Ellie Goulding Opens Up About Anxiety and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Ellie Goulding revealed in the summer issue of “Flare” magazine that she dealt with severe anxiety early in her career. The 29-year-old British singer-songwriter told the magazine her symptoms, which worsened as her career took off, were intrusive.

“My surroundings would trigger a panic attack, so I couldn’t go to the studio unless I was lying down in the car with a pillow over my face,” Goulding said.

Brandon Ballantyne, a member of the American Counseling Association and a Licensed Professional Counselor, said anxiety like Goulding’s can be especially problematic.

“I like to refer to anxiety as a survival emotion,” Ballantyne told The Mighty in an email. “Anxiety provides information to our brain about the level of danger that exists in the external events we face daily. Problems develop when we ‘think’ about events as if they were ‘life-threatening’ or potentially ‘injury-provoking’ when there is little or no evidence to suggest that this is realistic. Individuals with anxiety issues may experience extreme cognitive behavioral reactions to normal everyday situations that do not necessarily require a ‘fight-or-flight’ response.”

According to “Flare,” Goulding underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cope with stress.

“I was skeptical at first because I’d never had therapy, but not being able to leave the house was so debilitating,” Goulding said.

The pop star said CBT has enabled her to retain control over her anxiety and curb her panic attacks.

“There were a couple of times after I released ‘Delirium’ when I was doing promo and thought, ‘Oh god, it’s coming back, it’s coming back,’ but it didn’t. I think my body has become quite good at controlling anxiety,” she said.

Ballantyne said CBT theory, which views thoughts as an automatic response to a situation, can be especially helpful in cases like Goulding’s.

“CBT places increased focus on thoughts,” Ballantyne said. “It emphasizes that thoughts are different from emotions. Thoughts create emotions. Emotions influence behaviors. If we can challenge our automatic thinking, we can achieve more desirable emotions and/or reduce the intensity of unpleasant emotions; therefore laying the ‘blueprint’ for healthier behavior responses and reactions.”

CBT aims to help people with anxiety reframe the thoughts that unnerve them.

“The goal of CBT, as it pertains to anxiety, is to increase the awareness of the patterns in the automatic thinking and develop recognition of how thoughts such as ‘This is a complete catastrophe’ may intensify the anxiety that comes next,” Ballantyne said. “If this awareness and recognition develops effectively, CBT can assist individuals with learning how to ‘challenge’ the ‘reality’ of their automatic thoughts.”

Have you undergone therapy for anxiety? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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When Anxiety Strikes on an Airplane

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I’m on an airplane. I just boarded with my husband after an amazing week in St. Croix, visiting his parents and soaking up the sun, sipping on fruity rum drinks and enjoying family time. We’d flown to San Juan and had a meal, browsed the duty-free store and gotten on the plane. I’m excited to have the window seat since I took the middle on the way down; it’s my turn to have a wall to sleep against. I swallow my trusty Dramamine — while I don’t usually get nervous on flights, I prefer to sleep my way through them —  and try to settle in. I’m crossing and uncrossing my legs, propping myself up against the window, leaning on my husband’s shoulder. I can’t get comfortable. My neck and shoulders start to ache, my lower back too. We haven’t even taken off yet, and I suddenly need air. 

The flight attendants have begun their safety speech, and I continue to squirm. I try tucking one leg underneath me, then the other. I ball up my hoodie and try to lean against the window using that. Everything hurts. It’s not just an aching anymore, it’s a throbbing that courses throughout my body, my arms, my legs. I start to feel like I want to crawl out of my own skin — anything to stop feeling so uncomfortable. I lean back in my chair so hard that it tilts back the way airplane seats sometimes do, surprising the woman behind me. I turn around and smile apologetically, adjusting my seat so it’s upright again. She has no idea of the frantic flurry of thoughts in my head trying to get my body to relax. We still haven’t taken off. 

After what could only have been 10 or 15 minutes, I have become so restless I feel like I’m disturbing the entire plane (this is unlikely; it’s a big plane). Finally my husband turns to me and asks, “Are you anxious?” 

