“Freeing Yourself from Anxiety” is filled with practical, reassuring, and even fun strategies to help anyone deal with anxiety.
What is anxiety? Psychologist Tamar E. Chansky defines it as “the first reaction of a sensitive system that is wired to keep us alert to danger and protected from harm.”
Irrational thoughts often spur those first reactions. In order to manage anxiety, she says strategies are needed to react appropriately, including “shrinking the risk and being willing to approach the situation” to figure out what is really happening.
Chansky first describes four general steps people can use to help overcome anxiety. She then follows those up with strategies to help slow that initial fight or flight reaction.
The four steps are:
- “Pause and Re-label or don’t believe everything you think.”
- “Get Specific or narrow down the problem to the one thing that really matters.”
- “Optimize or re-think what’s possible and broaden your choices.”
- “Mobilize or don’t just stand there, do something.”
Most of the strategies are simple to understand and implement. For example, to optimize choices, the read is told to “consult the possibility panel.” This involves creating a “board of directors” to offer advice. Anyone can be a member of the possibility panel in your brain, whether or not you know them. It might sound a little strange to create a “mental” panel of advisers. Chansky says, “Just stepping out of your own spin of ideas for a moment to contemplate getting other opinions instantly frees you up.” Since anyone alive or dead can be on the panel, this activity can also be kind of fun.
Are you afraid of trying new things? Chansky suggests trying a strategy which she calls “practice brings confidence and mastery.” Instead of believing “that you just should know how to do something [new]… think how you would teach someone else to do it, then sketch out a practice routine for yourself. Create a script, practice in the mirror, [and] practice with a friend.” This commonsense advice might not be new, but she also includes other strategies that might not be as familiar. The reader has a good chance to find a strategy that will help.
After covering the four steps, Chansky discusses “additional tools to free yourself, like generating an accurate list of your strengths. Another one is called disappointment proofing, which discusses how to create “safe, resilient expectations” and “cultivating empathy, compassion, and gratitude.”
The last part of the book consists of shortcuts to help you “find your way through the detours of life.” Those “detours” include anger, jealousy, loss, shame, procrastination, perfectionism, failure, and criticism.
For each of the detours, Chansky lists the beliefs that keep people stuck in that emotion. She offers a list of “better beliefs” and specific strategies to help confront the beliefs causing the emotional bottleneck. For example, a bottleneck belief for “shame” is “All of me is bad, damaged, and unacceptable.” A better belief is “This is not who I am; this is what happened to me.”
Another strategy to help change a belief about shame is called re-labeling. Chansky explains that “shame makes us feel like we are damaged [but] that is a feeling, not a fact.” To recover from shame, it’s necessary to figure out what our “enduring value” is aside from the shame.
One very useful aspect of the book is that each chapter also includes advice about how to help others struggling with anxiety. Her suggestions can “help you become the voice of reason for those you care about.” When a friend is worried, don’t say “everything will be okay.” Instead, “remind them of something similar that happened to you that turned out okay” to help them “focus on the finish line.”
The only section of the book which seems cursory is the chapter on anxiety disorders. Chansky covers a lot of ground touching on generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Even though she crams all those disorders into one chapter, some people might still find it valuable. After reading Chansky’s descriptions, a reader have a pretty good idea if they suffer from normal anxiety or have an anxiety disorder. She gives some suggestions for “cracking the code” of each disorder, as well as summarizing treatment options for each.
I believe that this book could become a standard reference in the field with therapists assigning it to clients. Anyone who suffers from anxiety could find it useful, because Chansky offers so many strategies to try. Chansky’s strategies provide concrete methods to use when feeling anxious. You may find some strategies more useful than others. However, by adding just one new strategy to your repertoire of habits, you may help yourself feel less anxious.
Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: The 4-Step Plan to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want
Tamar E. Chansky, PhD
Da Capo Lifelong Books, Jan. 31, 2012
Paperback, 336 pages