Dr. Robert F. Mullen
Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information. Alfonso Paredes, CEO, WeVoice.
An essential factor in recovery is learning how to moderate our Situational fears and anxieties that precipitate our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). There are as many different Situations as there are persons negatively impacted. They fall into two primary categories: anticipated and unexpected.
Anticipated and Recurring Situations are those we know, in advance, will evoke our fears and corresponding ANTs.
Unexpected Situations are those anxiety-provoking Situations we do not anticipate, and those that suddenly get out of hand.
- Situation: The set of circumstances ̶ the facts, conditions, and incidents affecting us at a particular time in a particular place. For social anxiety disorder and other emotional dysfunctions, a Situation is an occasion or event that generates anxiety or stress such that it impacts our emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Examples include restaurants, the classroom, the job interview, speaking in front of a group, and socializing with strangers.
- Fears and apprehensions: The stress-provoking feelings developed by our life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images. Examples include the fears of saying or doing something stupid; being criticized or rejected; being the center of attention; engaging in conversation.
- Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs): Spontaneous conscious or subconscious expressions of our fears and apprehensions. ANTs are ostensibly irrational and self-defeating. Examples include I am incompetent; I will say or do something stupid; I am unattractive; No one will like me; No one will talk to me.
The following 9-step plan for Moderating our Fear(s) of Situation functions for Anticipated and Recurring Situations. SEE Challenging Our Self-Destructive Thoughts.
- Identify the Feared Situation
- Identify the Associated Fear(s)
- Unmask the Corresponding ANT(s)
- Examine and Analyze Our Fear(s) and Corresponding ANT(s)
- Generate Rational Responses
- Reconstruct Our Thought Patterns
- Create a Plan to Challenge Our Feared Situation
- Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Simulated Situations (including Affirmative Visualization)
- Expose Ourselves to the Feared Situation
In Unexpected Situations, sudden and unpredicted stress can be moderated with certain coping skills. Their primary objective is to reduce the influx of the fear and anxiety-provoking hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, and provide a modicum of control over our fears and corresponding ANTs. It also provides us the opportunity to identify and challenge them going forward.
Not all coping skills provided below work in Unexpected Situations but are better suited for Anticipated and Recurring Situations where we have time to devise a more specific and comprehensive approach.
- Affirmative Visualization (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Controlled Breathing (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Deliberate Slow-Talk (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Distractions (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Diversions (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Intention (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Focus (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Persona (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Positive Personal Affirmations (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Projected Positive Outcomes (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Projected SUDS Rating (anticipated/recurring situations)
- Rational Response (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
- Self-Affirmations (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
Affirmative Visualization: By visualizing a positive outcome prior to the Situation, we experience behaving a certain way in a realistic scenario and, through repetition, attain an authentic shift in our behavior and perspective. It is a form of proactive neuroplasticity, and all the neural benefits of that science are accrued by Affirmative Visualization. Just as our neural network cannot distinguish between toxic and healthy information, it also does not distinguish whether we are physically experiencing something or imagining it.
Controlled Breathing: This abbreviated breathing exercise takes roughly a minute. Place one hand on your abdomen, just above your navel, and the other hand in the center of your chest.
- Open your mouth and sigh gently, as if mildly irritated. Allow the muscles in your upper body and shoulders to drop down and relax as you gently exhale.
- Close your mouth for a few moments.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, keeping your lips closed. Push your stomach out as you do this to pull air in.
- Pause for a few moments – as long as is comfortable, then open your lips and gently exhale through your mouth while pulling your stomach in.
- Repeat several times.
Deliberate Slow-Talk: Speaking slowly and calmly slows our physiological responses, alleviating rapid heartbeat, and lowering blood pressure. It is also helpful to incorporate the 5-second rule, i.e., pause any response for five thoughtful seconds. Not only do these coping skills reduce the flow of cortisol and adrenaline, but it also presents the appearance of someone who is thoughtful and confident.
Distractions: Objects that momentarily rechannel our attention from the emotions of our ANTs. Examples: a picture on the wall, a vase, a trophy on the bookshelf. When confronted by emotional angst, we turn our attention, momentarily, to a Distraction. Recommendation: Three Distractions.
