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Using self-monitoring to start facing your anxiety

Self – Monitoring is helpful for two reasons:

#1 –  One of anxiety’s best tricks is hiding itself from you. You’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding so quickly that you don’t actually observe what’s happening. You are having a thought, the thought is arriving in your body with sensations, and your mind is interpreting the thought as important. Since the thought feels important, you are responding to it as if it is important. Whether you distract yourself, analyze them, get reassurance from others about them, or do anything else to try and make them go away, the point is that you are responding to your thoughts as if they are facts, and threatening facts at that. 

Self-monitoring is the opposite of avoidance. The act of slowing yourself down, identifying, and labeling the thought as a thought shifts you from content to process and you are on your way toward mindful observation.

If self-monitoring sounds like a good idea while you’re reading about it right now, but practicing it in your real life is a challenge, you’re in good company. It isn’t because you’re lazy, you don’t understand, or it doesn’t work. You don’t need the perfect explanation or the perfect device to practice this skill. Self – monitoring is challenging because it’s the first step toward getting distance from the content of your thoughts and it’s the opposite of your natural reaction.  

You want to get to the point where you have an anxious episode and later, rather than “why me? what’s wrong with me?”, you think,

“Oh. I know what happened. My anxiety content was triggered and I was tricked into believing my thoughts. Then, I got stuck trying to make them go away. Oops! Silly me! What a tricky mind I have!”

This type of gentle and humorous observing will disarm your anxious content and make it easier to get unstuck next time. 

#2 – Self-monitoring can also help you identify what types of thoughts you typically get stuck on. For many people it feels like they are worried about a number of different things. When they track what they actually worry about day to day, it is in fact only a couple of different themes. 

Some anxious thoughts remain concerning due to inaccurate information, as happens when an individual misinterprets a rapid heart rate as a heart attack. Other thoughts maintain their power through what I call “belief problems”. One example of a belief problems is believing that having a thought is as bad as doing something. Once I see the content of your self-monitoring, I can help you identify and challenge your belief problem. 

With is in mind, here’s the data I want you to collect while self-monitoring: 

1) What was the trigger? Was it internal or external or both? 

2) What sensations do you feel? 

3) What thoughts are you having?  

4) What is your reaction to the sensations and the thoughts? 

5) What types of avoidance do you want to engage in? 

6) Did you engage in avoidance/neutralization/compulsions?  

7) If yes, what did you do? If no, why didn’t you? 

Do this at least daily.