Devising Response Plans for Situations

Dr. Robert F. Mullen

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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.

  • 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 well-being and quality of life. Examples include restaurants, the classroom, job interviews, 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,” ” No one will like me,” “No one will talk to me.”

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.

Structured Plan for Feared-Situations

  1. Identify the Feared Situation
  2. Identify the Associated Fear(s)
  3. Unmask the Corresponding ANT(s)
  4. Examine and Analyze Our Fear(s) and Corresponding ANT(s)
  5. Generate Rational Responses
  6. Reconstruct Our Thought Patterns
  7. Create a Plan to Challenge Our Feared Situation
  8. Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Simulated Situations (including Affirmative Visualization)
  9. Expose Ourselves to the Feared Situation

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Coping Skills

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)
  • Character Focus (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)
  • Character 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)
  • Purpose(s) (anticipated/recurring  situations)
  • Rational Response (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
  • Self-Affirmations (unexpected and anticipated/recurring situations)
  • Strategy (anticipated/recurring  situations)

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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.

Character 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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Close your mouth for a few moments.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose, keeping your lips closed. Push your stomach out as you do this to pull air in.
  4. 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.
  5. Repeat several times.

Deliberate Slow-Talk. Speaking slowly and calmly slows our physiological responses, alleviates rapid heartbeat, and lowers 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 a rubber band encircling 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.

Persona. Sixty percent of communication is represented by our body language. Our Persona helps establish our body language. Persona is the social face we present to our situation, designed to make a positive impression while concealing our social anxiety. It determines how we carry ourselves, the timbre of our voice, the shoes we wear (boots, sneakers, high heels), and the attitude we present. Personas are not other-selves but various aspects of our personality. We have multiple Personas subject to our mood, temperament, and circumstance. We present ourselves differently depending upon the context of the situation, e.g., a sports event versus an interview for a job or a family dinner versus a sorority bash. Deliberately choosing a Persona dramatically alters our perspective, attitude, and presentation.

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.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This quick and discreet process of muscle relation takes roughly a minute. Each component is held for roughly 10 seconds.

  1. Raise your shoulders up toward your ears… tighten the muscles there. Hold. Release.
  2. Tighten your hands into fists. Very, very tight… as if you are squeezing a rubber ball very tightly in each hand. Hold. Release.
  3. Your forehead – Raise your eyebrows, feeling the tight muscles in your forehead. Hold.  Now scrunch your eyes closed. Hold it. Relax.
  4. Your jaw – Tightly close your mouth, clamping your jaw shut. Your lips will also be tight. Hold it. Release
  5. 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. Notwithstanding our SUDS evaluation before the situation happens, it is even more important to moderate our expectations. We tend to set unreasonable ones to compensate for our years of self-disappointment and, if our expectations are not met, we justify our irrational negative self-beliefs and image. Remember, all of this is subjective, which means we control the process from anticipation to result. If we evaluate our initial SUDs Rating at 70, a reasonable and attainable Projected SUDS Rating might be 65 or 60.

Purpose. Our overarching goal in recovery is to moderate our fears and anxieties. However, we rarely expose ourselves to situations for the sole purpose of challenging our social anxiety. We have alternative motivations. So, why are we there? What do we seek or hope to accomplish? Ancillary goals are normal and healthy as long as they support our primary goal, however, it is best to limit our expectations.

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.

Strategy is our structured plan of action to achieve our goal – that of moderating our fears and anxieties. Objectives are the measurable steps or actions we take to achieve our goal. Strategies and alterable to fit the situation; our primary goal is inflexible. Our strategy is the blueprint of what we anticipate and have determined will happen during our feared-situation. It is a compilation of our coping mechanisms and other skills we have acquired in recovery. It is our script, and we are the producers, actors, and technicians. In Chapter Twenty-Three we will chart each of the coping mechanisms we utilize, and create a narrative strategy as our master blueprint.

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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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional dysfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to reinvigorate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

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