Welcome to my stop on the Virtual Tour, presented by Pump Up Your Book, for Overcoming Anxiety by David J. Berndt, Ph.D. Please leave a comment or question for Dr. Berndt to let him know you stopped by.
Anxiety: Are You a Flight Risk?A brief report by David Berndt, PhD, clinical psychologistIf you tend to get anxious about getting anxious, and are generally more troubled by anxiety than you should be, you may not be appreciating how much of what you are experiencing is an important natural process that many of us need to learn to navigate more effectively.I am pretty sure you would be surprised how much of what scares you (at least the physical part of anxiety) is actually designed to help you and not harm you. When I ask patients what they notice when they get anxious, they generally report primarily the physical symptoms – a rapid heartbeat, tightness in the chest, shaky hands, suffocation, for example. Yet surprisingly few anxious clients recognize what triggered their feeling anxious, or what natural role these “symptoms” can play. Instead, our culture has taught the anxious client to think of these reactions as an illness that might well last a lifetime, and, like all illnesses, the thinking goes that some medication or several medications are needed to manage it all.Just as there is no miracle drug that can “cure” you of anxiety, there is no therapy that is so effective and powerful that you will never feel afraid or anxious. Of course, that is a good thing, because we need our nervous system to be able to get revved up on our behalf. Certain stressors and threats necessitate an abundance of adrenaline, and for your heart to be pumping on overdrive. One thing you can work on, in your psychotherapy, is to more accurately detect the real presence or absence of genuine threat, and the actual magnitude of the possible danger. You might say, “that is all well and good; but, how are you supposed to figure that out, when your brain is a mush and your body seems to have gone haywire?”Clearly, one of the most important things you can learn, when it comes to managing your anxiety, is how to tune your physical reactions so that you can increase or decrease their response. To do that requires that you get to know your body well, especially to learn how it reacts when you are in survival mode.Imagine that you and I are having a session in my office, and somehow a tiger got into the hallway and is just outside the door. Let’s make it a saber-tooth. If we weren’t sure it was a tiger the uncertainty would only make it worse. At least if it is a tiger I know what I need to do- get out the window, and fast! I am not counting on the door to hold, or on the off chance that it might be a Rottweiler rather than a tiger.In reaction my body does a lot of things to support me in my efforts to survive the danger. That surge of adrenaline can be helpful, and while it only lasts about 15 or 20 minutes, that amount of time can get me out the window, and maybe even up a tree. There are several other neuro-hormonal reactions that get involved, but cortisol is worth noting as it extends the effect of the adrenaline when it starts to wear down, and chronically anxious people tend to have more than their fair share of cortisol. It is worth noting that cortisol is a substance that plays a major role in belly fat.Our heart beats faster to pump the oxygen to where it is needed, and we breathe rapid, shallow breaths at a pace that seems almost as fast as out heartbeat, in order to get plenty of the needed oxygen. The body also moves blood away from the skin, and sends it instead to the center of our body, to the axis between the back of our head – the survival brain – and our heart; it also pumps the blood to our large muscles in the arms and thighs. I need those muscles to get the window open- it is painted shut - and to run fast, once I have successfully hurled myself through it.So where does the body take the blood from? I mentioned the skin, and so anxious people tend to be colder all over, but most noticeably in the hands and feet, the area furthest away from the core. Cold and clammy hands are part of anxiety. However that redeployment of blood can be useful in another way, because if the tiger takes a bite of my foot as I am escaping, I don’t bleed out.When I come across an accident I can tell you if they saw it coming. For a comparable injury, if the driver did not see the accident coming, there is more blood spilled as there was no time to pull it in. Does your hand shake when you get nervous? Did you think that was your “nerves?” Most likely it was your hands shivering in an effort to warm them up, long before you were conscious of their being cold. If, as a child, you developed a habit of wringing your hands, or tapping your fingers or feet, you weren’t necessarily far off the mark, warming your hands and feet can be part of a grounding technique the experts use.How about digestion? Well, there is not much survival value in a sandwich or taco, while we are trying to escape from a tiger. The sandwich just sits there, and your mouth gets dry, and digestion and the stomach secretions stop, so that more important processes can be emphasized. When the stomach starts back up, or tries to, after the threat has seemingly passed, the obvious GI symptoms are unleashed. It seems we are not designed to eat and run, fast food restaurants notwithstanding. Indeed we are designed instead to be sitting around a campfire eating while telling stories or singing songs about how we escaped from the tiger.You may have heard that various G.I. problems are stress or anxiety related, but they don’t often explain how or what you could do about it. Yet, more than 100 years ago, a Harvard Physiologist William Cannon discovered that when someone is afraid, the peristalsis muscles in the digestive system stop. He discovered, then, what came to be known as the Fight or Flight Syndrome. A century later, this very vital understanding