Anxiety is at the heart of many of today’s intractable therapy issues. It’s been called an epidemic, with the stress of modern life triggering a fight or flight reflex in situations where neither is appropriate. By treating anxiety, psychologists are able to target root causes of many of the issues commonly seen in therapy.
That is why Coping With Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. and Lorna Garano has become so popular, not just with the general public, but with therapists who see the chronic manifestations of anxiety in their practices every day.
Shelley Behr, a Vancouver-area family therapist whose practice emphasizes divorce and its effect on children, finds the book is a great resource for many of her patients. By outlining ways cognitive behavioural therapy helps people calm fears and be more mindful, the book provides a strong foundation for success in therapy.
The book outlines a continuum of anxiety, ranging from normal anxiety to paralyzing anxiety disorders. Suggestions for effectively managing anxiety range from the importance of reducing caffeine intake and starting regular exercise to learning how to let go and give oneself “down time.” Simplifying life is key, as is using conversation to relieve stress and allay worries.
The authors trace the increase in anxiety to accelerated change in society, uncertainty about moral and social norms, and a general dissatisfaction with the way modern society is structured. More than ever, people feel alone in the world, cut off from support systems, traditional beliefs and a sense of purpose.
Reclaiming feelings of connection is an antidote that reconnects people and reduces stress, according to the authors. Sometimes it’s simply a question of caring about something bigger than oneself, seeking to improve the life of someone else or have a profound positive impact on the larger society.
Anxiety is distinct from fear, notes Behr. Fear is usually focused on a particular person or situation, while anxiety is a less specific, but often a more pervasive emotion.
In more severe cases, anxiety can generate panic disorders, agoraphobia, social phobias, specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders or post-traumatic stress disorders. An individual in therapy typically doesn’t understand all the factors that are causing anxiety, notes Behr. The ability to cope with anxiety is influenced by myriad factors, including genetic predispositions, family history, experiences and belief systems.
Although anxiety is usually considered to be an emotional state, it can have dramatic physical manifestations as well, including an elevated heart rate and shortness of breath. By the same token, concrete physical steps such as increasing the amount of sleep and making time for meditation, family interaction and recreation can be effective tools in managing stress. Even learning how to relax muscles can positively affect the mental state of a patient by replacing anxiety with contentment.
“In managing anxiety, perspective is important,” says Shelley Behr. She especially appreciates the book’s emphasis on creating a worry-free life by first envisioning it, then taking small steps toward the essential goal of attacking the causes of anxiety in one’s life.
Although anxiety is part of our modern interconnected world, some cultures have excelled in embracing techniques and philosophies that help people cope with anxiety. Meditation, proper work-life balance, cultivating relationships and adopting a community mindset are cultural perspectives that can calm the mind and engender a deeper satisfaction with life. One only has to experience a traffic jam in New York City and Bangkok to quickly understand how social norms can aggravate or soothe the mind in stressful situations.
This goes beyond simply adopting a sunny outlook on life, although that is certainly preferable to a negative disposition that always expects the worst in every situation. For readers who begin to master the basic lessons outlined in the book, the world can be a better place, experiences can become more vivid, and relationships can be as important as they should be in one’s life, says Behr.