How To Neutralize Anxiety And Take Bold Action
Join Dr. Aziz as he interviews internationally renowned psychologist and host of the hit TV show Hoarders, Dr. Robin Zasio, in this fascinating interview about mastering our fears.
Inside you will learn key insights about exposure work, and how to make sure you overcome your fears to create the life you really want.
You will also discover why “anticipatory anxiety” trips you up and how to eliminate it.
Click below to hear this episode!
Dr. Robin Zasio, Psy. D., LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been specializing in treating OCD and anxiety disorders for the past 20 years. To find out more about Dr. Robin Zasio you can check her out at Anxiety Treatment Experts.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to today’s episode of the show. Today we’re going to be getting in to mastery of fear by using exposure. And this is something that most people know about, if you listen to this show I’m sure you’ve heard about exposure, how to face what scares you. How to overcome fear by moving towards the fear, by approaching it instead of avoiding it. The very famous book by Susan Jeffers called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. And everyone knows that stuff or a lot of people know that stuff. And yet, if it was so simple then we would all do it. And so what I wanted to do is I want to say, “Okay. Who knows how to do this? Who helps people do this day in and day out and I want to interview them.” And that actually is Dr. Robin Zasio, who I had on the show quite a while back and she is just a powerhouse. And she helps people really with the nuances of exposure. And so what I did is got her back on the phone, we did another interview and this time, I said, “Okay. Let’s not try to sell people on exposure or tell them why facing their fear is a good thing. Let’s assume everyone’s already on board with that.” And so if you’re not on board with that, go back and listen to other episodes or go back and find my first interview with Dr. Zasio or something so you’re like, “Okay. Yes. Face my fear.” Most likely you’ve probably already been trying to do that or are doing that in your life and this is just going to give you some high level distinctions. I mean, these are some really powerful insights that come from Dr. Zasio’s 20 plus years, my 15 plus years of doing this so you can get some expert tips and guidance and little shifts that can make all the difference between not doing something and doing something. Between hesitating and holding back and then judging yourself afterwards, feeling unfulfilled or stuck to just breaking through and having that moment where you’ve done something that you’ve never done before or are terrified to do and then experiencing an amazing life changing result, feeling liberated or free or empowered or confident. And these are the little distinctions, the little tips that are going to make all the difference.
So I’m so excited to share this interview with you. If you like to jump in to the show and ask me questions you can always go to shrinkfortheshyguy.com, I will answer those questions on upcoming episodes or elsewhere, so shrinkfortheshyguy.com, you can also go to facebook.com/socialconfidence. Facebook.com/socialconfidence and there you’ll find updates about the show et cetera and all that stuff. So without any further ado, I want to jump in to this interview because there is so much good stuff in here. You’re going to want to grab a sheet paper, you’re going to want to take notes, you might even want to listen to the whole thing again because when you, I’m serious, just one distinction, one little new insight, one little thing that you put into practice could completely change the course of your life. I know that might sound dramatic but it’s really true, is that when we take these little shifts, we move towards what scares us, we change our future, we change what is possible for us. So, let’s jump in to that interview right now.
Dr. Aziz: My guest expert today is Dr. Robin Zasio. And many of you might have heard in the previous episode I did with Robin, more than a year ago now and even longer, and it was one of our most popular episodes in which she shares some very powerful insights and secrets about how to do what scares us, how to master our fears using what’s called exposure work. And many of you might have heard of Dr. Zasio. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist and a licensed clinical social worker and she’s been specializing in treating OCD and other anxiety disorders for the last 20 years. She has a host of clinical and academic experience, she’s been on a number of boards including the scientific advisory board, clinical advisory board and the Speakers Bureau for the international OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. She’s also a faculty member for the Behavior Therapy Training Institute and she travels around the country providing education to clinicians and other people who are helping people on the frontlines with anxiety. But you might have heard of her elsewhere, she’s in the media a lot, she’s actually the featured doctor on the Emmy nominated A&E hit series Hoarders. She’s the host of My Extreme Animal Phobia on Animal Planet and she’s also the author of a book called The Hoarder in You, How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life. She’s been on a bunch of TV shows, she’s sought after for her advice and opinions and I think today she’s really going to help us get clear on how really to get in there and face our fears. So thank you so much for being on the show again, Robin.
Dr. Robin Zasio: Absolutely. It’s good to be talking to you again.
