As we begin this New Year, I have been providing information and tools you need to actively participate in your own treatment. We started with “Creating an Effective Treatment Plan” and “Identifying Anxiety Triggers.” This week we will continue with “Self-Monitoring” and in the coming weeks, stay tuned for information on talking with your doctor and how to know if your treatment is working. Use these tools to continue the dialogue with your doctor and provide your treatment team with specific information about your anxiety, your symptoms and the areas where you most often struggle.
What is Self-Monitoring
Simply put, self-monitoring is paying attention to and documenting your levels of anxiety on a regular basis. Some people may find making notations just once a day is plenty while others may find they want to keep track of their anxiety several times a day.
Self-monitoring offers concrete information to share with your treatment plan. Many people have also found that this also helps them to ward off catastrophic anxiety attacks. By paying attention to anxiety at lower levels, they are able to stop more troubling thoughts from invading or taking over. For example, if you are feeling anxious and use your anxiety diary to write down your anxiety level and your current situations, you may become more aware of not only what triggered the anxiety but may be able to think of ways to combat anxiousness by employing strategies you have learned in therapy.
How Self-Monitoring Can Help
By monitoring your own anxiety, on a daily basis you want to pay attention to:
- Indicating which situations cause you the most problems
- How anxiety interferes with your daily activities
- How often you experience anxiety
Self-monitoring also provides you with a way to know if treatment is working. Without understanding how anxiety impacts your life now, you won’t be able to determine if treatment is improving symptoms later.
Discussing your anxiety diary with your therapist can help. Together, you can develop coping strategies for the next time a certain situation develops. When you do this on a regular basis, you and your therapist can target situations or feeling that may occur and work on solutions. As you continue to keep a diary, you may be able to incorporate these strategies as you go about your day.
How to Self-Monitor Anxiety
Self-monitoring requires you to regularly keep track of both your feelings of anxiety and the symptoms you experience. Based on your individual experience you will need to decide how often you want to keep track of symptoms. For example, you may want to:
- Keep a diary on a daily basis
- Check off symptoms and anxiety levels at regular intervals, several times per day
The type of anxiety you have may help you decide which method is best for you. For example, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may be more conducive to a daily measurement but panic disorder may need check-ins at regular intervals throughout the day.
Self-monitoring involves understanding the feelings and symptoms as well as measuring your anxiety level. In order to do this, you will need to rank anxiety attacks or feelings, such as rating your anxiety level on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “most anxious.” Again, this is important to help you later decide if treatment is working.
Once you have determined how often and how you will monitor your anxiety, you must create a system. Below are some ideas:
- Keep a small notebook with you
- Make a chart
- Use online tools, such as Mood 24/7
- Send yourself a text message
Remember, you want to record: your anxiety level (ranked 1-10), your trigger or current situation and the symptoms you are experiencing.
D.H. Barlow, 2001, Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders (3rd Ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Mark Dombeck, PhD., Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD., 2006, July 3, “Techniques for Unlearning Old Behaviors: Self-Monitoring”, MentalHelp.net
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.