How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety

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Cutting through the Worry Knot!

How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety Level:

Using a whole body-brain-mind approach

And without using drugs, alcohol or escapism!

By Jim Byrne and Renata Taylor-Byrne

The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

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Foreword

By Dr Jim Byrne

Preamble

Front cover2Many people live lives which are tied up in knots of worry, anxiety, fear, apprehension and dread.  They hardly remember what it’s like to feel relaxed, happy and at ease.  This book will teach you how to cut through these kinds of emotional knots, from various angles at once, to produce a state of greatly improved relaxation and ease.

We have all heard of a ‘Gordian knot’, which is a very difficult or intractable problem.  Many of our problems consist of getting ourselves tied up in knots, trying to avoid the unavoidable difficulties of life.  We also tend to tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid the necessity to take responsibility for our own lives. And we weave some knotty, tangled webs when we fail to be scrupulously honest with ourselves.  (But, of course, our early childhood, which is a nightmare, tends to throw us into a tangle of knots, not of our own making!)

And all of this goes on as we sleepwalk through our lives.  The important thing is to wake up, and to address the knots in our emotions, and to begin to untangle them.

Most people would agree that anxiety is a state of feeling fear, fright, alarm, or intense worry[i].  It is an intense emotion, which pains us in a way which is comparable to a physical pain.  It is not easy to ignore or brush off.  It can tighten our breathing, make us tremble, and become clammy. We often feel we are out of control, and in great danger.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)Anxiety is not a disease; not a mental illness. Anxiety – at its best – is part of our normal, innate, mental signalling system which tells us what is happening to us, and what to do about it.  That is to say, it is part of our emotional wiring. Our emotional intelligence.  (For an official definition of anxiety, please see this endnote)[ii]. But – at its worst – anxiety, in the body-brain-mind of an individual human being, often proves to be a complex knot of self-mismanagement!

Trying to get rid of anxiety with drugs is like hanging two overcoats and a duvet over your burglar alarm bell when it goes off.  The burglar alarm is designed to give you helpful information, which you can then use to guide your action. Should you check to see if a burglar has got into your house? Or call the police? Or realize that you’d mismanaged your alarm system, and that you should therefore switch it off?

Back cover2Getting rid of the alarm signal defeats the whole object of having it in the first place!

Once you understand anxiety correctly, it becomes as useful as a burglar alarm; and you can learn how to manage it correctly.  (It’s just the exaggerated knotting of strands of anxiety, worry and stress that you need to cut through!)

When you buy a burglar alarm, it comes with a little Instruction Book about how to set it; calibrate it; monitor it; reset it; and switch it on and off.

You should have got just such an Instruction Book about your anxiety alarm, from your parents, when you were very young – and some people did.  But if your alarm goes off at all times of day and night, in unhelpful ways, then I guess you were one of the unlucky ones who did not get your Instruction Book.  This current book contains your Instruction Book, plus lots of other backup information, which will help to make you the master of your anxiety, instead of its quaking slave.

Don’t let your burglar alarm make your life a misery. Learn how to use it properly!  (Learn how to cut the alarming connections that do not serve you well).

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Just when we thought the state of the economy was the biggest threat to our survival, along came Coronavirus (or Covid-19).  So now, many people are extremely anxious about the possibility of serious illness or death; if not of themselves, then at least of some close relative who is weak or vulnerable.

And some elements of the mass media love to whip up this kind of fear.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)But even as the virus spreads, it is perfectly possible for any of us to become more anxious about a presentation we have to do, next week, to an important customer; or to our board of directors.  And some of us may pick up a whisper that our job is on the line, and then Covid-19 disappears into the shadows, as this new anxiety emerges.

That’s how we are about threats and dangers.  And not just us, humans.  All animals are wired up by nature to feel anxiety, which causes us to flee (or fight; or freeze) when we sense the arrival of a predator, or some other threat or danger.

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However, we cannot flee from Coronavirus; or from the challenge of making a presentation in work or business, or in college, etc.; or from the insecurity of the economic system introduced by Thatcher and Reagan.  We can learn to fight them, if we know how our nervous system works.

So what can we do when faced with a gut-wrenching fear of some threat or danger?  How can we cope?

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)In this foreword I will present a small amount of essential theoretical background on current ways of understanding anxiety, and how to reduce and control it.

Then, in Chapter 1, below, I will introduce you to a quick and easy summary of some of the key actions you can take to begin, immediately, in small, manageable steps, to reduce and control your stress and anxiety level.  By the end of Chapter 1 you will be very well equipped to begin the process of getting your anxiety under conscious control.

