When I give clients this sheet, I begin by talking about the purpose of a fire alarm. A fire alarm is designed to let us know there is a danger (i.e., a fire) so we can take whatever steps we need to in order to be safe. I compare anxiety to the alarm by saying that anxiety is also there to help keep us safe. Our anxiety alarm is made up of all our anxiety symptoms (e.g., breathing fast, heart pounding, sweaty palms, etc.). When this alarm goes off, it’s our body’s way of saying “Danger! Danger!”
The client and I then come up with some dangerous situations together and talk about how anxiety causes us to do things that keep us from harm. For example, if I am out in the woods and there is a bear nearby, my anxiety alarm is going to alert me to the bear and I’m going to be careful to move away. If I didn’t have an anxiety alarm, I wouldn’t move to safety and would be at a real risk of harm.
Next, the client and I talk about how sometimes fire alarms don’t work properly and how sometimes they go off when they shouldn’t (like when we’re baking cookies). We discuss how a fire alarm can be a real pain in these cases. Then, you guessed it, we compare the anxiety alarm again. I point out that sometimes our anxiety alarm also goes off in situations when we’re not in really danger (like when we’re meeting new people). In these instances, we can miss out on a lot of fun if we avoid the situation or run away whenever there’s some anxiety.We will then come up with some examples of these kinds of situations. The client at this point will normally use some of the situations in which he feels anxious.
After doing this activity, hopefully the client has a better understanding of anxiety, and you will have a better understanding of his anxiety triggers to help you in your treatment planning.
Here are both pages in PDF format. Feel free to use them with your own clients.
My Anxiety Alarm