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Befriending Anxiety

Mindfulness and Compassion practices for turning towards difficult emotions

“Instead of rejecting the problems and emotions, or surrendering to them, we can befriend them, working through them to reach an enduring, authentic experience of our inherent wisdom, confidence, clarity, and joy.” Mingyur Rinpoche

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The limitations of ERP treatment for OCD- (and what mindfulness training can offer)

Here are some thoughts on the treatment of OCD that I have developed over the past 10 years of exploring my mind through conventional and alternative/mindfulness based approaches to treating OCD.  I hope that some of these ideas may be of some benefit to the OCD community.   None of what I write is to deny … Continue reading The limitations of ERP treatment for OCD- (and what mindfulness training can offer)

  • Hey, I’m Ryan!
  • I spent the better part of three decades living in the mind
  • Things were really bad.  I would spend 10-12 hours a day obsessing.  I was diagnosed with OCD and ended up getting hundreds and hundreds of hours of therapy.. Therapy helped, but something was missing….
  • Then, I learned to meditate 
  • I learned to meet my difficult emotions and sensations with the RAIN Of self compassion
  • I practiced and practiced…..I studied and learned everything I could on meditation, habit change, psychology, healing etc.
  • I experienced a really difficult spell of Panic Disorder that lasted for over a year
  • It was the worst period of my life.  I decided to go all in with these mindfulness practices and trust them.  I kept practicing..

My brain started to change…I kept practicing..

 I learned about habit loops, and started mapping my mind and my anxiety. I started getting curious about what I was really getting from my behaviors. The Real rewards of anxiety(hint:they are not great!) I learned to ride out the waves of anxiety, Panic, and OCD. More change happened….

I started really practicing informally in the moment when anxiety and other emotions came up… I noticed more change…

Mindfulness and compassion saved my life.. 

  • The brain can change in remarkable ways
  • Your brain can change too.  
  • I feel sufficiently resourced to move towards my values knowing that when things get difficult I can turn to mindfulness and compassion. 

COACHING- I coach people in mindfulness, compassion and values based exposure to develop the courage to turn towards difficult emotions like anxiety, fear and anger.  Our resistance of these emotions and other difficult body sensations are at the root of our suffering.  They drive us to unconscious behaviors that are often out of touch with our heart’s desires.  We want more from life yet we find ourselves engaging in the same emotional eating or habitual anxiety habit loops.  For years my life was run by fear and anxiety.  I had no idea how to deal with anger and I found myself numbing with food or internet searching, or engaging in endless obsessive ruminations.  Years or traditional CBT (exposure and response prevention) therapy helped a lot but I never felt like I was getting to the root of the issue.  My life was still being run by the unpleasant sensations in my body.  With practice and training compassion actually becomes the body’s natural response to suffering. While not always easy, I now try to lead a life where I aim to befriend my experiences, the pleasant and the unpleasant.  And when I find myself getting off track from my values or I experience a rush of fear or panic that seems very strong, I can offer myself compassion and tell myself that life isn’t easy and that I am doing the best I can.

The goal here isn’t to get rid of anxiety or difficult sensations and emotions but to train ourselves to befriend life and be with whatever comes up.  This ability to move towards our direct experience with awareness gives us the space to choose how we to want to act.  These practices are not about learning something and being done with it.  They are fundamental shifts in the ways we relate to the world that we can practice forever.  As we become more comfortable turning towards our experiences, both the pleasant and unpleasant, we develop the freedom to live a life of agency and self mastery.

A Short Map of healing:

Anxiety habit loop

  • Trigger/behavior/reward

Example: Hungry/Seek food/Experience Pleasure

  • Pleasure tells brain Remember what we ate and where we found it

Example :Anxiety/danger-act-Do something(think our way to solution)/feel less anxious

anxiety/binge eat/feel less anxious

  • Context dependent memory gets laid down
  • Brain remembers what we did to feel less anxious so it will try the same strategy again.  
  • anxious thoughts become new trigger

Example: Anxiety/thinking/Feel less anxious​

  • Two way cycle: Feel anxious, Have more anxious thoughts;Have more anxious thoughts, feel more anxious
  • We step out of habit loop by updating reward value.  We do this with mindful curiosity
  • Disenchantment with old reward- By investigating we see old behaviors not rewarding (they dont feel good in the body) “We ask what am i getting from this?”
  • We need something better.  Mindfulness and compassion are more rewarding, especially in the long run (curiosity and care feel better in the body)
  • This is the I and N of RAIN- RAIN feels better. RAIN steps us out of habit loop

​Step out of the habit loop by getting curious with mindful investigation and offering care

RAIN updates reward value

Training the mind:

  1. Resource anchors (Grounding and compassion)
  2. Intro to mindfulness(breath ,body scan, sound)
  3. The habit loop-A model of how the mind works
  4. Disenchantment from the anxiety habit loop or “What am I getting from this?”
  5. Updating the reward value(making friends with mindfulness and compassion as the updated reward)
  6. RAIN of self compassion (Recognize and Accept/Allow)
  7. I=Investigate/ get curious/explore/”what’s happening in my body right now?”
  8. I=Investigate beliefs in the body- What do I not want to feel?  What are these beliefs keeping me from feeling?  Where do they live in the body?
  9. N=Nurture /Offer care to unmet needs “What do I need right now?”
  10. Move towards your values from an embodied place (Exposure as investigate in action)
  11. Continue to cultivate courage to befriend life with formal and informal practices

Practices-

Mindfulness, Compassion, Exposure and Value based living

Exposure based living means: intentionally moving towards our values even if it brings up unpleasant sensations.  We use mindfulness and compassion to investigate and care for these sensations that come up.  This is true courage and confidence

Fully Resourced- We mindfully investigate

In need of safety- We offer compassion and care