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Current, popular ways of understanding anxiety

Front cover2 This book is uniquely placed to help you to master your anxiety level, and to keep it at reasonable levels in most situations that you will ever encounter.

Why is this the case?

Because this book is a post-CBT perspective on anxiety.  The dominant theory of anxiety in the world today is that created by Albert Ellis and Aaron Tim Beck, which claims that anxiety can best be understood using their ‘simple ABC model’.  This is it:

‘A’ is an ‘Activating Event’.  Something happens.  (In the case of anxiety, this has to be some kind of threat or danger). For example: You are told you probably have a particular health problem, which threatens your happiness, and possibly your life.

‘B’ is your ‘Belief System’ (or Automatic Thoughts). When you become aware that you probably are seriously ill, this is assumed to trigger a Belief, or Thought, or Schema[1] in your brain, which either causes you to Over-react, or to React-Reasonably, at an emotional/behavioural level.

‘C’ is the (emotional/behavioural) Consequence of your Belief System (or Automatic Thoughts). And the assumed consequence of triggering a Belief/Thought about a threat or danger – which causes an Over-reaction – is some degree of anxiety or panic.  And the assumed consequence of triggering a Belief/Thought about a threat or danger – which causes a reasonable-reaction – is mild to strong concern; but no anxiety.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)That’s basically what the ABC model of CBT/REBT[2] claims to be the process of generating anxiety in a person.

The first major problem with this simple ABC theory is that it cannot be validated scientifically. (See Bond and Dryden, 1996[iii]; and Byrne, 2019a[iv]).

The second major problem with this model is that it ignores the body, as if a human being was just a mind on legs.  But, as I will show below, the body plays a central role in the generation and registration of the emotion of anxiety (and all other feeling states).

Back cover2And the third major problem with the ABC’s of CBT is that a major study by the Swedish government has demonstrated that CBT does not work, in the sense that it does not deliver what it claims to deliver. (See Byrne, 2018)[v].  (It is convenient for US insurance companies to opt for CBT, because it is cheaper than the main alternatives. And the UK government has followed in the wake of the US approach).

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning in passing that there is evidence that the combined strategy of CBT and drugs for anxiety is also not working. (Byrne, 2018b).

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The ‘Human Givens’ model

A better model for describing your anxious responses to situations of threat or danger is the one developed by Griffin and Tyrrell (2003)[vi]; which is called the APET model:

The APET model has the following four elements:

‘A’ (as before) is an ‘Activating Event’.  Something happens.  For example: You are told you probably have a particular health problem, which threatens your happiness, and possibly your life.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)‘P’ is a ‘Pattern Match’.  Your brain is designed to find patterns in nature, to help to guide your understanding of ‘what is happening?’ and ‘how must I respond (in order to survive)?’  So, let us assume your doctor presents you with diagnosis of the illness you now have, and your brain quickly searches through its memory banks for an earlier occasion or occasions when you received similar or comparable news.  It quickly finds apparently relevant results, which reveals the way you responded at that time, or during those times. You now have a ‘pattern match’: “When X-like things happen, I normally respond with Y-like feelings/behaviours”.

‘E’ is an Emotional Response.  Your brain now tells your body how your whole body-brain-mind should respond to the news of this illness. For example: “Respond like last time – which means, become anxious (or concerned)”.

‘T’ is a subsequent-Thought. Once your body begins to crank up the anxious feelings that go with the arousal of your heart and lungs and guts; then enough time will have elapsed for a thought to emerge.  “Wow! I’m feeling really bad about this terrible news! I hope there’s a cure for my illness!”

In this model, the (habitual) feelings come first, and the (habitual) thoughts come later.

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The role of habits, and innate emotions

Humans are creatures of habit!

We do not go around thinking about how to respond to situations as they arise!

If we were wired up like that, we would not have survived, because there are and always have been a lot of very fast predators out there, in our long history, which would have gobbled us up if we’d stopped for one second to consider our options.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)We automatically become anxious in those situations in which we are in the habit of getting anxious feelings.  And this helped us to survive by making us run for cover when faced with threats and dangers.

