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Anxiety “I feel like I’m fighting this battle every minute of every day.” (Part 1)

anxiety disorder

Anxiety and Susan

It was my first time meeting Susan, who was feeling crushed under the weight of panic and worry. Her world had shrunk as she gave up activities that made her anxious, and yet her fears only grew. With every step of retreat, she felt more demoralized. Susan’s experience will resonate with millions of men and women in the United States. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric diagnoses, anxiety attacks affect as many as one in three adults at some point in their lifetime, according to a 2015 study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. I’ve worked as a clinical psychologist for 15 years, and I’ve seen just how powerful the grip of anxiety can be. And countless times I’ve witnessed how courage, coupled with the right techniques, can break that grip.

 

Much of what I learned about treating anxiety came from my time on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. I had just completed my PhD and wanted to work with Dr Edna Foa, a giant in the field of anxiety treatment. She and her colleagues at Penn’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety had developed some of the most effective cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) programs for anxiety. During the years I collaborated with Dr Foa, I came to recognize three powerful principles of effective anxiety treatment. First, a compelling “why” helps us face our fears. Maybe the anxiety is hurting our closest relationships or getting in the way of our life’s work. Another reason could be that we’ve decided our world is starting to feel like a prison cell and have resolved to gain our freedom—whatever it takes.

Anxiety and CBT

Using CBT to treat anxiety is hard work and remembering why we’re doing it can sustain our efforts. I also learned that we can rewire our brain simply by facing our fears. When we confront our anxieties, they become more manageable—not all at once, but gradually and with repeated practice. Our confidence grows as we start to push back on our fears, helping us face even bigger challenges. And finally, I saw the crucial role of acceptance in mastering our anxiety and living with greater ease. We can connect with our basic sanity as we stop resisting reality—the reality that life is inherently uncertain, that pain at times is inevitable, and that a certain degree of anxiety is unavoidable. And we find that despite the pain, despite uncertainty, despite unexpected challenges, we can create a life of deep meaning and purpose. I learned these things not only as a researcher and therapist. I have personally benefited countless times from the principles of CBT. I’ve experienced firsthand how the breath can calm an agitated nervous system, how worries diminish when I stop feeding them, and that I can refuse to let panic attacks limit what I do. Thus I feel a deeply personal passion for bringing effective treatment to those who need it, a passion born from my intimate understanding of anxiety and its treatment. Arlin Cuncic shares my passion and it shines through in this book. Her passion is coupled with expertise as she presents the latest and best-tested approaches for managing anxiety. For years Arlin has shown her commitment to improving the lives of those with debilitating anxiety. She has been at the helm at Verywell.com, providing ready-to-use information for those who are struggling. Now she has pulled together the most important elements of effective treatment and crafted them into a 7-week self-guided program. You have a rich experience ahead of you. This book is packed with well-tested techniques for alleviating her anxiety attacks, along with information that will expand your understanding of the various ways anxiety can show up in our lives. You won’t find a more approachable book for treating your anxiety. The structure of the book embodies the spirit of CBT, as Arlin breaks down the program into manageable steps. As you follow Arlin’s lead, you’ll gain an understanding of where anxiety comes from and how CBT addresses it. And then, in typical CBT fashion, you’ll roll up your sleeves and dive in. The program starts with setting clear goals. Then you’ll learn how to identify and change unhelpful thoughts. You’ll also practice new behaviours to diminish the power anxiety has over you. I’m delighted that Arlin chose to include principles of mindfulness in this program. Through this approach, you’ll learn how to find a more centred place of being by training your mind to focus on the present, with openness and curiosity. Arlin will not only teach you techniques for managing your anxiety, she’ll also explain how and why they work—and why some of the things we commonly do to cope with anxiety can actually backfire. By the end of the seven weeks, you’ll have a set of tools you can use anytime you need them. My client Susan and I used many of the approaches presented in this book. She invested a remarkable amount of time and energy in the work and took back the parts of her life she had sacrificed. In our final meeting, she described a fundamental shift in her relationship with anxiety. “It’s not like I have to be scared of my fear,” she told me. “Anxiety is always going to exist. The difference now is I know I can handle it.” For Susan, the realization that she was stronger than her fear was life-changing. I hope and expect that after working your way through this book, you’ll also have a different relationship with anxiety. Letting go is not easy. Thankfully you’ve already taken the biggest step by committing to this 7-week program. When we decide we won’t let anxiety disorders hold us back—no matter what—we’ve already won. So trust your guide. Trust this program. And most of all, trust yourself. I wish you all the best for these 7 weeks and where they take you.

To be continued ………

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