is relegated too often to textbooks and rarely applied to our daily lives, perhaps because there is no profit in it for the pharmaceutical companies.The various physical manifestations of anxiety we have been cataloguing are all expressions of the autonomic nervous system. When discussing the autonomic nervous system, I like to simplify the name to the “automatic” nervous system. Although we can influence it by our thoughts and choices, in most circumstances, this system kicks in before we are even conscious of it, and it runs its course without our input. The processes that help us escape from a tiger, or from a boss or sibling on the warpath, are from the part of that autonomic nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system. Think of them as sympathetic to helping us outlast the tiger. This nervous system, however, has another side, and in that side there are a mirror image set of features in one-for-one correspondence to the ones we just catalogued. Because they are parallel the system is called the parasympathetic nervous system. Instead of increasing your heart rate, this side slows it down. Rather than rapid shallow breaths there is slow sigh-like deeper breaths. In contrast to muscles that are tense, there is a relaxation of the muscles. Instead of cold feet and hands, there are warm and toasty hands. Rather than a surge of adrenaline, you can pump happier hormones and calming hormonal cocktails. The popular term for activation of the parasympathetic system is the Relaxation Response.Being able to navigate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and harness this engine, is a key component of effective anxiety management. Many of the grounding techniques, including those in Overcoming Anxiety, involve directly or indirectly switching on the parasympathetic system, when we are too amped up. Breathing techniques work that way, when understood properly, as do self-hypnosis techniques and guided imagery. Progressive muscle relaxation, when practiced with skill, can switch on the system when you need to relax. Indeed, any one of those features can work, because the other parts of the system cascade along with it (up or down) as a cohesive system.Getting good at more than one technique is useful, of course. But more important than learning dozens of grounding techniques is learning when and how to use them, and understanding them and the role they play in your everyday life, as well as when you are under some kind of threat, real or imagined. Certainly, we can also work on training our brain to think more constructively and less irrationally, but when it comes to anxiety and anger, knowing how to step on the gas or the brakes is even more important. Learning to use grounding techniques both as tactical tools and strategically, can be just as effective – or more so – than popping a pill- and far more empowering.
By David J. Berndt, Ph.D.
Psychology Knowledge, Volume 1
Publisher: David J. Berndt, Ph.D
Release Date: July 27, 2015
Length: 188 Pages (Print)
About the Book:
The good news is that anxiety can be overcome without relying on medication. Psychologist David Berndt, Ph.D., in Overcoming Anxiety outlines several self-help methods for management of anxiety and worry. In clear simple language and a conversational style, Dr. Berndt shares with the reader powerful step by step proven techniques for anxiety management.
You will learn:
- A Self-hypnosis grounding technique in the Ericksonian tradition.
- Box Breathing, Seven Eleven and similar breathing techniques for anxiety relief.
- How to stop or interrupt toxic thoughts that keep you locked in anxiety.
- How to harness and utilize your worries, so they work for you.
- Relief from anxiety through desensitization and exposure therapy.
The book was designed to be used alone as self-help or in conjunction with professional treatment Dr. Berndt draws upon his experience as a clinician and academic researcher to give accessible help to the reader who wants to understand and manage their anxiety.
For More Information
Overcoming Anxiety is available at Amazon.
Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Book ExcerptIn its simplest form this 54321 skill can be quite helpful, but by changing the technique and making it yours, you will more confidently rely on it for managing severe anxiety and for relief during other peak moments of stress. Combined with other tools in the later chapters, you will get more apt at developing an emotionally intelligent skillset, from which you can pick and choose your best option for handling an emotional problem.How and When the 54321 Technique WorksBefore we start, I want to explain a bit about how the method works. This technique is a good way to learn to harness most emotions, like anxiety, anger, panic or fear, when they become unmanageable. Once mastered, the skill has the potential to work well and simply when these emotions are creating havoc in your life.This method will not completely rid you of your anxiety or fear, and it does not – and should not- entirely stop all worrying and fretting. It cannot solve all of your emotional problems. What it can do is shrink your troubling and often overwhelming feelings, so they can become smaller, more manageable, and less compelling.
About the Author
David J. Berndt, Ph.D. was an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago where he published or presented over 80 papers and articles before establishing a private practice.
Dr. Berndt currently lives in Charleston, S.C. where he also teaches in an adjunct capacity at the College of Charleston. He is best known for his psychological tests The Multiscore Depression Inventory, and the Multiscore Depression Inventory for Children, both from Western Psychological Services.
His latest book is the nonfiction self-help, Overcoming Anxiety.
For More Information
Visit David Berndt’s website.
Visit David’s blog.
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