Most of the people in my counseling practice come for help with anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common behavioral health problem in the country, affecting about forty million adults and costing more than $42 billion a year. The association writes that people with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor than people who don’t have such disorders — and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders.
Clearly, Americans need help coping with stress and anxiety, and they need more tools than just medication.
In The 10 Best Anxiety Busters, Margaret Wehrenberg gives us some excellent tools to cope. Having experienced “panic attacks and bouts of dreadful worry” herself, she writes that she came up with these techniques through her own issues as well as through working with clients. Her strategies are also supported by research.
She groups her techniques according to whether the reader is experiencing anxiety in the mind, body, or behavior. She also separates them based on whether it is social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, or another subcategory. And despite these divisions, her overall approach remains holistic and comprehensive.
I know from my own work that clients with anxiety often are not eating well or sleeping well, have self talk that increases their anxiety, and may be hyper-vigilant to feedback from their body. They notice their heartbeat, think it is beating harder or faster than usual, engage their stress response system, and wind up with a panic attack.
To illustrate some of these issues (and their potential solutions), Wehrenberg frames her chapters with stories. Each chapter opens with a person engaged in anxious thinking and behavior. We as readers first learn about an appropriate anxiety-busting strategy, then see the character in the story try the strategy and succeed.
Wehrenberg covers a range of issues and provides steps that are easy to follow. However, she does point out that readers need to practice: What seems easy as a guidebook is not so easy when you are essentially rewiring your brain to act in a different way.
A noteworthy strategy in the book is to plan for your panic. You visualize yourself in the situation that causes you stress, and you come up with ways to handle it. When you eventually find yourself in the situation, you’ll have already come up with alternatives.
But, again, you must, must practice ahead of time, Wehrenberg writes. When your amygdala kicks in and you switch to red-alert mode, your brain goes on autopilot. To get out of that mode you have to have practiced making new neural pathways beforehand.
I particularly liked the end of the book, where Wehrenberg gives strategies for specific situations — flying, waiting, having tense visits with family or friends, experiencing family death, ending relationships, being able to say no, meeting new people, interviewing for jobs or college admissions, taking tests, and going on vacation. These are scenarios in which many of us struggle, and it’s nice to have one place that addresses them.
Overall, Wehrenberg’s tools are backed by neuropsychological research — and they can help not just our clients, but ourselves.
The 10 Best Anxiety Busters: Simple Strategies to Take Control of Your Worry
W. W. Norton & Company, January 2015
Paperback, 288 pages