“Oh,” I said. Yes, I guess I am. Sometimes it feels so physical, and I don’t think I have anything to be worried about, so I forget anxiety just does this sometimes (you’d think I’d start to get with the program one of these days). I have nothing to take to make it go away. This type of anxiety usually only overtakes me at bedtime at home, where I can take a sleep aid or get up and do something else to quiet my nerves, so I don’t have any actual anti-anxiety medication with me. I’ve never gotten this way on a plane before. Now that I’ve identified what’s going on, I start to feel worse instead of better. My heart gets a little racy. I want to jiggle my leg up and down, but I know that will shake the whole row, so I settle for tapping my fingers frantically against my thigh. This is awful. How am I going to get through four hours of this without moving around or screaming or bursting into tears? 

I count down backwards from 100 to give my mind something to focus on. When that doesn’t work, I try counting down by twos or threes to make it harder. It helps for maybe a few seconds at a time.

Drinks and snacks come. I can’t eat. I’m desperate to feel something, anything, other than this agonizing feeling that something is terribly wrong. My husband suggests I hold an ice cube. (He works with kids who have mental illnesses. He’s good at this.) He puts one cube on the back of my neck. Cold water drips down the back of my shirt, and this makes me cringe, but holding the ice on the pulse points of my wrists seems to help briefly. I want to shriek. Everyone around me is reading, watching movies, sleeping. How can they be so relaxed? Usually I can read and then drift off to sleep, but not now. My husband holds my hand and tells me everything is OK. He tells me I am his best friend. I smile because this usually comforts me, but the anxiety is like a thousand ants crawling over every inch of my skin. How could this possibly ever be OK? 

I’m distraught, about to come completely unglued. Last resort: we have some nips in our carry-on. I drink one. It helps for about 20 minutes. I might doze for five or 10 of them. I am miserable. I drink another one. Again, relief for a few precious moments. I think I have to pee, but the idea of disturbing the woman in the aisle seat makes me cringe, and anxiety surges up inside of me. This becomes all I can think about. I know I’m perseverating, but I can’t help it. As soon as I decide to make a move for the restroom, the seatbelt sign goes on. Now I am convinced I cannot get up to pee (it’s against the rules!), but after several others do I muster up the willpower to ask the woman on the aisle to let me out. Just walking the aisle I feel a little better. It feels good to stand up. I’m not trapped against the wall of the plane anymore. I’ve never felt claustrophobic in this way, but being up and about feels so much better than sitting that I wonder if that’s what this is. 

After the bathroom, I sit in the middle seat because my husband has moved over. I am OK. Surprisingly, this feels better than my usually-preferred window seat. We are landing in less than an hour. I somehow manage to read a little bit and sit quietly without wriggling around and accidentally elbowing my seat mate in the face or slamming my seat back into someone’s knees. Thank goodness for small favors.

We land in Boston and get off the plane. I have survived one of the worst flights of my life. I think I have decided depression is way easier to deal with than anxiety. (Until, of course, the next time that sad, familiar pain creeps into the pit of my stomach in a few days, and I will change my mind again.) For now, though, I will breathe and thank God for the relief that comes when the ants crawl off my skin and scurry away, when I can breathe again, when the anxiety lifts from my cramped, tense shoulders. 

Follow this journey on Go Where It Hurts.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were traveling that was either incredibly challenging or where you faced adversity. Tell us how you handled it or wish you had handled it. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You're a Person Who Needs to Know

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If you’re like me, you have the need to know: to know exactly how things are going to play out, how you’re gonna get from A to B (and C and D and E…). You spend most of your time anticipating the future, planning and daydreaming. You might worry about the possible outcomes. A lot.

I’ve always been a relentless planner. I truly enjoy piecing together a calendar like it’s a puzzle. I love crafting plans of all shapes and sizes and daydreaming about their outcomes. This is the fun side of my anticipatory nature. The other side is not so fun; it’s where the anxiety comes in.

A few years ago I found myself sitting outside my favorite restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, with my mom. I’d just gotten my condo ready for some Airbnb guests, packed for a camping trip I’d planned for me and my friends and was preparing to give notice at my stable and by all means “good” job to move away and travel Europe. To top it all off I was awaiting some potentially scary medical test results. Pretty much all these things I was excited about (not so much the medical stuff), and yet when I finally stopped moving and sat in the hot sun trying to eat a pizza, I started feeling woozy.