Dr. Aziz: All right. So at this point, I’m going to assume that everyone knows that if we move towards what scares us, if we face our fear that we will start to overcome it. That sort of like the baseline and if you’re not there yet, that’s okay, just go back and maybe listen to the previous interview I did with Robin or other shows. So we’re going to start there, but I want to dive in because I know there’s a lot of people listening were like, “Yes. Yes. I get that intellectually,” but then there’s some hang up, there’s some challenges with that. And so I have a number of questions that I want to ask about the nuances but just from your experience, a lot of people get that intellectually but what are some of the reasons you see people falter or not able to put it into practice in your experience working with people?
Dr. Robin Zasio: I’d say one of the biggest factors are looking at the whole idea of exposure. When someone gets a wind of this idea of facing your fear, immediately it becomes this very daunting idea of how do I face my fear and I think that so many times people are invalidated for their fear. Thinking about how silly it is to be anxious about asking a question or how silly it is to have to make a phone call and to be scared of it and so many people get invalidated by family members, other loved ones or even friends saying, “Well, just make the call. It’s not that big of a deal.” But when people don’t have that fear of course it doesn’t seem like a big deal to them and so they tend to minimize it. And so I think the more that people get minimized in terms of their fear, the more their anxiety goes up because they continue to avoid. I also think that people don’t really know the process in terms of how to face your fear and that often times the idea is jump in and do it, it’s not that big of a deal when in fact it really needs to be very systematic. And it’s that anticipatory anxiety that keeps people from actually moving forward.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. That’s really interesting. And one thing you said in there which stands out to me is this invalidating or minimizing and you mentioned friends, family, anyone outside of us. What I’ve often found is we ourselves, people can minimize their own fear and sort of tell themselves, “Well, I shouldn’t have this fear.” And when someone… have you noticed that in clients as well?
Dr. Robin Zasio: Well, absolutely because I think of the invalidation that they get outside of themselves and then they’re looking around, they might be even watching TV and seeing how freely people can talk to one another or go places and they’re thinking, “You know I shouldn’t have that difficulty.” But this is really where I like to do some CBT work with people, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, because when you start getting stuck in these cognitive distortions, these thinking errors saying, “I should be able to do this and it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.” That’s negative thinking that’s going to stop from moving forward because it is a big deal. So I think the place that I really like to start with people is validating them saying, “You know what, it doesn’t really matter what other people think. The most important thing is, is that you’re here or you’re trying to get help and it is a big deal to you and that’s the place to start.” And I think when people feel like somebody understands them and is just recognizing their fear that it can go a long way.
Dr. Aziz: Sure. Absolutely. We’re going to pause for one brief moment and then continue with our interview with guest expert, Dr. Robin Zasio.
Dr. Aziz: Hey, it’s Dr. Aziz here. And I’m sure by now you’ve heard about my Unstoppable Confidence Mastermind groups where we take eight guys who are held back in some way, maybe they’re not having the relationship success that they want, the dating confidence, the ability to speak up and just own it at work or increase their sales or some level of self-doubt that’s holding them back and we help you just obliterate that, so you can move towards what you want in a truly unstoppable way. And the results have been phenomenal in seeing the people that goes through this group. And here’s why it’s so powerful. Because you step up and you say, “I’m going to do this for six months,” you also get around other people and that inspires you like nobody’s business, it’s not just you and you in your own head. You get support from each other, you get inspired, you get encouraged, you get challenged sometimes and that’s what helps you really break through to the next level. Then on top, not only are we talking regularly on the phone, so you can do it from anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, we also meet for two and a half days in person, in Portland and have a really intensive experience. That’s like diving deep into whatever’s stopping you and then just shredding it so you can move forward faster than ever before. And as I said the results have been phenomenal, it’s been amazing to watch the guys grow so quickly, I’ve been shocked at how fast people can grow, especially with those weekend intensives. So if you really want to jump on board with this, I would love to talk to you more about it. Go to socialconfidencecenter.com/mastermind, that’s socialconfidencecenter.com/mastermind.
