Category Archives: Therapy Lessons

When the Stressful Situation Occurs…..

In a recent post I discussed ways to prepare for a stressful situation. Unfortunately, as much as we wish it would, all the preparation in the world does not always prevent the situation from occurring. While stressful situations cause anxiety for everyone, for those of us with an anxiety disorder, the situations can be especially intense. For us, when the situation kicks our body into the “flight or flee” mode—our brain takes off. Meaning, our brains over estimate the danger or don’t realize when the danger passes, taking us into a higher state of intensity for a longer period of time. I think this just means I don’t do things half way right? : )

Part of therapy and treatment is training your brain to realize that the “lion” you think walked into the room, is actually that crazy kid from next door dressed up in a costume. Then realize you can relax because the danger has passed.  There’s several of techniques you can use to help your body relax, but one tool involves changing some of your thoughts. It can be crazy hard to think of the “right” things to say to yourself in a stressful situation. If your brain is anything like mine is basically running around screaming “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

So for moments like that, here is the second part of the worksheet I shared in “Preparing for Stressful Situations”. Post these affirmations somewhere you can see them during the stressful situation.

  1. I can deal with this stressor as a challenge
  2. I don’t have to become overwhelmed. I can deal with the situation one step at a time.
  3. Take a deep breath and relax.
  4. Don’t think about being upset. Focus on what I have to do.
  5. Being tense is not bad, it is a cue that I need to do something.
  6. If one strategy doesn’t work I can switch to another.
  7. Remember, I will get through this.

Now, you might choose to be discreet where you post these—for example, on your boss’s door (even if they are the cause of your stress!) is not the best idea!  But I hope they help.

Anyone else have some good positive affirmations to get you through a stressful situation?

Hope these statements either prevent you from going crazy or bring you back soon!

Hope these statements either prevent you from going crazy or bring you back soon!


Preparing for Stressful Situations




My friend recently texted me this picture and I literally laughed out loud.  People at work would have looked at me strangely, except they are used to me being doing weird things. It was fitting in her life at the time as she was coming up on final class papers and assignments…always stressful!  But it is also perfect for me right now. I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress at work right now—and it is only going to get worse for the next three weeks.  Just like that wave, I can see it coming.  So the question then becomes—how do you prepare!?

Here is a great tool that I learned in therapy—a list of questions to ask and answer BEFORE the stressful event occurs (with a few random self-affirmations thrown in there). Then post the questions and your answers in a place you can see them as the event is taking place.  If your mind is overwhelmed and freaking out, like mine is right now, it’s probably a good idea to have someone you trust work through this with you.

Self-Statements for Coping With Stress:

  1. What is it that I have to do?
  2. I can develop a plan to deal with this. (Form a plan or mental outline)
  3. Just think about what I have to do, not anything else. (Focus on the needs of the task at hand)
  4. Think of things that I can use to help cope. (Review the strategies that you know can be of help)
  5. The situation is not impossible—I can handle this.
  6. What’s the worst possible outcome? Can I live with that?
  7. Remember: I can shift my attention and control my reactions.

I’ve found this to be very helpful. It breaks the situation down into parts, and gives your mind a grounding point when it starts to stray.  So instead of waiting for that wave to crash over you, think of this tool as your surfboard to ride it!

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I feel scared…concerned….insecure…startled…restless…fearful…panicky….shaken…

As I’ve begun learning about my mental illness and how it affects my life, I’ve started to look back through journals I’ve written in the past.  It’s interesting to see what I wrote in a different light and to see how far I’ve come. Also, it’s pretty hilarious to read about my past crushes—glad I ended up with Sidney.

Another huge benefit for me is that it sheds a bit of light on one of the questions I identified my previous post. “Why do children not share the extreme of their emotions with adults?” One reason for me was an inability to express my emotions.  Two phrases I see over and over in my journals are “It feels so dark in my body” and “I am losing control of my mind”.

I was never able to describe that feeling better—but instead wrote it over and over. I knew I was feeling awful, but I didn’t know how to express it. I would tell my parents, “I’m stressed” or “I’m sad”.  Or I’d cry and scream but was not able to explain why I was doing it. Or I’d give a reason I was crying, but it did not convey the intensity of the feeling.

One friend of mine tells a story of sitting on her front porch crying uncontrollably before school. Her dad promised her she wouldn’t have to go if she would only tell him what was wrong.  But she couldn’t. All she could say was “I’m sad”.