My mom and I moved inside thinking that would do it, but the room was spinning. I abruptly interrupted my mom as she spoke, barely sputtering out the words as I asked her to just stop talking. I hung my head low in an attempt to regain some balance. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but immediately all the worst-case scenarios started flashing through my mind. I could stay here and risk an embarrassing public scene or try to stumble my way home in the heat. I opted for the latter and left my mom to settle the bill. With guests scheduled to arrive at my place, I went to my mom’s where she comforted me as I trembled in her guest bed. I’d experienced something like this just a few weeks before but had written it off as a bad hangover. A friend had suggested it might be something else, but I still didn’t want to believe it; I was having a panic attack.

I dug myself further and further down the rabbit hole as I lay there, unable to move, scenes of my upcoming European adventure flashing through my mind. All I could think was, “What if this happens when I’m out there? What if I’m in a foreign city all by myself and lose complete control of my body? What if I’m hanging with my cool new Euro friends at a music fest and start acting like a ‘crazy’ person? What if my mind never returns to ‘normal?'” 

It felt like hours before I could breathe normally again. I’d somehow escaped the trap that was my own mind. I nibbled on some food, convinced my mom I was OK and drove to Denver to continue on with my weekend plans. As my friend and I set out for our five-hour drive the next morning, that same dizziness took over when we hit some traffic. Needless to say, the journey was rough. My friends were extremely patient as we stopped so I could lie down on cold pavement for close to an hour, constantly shifting to a different place to get more comfortable and hitting the bathroom about a million times.

I survived the weekend without further episodes and Googled “panic attack” when I got back to Boulder. Wikipedia listed about 12 symptoms, noting that a person may have just a few during an attack. I had all of them and then some. Now that I knew what it was – and that it was survivable (though at times I honestly thought it wasn’t) – it seemed a bit less scary. But all of the sudden I had a new thing to be afraid of. I’d find myself in meetings thinking “don’t have a panic attack now” and imagining the worse case scenario, planning my escape route. I began avoiding certain situations for fear of my panic setting in. Anytime I felt a little dizzy or hungry or hot or tired I thought, “Oh shit, am I OK?” and started spiraling.

This was just the beginning of my experience with panic attacks; luckily it didn’t last too much longer. Years later I’ve learned that my diet, exercise, mindset, lifestyle and just about everything else plays a role in my anxiety. I can see now that all my anticipation was building this constant buzz of anxiety inside me. I operated like that at medium-level for years before the volume got cranked up and was too loud to bear. I’ve learned to take much better care of myself and to let go of that “need to know.” Anytime I feel that hint of dizziness or bit of nausea, I check in and realize I’m back to worrying about the future, imagining worst-case scenarios, grasping for control.

I hope these are foreign feelings for you, that you’ve never had the volume cranked up so high that you couldn’t see straight. But I think we all experience some low-level anxiety, a feeling of nervousness for the future, a need to control how things go and that worry of a worst-case scenario. If and when this happens, take a deep breath and notice where your thoughts are. Realize you are painting a picture in your mind of only one possible outcome. We have no way of knowing the future – which is now something I’ve come to appreciate because frankly if everything went according to my plans, my life would be a lot more boring right now. Find something to believe in, be it God, the universe or simply yourself. 

Know that whatever comes your way, you will handle it because you’re badass and you’ve gotten through everything else that’s come your way. Your worst-case scenario is not likely, but if you keep focusing on it, you might just turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to plan. I tried to shake that all together but have accepted it’s just in my nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I create a plan because it feels like a nice security blanket; it’s one possible road I could travel and something to daydream about. Oftentimes I find that having a plan keeps me motivated and calmer about moving forward. The trick is to stay open to any and all changes in the plan, to detach from that need to control every step of the way and trust that it’s all gonna be OK, to set your sights on a goal and then do what you can right now to work towards it because that’s all we have control over — how we act in this moment.

Follow this journey on MeganCuzzolino.com.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why I Can't Order Pizza

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My heart pounds like a hundred race horses are running on the track. My palms sweat like a running faucet. My muscle tense up, and my stomach gets upset, and I shake like a tree. I encounter all of these unpleasant feelings whenever I’m in simple or complex social situations because I have social anxiety disorder (SAD).

SAD causes me to have irrational and unreasonable fears in social situations. I have the constant thought that whoever I encounter in person or on the phone will scrutinize, judge or criticize me, and that makes me want to avoid social situations all together. Unfortunately, not every social engagement can be avoided, and not every phone call can be put off. When the unavoidable happens, I experience a ridiculous feeling of terror, and freeze. Every social situation is like being on stage, naked, in front of hundreds of critics.

