Hate the Way Your Anxiety Feels? Read this Book
If you struggle with panic attacks or strong physiological anxiety symptoms, most likely you wish you could just make it go away. You hate it when you start to feel that pounding heartrate, or shallow breathing, or tingling sensations, or like you're floating out of your body. Over time, you start to fear the fear itself even more than the situation that started it. You avoid anything that might trigger that awful feeling. You keep looking for the right tip, trick or technique that will flip the anxiety OFF-button so you can just get your life back.
As a therapist, I read books about anxiety... a lot. For years, I've been hoping to find a good one for clients with panic attacks and very physical anxiety symptoms. Finally, someone recommended this book to me recently, Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks, by Barry McDonagh.
As the author makes clear, unfortunately, there is no OFF-button for anxiety. When we feel the uncomfortable feelings associated with anxiety, most of us immediately try to suppress them or get rid of them. This seldom works very well. Then, the next time the anxiety resurfaces, we feel like a failure and completely out of control. This blaming ourselves for failing to control the fear actually leads to a vicious cycle of continually reinforcing the fear and making it worse, instead of better.
The author offers a way out of this cycle through a few concrete steps. The steps fit into the acronym DARE, Defusion, Accept and allow, Run toward, and Engage. Instead of trying to get rid of the anxiety, the goal is to accept the anxious feelings as just body sensations that can't harm you. Ironcially, once you're no longer afraid of the sensations themselves, they come up less often and pass more quickly. This is consistent with a mindfulness approach that encourages you to befriend and soothe your anxious feelings instead of shoving them away, since the latter rarely works in the long run.
The steps are simple, but that doesn't make them easy. It will take some practice to trust yourself that you can let go of trying to control the anxiety. The book gives many concrete examples of how to apply the steps in lots of common anxiety situations including driving, flying, social situations, and public speaking. The book touches on the importance of practicing these steps with compassion for yourself and your anxious feelings. The steps in this book may help you gain some confidence in your ability to soothe the anxiety, leading to less fear of the fear, creating an upward spiral.
Overall, I found the book to be practically helpful, as well as reassuring, normalizing, and nonjudgmental. People with physiological anxiety symptoms often think, "I must be going crazy." This book helps to make it clear that many "normal" people have anxious feelings that feel out of control, and are often good at hiding it from others. You're not as alone as you think.
With panic attacks and physical anxiety symptoms, I use EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to help desensitize triggers and find the root of the anxiety. Through the EMDR process, we teach the emotional part of the brain that triggers the fight or flight response that you're actually safe right now. This process makes it less likely that the fear response will be triggered in the first place. In the mean time, this book offers some practical tools to help deal with the physical symptoms, so they feel less scary and overwhleming. Using both EMDR therapy and the mindfulness tools in this book, freedom from anxiety and panic attacks can become your reality.