Let’s discuss what individuals with anxiety disorders often do instead of self-monitoring, identifying, labeling and allowing dread:
Listening to dread by avoiding
Because individuals with anxiety disorders characteristically avoid what they are thinking and feeling, they don’t recognize their dread as part of the pattern of anxiety. Rather it feels like information, as though whatever its saying is truth.
Feeling dread, you may think, “I’m so nervous right now. What if my anxiety just gets worse and worse? What if something bad is going to happen? Maybe I shouldn’t do it. Maybe I should do it some other time when I don’t feel like this. Maybe I don’t actually want to do this because I feel so bad when I think about it.”
Dread, when interpreted as information, triggers indecision and doubts; avoiding based on doubting thoughts causes more anxiety and more dread.
Listening to dread and becoming depressed
Dread can feel more like depression, and can hit you like a sudden lack of energy and motivation. If there are many thoughts, feelings, sensations, and situations that trigger your anxiety, you may feel a consistent and pervasive sense of dread that doesn’t feel like a passing feeling.
Similarly, if you always listen to what your dread says and avoid activities and people that are important to you, the feeling of dread can influence your mood. Depression is the intrusive, sticky mood state that tells you that you’re worthless, guilty, and that things will not get better.
Whereas anxiety typically speaks in uncertainties like, “What if something bad happens? What if I can’t do this?,” depression is more certain. Depression says, “Something bad will happen. I can’t do this.”
As dread becomes more and more associated with avoidance, depression is likely to join in, and make it harder and harder for you to do the things you fear.
Listening to dread and self-criticizing
Dread can also sound like a search for an explanation but actually inspire self-criticism. Feeling dread, you might think, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I always feel this way? Other people don’t feel like I do. I’m just a _(fill in the blank with your favorite bad name)__ for being like this.”
The cause of suffering here is that you did not recognize that your dread is a feeling. You didn’t choose and you can’t choose what you feel.
The beginning of this self-talk, “What’s wrong with me?” could potentially be helpful if your underlying attitude is curiosity, openness, and observation. With this stance, you can transition to, “Let me observe what’s happening, what I’m thinking and feeling.” In that moment, you could identify and label that you’re experiencing dread; remind yourself that it is a feeling, not a fact; and work to redirect your attention to what you wanted to do in that moment while still feeling the uncertainty. The labeling process cues you to turn this experience of anticipatory anxiety into an opportunity to practice relating to your anxiety effectively.
If, other hand, you listen to the self-criticism and get fused to the idea that there is something wrong with you and you will never get better, rather than being an opportunity to overcome your suffering, this experience is likely to increase your suffering.
Listening to dread and wavering in your decision making
Dread feeds on your ambivalence, which is your experience about wavering back and forth about what action you’ll take.
Some individuals with anxiety disorders wake up with a sense of dread that is very distressing to them. If the dread was talking, it would probably say, “What will I be triggered by today? Will I be able to handle it? Am I going to face my anxiety or avoid again?”
The cause of suffering here is the sense of uncertainty you have about how you will behave and the lack of trust you have in your ability to act the way you want to act. Just like relationships with others, the only way to develop trust with yourself is to act in a trustworthy way. You learn to trust yourself by following up on commitments that you make with yourself.
The more triggers you have, the more likely you are to feel dread about how you will respond.
But then again, the more triggers you have, the more opportunities you have to practice.