her seventies, her eye doctor told her she had cataracts and she needed surgery or she would go blind.

She would not do it. After a while, she wouldn’t even talk about it anymore.

I got it, and tried to explain it to my husband and family members. Any surgery, but especially eye surgery, is scary for all of us. But most of us can manage the fear. Not, however, if you have severe GAD as she did.

When she considered such surgery, the anxiety was overwhelming. And the more the family tried to get her to “see reason,” the more anxious she became, until even thinking or talking about it became overwhelming.

Finally everyone gave up, and she lived out the rest of her years slowly going blind, but with her daily anxiety much more manageable.

I’m not saying that I thought her choice was correct, but I understood where she was coming from, in light of the disorder she had.

When we keep pushing someone with an anxiety disorder to do something they feel they can’t do because of the anxiety, we are only driving a wedge between ourselves and them, and pushing them farther into the unnecessary and unhelpful shame they are probably already feeling about their disorder.

Then, anxiety is a bad thing indeed!

It is more helpful to say something like, “I understand. The anxiety is too much. Let’s see if you and I can figure out a way around it.”

Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll talk some more about those work-arounds and other ways to reduce the anxiety and/or cope with it.

In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions. Have you or a loved one had to struggle with an anxiety disorder?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

When Anxiety Is a Good Thing

by Kassandra Lamb

Say what? Anxiety is a good thing?!? It can be, up to a point.

This past weekend, I did my first public reading from one of my books. (Yes, I’ve been at this writing/publishing gig for 7+ years, but until recently my marketing has mainly been online.)

In the days leading up to the reading, I was terrified.

I’ve done plenty of presenting in my time, at professional conferences when I was a psychotherapist and in front of a college classroom for 17 years. I enjoy presenting/teaching, and normally I’m only mildly to moderately anxious beforehand.

And that is when anxiety is a good thing. On a practical level, it motivates me to be well prepared, to put in the work to make sure I’m ready. Because I know from experience that confidence is key to keeping the anxiety under control.

And emotionally, at the time of the presentation mild to moderate anxiety makes my brain sharper, and it stimulates me, animates my personality. When that happens, I am an enthusiastic speaker and the audience responds well. I can even get up the nerve to try to be funny, and sometimes I’m actually successful. 😀

Quite a bit of research has been done on the “optimal level of arousal” that will enhance one’s ability to accomplish tasks. I have mastered that optimal level when it comes to presenting.

But somehow “performing” my own creative work… it falls into a different category.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; a state of apprehension and psychic tension. If that “apprehension” is too intense, it can keep us awake at night, make us stutter, blush, freeze up or otherwise embarrass ourselves in certain situations.

For me, “performing” is such a situation. And anticipating performing tends to move me from helpful arousal to unhelpful distress to disabling ruminating and worry pretty darn fast.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.*

(*This quote has been attributed to Erma Bombeck and at least a dozen other people. But whoever said it first, they nailed it!)

The first time I “performed,” it was in a second-grade play. I was George Washington’s wife. I don’t remember much past walking through the classroom door in my Martha Washington costume. But I do remember laughter.

It wasn’t supposed to be a funny skit.

In high school, I tried out for several plays with the drama department. I never got a part. The stumbling and blushing might have had something to do with that.

Ever since, I’ve frozen up whenever I was required to “perform.” And yet I can “present.” The latter is more about sharing my expertise. I have much more confidence in that expertise than I do in my performing ability.

So here I was last week, facing this reading.

While I was being introduced… I only look mildly terrified!

I’ve been to some where the author just “read.” And that’s okay. I’d originally intended to do that. But as I went through my first practice round, my words sounded so flat. I decided I didn’t want to just read. I wanted to show emotions through inflection, produce the required deeper timbre for male voices, use accents when called for, etc.

In other words, perform. Aaack!!

The day before the reading, I was way past my optimal level of arousal. I needed to do a little emergency therapy on myself.

I asked myself what helped me control the anxiety when I was presenting, and realized there were four things I now automatically do before a presentation:

1. Acknowledge the anxiety.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. That doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it gives it more energy. For “presenting” nerves, a short pep talk is usually sufficient, along the lines of—Of course you’re nervous. That’s a good thing. It will keep you on your toes.