Dr. Aziz: And what I hear and what you’re describing is there’s a tone of acceptance and compassion around that which I think is often lacking when we try to do this work. There’s this kind of grinding, demanding…
Dr. Robin Zasio: Absolutely. Yes. And I think just compassion from other people and then having self-compassion for yourself that’s a really big component of our program at the Anxiety Treatment Center. Sometimes people are just beating themselves up because they’re getting stuck in these cognitive distortions and sometimes it’s not even just recognizing those distortions as is having some compassion for themselves.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. And what about, I don’t know if you’ve come across this, but I hear a number… a work with a lot of men and they’ll say something like, “Well, if I tell myself, you know it is a big deal and it’s okay and I go easy on myself,” as they might describe it, “then that’s not going to get me to where I want to go quickly. That’s not going to work.” And what would you say to that fear or objection?
Dr. Robin Zasio: Well, I think that that’s just another barrier to prevent people from being able to move forward. All that negative talk, that negative thinking just puts up walls that I think make it even more difficult for people to get around. And starting at a place of just validating of yourself that this is difficult for you and that it’s going to be a lot of work, but to be okay with that rather than maybe getting stuck in expectations for yourself or just even getting caught up in stigma or just this idea of, “I’m a guy and this should not be a big deal.” And we keep going back to that word “should” which I think is a lot of places that people get stuck.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. Absolutely. It doesn’t produces much shift or change as we imagine, it should. So one thing I’m curious about is, with those early exposures, so not just jumping in and saying, “Oh, it’s no big deal, just go do the hardest thing,” it’s like, “Okay. It is challenging for me. Let me pick something that is manageable, that I can move towards and start doing now, today, this week.” With those early exposures kind of shifting your orientation from avoidance to approach, facing the fear for the first time, maybe before you have that momentum, maybe even before you have that experience of, “Oh, I faced it and I can handle it,” and people really in the beginning of that journey. What would you suggest? How can people begin, because sometimes that’s the hardest part.
Dr. Robin Zasio: Absolutely. And I think because there is so much fear that’s just kind of swirling around in their mind that they’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, there’s just too much to do.” And I always give my clients this example of, and it’s going to sound really silly but I think that a lot of people can relate, let’s just say you’re looking to build a pool in your backyard and you’re thinking, “I’m going to save some money by digging the hole myself.” And so you go out there and you start to dig and very, very quickly just a couple of scoops in you realized, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take a really long time,” and immediately you start to feel overwhelmed. Well, if you stop that’s predictable, you’re not going to get your hole dug. But if you just make a decision to maybe do five scoops a day pretty soon you’re going to find that your feet are in a hole and then pretty soon you’ll find that you’re going to need perhaps a step stool to get out and then pretty soon you’re going to find that you need a ladder. And you don’t necessarily see that process as it is, once that ladder is there you think, “Oh my gosh, I’m getting somewhere.” And again it sounds like a silly example but I think if people get a piece of paper and start to write down all the areas that are difficult for you and then what we do is we kind of create this hierarchy where we have them rate those situations or triggers on a scale of zero to ten, not a scale of zero to a hundred because I think looking at six seems more sort of approachable if you will than looking at something like sixty-six out of a hundred.
And then starting with the lowest ones first. The ones, because if somebody says, “You know it’s just even hard for me to make a phone call and ask if they have a certain item on the list.” Well, the idea is, is that if you start with those ones and you make that phone call over and over again, I tell people get the Yellow Pages, turn to a random place and simply ask them for an item on the menu or if that’s difficult just ask them what time they close and if you do that repeatedly over and over and over you’ll find that it gets easier. Now, for some people they might say, “You know what I can’t even make a phone call, I mean, that’s difficult for me,” then what I tell people is just to back it up, just start perusing through the Yellow Pages and start getting familiar with looking and thinking about the call. So there’s always a way to back it up and then get some forward momentum. And I think that if anybody looks to, here’s the keyword, feel like doing it, then I think that that’s going to be a barrier. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making a decision to do it and move forward.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. There’s a lot of really valuable stuff in there. And I think that the feel, do I feel like it or not, there’s a part of us that I think doesn’t want to do all this stuff because it’s uncomfortable and scary and so it’s going to throw up this roadblocks and say, “You don’t feel like it,” “Oh, maybe you should do it later.” And so I think I love that idea of the commitment to do it and then scaling back, taking that step back and saying, “Okay. If we can’t do that, how about this? Well then how about just like through phone numbers.” And that I think is at least a step towards… you’re no longer running but actually moving towards the very thing that you want to do, so that’s great.
