Reading that caffeine can contribute to our anxiety made me feel anxious. Give up or even cut down on my coffee? Not sure I’m willing to make that sacrifice. Although that was one of the suggestions that I won’t apply at this time in my life, there were a lot of valid points in Coping with Anxiety: 10 Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear & Worry. With their cited statistic of eighteen percent of the population in the United States suffering from anxiety, we can either help ourselves with these tips or benefit someone we know.
In Coping with Anxiety, Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano are writing to the general public, but there is still a lot of material that I feel can be used as a counselor in my own practice. It’s a relatively short, easy read that covers relaxation, our thoughts, how we take care of ourselves physically, and ways to cope. Each chapter starts with a bulleted list of the takeaway skills and walks the reader through some practical exercises.
Bourne and Garano give a brief overview of the way anxiety impacts people — physiological, behavioral, psychological — and discuss the different types of anxiety, distinguishing a passing feeling from a disorder. The opening remarks are, in a way, obvious, but also a good reminder that the way we live doesn’t do much to help with anxiety. The authors say, “Most of us live our lives in a state of constant doing, at odds with the natural rhythms of our bodies. Deprived of rest and time to just let ourselves ‘be,’ we become detached from ourselves and more anxious.” Isn’t that the truth? If we are constantly on the go, how can we even identify how we feel?
Many of the activities recommended in the book are very easy to do, only take a few minutes, and are very non-threatening. For example, I often talk to my clients about a body scan, or what the authors refer to as “relaxation without tension.” This is something that can easily be done in the workplace and people are often surprised at the tension in their shoulders, which is easily released once it’s recognized.
When it comes to our thought patterns and emotional responses, it is hard for many to accept the fact that our response to a situation brings on the anxiety, not the situation itself. Believe me, I don’t like that either! It’s much easier to blame something or someone else and play the victim. But this realization that we do have control over our emotions is empowering.
Another key takeaway is to seek out competing activities. For example, if you relax your body, your mind should not stay in an anxious state for long because anxiety and relaxation are competing activities. The greatest piece of advice is to start practicing their recommended exercises around relaxation now. Don’t wait until you’re having a panic attack or feel full-blown anxiety coming on. Learn how to do things, such as abdominal breathing, the right way so those skills are developed before they are fully needed.
The chapters on exercise and nutrition are not anything new. We all know the importance of movement and getting the “okay” from our doctors if we’ve had any physical injuries. And too much caffeine (one of my issues) and sugar consumption is not good for anyone. We all just need to discover our personal “whys” to get away from any of our unhealthy habits in this area. Be especially careful about the advice regarding supplements. I’ve read conflicting opinions on the use of supplements and the concern is that these are often not regulated. Perhaps talk to your primary physician or a practitioner of functional medicine before beginning a supplement routine or experimenting with herbs.
Another word of caution is to carefully read their “Note” sections. These are times when an activity may not be right for everyone or that a doctor’s stamp of approval may be needed. There are also activities that may not be suitable without the assistance of a trained therapist. For instance, a technique such as exposure therapy can be too painful emotionally to walk through on one’s own. Without support in place, it can set someone back. And for someone who may not understand that two steps forward and one step back is perfectly normal, he or she may become discouraged.
So much of our anxiety really can be minimized with a solid self-care plan and allowing time just to think. As they suggest, “Consider how you can shift your values in the direction of placing more emphasis on the process of life (how you live) as opposed to accomplishments and productivity (what you actually do) within your current life situation.”
Yes, I do recommend this book to clinicians as well as their clients. I believe they could even work through it together as part of a treatment plan. I reiterate my caution though about addressing some of the more debilitating anxiety with a professional rather than alone, and to also check in with a medical professional with some of the physical health recommendations.
Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry, 2nd Edition
New Harbinger Publications, April 2016
Paperback, 232 pages