For “performing” nerves, I needed to go a little farther. I told a few people close to me how scared I was. It wasn’t to get their reassurance (although they were, of course, reassuring); it was to acknowledge the anxiety and bleed off some of its charge.

2. Draw confidence from past successes.

To Kill A Labrador cover
The book I read from.

I remind myself that I have done many presentations before, and I have always done a decent to downright great job.

Also, I remind myself that the anxiety always goes down once I get started. That’s a biggie!

This time, I had to add to this pep talk that presenting was not as different from performing as I have made it out to be. And the book I was reading from has lots of good reviews. The words were proven to be good, and my ability to “present” them has been proven to be good. So I would be fine. (In psychology lingo, that’s called a reframe. 🙂 )

3. Practice but not over practice.

I’ve learned that two to three complete run-throughs, out loud, is about right for a presentation. Enough practice to smooth out the rough spots and give me confidence. Not so much that the presentation becomes stale.

The second time through my reading practice, the inflections were mostly in the wrong places, my male voice sounded like I had a bad cold, and my Southern accent…well, let’s just say I don’t do accents well.

By the third time, I had the inflections in the right places, my male voice was pretty good, and my accents didn’t totally suck. I did one more run-through, for good measure, and felt a good bit more confident when all of the above still happened.

4. Remind myself that I do not have to be perfect.

And in this case, remind the audience as well. I added these words to my introductory remarks: Now before I start, I’d like to put this caveat out there—I don’t do accents well.

Ahhh, the pressure was off. Now if my accents were sucky, well, I’d said up front that I wasn’t perfect.

And the reality is that most people in an audience aren’t expecting perfection. Indeed, they may find it endearing when we make the occasional mistake. It’s makes us more human and relatable. In this case, my audience knew that I’m a writer, not an actor. They weren’t expecting perfection and I shouldn’t either.

So the moment arrives…

Definitely when anxiety is a good thing...when it lets up! Me, after the reading.
I look happy here because I’m almost to the end of the reading. Yay!

I’ve been introduced, and I give my little opening spiel (no problem, this is presenting after all). I’m borderline, maybe just past my optimal level of anxiety. Okay, definitely past optimal, but still manageable.

I start to read. And thank you Lord, my anxiety level goes down. (Did I mention praying? That always helps too.)

It was still higher than usual, but definitely quite manageable.

So I make it to the question-and-answer period and I’m downright exhilarated. It’s over! I can do Q&A standing on my head (which would make it more interesting, for sure).

And now that I have a successful reading under my belt, I can look back on that the next time and use it to bolster my confidence, to get my nervousness down to the level where anxiety is a good thing!

How about you? Have you discovered your “optimal level of arousal” for most things? What situations tend to push your anxiety over the top?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.


Weathering the Storm–Without Worrying

by Kassandra Lamb

Originally the title of this post was to contain the words “Worry Warts.” But after coping with Hurricane Matthew this past weekend, the “Weathering the Storm” concept seemed more appropriate.

I’m not a huge worrier by nature. Indeed, I tend to be a bit of a Polyanna who assumes that everything will work out okay. And it usually does.

window boards

Window boards out, ready to go. (They had been buried behind a whole bunch of crap in the garage).

I am, however, a fairly careful person. I’m good at anticipating problems and taking preventative measures, such as preparing our property for the big storm. We spent a good chunk of the day on Thursday on those preparations. We pulled out the boards for the windows to have them handy, just in case the storm veered inland toward us in central Florida.

Then we piled all the lawn and porch furniture on one side of the garage, with the grill facing out so we could cook on it if (more likely when) the power went out. We parked the newer of our cars on the other side of the garage.

The older car was at the far end of the driveway, out from under the big trees. If one of those trees fell across the driveway, one vehicle at least could get out to go get groceries after the storm passed (and to go to the hardware store to rent a chain saw).

Can you tell we’ve done this before? 🙂

porch furniture

Half my screened porch furniture, consolidated into one pile.

Hubs had already bought extra bottled water, batteries, etc. I stockpiled extra ice in the freezer and got the coolers out so they’d be handy when the power went out.

Then we went to bed knowing we were as prepared as we could be. On Friday—the day Matthew crawled up the east coast of Florida—I read, watched some TV, got caught up on some bookkeeping.