Dr. Robins Zasio: Right. Right. Yes. I think that it’s human behavior to avoid feeling uncomfortable. You mentioned my book earlier and when people are looking to make decisions about decluttering their house and what to keep and what to get rid of, it’s uncomfortable because of all the fear that they have of the potential regret, “Oh my gosh, I let that go,” or “Should I let this go? And what if I regret it?” and this is the same thing that when you just jump in and do it you tend to start feeling better and I think that that anticipatory anxiety of getting caught up in our feelings as if they’re facts, I think that when we actually just make that movement and go forward we find out that it’s not as bad as we had anticipated, but that nervous system is signaling danger, it’s that chemical imbalance that’s saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Something bad is going to happen.” And once you test it out, most people will find that what they fear doesn’t happen.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. Absolutely. And do you have any tips for what about right in that moment? That moment right before making the phone call or right before talking to that person or right before speaking up and we’re talking like seconds or 10 seconds before. Is there anything that you coach your clients to do or you found valuable that to say to yourself, a practice, a ritual, anything to really helps just remind us to jump in, to take the leap.
Dr. Robin Zasio: Well, I think oftentimes when people are doing this work on their own it can be very, very difficult and so sometimes having someone that you feel close to whether it’d be a loved one or a friend that you trust and that understands you to have them there with you as kind of a support and someone who can hold you accountable as well. I think that the days can pass by as you’re thinking, “Oh, I need to sit down. I need to make this phone call,” or “I need to start facing my fears,” but there’s always going to be other things that can kind of come in front of that. So even setting a time to do the exposure, having a friend there with you, it’s never easy and I wish there were those magic words that I can give somebody but it’s really about just saying, “I want to have a better life for myself. I don’t want to be so scared all the time. I want to be able to socialize with people.” Maybe even making a list of all the reasons why you’re going to do this because again we can always come up with reasons as to why we’re going to avoid things because it’s uncomfortable.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. That is a great tip to really get oriented towards the why behind what we’re doing. It’s not making this phone call just to make a phone call, I’m making this phone call to expand my ability in the world, to live more confidently, more powerfully and with less fear. And I think that’s a great thing to link it to.
Dr. Robin Zasio: Absolutely. And sometimes just even putting up encouraging words for yourselves, perhaps on your mirror in the morning, a slogan that says, “Today I’m going to take one opportunity to face my fear,” and making one phone call and again our bodies are programmed to avoid things that are uncomfortable, it’s very, very instinctual. But like anything in life if we continue to avoid then that’s predictable, nothing is going to change. What’s unpredictable is when you’re willing to challenge yourself and anytime we can take that step forward and do something that’s out of our comfort zone, we tend to feel better because we’re growing and we’re changing and I think when we don’t push ourselves to always try to improve either our abilities or our capabilities then we can fall stagnant.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. Absolutely. I definitely found that in my life that I’m just continually looking to, “Okay. What is the edge? What can I lean into,” because whatever that fear is surrounding that is also more freedom, more confidence, more sense of purpose, those two often go hand in hand I found.
Dr. Robin Zasio: Yes. Yes. And I think to the thing to remember is that when we’re facing our fear everything that we’re doing is about testing our fear to see if it actually happens. So when I’m asking my clients to do the exposure while what people fear can happen, the reality is is that the perceived threat is not as great as the actual threat. So when we ask someone to make a phone call we help them to identify, and again just kind of going with this example, we’re helping them to identify in that moment what is your fear? “Well, my fear is that I’m going to make this phone call and I’m going to get tongue-tied or I’m not going to know what to say.” And they can even write down what it is their question is. “What time do you open?” they can have it right in front of them and making that call and just literally reading that sentence and then being aware of, “Okay. My fear is XYZ,” and when they make that call and what they fear… and when they see what they fear doesn’t happen then that’s the validation that they begin to get that the… that what they anticipate is not going to happen.
