Sometimes I feel as if I am dreaming. But this is not the sort of dream I want to wake up from. I don’t want to pinch myself! Because I am living the life I only dreamed of. In fact, I am living a life I could not even dream of, because I did not know what it was like! You can overcome anxiety and live your dream too!
For example, this morning I received an email from someone saying, “we are meeting tonight at 6 pm if you would like to come”. I looked at my diary, saw that I don’t have anything in the way, calculated that I will be back from my physical therapy session in time to walk Milo the dog before heading out again, and sent back an enthusiastic and appreciative “YES!”
That doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?
- Schedule check
- Quick check of exact location
- Night out.
Maybe you do that all the time. Maybe you, like me, are going out tonight for an impromptu get together.
Or maybe you have anxiety or a phobia and you cannot imagine doing what I am doing.
The OLD WAY
Until I went through the Thrive Programme, my process looked like this.
- 1st thought “Oh, no that is way too short notice.”
- 2nd thought “I have no idea where it is, what the place will be like, what the layout is, how many people will be there, how long it will go on.” I created many negative images in my head!
- 3rd thought “I wish I could say yes.”
- 4th thought “I wish I had known earlier so that I could plan.”
- 5th thought “Forget it! There is no way you can go with just 9 hours’ notice.” (!!)
- Cursory schedule check
- 6th thought “Ah, I have PT at 4 pm. That is not enough time in between.”
- Remember the adage “not too many things in one day” (not sure where that one came from!)
- 7th thought – this get together isn’t that important.
- Reply – “Thanks but unfortunately, I am already booked up today.”
- 8th thought “I wish they had let me know earlier.”
- 9th thought “You are so stupid, why can’t you just go?”
- 10th thought “It’s done now. Just don’t think about it anymore.”
- Night in
- Lots of feeling guilty, disappointed and sad.
Quite apart from anything else, the second scenario seems inefficient! There is a lot more time and energy spent figuring out that I am NOT going than is involved in jumping at the chance.
But I just COULDN’T jump at the chance.
Because I had emetophobia and lived in literally constant fear of others – and myself – throwing up. In addition to the phobia, I was obsessional about cleanliness, food preparation, sell-by dates, germs, handrails, door handles, shaking hands… I had social anxiety which made me keep away from social events, speaking, conferences, meetings, and other gatherings.
For years, I thought I was just made this way and would be stuck like this forever. Sometimes I was quite depressed at the thought that I would never do all the things I wanted to do because of my anxiety. I had given up. I had learned over the years that nothing works and that there was just no hope.
CHANGING THE BRAIN
Did you know that the brain cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined? Did you know that the science of neuroplasticity is showing us that we can retrain the brain – even getting parts of the brain to take over the functions of another part that is damaged? And this does not happen at the pace of evolution, it happens at the speed of thought!
In the book The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge brings together many stories of people retraining their brains in the most extreme circumstances to process in a new way. If a woman with half a brain can function just like the rest of us; or if a man whose brain was severely damaged by a stroke can get back full function; and if blind people can learn to visualize images through electrical stimulation, surely, I could learn to rewire my brain? That book was my first tiny ray of hope.
With the help of my sister – who is a psychologist – I found the Thrive Programme. This is the bit that always gets sticky because I don’t want to sound like a commercial! But the program was quite literally life changing for me!
The Thrive Programme taught me about my thinking patterns.
I came to understand my social anxiety and my low self-esteem and realized for the first time that although vomiting is inherently unpleasant, it is only terrifying because I trained myself to believe it was terrifying. It was me that trained myself to believe that it is something I cannot cope with. I created it. Not my Mum or Dad. Not my teachers. And not the universe. There was no chemical imbalance or genetic pre-disposition. It was not because I am stupid or foolish, but because I used vivid imagination and constant reinforcement to build the belief that I would literally die, implode, cease to exist or be frozen in time if someone vomited. No one challenged those beliefs. No one trained my thinking, so I built a wall of beliefs and then got trapped behind it.
I literally imagined horrible scenarios over and over and over again as I strategized and planned ways to avoid them. I dreamed most nights about people vomiting – reinforcing through imagination the idea that the world is dangerous and full of people getting sick!
And if the brain cannot tell the difference between my vivid imaginings and the real thing, is it any wonder that the anxiety took over my everyday life.
THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE
Another thing I noticed was how easy it was to let the negative drown out the positive. When I first started the program, it was not hard for my habitual negative helpless thinking to well up and seemingly overwhelm my new but fragile capable helpful thinking.
I remembered this effect at a town meeting a few weeks ago. We were voting to change the financing of our local school. The moderator was hoping we could vote by voice – he could ask the audience to vote aye or nay and he would judge by the volume the result.
He asked, “all those in favor” – the voices rang out “aye”.
All those against” – voices rang out again “nay”.
It was too close to call and thank goodness the moderator realized and said, “that was inconclusive. We must vote by a show of hands. If that does not work, we will have to go to a secret ballot.”
Moving on he called out, “By a show of hands, all those in favor” – the counters counted the raised hands. 155 people for the change.
“By a show of hands, all those against” – again the counters did their work, but it was plain to see that the ayes had it. 91 against.
The change in financing carried by a significant majority. But that majority was not apparent during the voice vote. Because the negative so often sounds louder than the positive.
REDRESSING THE BALANCE
As I progressed through the program, I first practiced focusing on the small positives and over time I built them up. That meant I stopped focusing on the times I received an invitation somewhere and could not go, I focused on the times I DID go somewhere, had at least an OK time, and nothing bad happened. Then I reminded myself that while I imagined many negative scenarios, I have experienced very few. I shone a light on the positives, in my experiences and in myself, and dimmed the light on the negative. With all of this, I made the negative voice quieter and paid attention to what mattered. I learned new ways of thinking about and processing my experiences that were much more helpful and positive.
To get over my anxiety, I needed knowledge, understanding and I needed practice. Thankfully I had a wonderful Thrive coach who, in shaky moments, helped bring my focus back to learning the ropes, practicing and recognizing and celebrating the wins! My coach not only provided motivation and encouragement, his depth of knowledge helped me to really understand and appreciate the change process. He helped my build a strategy that would work for me, not just in the short term, but for a lifetime.
The Thrive Programme liberated me in so many ways and it has done the same for others. It can do the same for you. I am paying it forward by becoming a Thrive Consultant. To be able to help people, I have cut back a successful career as a project manager to focus on Thrive because I believe this is really important.
I am happy to answer your questions about the program and to tell you more – no obligation, first session free. At least find out more. You owe it to yourself to see if you can be living your dream OR creating a dream to live!
Or check out dates for our online introductory webinars: Alle2Thrive Calendar
#anxiety #emetophobia #thrivinglife #learntothrive #socialanxiety #thriveprogramme