Diversions: Distractions are objects that momentarily rechannel our attention away from the emotional angst of our ANTs. Diversions are activities that perform the same function. A common Diversion is snapping the rubber band around our wrist. Other examples: Carry a pushpin or other physical deterrent in our pocket; character analyze people in the room; place a tiny object in our shoe. Recommendation: Three Diversions.
Intention: The clearly defined purpose or objective behind our actions. Our Intention is our prevailing purpose of exposing ourselves to our feared Situation. Is it to network, make friends, challenge our dysfunction, or work on a personal concern? Why are we there? What do we plan to accomplish? Be specific.
Focus: Focusing on a personal character strength or attribute rechannels our emotional angst to mental deliberation, disrupting our ANTs. It’s also beneficial to work on strengths and attributes that we would like to refine or build upon. A valuable tool in In a recovery workshop is developing our Character Resume – a list of our strengths, virtues, and achievements, recognition of which has been subverted by our social anxiety and lacuna of self-esteem.
Persona: Our Persona is the social face we present to the Situation, designed to make a positive impression while concealing our social anxiety. Our Persona is influenced by how we carry ourselves; the timbre of our voice; the clothes and shoes we wear; the attitude we display. Personas are not other-selves but aspects of our personality. We have multiple Personas dependent upon our mood, temperament, and circumstance. Deliberately choosing a Persona can dramatically alter our perspective and presentation.
Actors often determine physical movements as the foundation for their character. Our physical cadence can alter our perspective and emotional state. A walk of rejection is different from one of exuberance. A simple method to change our walk and subsequently our presentation is to attach an imaginary string to different parts of the body. The physical and emotional difference between propelling ourselves with our chest versus our knees or chin can be significant. Try it.
Positive Personal Affirmations: Brief, prepared personal statements that help us focus on goals and objectives. Deliberately repeating PPAs is an extremely valuable asset to our recovery and our neural restructuring. SEE The Science of Positive Personal Affirmations
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): This quick and discreet process of muscle relation takes roughly a minute. Each component is held for roughly 10 seconds.
- Raise your shoulders up toward your ears… tighten the muscles there. Hold. Release.
- Tighten your hands into fists. Very, very tight… as if you are squeezing a rubber ball very tightly in each hand. Hold. Release.
- Your forehead – Raise your eyebrows, feeling the tight muscles in your forehead. Hold. Now scrunch your eyes closed. Hold it. Relax.
- Your jaw – Tightly close your mouth, clamping your jaw shut. Your lips will also be tight. Hold it. Release
- Breathe in deeply through your nose. Hold it. Release the air through your mouth. Repeat at least three times.
Projected Positive Outcome. Because of our years of life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images, we tend to set unreasonable expectations. The key to recovery, however, is progress, not perfection. We already know the projected negative outcome of a Situation is succumbing to our ANTs. Setting moderate expectations can better guarantee a positive outcome. What would be a reasonable expectation for success? What would satisfy our efforts? Our Projected Positive Outcome should be rational, possible, unconditional, problem-focused, and reasonably attainable.
Projected SUDS Rating: The Subjective Units of Distress Scale self-rates our fears and apprehensions on a scale of 0-100. By projecting a moderate success level, you guarantee ourselves a Win for any Situation. If our initial fear and apprehension SUDs Rating is at a 70, a reasonable and attainable Projected SUDS Rating would be a 65 or 60. Ostensibly, we can achieve that just by showing up.
Rational Responses. It is always prudent to ask ourselves: How logical is my fear? What is the worst that can happen? The answer to that is usually a rational response.
Self-Affirmations: Situationally specific, self-empowering statements designed to improve our self-confidence while fueling our neural network with positive information. Examples: I deserve to be here. I am as significant as anyone else in the room. I am valuable. I will be successful.
Utilizing some or all of these coping skills can provide a dramatic moderation of our fears, apprehensions, and corresponding ANTs. While the process may be challenging due to our life-consistent negative self-beliefs, and images, the scientifically supported power of suggestion tells us that by imitating confidence, competence, and a positive outlook, we can attain an authentic shift in our behavior and perspective. Fake it ’till you make it.
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