In therapy one of the first skills Rick and I worked on was learning to identify my emotions. Rick claims this was to help me, but I’m pretty sure that he was bored listening to the same conversation.

Rick: “How are you today?”

Nicole: “Anxious”
Rick: “Anything else?”
Nicole: “Sad”

After about three weeks of that, Rick introduced me to my feelings list.  I have a sheet of 100 feeling words that I am can use to identify in various situations. There are 30 words alone that go under the “anxious” category.  If they would put these words on the GRE I’d knock that out of the water! Instead there’s words like noxious.

We teach kids to write descriptive paragraphs about scenery, explain how to perform mathematical operations, support a thesis with detailed evidence…yet do we teach them to identify feelings? I’m not even sure how we would start to do this—after all, many adults are not good at it.  But I think it would be a big step towards helping kids manage their emotions!

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Long black train

I had a pretty terrible day. I should clarify—my anxiety was probably only about a seven (ten being the worst!) but I’m just damn tired of it. I hate feeling like I’m only operating with half of my brain. To me, that’s what intense anxiety feels like. The back half of my brain is this constant train of thoughts speeding by–leaving only the front half (or less!) of my brain to function. And that part of my brain is attempting to function with a railroad running behind it. Imagine trying to study at Grand Central Station. Sounds like a great idea, I’m sure.

While I’m not consciously aware of the content of the racing thoughts—it just seems like loud noise in the back of my head. I catch pieces here and there, but mostly it’s just a sense of generalized anxiety (hence the name “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”).

I left work about half an hour early today because my brain lost the battle to the train (I could make that into a nursery rhyme—next blog!). What started as a whisper eventually worked its way to an all consuming noise. After staring at my computer for an hour and not having read a word—I got on the train and went home. I did some meditation—which lowered the volume to a medium hum. Like the train is no longer shaking the whole house…just the windows are rattling.

Running through my head this whole time was “You have survived anxiety before, you can do it again.” And I have worked through it….over and over and over….and over…and ov—ok you get the point.

But I am




The question is—how much longer do I have to continue to fight this? The answer is rather bleak. I am not going to kill myself and despite jay walking at every possible opportunity I have yet to be hit by a car. So for the foreseeable future—I get the distinct pleasure of picking myself up over…and over…and….over

You might be thinking “stop feeling sorry for yourself”, after all—other people starve day after day. And maybe you’re right (about the bad attitude part—unfortunately it’s true that people starve everyday). But this is my reality, and if I’m being honest, today—I’m tired.

So I could leave you, my beloved reader,  at this rather depressing point—but what good would that do either of us? After all—I want you to keep coming back!  And it doesn’t do me any good either. Because guess what? Tomorrow—I get to wake up, with the same messed up brain, and do it all over.

So where will I leave us instead? Below I’ve listed a few techniques I’ve learned in therapy of dealing with these kind of days. And if I may be so bold (and I may, it’s my blog) I think the tips apply to anyone going through a rough time—not just mental illness.

  1. Stop Predicting the Future: I do not know what lies ahead. Whenever I would say, “so there’s no cure for bipolar” Rick (therapist) would say “not YET”. So maybe one day I won’t have to feel like this.
  2. Accept: Be ok that today is a bad day. I touched on this a bit above, but don’t compare yourself to others. Your hell is your hell. Trying to pretend it’s not a bad day is not going to make you feel better—it’s just going to wear you out.
  3. Let it go: Cross something off of your “to-do” list—without doing it. I’ve had a huge mess of clothes in our guest room for a week that needs to be put away. Sometimes, avoiding something you don’t want to do can be freeing, and give you back a sense of control. And hey, it makes selecting an outfit in the morning easier since my clothes are all there on display.
  4. Have fun: Take a bath, watch a funny show, drink some hot chocolate, get a foot massage (I’m currently trying to convince my husband to help with this one….). But make sure it’s something that involves very little effort on your part, we’re trying to get you to relax!

Ok…so its 11:10PM and I’ve done three of the four. And if Sidney would just give in on the foot rub…I’d hit all four and be the poster child of therapy.

However, if I’m honest—it’s not a magic cure. I’m still tired and tomorrow still seems overwhelming.  But I do know from past experience, what this did do was unhook a few of the cars off the train. So hopefully it will be a quieter train in my head tomorrow (or at the very least not louder than today!)

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