Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety is a miserable feeling, as anyone who suffers from it well knows. The inability to get control of anxiety and get your life back is what causes the anxiety to often flip into depression. In trying to help clients suffering with anxiety, one goal is to give them tools that help them cure or at least better manage it. An excellent tool often recommended is The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, by Margaret Wehrenberg. The subtitle, Understanding How Your Brain Makes You Anxious and What You Can Do About It, describes why the book is so helpful.

Your Brain and Anxiety

A worthy read, the introduction describes core types of anxiety and anxiety symptoms. These core types are panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. When it comes to symptoms, the book breaks them out into three areas: the anxious body, the anxious mind, and anxious behavior. Among the best parts of the book, the first two chapters talk about understanding your brain in regards to anxiety. For many, it is helpful to learn how your brain makes you anxious. This understanding can be freeing instead of leaving one thinking, “I’m a weak Christian,” or, “I think I’ve gone crazy.”

Brain balance is necessary for healthy brain function. Chapter one explains how neurotransmitters work and their role in relation to anxiety. This chapter also gives a detailed but simple explanation of brain structure and function that a layperson can understand. Clients have found it helpful to understand how the parts of the brain and its various systems affect anxiety. The impact of neurotransmitters in different parts of the brain and how they affect what kinds of anxiety symptoms a person experiences are also very insightful.

There are several reasons for neurotransmitters to be out of balance in the brain. One of them is a person just isn’t born with enough. Others are such things as the stress caused by life circumstances, trauma, or illness. Any of these things can deplete or intensify levels and throw them out of balance. Chronic stress uses up extra supplies of neurotransmitters and prevents the rebuilding of new supplies. There is also good information on medications, what they do for the brain and how various ones work.

Managing the anxious body

The 10 techniques are broken down into three sections techniques for managing the anxious body, techniques for managing the anxious mind, and techniques for managing anxious behavior. There are four techniques for the body. Anxiety creates symptoms in the body such as rapid heart rate, hyperventilation, nausea, muscle tension, and sweating just to name a few. Technique number one is to change your intake. The author deals here with what she calls C.A.T.S.–caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and sweets. The idea here is to lower stimulation intake. Technique two deals with breathing. Focus on deep, relaxing breathing. Technique three is to practice mindfulness with shifting awareness. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, even when the moment is negative. Then intentionally turn your focus away from the negative inner thoughts to other aspects of your life with a more external focus. Technique four is about relaxation methods; something hard for many of us to do in our stressed out world.

Managing the anxious mind

This section covers four techniques that address the typical problems of the anxious mind. Technique five is to stop catastrophizing—assuming the worst about a situation. This makes a person’s symptoms worse and is common to all the types of anxiety. Technique six is to stop anxious thoughts. This is about using what is called thought stopping. This involves taking control of your thoughts and shaping the direction and frequency of them. Technique seven is to contain your worry. You focus on worry management. There are ways to worry that really work better than others. Technique eight is to talk yourself into changing behavior. This deals with the mental process of social anxiety and the intense avoidance generated by that condition. It uses what is commonly referred to as self-talk.

Managing anxious behavior

Avoidance is the behavior hallmark of anxiety—avoid anything that would trigger anxiety. This section discusses the final two techniques. Technique nine is to control too much activity (TMA). This section deals with perfectionism, the highly driven person and finding balance in life. Finally, technique ten is to implement a plan and a practice. This is about acquiring competence and confidence. This happens through experiences that increase or strengthen knowledge and skill. These techniques may sound simplistic, but they do work when applied. This book is worth the read; mark it up and keep it as a long-term resource.

Dr. John Hawkins, along with his son, John Jr., runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.

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