I’ve gotten help for my SAD: therapy, medications and holistic treatments, but there are times when nothing makes a difference. I freak out over the smallest social encounters: ordering coffee from Starbucks, calling the pizza place and paying the gas station attendant. I’m afraid I will do or say something “stupid,” like pronounce a word wrong or trip over my own feet. I’m constantly afraid I will humiliate myself, and that fear keeps me in my house and off the phone most of the time.

I use the self checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to talk to the cashier. I’ve started ordering my pizza online and requesting the delivery guy leave my pizza at the door and take the money from the mailbox. I do my clothes shopping on the Internet so nobody sees me trying anything on and lose the opportunity to make rude comments. All of this is completely irrational, and in the back of my mind I know that. But when presented with these situations, I can’t help but be a turtle and hide in my shell.

I can’t go on dates or have intimate relationships with anyone other than my family. I’m afraid to make new friends because they might find my flaws and point them out. I can’t go out to bars, bookstores or boutiques because I think I’ll fall flat on my face and everyone will point and laugh. I want to do these things, but I just can’t.

Currently, SAD controls my social life, my love life and my ability to seek employment. I don’t want it to be this way but have no idea how to change it. I try to force myself to pick up the phone, to step out of the house. But the anticipation of making myself do something makes me even more anxious and afraid. I want to be able to order pizza and pick it up myself. I want to be able to enjoy clothes shopping without being afraid of what other people think. I know I need more help for my SAD, but I’m too afraid to pick up the phone and call my doctor.

But there are some things I am willing to try to combat my SAD. Deep breathing, essential oils and taking walks with my daughter are all safe techniques that don’t just push me into social situations. I figure I can start there and work my way up to taking my daughter on play dates, going to a yoga class or even going on a date.

It will be a slow process, but I know if I want to be truly happy and enjoy my life, I need to fight my SAD. It’ll be scary, and I may sweat like I’ve been in a sauna for three hours, but I have to do it. I can’t live if I don’t take back control of my life, and finally gain the confidence I need to be able to order pizza.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Mom at Target Who Gave Me 'the Look' as My Son Picked Out a Barbie

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author's son picking out barbie doll You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. Because you don’t know me, you don’t know about the daily war I wage with my anxiety and that being an anxious person makes me overly aware of my surroundings, usually to a fault. So when I walked past you with my son — who on that morning chose a fuchsia rose headband to wear with his Batman flip flops — as he pulled me towards the Barbie section, I saw you. I saw the look.

Going places with my son can be difficult for me. I panic when I think of the stares and the thoughts people are thinking about him. He, thankfully, does not appear to notice or care. On this particular outing, we were going to buy him a new Barbie with the money he’d saved. Oh, if you could’ve seen the happiness on his face when we arrived at the all pink-purple-and-glitter aisle filled to the brim with beautiful dolls. Pure. Innocent. Joy.

But we passed you with your husband and sons in the aisle filled with trucks and action figures, so you did not get to see that joy. You probably didn’t notice me catch my breath as we approached your family in that aisle, wondering what my reaction would be should you or one of your sons point and laugh. But I noticed you. I saw you.

You looked down at my boy with his pretty headband and beaming blue eyes, and then you looked up at me. Our eyes met, and you smiled. You smiled. And then you looked back at your boys who were staring at my son, and you smiled at them. And so they went back to picking out Hot Wheels, and we went on to find the perfect ballerina Barbie doll.

It was a mom-to-mom high five. No words exchanged, no hand gestures… just a smile and a small reassurance that maybe it’s all going to be all right. Right there in the toy section of Target of all places. So thank you. Thank you for noticing my son and making sure your boys saw that his differences were just fine with you. Thank you for easing my anxiety that morning. Thank you for giving me the look.

Follow this journey on Crumble Pie.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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30 Things People With Anxiety Want Their Partners to Know

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If you live with anxiety, sometimes it’s difficult to understand your own everyday battles — and even more challenging to then explain these to your significant others. That doesn’t mean people with anxiety can’t try to communicate how or what they’re feeling. And it doesn’t mean their significant others can’t do something to help.