In Appendix G, I make this point:

The perspectives of evolutionary psychology and affective neuroscience are excellent sources of explanation of human emotions.  According to Panksepp and Biven (2012) our evolutionary adaptations (as mammals) laid down certain subcortical structures in the limbic areas of the brain.  These neurological structures underpin seven emotional systems (including fear, which is socialized into anxiety):

Front cover2Fear: This system is about how the brain responds to the threat of physical danger and death. (I am wired up by nature [natural selection] to fear threats and dangers, because my ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were kept alive by their fear of predators; and they passed that fear down the line, biochemically. This is my innate ‘flight response’. I ‘want’ to survive, because I am programmed by nature to ‘want’ to survive! [Again, of course, I can learn to fear things that are not real threats or dangers]).

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Humans, like all other animals, are born with an innate set of feelings or emotions, which are often referred to as ‘affects’.

But unlike most other animals, who are hard wired for a lifetime of set responses (with a few minor deviations being possible) – humans are born with a set of Basic Emotions – including fear – which are then refined into Culturally Shaped Emotions by our family of origin; our schooling; and other socialization experiences.  And those emotions are wired into our brains and our hearts/lungs/guts, and our major muscles.

So, your way of being anxious (in terms of contexts, intensities, etc.) will be more like that of your family of origin, or as you were shaped by them; and my way of being anxious (in terms of what frightens me, and how much) will be more like the pattern shown in my family of origin, or as I was shaped by them.

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)And, whatever emotional wiring was originally shaped (or knotted!) in your body-brain-mind, in your family of origin, can be reshaped (with some difficulty) in therapy, today.  You can learn to be less easily triggered into feeling anxious; although it would be suicidal to try to get rid of your anxiety completely (since it helps to keep you alive, by promoting reasonable levels of caution, wariness and reticence in your speech and actions).  What you need to learn is how to feel appropriately anxious when it is helpful to feel appropriately anxious; and to feel totally relaxed when it’s possible to feel totally relaxed.

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Building a better understanding of anxiety

Back cover2The simple ABC model of human disturbance is too simplistic to be able to account for innate affects – and how feelings are stored and registered in the human body – because the ABC model does not contain a body!  It only contains a belief system.

The APET model is a step up, in that it acknowledges innate emotions, and emotional-habits, which precede thinking; but it, like the simple ABC model, also ignores the body.

So, in the period 2007-2015, I went back to the beginning of psychological theorizing about human emotions, and I re-thought and re-built a number of theories of human emotion. (See Byrne, 2019, which was originally published in 2016)[vii]. One strand of that work involved going back to the model which preceded the simple ABC model.  That was the simple Stimulus-Organism-Response model (or SOR model).  This is how that model was conceptualized, by the neo-behaviourists and behaviour therapists:

‘S’ is a Stimulus (or Activating Event, as before): Something happens which is witnessed by an Organism – in our case, an animal, and specifically a human animal.  (Let’s say, for illustration purposes, that ‘S’ is a huge dark shadow, accompanied by a loud noise, and a strong, obnoxious smell!)

‘O’ is the Organism (or animal: [in our case, a human animal]), which registers the Stimulus in its body-brain-mind.  And:

‘R’ is the Response (in our case, an emotional-behaviour response of anxiety-panic, defecation, surge of adrenaline, and instant jumping and running rapidly away from the shadow).  (Stimulus-Response: No choice!)

That’s how anxiety works in practice. It’s an instantaneous, habit based, survival-oriented form of fleeing from apparent threat or danger.  And the whole body-brain-mind is involved.

And, because the whole body-brain-mind is involved, it matters whether the organism has had a good night’s sleep; has strong well-exercised muscles; is well fed (with glucose) for running and jumping (and/or fighting!); and is in a state of good physical and mental health.

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For these reasons, we expanded the simple SOR model into a Holistic-SOR model – (see Byrne (2019), and the illustration below).

This model takes account of the individual’s relationships in their family of origin as much as their current relationships; plus their routine diet, exercise, sleep and relaxation patterns.

Plus a range of current stressors, from various sources, including the state of the economy, their housing situation, and so on.

Plus their philosophy of life.

All of those elements are relevant to how well any individual will cope with an extreme, anxiety-inducing problem situation: like an apparent threat or danger.

However, there is a further problem for humans, which does not exist for non-human animals.  And it is this: Most of the problems that stress us cannot be solved by jumping nervously, and running away as quickly as we can go!

