“Ask Dan’s Mom” returns from vacation

After a short hiatus in which my mom went to Portland to visit my brother and I forgot to get her material in time, “Ask Dan’s Mom” returns with answers to four questions from anxious readers.

If you have a question about anxiety you’d like me to share with my mother, please email me at [email protected]. (All questions will be posted anonymously.)

Part 1 of “Ask Dan’s Mom” here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here. Part 6 here.

Dear Dan’s Mom: I’ve been anxious most of my life, but didn’t have my first full blown panic attack until the age of nineteen, at which point I was put on Paxil and given Klonopin as needed. I continued to live life to the fullest until last year when a medical misdiagnosis sent me over the edge. My anxiety turned into an anxiety disorder. Even though I do CBT on a regular basis, I have developed a full-blown phobia/fear/belief that I’m going to develop schizophrenia. I’ve tried thought replacement, distraction … everything. And yet this is still something I fear on a regular basis. (I should mention that I don’t hear voices, I don’t think the world is plotting against me, I don’t see Jesus, etc.) How on earth can I start to work on breaking this fear down and getting rid of it Over the Edge

Dear Over the Edge: I  once led a group of “normal” folks with anxiety disorders who were mostly diagnosed with panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This was in the outpatient section of a major psychiatric hospital. From the window of the room where we gathered on a weekly basis you were able to see the inpatients walking around the grounds of the inpatient units. Every week without fail someone would look across the yard and say, “Oh my god! That’s going to be me! I’m going to become one of them!” It never happened — not once in the more than ten years I worked there. As the group made progress, mostly through CBT practice, the fear of going insane subsided and for many was extinguished altogether. It takes time, patience, and hard work to be able to break down the fearful, irrational thoughts and change them. But you will get there. Some helpful questions to ask yourself along the way: How long have I had this fear? Has what I feared ever happened? What is the likelihood of what I fear actually occurring? And as I often tell Dan (to no avail), “Don’t forget to breathe.” This will help slow down your scary thoughts and bring you back to the moment. —Dan’s Mom

Dear Dan’s Mom: Flying makes me very nervous. Also standing in lines, being late, and potentially forgetting to pack the right pair of shoes. Do you have any suggestions on how to minimize my travel anxiety? —Anxious Traveler

Dear Anxious Traveler: You are in good company,  which is the reason why most airports of full of crowded bars. Some folks are anxious about their airplane crashing, others are worried about turbulence, and the balance are generally frightened of being enclosed in a small space. Given the anxiety you feel when you wait on lines it sounds like you may fall into that last category — but that’s just an educated guess. Whatever the case, it’s difficult to practice overcoming this specific fear as most of us don’t fly on a daily or even weekly basis. For that reason, distraction tools are very useful. Some suggestions: If you like to read, start a good novel at home to be continued on the plane. Or if you enjoy knitting or crocheting you may be able to complete a small project on your flights. And don’t forget the breathing. Try making yourself comfortable. Put one hand on both arms of the seat, close your eyes, feel yourself sinking into the seat and breathe. In addition, it’s great to use imagery. If you’re flying to a vacation spot, focus on the scene you’ll be part of when you reach your destination. Or on that reunion with a loved one. Anything that puts a smile on your face. And so what if you don’t pack the right pair of shoes. What’s the worst that will happen? When you get where you’re going, you get to shop! —Dan’s Mom

Dear Dan’s Mom: For my job, I need to have business lunches several times a week. I am a picky eater to begin with, and I worry about people secretly disparaging me because I don’t eat sushi, or ordering certain kinds of food that might be messy, or if I just really want the appetizer Caprese salad but I don’t want my lunch date to think I am being cheap or that they can’t go nuts on the hangar steak. It gets very difficult to concentrate on the business at hand. Why am I such a freak? —Picky Eater

Dear Picky Eater: I’m  wondering if others even take notice of what you’re eating. Unless you’re ordering something weird, like a chocolate ganache tart for your appetizer, I don’t think so! Generally, people are so in their own heads, with their own thoughts, feelings, and worries, that they aren’t going to notice what you fear they’re going to notice. If you’re concerned that they think you’re being cheap can you just say something? Let them know you’re fine with whatever they order — and hopefully, it’s not coming directly out of your pocket! —Dan’s Mom

Dear Dan’s Mom: How can I judge how much rumination about to-do lists and goals is healthy and normal — and how much is counterproductive — making my body curl up into a hardened shell which will soon crack into a million pieces the next time someone shoves me on the subway? How do I stop the unproductive ruminations? —Subway Shell

Dear Subway Shell: Great question. If the ruminations do not interfere with your having fun and being productive, I wouldn’t worry if it’s normal or not. Probably it is but a stress management program might help reduce some of your tension and concerns. That might include cardiovascular exercise (clear this with a doctor if you’re not normally active), breathing exercises (of course), a healthy diet with little or no caffeine, and perhaps some yoga or pilates added into the mix. Being shoved on a subway just sounds like the last straw, so bringing your general level of stress down should do the trick. —Dan’s Mom

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