Anxiety was a foreign concept to me until I hit my late twenties. All of my life people have described me as sturdy—level-headed, confident, driven, effortlessly capable of shouldering big responsibilities. But as I grew into adulthood and life’s demands started to pile up, I felt less “sturdy” than ever behind closed doors.
I let negative thoughts spill through my mind and chest like oil. I leeched onto responsibilities to feel in control and powerful. I allowed toxic friends to drain my energy so I could feel useful. When I acknowledged that these rituals did more harm than good, I decided to take up therapy to understand how to deal with them and feel stronger on the other side.
Over time, my therapist suggested that I might be living with high-functioning anxiety. “Although not technically recognized as a mental disorder, high-functioning anxiety is a very real phenomenon,” says psychiatrist Melissa Shepard, MD. “People often think of those with anxiety disorders as being debilitated by their anxiety," says Dr. Shepard. "While that can certainly be the case, there are also people in whom anxiety drives them to perform, achieve, and constantly do more. These overachievers are classically organized, proactive, detail-oriented perfectionists who never stop moving and thinking.” Yep, that all sounds like me.
How it works
After texting friends about this discovery, my phone, ever the listener (😅), served me an Instagram ad for The Anti-Anxiety Notebook. Designed by psychologists, this journal helps you track and manage your stress and anxiety through exercises based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT, the company explains, is an objective-focused psychotherapy treatment that teaches you to question if unhelpful thoughts and distorted beliefs are actually rooted in reality and, if they’re not, how you can overcome them through a process called “reframing.”
The journal asks you to complete a guided entry whenever you feel anxious or stressed "to best identify, track, and improve patterns in your thinking.” You also complete questions from the GAD-7 scale, one of the tools used by therapists to measure anxiety, which you revisit at the end of the journal to assess your progress. After setting an intention and outlining persistent sources of anxiety or worry, you can set out to start documenting your thoughts.
When you feel anxious, you're supposed to open the book to a new entry where the journal asks you to explain what happened, what’s going through your mind, and to rate the emotions you’re feeling on a scale from one to 10. In the back of the journal, you’ll find a glossary of cognitive distortions, or a set of thought patterns like "all-or-nothing thinking" or "catastrophizing" that are inaccurate and reinforce negative thinking or emotions. Back in the entry, you circle the thought patterns you recognize and come up with a few ways to to change those anxiety-spiraling thoughts. You’ll find a helpful note from a therapist at the bottom of each page, which can help you feel motivated.
A post shared by Therapy Notebooks (@therapynotebooks) on Jun 19, 2020 at 3:00pm PDT
Why I love it
I’ve been using this journal for a little over two months, and while it isn’t a direct substitute for talk therapy, it is an inexpensive tool for tracking anxious moments and becoming aware of the evil tricks your brain loves to play on your thoughts. Engaging in the exercises on paper has taught me how to quietly check in with myself and reframe my thoughts while I'm out without my notebook in hand. The magical part is that each entry feels easier and quicker than the last. Who knew that doing the homework would help you ace the class?!
The notebook is also super discreet, so you won't feel self-conscious about accidentally leaving it out. It’s even a great gift for a friend, partner, or loved one who could use some assistance in feeling centered or more self-aware during these times of great uncertainty. I mean, these days, we could ALL use a non-biased buddy who can fix our wheels and keep us moving in the right direction when we’re feeling lost.
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