Whether you pick up a self-help book or go through some form of therapy for anxiety the starting point for making positive change nearly always begins with some form of monitoring. It may seem a curious way to begin. After all, you’ve probably thought long and hard about treating your anxiety. You’ve gone through the hope that it may self-correct. You’ve probably suffered with anxiety for months if not years, and finally you’ve admitted ‘defeat’. I use the word defeat advisedly. You may_ feel_ defeated because you’ve reached the point of admitting to yourself that something needs to be done. I look at it differently. What you’ve actually achieved is the first and most important towards towards positive change, and that change begins with monitoring.
There are various reasons why monitoring your own anxiety is valuable. First, you just carry on with life as before, only this time you start to gain some understanding of the issues that keep your anxiety going. Secondly, because the way you are asked to monitor involves some kind of record keeping, the effect is to provide you with a means of stepping back from your thoughts and observing them in ways that are less emotional. This is an important point because it often begins to undermine the belief that what you feel is the truth. Thirdly, writing things down breaks into a pattern of thoughts that go round and round (rumination). Incessant thinking and worrying is exhausting so anything that breaks this up is worth considering.
The most common way of monitoring is pen and paper, but you may find it easier or more convenient to use a tablet or smartphone. The single most important thing is that you make your record in real time. If you rely on memory it will become distorted and too many things may happen in the day. Relying on memory also means you have to keep going over and over anxiety events in your mind in order to recall them.
In my next post I’ll be considering some of the blocks people sometimes experience during monitoring. Meanwhile there’s nothing stopping you from making use of the many free monitoring sheets available to download. Use a search term like ‘anxiety monitoring sheet’ or ‘anxiety monitoring form’ and you’ll find several to choose from.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.