It was a fairly relaxing day. Even hubs wasn’t as uptight as he would have been in the past.

He comes from a long line of worriers, but I think maybe my calm has rubbed off some. I’m pretty good at accepting what “the fates” dish out, once I’ve prepared for the things I can control.

But there are situations where I become the worry wart. These are usually times when others’ actions that I can’t control may cause me or mine harm.

So even though I was weathering the storm just fine—as the wind howled around my house and the rain poured down—I got a bit worked up when I realized I’d totally missed a deadline for an estimated tax payment. What would the IRS do to me? THAT had my gut twisted in a knot.

This didn't scare me nearly as much as the IRS did! (public domain, Wikimedia Common)

This didn’t scare me nearly as much as the IRS did! (public domain, Wikimedia Common)

What finally calmed me down was formulating a plan to call a tax accountant on Monday and ask about the late payment—would it be better to just not send it in, or would the IRS not care all that much that it was late? Once I had a plan of action, I was okay.

As a psychologist, I know that being prone to anxiety is at least partially genetic. My husband obsesses a bit over what might happen, but not nearly as much as his dear mother used to obsess about things. She was a basketcase every time we left her house in Philadelphia to drive home to Baltimore. We’d walk in the front door of our house and the answering machine would be flashing. And there would be his mother’s voice, “Call me right away when you get home. I’m SO worried.”

There’s also a psychological theory that worrying is self-reinforcing. According to this theory, if the parts of your brain that produce word thoughts (the worrying ruminations) are activated, it’s harder for other parts of the brain, that produce mental images, to be activated. So it’s harder to “imagine” (i.e. produce images of) the horrible things that might happen.

So in an odd way, the obsessive thoughts keep the scary images at bay, and thus this ruminating is reinforced and becomes the default way that the person’s psyche copes with potentially scary situations.

I’m not totally sure I buy that theory (and it is just a theory, with only some scientific evidence supporting it). But the worry-wart ruminating does interfere with rational thinking and problem-solving.

I saw this in my mother-in-law, who was a bright woman. We would point out to her again and again that it took three hours for us to get home from Philadelphia. But nonetheless she would start worrying about the fact that we hadn’t called practically as soon as we left her front porch. She KNEW we couldn’t possibly be home yet, but that didn’t stop the obsessing and anxiety. Nothing would stop that until she heard her son’s voice on the phone saying, “We’re home now, Mom. You can stop worrying.”

My husband’s genetic dose of anxiety is lower than hers, thank God! He says he’s gotten better at handling his ruminating over the years because he now actively thinks about how he can (a) do something about the problem (like stock up on batteries and such), (b) distract himself from the worrying, and/or (c) pray!

I have another theory, that’s related to how we process information in general. Some of us are more visual, while others are more auditory, and still others lead with their sense of touch and movement (kinesthetic).

My husband is primarily auditory, so it makes sense that he “hears” those ruminating thoughts in his mind nonstop.

I’m primarily kinesthetic, with visual a close second and auditory a distant third. So I see the mental image of what I’m worrying about—Friday it was the letter from the IRS informing me that I had to pay some whopping penalty for submitting my estimated taxes late.

But then I immediately jump to how I can solve the problem. I see myself “moving” to make things right again.

At one point, I did get into worrying about the storm’s effects. What if the wind blew shingles off the roof, or worse ripped the whole back porch roof off, leaving a big hole where it had been attached to the house? I then saw myself getting out the ladder and a tarp. I’m not at all sure we would have had the guts to get up on the roof in a hurricane (probably not), but the image helped reassure me that we would cope with whatever happened, when it happened.

AA medallion

A 12-step anniversary medallion with the Serenity Prayer on it (photo by Jerry “Woody” from Edmonton, Canada, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In other words, I applied the Serenity Prayer… I couldn’t control what happened, only how I responded to it.

Bottom line with worrying—we each need to figure out what works for us to stop the ruminating. For some, it will be preparation. For others, it will be distraction, or visualizing how we will cope if/when the worst occurs. Worrying is not a very constructive emotion, unless it leads to, rather than blocks, problem-solving. But stopping our worrying is sometimes easier said than done.

What type of worrier are you, and how do you deal with it?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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