I am constantly looking for resources both for my counseling clients and for my taijiquan students that can help them manage anxiety, pain, and emotional regulation. Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum have provided a wonderful resource with The Road to Calm Workbook. This work is a follow up to Daitch’s 2007 book, The Affect Regulation Toolbox, which was written for mental health professionals. The Road to Calm Workbook is for everyone.
The Road to Calm is very user friendly. The authors start with a quote from Viktor Frankl: “Between the stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The authors take this to heart and put it into a practice that anyone can do.
The first part of the workbook is an excellent guide to getting to know yourself and how you manage your emotions. The authors begin by teaching us about the dynamics of emotional flooding, and immediately we get a chance to explore our relationship with feelings such as anger, fear and loneliness through questions and rating scales. We also learn the physiology that drives emotional flooding — how the brain acts and reacts and the effects on the body. We are guided through exercises that help us find where we are on the continuum of the stress response, from generalized anxiety to panic, obsessive compulsive problems, intermittent explosiveness, posttraumatic stress, and depression. We identify triggers, we identify ways that we handle relationships, and we begin to see patterns contributing to our distress. Each chapter has a summary of “take away points” to help us develop our own toolbox.
The second part teaches us how to regulate our emotions and stop the flooding. It begins with stress inoculation, something I first learned about many years ago in a workshop with Donald Meichenbaum. The procedure works well, and I have used it on myself and shared it with clients and students. The authors are very thorough in telling us how and why it works, and in a step-by-step guide, how to set it up to work for us. We learn breathing, creating a safe space, creating our own self affirmations, and the stress inoculation process itself. The authors also help us structure time so that we can practice daily and make it a part of our routine by employing one of the many helpful checklists in the workbook.
After all this preparation, we are ready to begin the STOP program. STOP stands for Scan your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and bodily sensations that indicate emotional flooding is either occurring or on its way; Take a time-out; Overcome initial flooding using fast-acting interventions to de-escalate runaway emotions; and Put the twelve tools in place. We learn how to put this into action, and then we learn the twelve tools, ranging from mindfulness with detached observation to self statements, heavy hands and heavy legs to juxtaposing two thoughts and feelings.
The workbook has lots of space for writing so you can deeply and thoughtfully put these tools into action. The book includes a CD with 36 guided exercises that take you through each step of the process. There are guides for dealing with specific stressors, like frustration, hopelessness and anger, or relationship stressors, like feelings of abandonment or betrayal, with the tools presented in the order that would be prescribed for that particular issue. For example, if you are worried, you can look at the tool-sets chart and see that for worry, you begin with Tool 1, mindfulness with detached observation, followed by Tool 3, dialing down reactivity, followed by Tool 11, postponement, and finishing with Tool 12, self statements. The chart also refers you to audio track 18 to guide you through the process. The audio tracks are very well done. Daitch talks you through each step while relaxing music plays.
The book ends with ways to help you consolidate and build on all of the work you have done in the workbook. And it has a list of online resources, books, audio resources, referrals to therapists, tables of the STOP process for typical problems, and additional blank inventory worksheets. To top things off, there is an app for your smart phone so that you can take your workbook with you wherever you go. Apps are downloaded at the app store for your phone. There is a free and a premium version.
This book is extremely well-thought-out and structured and is an excellent resource for anyone dealing with anxiety and all that goes with distress.
The Road to Calm Workbook: Life-changing Tools to Stop Runaway Emotions
W.W. Norton and Company, April 2016
Paperback, 224 pages