The Impermanence of Emotions (Intense Anxiety)

Today started off quite anxiety-filled. Last night, I was awakened by the creepiest sound of something burrowing and scratching inside of my wall. My cats were mesmerized. I don't know what it was, but I was afraid.  I banged on the wall, and it would stop for a few minutes, then it went right back at it. This was at about 3 am.  When it kept going on, I'm not sure why I didn't go and sleep on the couch.  I was so tired and somehow kept drifting off to sleep - but only light sleep. As the sound got louder, I kept waking up.

This situation, the disruption of sleep and the anxiety in the middle of the night, combined with other stressors, became vulnerability factors to the intense anxiety I felt in the morning when I felt like backing out of a social commitment. The anxiety got worse as the time approached that I should go over to my neighbor's house. I was having that gurgling feeling and sound in my lower belly, and I had no appetite. I also desperately missed my boyfriend (it's day 2 of his 9 days being away).

I knew I had a choice: I could feed into the anxiety and let it completely ruin my day, or I could follow through with my plans and take a nap later to help with the lost sleep.

As tempted as I was to give into the anxiety, I used the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills of Opposite Action and Wise Mind to follow through.  I'm glad I did.

I mindfully chopped up the fresh vegetables for the pizza and prepared it nicely on plates with some root chips.  I then walked over to her house, and when I noticed panicked breathing, I looked down at my feet, moved one step at a time, and said to myself, "Just this moment, just this breath. What is wrong in THIS very moment? Nothing."  This helped to center me and calm me a bit.

I spent some time with my neighbor and her adorable baby.  We watched When Harry Met Sally. I'd never seen it before, and since my neighbor was appalled to learn this as a romantic movies junkie, she insisted that we schedule a time for me to come over and watch it with her. We ended up having a pretty good time. 

All the while - in fact most of the visit - my stomach was acting up. I wasn't really hungry due to the anxiety, so I just nibbled and drank my soda.  I'm not sure if she could tell I was in a bit of distress, but I decided to acknowledge that the anxiety was a fleeting, uncomfortable emotion, and rather than dwell on it and give it attention (after all, in those moments, I was in absolutely no danger), I decided to act opposite.  I presented myself confidently, played with the baby, and had lots of good laughs watching the movie.

Today I was reminded, yet again, that although those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)  can experience our emotions intensely and have challenges regulating them, we CAN do it. It takes practice and determination. Sometimes we have to go against that little tiny voice of fear that would rather we miss out on growing and having good experiences.

I did that today.

My nervous system is still a bit shaky.  It seems that the physiological responses to anger can take quite some time to catch up with a Wise Mind, psychological decision to not feed into it. Is that your experience, too?

Have you used the skill of Opposite Action to help you get to an event that you felt like avoiding due to intense anxiety or depression?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.


  1. Hey Debbie :) I'll try that out next time I am in such a situation. Thanks so much dear for sharing :)

  2. Really well done with this! :)

    I've had intense anxiety due to a difficult neighbour who has accused me of horrible stuff, including having an affair with her husband (who was out of work who I'd offered work to, thinking I was helping them out.) In order to present absolutely no grounds for her claim I did not turn right out of my house (ie turn towards theirs) without company for a FULL YEAR. During which time she said nastier things to the neighbours - even saying to neighbours they were moving house because of me (At this point we question who has the mental health problem; sometimes it's hard to remember other people are messed up too!) ... I thought to myself, as the forsale sign went up 'well I'll walk that way again when they're gone'. Except they changed their mind and didn't go. A year on I found I actually had developed a phobia of going past their house - the anxiety was enormous on the odd occasion I went that way with a friend, heart racing feeling intensely stressed. And I realised my avoidance was stupid (it's not like it made them be more reasonable anyway!) and damaging for me.

    I've studied phobias in psychology, so I treated it like that (for a spider phobia first see a picture of a spider, wait until the automatic stress response subsides, then over weeks slowly repeat moving onto small dead spider, big dead spider and eventually you get to a tarantula!)...
    For me I got on my bike, with my dog, and cycled rapidly past the place - that way the horrible anxiety was only brief. And I repeated taking my daily dog walk purposefully in that direction to get myself over it.

    It's taken a while, and I'm still not delighted given all the nastiness from there, but I can now walk past their house without getting horribly uncomfortable and without my heart beat racing, and the other day I even managed to go and knock on their door when I saw a stray animal come out from their place (I thought it was theirs, but it wasn't).

    Facing the fear and standing up to it is without the best way to conquer one.

  3. I can relate to your anxiety Debbie! I was feeling so anxious to a point of exhaustion the past 2 hours or so, which resulted in that tight feeling in the chest and stomach. On top of that, hot flashes oscillating with coldness in the chest, and the only thing I was capable of doing at that point was laying in bed and then venting about my pain here.

    Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts - you really are brave, and it's amazing how you're so persistent and motivated, even in a state of intense anxiety.

  4. Yes I've done Opposite Action when I was feeling like avoiding due to intense anxiety or depression... yes, absolutely. I've donde this several times since years ago... during these last 8 years... when I wanted to attend a concert and had nobody to go with... I went alone and didn't let that anxiety, fear and depression stopped me. It's hard, yesterday I did the same on a conferrence I wanted to attend. On the break I felt odd... out of place. But just standing and thinking that nobody is really focusing just on me (negatively)... I was fine. I'm not able of that ALWAYS, but on some similar scenarios.

  5. I have also experienced, many times, that physiological responses to emotions can take a long time to catch up with my Wise Mind, phychological decision not to feed into them.



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