When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
Michel de Montaigne


You know how when you’re anxious, there are certain thoughts that feel really real? And obviously, you have to engage them because to think of anything else would be irresponsible. You have to figure this out!! And you have to find every possible solution to every possibility so that you can either prevent it or mitigate the damages.


You have a weird rash so, you go online, and after reading some stuff, you’ve decided it’s indicative of some terrible health condition. Or you’re thinking about a loved one, and suddenly you’re convinced that the person will die. Or it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re awake (either because you haven’t fallen to sleep yet or because something woke you up) and you start thinking about your financial situation, the 500 things you have to do tomorrow, and how you never get enough sleep. Or you’re enjoying yourself, and you’re feeling good, but then you think, “I’m so happy right now. What if this all goes away? I’d be devastated.”


I know I don’t have to tell you that there are limitless scenarios. 90% of it runs through your mind. We’re usually anxiously replaying something that has already happened or anxiously thinking about something that hasn’t.


I’m a big believer in feelings as guides, but sometimes we feel less guided by them and more overwhelmed. They can’t guide us as effectively when we are in a state of overwhelm. Sometimes what we need is to get some space from the intensity, to get some sleep, and to face it with a fresher perspective. (And then sometimes it’s not even trying to guide us. Sometimes it’s just anxiety being anxiety, and it needs us to nip it in the bud.)


So, try these evidence-based practices:


  • Move from what if-ing/ future-tripping/freaking out to presentifying yourself:

Notice that you’re dwelling or what if-ing the situation to death and pause. Bring your attention to what’s happening now. Some Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapists call this practice “going from What If to What Is.” Let’s say I’m thinking about an upcoming out-of-state move. I start making a list of what I have to take care of before I move. Then I start thinking of all the different bureaucracies I have to deal with to accomplish my task list. Pretty quickly after that, I’m freaking out about how much there is to do and what if I can’t get it all done and about how bureaucracy makes me crazy and then I’m overwhelmed and spinning. I’ll bring myself out of my unproductive spinning by asking myself, “What is happening right now?” In that moment of right now, I am sitting at the table making a to-do list. Your future self can’t be productive because it doesn’t exist yet. Your present self does. Focus on what you know is happening right now.


  • Mindfulness in the present moment:

This is similar to what’s practiced in #1, but it’s slower and more involved. You’ll bring your attention to your senses, one-by-one. Notice how you’re sitting or standing, how it feels, what muscles are tense and which are relaxed. If you want to try progressive muscle relaxation, you can go here for a helpful guide. Notice what you see around you, what it looks like. Notice how you might describe what you see. Observe what you hear, what you feel, what you smell and how you might describe these observations. Mindfulness slows us down and helps us to stay present.


  • Exercise self-compassion:

Sometimes (most times) what we need to help us calm our anxious little brains is a little self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, renowned self-compassion researcher, has prescribed these questions to help us get in touch with our compassion as we reflect on our experience.


“What am I observing?

“What am I feeling?”

“What am I needing right now?”

“Do I have a request of myself or someone else?”


Self-compassion/compassion is proven to be the best resource available to the human brain in times of struggle, anxiety, sadness/depression, anger, frustration, guilt, and shame.


  • Square breathing:

Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat 4x. Reevaluate and do it again if you need to. Square breathing helps to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as our “rest and digest system”) which is responsible for slowing down our movement and thought.


  • Take a moment of gratitude:

Say to yourself, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” This helps us pull ourselves out of the anxiety spins and is another way for us to be present. It is especially helpful when we are thinking about something that makes us feel happy or content only to have fear hijack our thoughts and start to dread the inevitable dissolution of that happiness. We’ve all felt it. “I’m really enjoying my family.” “My life is going so well.” “I don’t want this vacation to end.” “I have never been so happy.” The truth is, we won’t always be the same level of happiness or content for the rest of our lives. But we can’t prepare for how and when things will change. We don’t have to obsess over it. Whenever we notice that familiar dread moving in, we can pause that thought and think, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” Each time a dread thought makes its way in, redirect your thinking back to the gratitude you were feeling just a moment ago. “I’m so grateful for this moment.”



Try this short, powerful list of practices the next time you’re feeling plagued by the anxiety loop. See what works best for you.


Love and Be Loved,

Defeat Dread

Defeat Dread

What do you dread? What makes you procrastinate or immerse yourself in distraction or lose sleep or start and stop a hundred times before you actually do the thing? Some of us dread nearly everything. Some of us dread a few things here and there. (Some people don’t really dread much of anything and to you, I say congratulations, please show the rest of us how you stay so present, and this article isn’t meant for you.)


Many of us live in a constant state of dead (also known as anxiety); some of us are conscious of this and some aren’t. We dread things that will never actually happen, things that could realistically happen but aren’t right now, and things we can’t identify. We try out various types of behavior to manage this dread, but it doesn’t ever really abate.


In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Mastering Clinical Challenges (Butler, Fennell, Hackmann) anxiety is described as “a complimentary overestimation of the likelihood and magnitude of negative outcomes and an underestimation of internal or external resources by which catastrophe might be managed.” I love this. Anxiety/dread is the overestimation of obstacles and the underestimation of resources. It’s such an organized way of looking at anxiety and dread.


This overestimation of an event and underestimation of our ability to handle it manifests in the form of cognitive distortions. We find our brains swimming in thoughts like “I’ll never be in a loving relationship again,” “There is something wrong with me,” “I’ll never be able to handle this,” or “This is all my fault.” (And really that’s a tiny list of cognitive distortions. There is no limit to the thoughts we can think that will reinforce our fears.)


David Burns, M.D. compiled a list of the types of cognitive distortions we use. (And if you check out his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, you might find some other useful information.) When we’re freaking out we are usually doing at least one of these:

-All or nothing thinking (black and white thinking, absolutes)

-Overgeneralization (viewing a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat)

-Mental Filter (dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives)

-Discounting the positives (insisting positives or accomplishments don’t count)

-Jumping to conclusions (mind reading and fortune telling- both from negative perspective)

-Magnification or Minimization (blowing things out of proportion or shrinking their importance)

-Emotional Reasoning (“I feel like an idiot, so I must be one,” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”)

-Should Statements (or “shouldn’t,” “must,” “have to,”)

-Labeling (identifying with mistakes or shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” saying “I’m a loser,” or “a fool.”)

-Personalization and Blame (blaming ourselves for something for which we weren’t entirely responsible or blaming other people and overlook ways that our attitudes and behavior might have contributed to a problem)


When we’re in them, it can be challenging to identify which distortions we’re using (or that we are using any of them at all). What to do? A helpful step is 1) slowing down and trying to identify what you are doing and which distortions you are employing so that you can gain a little bit of perspective and stop being dominated by your dread and anxiety. 2) If you’re having difficulty identifying any and it all just seems like rational thought, try getting out of your head and back into your body. Breathe deeply and notice how your abdominal muscles feel as you inhale and exhale. Notice any sensations you feel in your body and acknowledge them.

Some people find that the first two steps are enough, that once they have calmed themselves a bit and identified their irrational thinking, they are back in control. Sometimes the situation calls for more backup. When it does, you can try 3) examining the evidence that proves (or disproves) your distortion. If your distortion is saying “I never do anything right,” you can list things that you know you have done right. And even with the best tools, it’s still easy to fall down the rabbit hole of dread and anxiety. If you want to walk through it together, I’d love to tackle it with you.


Love and Be Loved,