We asked our Mighty readers who live with anxiety what they want their partners to know:

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “When I’m anxious and snappy and hiding in bed, join me and put your arms around me instead of avoiding me. Sometimes it’s all I need. To be held together when I can’t hold myself together.” — Michelle Hatfield Prestriedge

2. “Anxiety is like a rabbit hole, the deeper I get, the stranger things become.” — Morgan Victoria

Quote from Morgan Victoria: Anxiety is like a rabbit hole, the deeper I get, the stranger things become."

3. “When we argue, and I tell you I need a minute, give it to me. It’s not that I don’t want to resolve the issue, or that I don’t care about your opinion, it’s that I’m about to fall off the cliff and neither of us wants that.” — Heather Polum

4. “If I’m having a panic or anxiety attack, ask me what I need from you.” — Anna Moore

5. “Please know this is not the real me. When I’m having an episode, it’s like a parasite living within me, feeding off my worst fears. I don’t know why these things happen but you being here with me is the only light at the end of this spinning tunnel.” — Terri Brown

6. “I’m not overreacting… I can’t control it.” — Mayte Garcia

7. “When I run away, let me be. Give me a few minutes. Then come tell me it’s all OK. Tell me my world is not falling apart, let me know it was just a rough few minutes. Tell me you love me and I am important.” — Jasmine Connolly

8. “Sometimes all it takes is a touch of a hand to calm the biggest storms.” — Jeremiah Swing

9. “Don’t rush me to stop being anxious. If I could speed up the process, I would.” — Michaela David

10. “Sometimes all I need is reassurance that I’m not constantly bothering you or that you do actually want my company.” — Jessica Cotton

11. “When I get anxious, don’t take it personal or get defensive thinking it’s because of something you did. It’s not.” — Becky Hone

12. “When I retreat ‘inside my head’ please don’t take offense that I don’t want to tell you what I’m thinking. Most of the time it’s actually a blank screen up there and I’m not thinking of anything. Literally. I’m just recharging.” — Samantha Frei

13. “I know sometimes my fears don’t make sense, but it’s real for me.” — Summer Ivie

Quote from Summer Ivie: I know sometimes my fears don't make sense, but it's real for me.

14. “Just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean I never have a real reason to be upset about something.” — Robin Levin Konen

15. “I often feel ashamed of my anxieties and depression and will keep them from you. It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I don’t like feeling weak and helpless in front of you.” — Nicole Howard

16. “I don’t need you to try to ‘fix’ me. If I have an anxiety attack, I often just need to let it run its course.” — Emma King

17. “I still love you, and I know this will pass eventually. Just give it time and remember I’m still me.” — Maddy McCandless

18. “If I have trouble getting things done it isn’t because I am unmotivated or lazy or making excuses.” — Megan Kulchar

19. “I’ll probably try to convince you to leave, but that’s really the last thing I need or want. Don’t leave, stay and hug me.” — Kallie Boothe

20. “Don’t take it personal. Getting upset with me will only make the anxiety worse. Just listen and be there. I’ll come around.” — Angel Deidloff

21. “Please don’t get mad at me if I get anxious over something you might deem as nothing. I can’t help it, and I’m trying my best.” — Taylor Nicole

22. “You need to reassure me you still love me because my mind will make me think the worst.” — Jessica Matthews

23. “I know I’m not being myself, but that doesn’t mean I can just switch it off.” — Robyn Murphy

 Quote by Robyn Murphy: I know I'm not being myself, but that doesn't mean I can just switch it off.

24. “Sit with me and talk with me. More so listen to me. Hold me like you will never let me go.” — Debi Justice Fletcher

25. “Please stay no matter how hard I push away. Be my anchor in the midst of an oceanic storm.” — JT Gentry

Quote by JT Gentry: Please stay no matter how hard I push away. Be my anchor in the midst of an oceanic storm.

26. “When I say I don’t want to talk about it, don’t drop the subject. Ask what you can do to help.” — Amy Waguespack

27. “You don’t have to agree with the reason I’m anxious, but please don’t down play it.” — Emily Simisky

28. “No one is more frustrated with me than me.” — Danielle Pépin

29. “When I am having a panic attack, comfort me with love. Don’t scream at me to calm down and breathe.” — A Marie Bellamy

30. “Your acceptance helps me heal.” — Francesca Marie Cwynar

Quote by Francesca Marie Cwynar: Your acceptance helps me heal.

Editor’s note: Everyone experiences anxiety differently. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

What do you want your partner to know about your anxiety? Let us know in the comments below.

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