Almost everyone who walks through my door seeking counseling is struggling with anxiety. For most, it has been a life long struggle, and often depression is there, too. The authors of Don’t Let Your Anxiety Run Your Life: Using the Science of Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness to Overcome Fear and Worry use research and experience to give thoughtful and very useful guidance on how to cope. It is a welcome resource for use with my clients and in my own journey with mindfulness and emotional regulation.
David H. Klemanski, PsyD, MPH, is a psychologist and professor at Yale University and directs the Yale Center for Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as the Yale Anxiety and Emotion Lab. Co-author, Joshua E. Curtiss, MA, of Boston University, is a statistician and researcher who studies the cause of emotional disorders and the role of emotional regulation in anxiety. They have put together a book to help us understand just what anxiety is and provide proven ways of dealing with it.
The subtitle of the book gives us an idea of what we are dealing with in anxiety — fear and worry. We all experience both, and each can be adaptive or harmful. While we feel fear and anxiety emotionally and physically, the authors point out that fear and anxiety are distinct emotions, and each requires a degree of control when they begin to cause us harm. Fear is there to protect us; it lets us know when something is wrong or a potential danger. Anxiety is different. When we are uncertain about the future, it is normal to have apprehension. Since the presidential election of 2016, I have seen many people expressing fear and anxiety about the future, in therapy and in everyday life. But we can also develop phobias, social anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, and anxiety from trauma. The authors do urge readers to go to a professional for diagnosis and treatment, but they give a long and evidence-based list of ways to deal with anxiety.
So what is an emotion? It is one of those concepts we all feel that we know, but when we try to pin it down, it is not so clear. Is it just a feeling?
The authors cite Klaus Scherer’s component process model — emotions are a “process involving cognitive appraisals, physical symptoms, action tendencies, communicative expression, and feelings.” You can begin to change your emotions, your anxiousness, at any of those parts of the process, but how?
The authors provide an in-depth way for altering the process. For example, they return to the distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear is that protective red alert system, and is very much in the moment. Anxiety, according to Klemanski and Curtiss, is a combination of fear, apprehension, avoidance, anticipation of future threats, worry, tension, and a desire to prepare for those threats. It can be all-consuming and is geared to the future at the expense of being attentive to the present moment.
The authors’ method of re-setting emotions is older than the Buddha and as new as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. The authors use examples and practice exercises throughout the book to help you develop skills and emotional regulations at all the stages of the emotional process. Mindfulness is the key component. Mindfulness has almost become a buzz word in psychology, but the authors do a nice job of defining just what it means and giving ways develop mindfulness so that it can become more of a way of being.
The principles that underlie their work are that everyone is capable of change, that just about everything in life is about how you perceive it, and that it is impossible to fail at using these skills when “you adopt a truly nonjudgmental stance toward your present-moment experiences.” It is the effort that matters.
Don’t Let Your Anxiety Run Your Life: Using the Science of Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness to Overcome Fear and Worry
New Harbinger Publications, July 2016
Paperback, 232 pages