Change Ahead

New Function, New Name, New Look — Same Great Content!

If you have been following my blog, you will notice a number of changes to it in the coming days. In today’s post, I am going to describe and explain the main differences that you will see — in name, look, and function.  I want to try to avoid at least some of the possible confusion that could result from these changes otherwise!

I have decided to use this blog as the front page for a new WordPress Website for my counseling and coaching practices.  As a result, my blog will get a new name — and a brand new look!  You will also notice new pages attached to this blog — pages about the services that I offer, and pages with new information and links to new resources that will complement my posts.

The new name that I have chosen is a response to an evolution in my thinking since I set up the blog and began to publish posts — a growing understanding, I hope I can say, about what draws readers to the blog, and what they find most helpful about it.  I want this blog to have benefit for people!  Originally, I called my blog, “Social Anxiety, Shyness, and Performance Fears,” in a very straightforward reference to some the categories of experience with which I often work in my counseling and coaching practices.  As I have been writing posts, I have found myself enjoying a focus on the kinds of thinking that we can talk about as fueling all sorts of anxious experiences, including those associated with social situations, and exploring ways in which we can respond to such thinking in order to foster different experiences for ourselves.  The idea came to me that what I would like to offer through this blog, and what readers seem to be looking for when they come to it, could be called “thought tonic.”  When I say “tonic,” I refer to something that invigorates, strengthens, restores — or otherwise promotes and supports — our sense of well-being.  What I hope to provide in this blog are thoughts that help us calm our nerves and soothe our self-doubts, thoughts that help us increase our feelings of well-being in terms of emotional balance, self-confidence, and more.  With these notions in mind, I have decided to give my blog the new name of “Thought Tonic.”

I hope that you will enjoy the changes — in function, name, and look — that I will be making to this blog over the next several days.  I also hope that, over the coming weeks and months, you will continue to enjoy the same kind and quality of content that brought you to the blog in the first place.  Please feel free to leave a comment (or to contact me through the custom form that will be coming soon); I welcome your suggestions for content, as well as your ideas about what other features could make this Website a helpful resource for you.  I would love to hear from you!

Thank you for reading!

Sincerely,

Scott

Gratitude

Thanks, Not Angst

This week, many of us will be celebrating the U.S. holiday that we call Thanksgiving. On Thursday, November 22, we will gather together with family and friends, ideally over a hearty harvest meal, and take time to give thanks for the people we love and what is going well in our lives. We will count and share our blessings.

Many of us, this coming Thursday, will also be aware of feeling anxious. Our anxiety may be a response to thoughts about the social situations involved in celebrating Thanksgiving itself, or we may already be thinking ahead to the myriad pressures, social and otherwise, that are so often part of the rest of the holiday season. Lucky us, that Thanksgiving provides a ready antidote – in the form of its very focus on gratitude!

A cognitive-behavioral approach to anxiety often looks at how we may be fueling our feelings by what we pay attention to and what we remember. Many of us who experience anxiety tend to focus on what is consistent with our self-doubt, our sense of the world as unpredictable and unsafe, our assumptions that others are thinking negatively of us and will likely reject us, our expectations of a worst-case scenario, and the like. We dismiss or minimize, if not completely ignore, experiences that we could describe as positive and for which we would likely feel thankful. If we are giving a talk and notice that some of the members of the audience seem bored, we do not see that others appear to be enjoying our presentation. If we muster our courage to talk to someone we like at a party, we remember only having tripped over our words at some point, rather than how smoothly the rest of the conversation went. We engage in selective attention and memory.

I suggest that, as a response to anxiety, the practice of gratitude does not simply help us think more positively; it supports us in thinking more realistically. For those of us who struggle with feeling anxious, giving thanks balances out our tendency to concentrate on what we fear and interpret as negative, our inclination to “screen out” all other aspects of and ways of looking at our experiences. Some of us may practice gratitude by writing down what we’re thankful for in a journal every day; others of us may take time to meditate on the topic, or to share our sense of blessings with friends or family members. Whatever methods we choose, the practice of gratitude can, in time, help us develop an increased sense of calm and confidence – one more thing for which we can be thankful!