Front cover2Instead, we have to develop a range of strategies which involve being able to manage our own body, brain, mind; and to problem-solve in areas of difficulty that arise in our social environment. We have to learn:

– When and how to fight: (and the importance of fighting fair; and fighting assertively rather than aggressively; how to be self-protective; etc.);

– When and how to flee: (or when and how to withdraw; and how to keep a safe distance in relationships [using boundaries, rather than barriers]; and how to be appropriately intimate; etc.);

– When and how to freeze; (“When in doubt, do nought!” – “The right kind of inaction is far better than the wrong kind of action”. Etc.); and:

– When and how to hide! (A poker player knows how to keep their information private. A chameleon can cross any territory without being spotted. A good Buddhist knows how to judge the appropriacy of a potential statement; when to speak; and when to remain silent!)

– When and how to think/feel. (You cannot be fully human unless you know how to perceive-feel-think systematically. You cannot get to the bottom of your feelings of anxiety, unless you learn how to track back, [preferably in writing, in a journal] using questions like these: What happened? Who said or did what? Why did that make me anxious? What would have made me feel less anxious in that situation? What do I need to do to avoid this happening again in the future?)

How to reduce your anxiety

Which brings us to how this book can help you. I assume you would not be reading this text unless your anxiety level is uncomfortably high, and needs moderating. So how can this book help?  What will you gain from reading it?

Back cover2 Because this book is based on a whole body-brain-mind-environment approach to understanding and managing your anxiety level, it will benefit you in the following ways:

You will learn how to:

– recognize when you are feeling anxious, and to track back to the source of the anxiety;

– train yourself to calm your body-brain-mind;

– persuade yourself to eat those foods that reduce anxiety, and avoid those foods that fuel anxiety;

– teach yourself to manage your sleep and relaxation needs, so as to maximize your emotional intelligence; avoid tension and unnecessary or unhelpful stress;

– persuade yourself to avoid sedentary lifestyle, and to take adequate amounts of the right kind and frequency of physical exercise, so as to burn off stress hormones, to calm your body and mind; and to:

– train yourself to think-feel appropriately about stressful situations, in such a way as to minimize the activation of your stress response; and to maintain a calm, relaxed, and anxiety-free mental-physical state.

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Chapter 1 will introduce you to a quick and easy summary of some of the key actions you can take to begin, immediately, in small, manageable steps, to reduce and control your stress level.

Chapter 2 presents nine different ways of looking at a problematical stimulus (or noxious activating event) so as to keep your body-mind calm and clear and ready to problem-solve.  If you study this chapter, over and over again, you will develop an anxiety-free philosophy of life!

Chapter 3 presents a brief introduction to the best system of physical relaxation ever devised on a scientific basis. This system can effectively close down your anxious feelings, and flood your body with relaxing and soothing hormones.

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Chapter 4 contains my Stress and Anxiety Diet, which will teach you the foods to avoid and the best foods to keep yourself anxiety-free.

Chapter 5 explores the ways in which our management of our sleep patterns impacts our ability to reduce and control our anxiety levels, for better or worse.

Chapter 6 contains some of our research results on the benefits of exercise for stress and anxiety reduction.

After the conclusion, in Chapter 7, there are then several helpful appendices, as follows:

Appendix A introduces you to a particular approach to breathing – called ‘belly breathing’, or diaphragmatic breathing – which can switch off the stress and anxiety response.

Appendix B presents additional information about nutrition and its effects upon our emotional states.

Appendix C describes how to meditate, which is another way of reducing feelings of anxiety.

Appendix D presents three strategies for managing anxiety, promoted by Dale Carnegie (the author of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living).

Front cover2Appendix E contains a few journal writing strategies for anxiety reduction.

Appendix F teaches you how to reliably change any habit you want to change.

And Appendix G goes more deeply into how to understand and manage your emotions.

If you study this book in the recommended manner, then you will insulate yourself against the kinds of intense emotional suffering – including anxiety and panic – which most people experience as they go about their difficult, challenging lives.

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Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Hebden Bridge, April 2020

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Contents

Foreword……………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Chapter 1: What is anxiety, and how can we quickly and easily control it?  19

Initial introduction to anxiety………………………………………………….. 19

How to understand and manage your anxiety……………………………. 22

Managing panic attacks…………………………………………………………. 23

Practical strategies for managing anxiety…………………………………… 24

Anxiety management: The impact of diet and nutrition……………….. 28

Anxiety management: How anxiety can be reduced by exercise:…… 30

Window No.1: What can you control?………………………………………. 32

Chapter 2: Nine ways to re-frame threats and dangers to reduce their impact       37