The key though with exposure that’s very, very important is not just to do it once but you have to do it repeatedly because that’s how the desensitization happens. That’s how the brain will stop firing telling you that there’s danger and that’s with anything. So I give the example of imagining that you go on your first date, you’re going to be anxious, perhaps if it’s us women, we might go out and buy a new outfit and take a little bit longer to get ready because we want to make a good first impression. But if we figure after the tenth date and we’ve gotten more comfortable with that person, perhaps we’re at a place where we’ll say, “You know what tonight, I’m just going to wear sweats and why don’t you come over for some pizza?” because that desensitization has happened. And that’s the only way that we can get use to things is by repeatedly jumping in and doing the same thing over and over.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. And I think that is the… that’s the ticket to freedom and maybe also the hardest sell because if someone hasn’t done something once and you tell them, “Yes, you’re going to do it a lot,” and it’s like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to do it once let alone many times.” And yet what I think, I hear you saying and which is so liberating is that we really just want to be testing our predictions. What do we think is going to happen and how we think we can handle it or not handle it versus what actually happens and I think that that’s where the freedom is, is because you jump into and you realize that most of the time that doesn’t happen and if something unpleasant does happen that you can handle it. And that leads to my next question which is, what about when someone does something and they have an outcome that doesn’t go the way they wanted it to? And they know it’s part of the process, so they’re not going to give up but how do you help people handle that? Let’s say they put themselves out there and they do get rejected or someone doesn’t want to go to their party or spend time with them, how do you help someone through that?
Dr. Robin Zasio: Yes. I mean, I think what is important to remember is that, again this idea and this notion that it’s possible, it’s certainly possible that people are going to reject you and most of us have been rejected at some point in time in our lives. But again that perceived threat is usually not as great as the actual threat and that’s what we’re helping people to see. And what I’ve also seen with my clients is that when that fear of thought actually happens they find that it wasn’t as big as they had anticipated. And so again we’re not asking people to do things, so for instance let’s just say that somebody is having difficulty with a friend and they’re really wanting to assert themselves to state their opinion, while we might not have them do that right away, we might wait until they’ve worked their way up so that they feel a little more confident about what they can assert themselves about. And it’s possible in these situations that they will not get the response that they would like. But the idea is is that at the end of the day they feel good because they finally did assert themselves versus the avoidance that then perpetuates the potential conflict in that relationship.
Dr. Aziz: That brings us to the end of the time we have today. There is so much more good stuff in this interview. I didn’t want to edit it down. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue with the second half of this interview in next week’s episode. And we’re going to continue diving into exposure, how to master your fear by using this powerful tool. We’re going to talk about the difference between flooding and gradual exposure and little distinctions you might not have heard about that. We’re also going to talk about how to make exposure completely life transforming. There’s an experience that most people have where they do it, they face their fear but then the next time they have to face the fear again and then again and again and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better or it takes a long time or they’re scared every time. Dr. Zasio shares some powerful insights about how to make the exposure work and how to make it stick and how to make it so you’re not so anxious each time you do it and eventually it becomes part of who you are and something you can do almost easily. So that is incredibly valuable as well as other things. Stay tuned for that interview next week. But before we end today, we got to end with what we always end with which is action.
Dr. Aziz: Your action step for today, for this week is to create a fear hierarchy. You might have done this in another point in your life and you might never have done this, and if so, this is an incredibly invaluable experience, incredibly simple as well. Just grab a sheet of paper and write down the main things that scare you. Think about the different areas of your life, your social life, interacting with people, talking to people, talking to stranger, starting conversations, going to parties. Think about your work life, addressing certain people, speaking up in certain kind of meetings, going to networking or mixers or other things, conferences. And then of course your romantic life, your dating life, tons of fears we can have there. Whether you’re looking to be in a relationship and it’s about talking to people that you’re attracted to or approaching someone or asking someone out on a date. Or you’re already in a relationship but there’s still edges, there’s still fear, maybe you want to be more honest, maybe you want to ask for things you really care about, maybe you need to have a tough conversation with your partner or a friend. Just think about the different areas of your life and write down those things and then you want to get numbers next to them, from zero to ten, ten gives you the most anxiety to imagine doing it and zero is pfft, nothing, I don’t care, it’s a piece of cake. So write out numbers next to it and then order them so you have all your tens at the top and then nines, eights, sevens, six all the way down to your zero, ones and twos at the bottom. Make that list. That will set you free. Because otherwise you’re going to have this intellectual understanding from this episode like, “Oh yes, sure, that sounds… that’s very plausible, makes rational sense,” but that’s not liberating, that’s not transformation. Transformation happens when your pen hits the paper or your thumbs hit keypad, wherever you’re writing this, on your phone or on a tablet or on a paper it doesn’t matter, but write it out, make that list, create the hierarchy and then… I mean, if you want to start doing stuff off of the hierarchy even better. But for this week, at least just create it because that’s going to be a valuable tool that’s going to guide you and help liberate you for and every are of your life. So until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome. I’ll talk to you soon.
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