I hope that you’ll find ways to give yourself the gift of thanks, not angst – not only this Thursday, as you celebrate Thanksgiving, but all year long. What are ideas that you have about how you can practice gratitude? What are ways in which you already do?

Please feel free to subscribe to this blog via e-mail, if you are interested; you will receive every new post delivered straight to your inbox.

For additional information about counseling and coaching resources for calm and confidence, visit scottburnskahler.com.

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz Trailer 2

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears … Oh, My!

In The Wizard of Oz (1939), as Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Tin Man make their way along the yellow-brick road through a forest that Dorothy describes as “dark and creepy,” the three of them provide us with an example of catastrophizing, the kind of anxious thinking in which we assume the worst as the result of an experience that we interpret negatively.  I have included the dialogue, as well as a link to an excerpt from the film posted on YouTube, below.

Dorothy:  I don’t like this forest.  It’s … it’s dark and creepy!
Scarecrow:  Of course, I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.
Dorothy:  Do … do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?
Tin Man:  Hmmm … we might.
Scarecrow:  Animals that … that eat straw?
Tin Man:  Some, but mostly lions and tigers and bears.
Dorothy:  Lions!
Scarecrow:  And tigers?
Tin Man:  And bears.
Dorothy:  Lions, and tigers, and bears … oh, my!
All:  Lions, and tigers, and bears …
Dorothy:  Oh, my!
All:  Lions, and tigers, and bears …
Dorothy:  Oh, my!
All:  Lions, and tigers, and bears …
Dorothy:  Oh, my!
All:  Lions, and tigers, and bears …
Dorothy:  Oh, my!

On YouTube: Dorothy Meets the Cowardly Lion (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

In this scene, Dorothy worries that she and her friends will encounter wild animals as they travel through the forest that she doesn’t like; Scarecrow frets that the wild animals might have an appetite for straw.  In their increasingly frenetic verbal repetition of “lions, and tigers, and bears” — as they skip faster and faster down the road — Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Tin Man demonstrate the obsessive, self-reinforcing quality of anxious thinking.  Dorothy’s own anxious thinking proves almost too much for words; her catastrophizing gets summed up in her gasp of an exclamation,”Oh, my!”

What happens, then, when the trio’s fears come true, and a roaring lion bounds into view?  Once the lion turns from bullying Scarecrow and Tin Man and begins to chase a yapping Toto, Dorothy gives him a swat on the nose.  Courage!  Now, when Dorothy was consumed with her catastrophizing, just a few moments before, did she pause to think how she might handle such a situation, or even that she could?  If she had considered how she wanted to handle an encounter with a wild animal, that she could handle it, should it occur, I will venture that she might well have worried less, and experienced more calm and confidence as she, Scarecrow, Tin Man — and Toto, too — made their way through the forest, and down the yellow-brick road.

For those of us with a sense of social anxiety, shyness, or performance fears, catastrophizing often looks like assuming that an experience that we interpret negatively will have dire, unmanageable consequences.  I may fear, for instance, that if I can’t remember someone’s name at a party, I will be mortified, and then stammer, blush, or otherwise demonstrate my embarrassment, and that the other person will judge me as not only forgetful, but odd, and not want to talk to me; this person whose name I forgot might even tell other people at the party, including the hosts, what an awful, awkward experience she had with me!  I’ll never get invited to another party again!  Even if we don’t go to quite this extreme in our fantasies of fear, we are engaging in catastrophic thinking whenever we assume the worst will happen, and forget to ask ourselves “So what if that happens?” or “How would I like to respond to that, if it does occur?”  A cognitive-behavioral response to catastrophic thinking encourages us not only to question the likelihood of whatever worst-case scenario we are imagining — our own encounter with “lions, and tigers, and bears” — but to challenge the end-of-the-world import that we attribute to that scenario, and to find ways to respond to our fears that we will not be able to manage the experience.

What have been your own experiences of catastrophic thinking?  How have you learned to challenge this thinking?

If you’re interested in following this blog via e-mail, please feel free to subscribe.  If you have topics or questions that you would like to see featured, let me know!  If you’re interested in counseling or coaching resources for increased calm and confidence, visit scottburnskahler.com.

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