A powerful way to re-frame and re-think your problems……………… 37

Preamble……………………………………………………………………………. 37

Case illustration……………………………………………………………………. 37

Analysis of how I lost my anxiety about dogs……………………………… 40

Brief explanation………………………………………………………………….. 42

Here´s how it works:…………………………………………………………….. 43

Chapter 3: Jacobson´s Progressive Muscle Relaxation eliminates anxiety problems           55

Introduction………………………………………………………………………… 55

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) defined…………………………… 57

A closer look at how tension and stress builds up in our bodies……… 62

Case studies: Several examples of how progressive muscle relaxation can help             63

Recent research studies………………………………………………………… 67

How progressive muscle relaxation helps with insomnia………………. 70

How to practice the PMR technique…………………………………………. 72

The ´abbreviated´ progressive muscle relaxation technique…………. 75

Conclusion………………………………………………………………………….. 76

Chapter 4: Dr Jim´s Stress and Anxiety Diet………………………………. 79

  1. No universal agreement regarding diet…………………………………. 80
  2. Schools of thought on diet………………………………………………….. 80
  3. Stress management advice…………………………………………………. 83
  4. Proportions of food groups…………………………………………………. 83
  5. Food combining, or not………………………………………………………. 84
  6. Drinks and drinking……………………………………………………………. 85
  7. Fats and oils……………………………………………………………………… 86
  8. Never skip breakfast………………………………………………………… 89
  9. Snacks, supplements and raw food…………………………………….. 90
  10. Find out for yourself………………………………………………………… 91
  11. Supplements and healthy foods…………………………………………. 92
  12. Finale……………………………………………………………………………. 92

Chapter 5: Sleep and anxiety…………………………………………………… 95

Introduction………………………………………………………………………… 95

How does our sleep affect our anxiety level?…………………………. 96

Strategies to improve the quality of sleep, and reduce anxiety…. 99

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………….. 109

Chapter 6: Physical exercise for anxiety reduction…………………… 117

Preamble………………………………………………………………………….. 117

Physical exercise and emotional wellbeing………………………………. 117

Exercise and the stress response…………………………………………… 118

Anxiety and physical activity…………………………………………………. 119

Research evidence……………………………………………………………… 119

Exercise for stress reduction…………………………………………………. 120

Yoga and Chi Kung for emotional self-management…………………… 121

Chapter 7: Conclusion…………………………………………………………… 123

References………………………………………………………………………….. 125

Appendix A: How to practise anti-anxiety breathing………………… 127

Appendix B: More on nutrition and emotions………………………….. 131

Appendix C: Meditation as anti-anxiety practice……………………… 179

Appendix D: Three strategies to control anxiety and worry………. 187

Appendix E: Journal writing exercises to calm your body and mind 197

Appendix F: How to change those habits that will reduce your anxiety        227

Appendix G: How to understand and manage your emotions, including your anxiety          243

Endnotes…………………………………………………………………………….. 299

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[1] A schema is a ‘packet of information’ about a particular kind of event or object.  For example, you will have a schema for how to relate to the process of entering a restaurant for a meal, which will differ from your schema for getting a quick snack from a café.

[2] CBT = Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; and REBT = Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.

[i] Freeman, D. and Freeman, J. (2012) Anxiety: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page 4.

[ii] Defining anxiety: “Anxiety is a feeling of unease, like a worry or fear, which can be mild acobson

or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time and it usually passes once the situation is over.

“It can make our heart race, we might feel sweaty, shaky or short of breath. Anxiety can also cause changes in our behaviour, such as becoming overly careful or avoiding things that trigger anxiety.

“When anxiety becomes a problem, our worries can be out of proportion with relatively harmless situations. It can feel more intense or overwhelming, and interfere with our everyday lives and relationships.” Source:
https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/anxiety. Accessed on 28th March 2020.

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[iii] Bond, F.W. and Dryden, W. (1996). Why Two, Central REBT Hypotheses Appear Untestable. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 14(1), 29-40.

[iv] Byrne, J. (2019a) A Major Critique of REBT: Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

Byrne, J. (2019b) Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons: How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

[v] Byrne, J. (ed) (2018b) CBT and drugs aren’t working: How Effective is Cognitive Therapy and Cognitive behavioural Therapy? A brief review of five pieces of evidence. Online: https://abc-counselling.org/cbt-and-drugs-arent-working/

[vi] Griffin, J. and Tyrrell, I. (2003) Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking. Chalvington, East Sussex: HG Publishing.

[vii] Byrne, J.W. (2019) Holistic Counselling in Practice: An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy. Updated edition (2).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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