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  • Fresh Ideas from Old Books on Conquering Anxiety

    Fresh Ideas from Old Books on Conquering Anxiety
    Dr. Bill Knaus, Science & Sensibility

    You may be surprised to find ideas from old books on conquering anxiety that are as fresh as the morning dew. I'll share a potpourri of ideas from three of these treasure chests that I unpacked and reworked with literary license.

    A Gem for the Taking
    Anxiety is complex and the needless variety rarely happens separate from other conditions, such as perfectionism, self-doubts, and worry. Cutting across these conditions you will find "exaggeration" feeding a needless parasitic anxiety that drains your resources, giving nothing of value in return. Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Dubois (1909), understood the relationship between exaggeration and anxiety and had much to say about this area.

    Spinning your wheels by exaggerating what has or could go wrong leaves you with little time to examine what goes right. Get stuck in this defect-detecting circle and you can feel like you were living life in a tumbler. In that topsy turvy world you may worry about what will happen tomorrow. If you meet your dream lover will you lose out because you are not good enough? What will you do if your pet runs away? In this tumbler worry spins into anxiety.

    Dubois thought that provocative events happen every day. Some lead to acute symptoms. Someone acts aggressively toward you. You react. A friend betrays your trust. You feel devastated. It's easy to lose perspective in a tumbler world. It may seem like you can't live past these events.But that is a transition thought. If you are in this tumbler, can you will yourself to try a different way?

    If you accentuate the negatives and ignore your positive abilities, Dubois thought it wise to take action steps to balance the picture:
    1. Create two columns and label the left column "troubles" and the right column "favorable"
    2. Each evening list what troubled you (annoyances) in the left column. In the right column list favorable happenings. Make at least one favorable entry for every annoyance or trouble. Add as many more favorable happenings as you can. You may find that that there are more positives in your life than vagrant, negative, events.
    It's tough to aimlessly tumble about in a world of fictional threats and dangers when this line of thought doesn't compute with reality. If you conscientiously perform this psychological homework assignment for 30 days, Dubois thought you'd improve your chances to balance out your life and find a favorable life direction.

    The reference is. Dubois, P. (1909). The Psychic Treatment of Mental Disorders. NY: Funk & Wagnalls.

    An Early Cognitive, Emotive, Behavior Approach to Quell Anxiety

    Psychiatrist Tom Williams (1923) thought conscious ideas trigger anxious feelings and you can normally quickly identify this thinking. However, the underlying conceptual errors are elusive, such as filtering reality through a pessimist schema or a distorted self-concept.

    Williams advised three corrective steps: (1) getting a scientific education about anxiety; (2) realizing that you can discredit parasitic anxiety thinking; (3) pausing to make logical judgments about parasitic anxiety thinking. He had three premises for positive change: (1) a persistent destructive anxiety is unnecessary and can be changed; (2) a willingness to act with self-discipline counterbalances anxiety; (3) an acceptance that it takes time and effort to break an anxiety habit moves you farther on the path to change than expecting illusive immediate relief.

    Here are [seven] interactive cognitive, emotive, and behavioral steps for quelling parasitic anxieties:
    1. Remind yourself that how you view a phenomenon determines its fearfulness.
    2. Obtain clarity of vision through honesty of purpose. (What do you want to accomplish?)
    3. Examine the idea and reset the mind to accept alternative affirmative ideas.
    4. Parroting new positive slogans will get you nowhere. Work at gradually penetrating the mind with reconstructive affirmations (i.e., think of yourself as exhibiting your better capabilities, then exhibit what you think).
    5. Prioritize fulfilling responsibilities over avoiding anxious tension. (Escape the procrastination trap.)
    6. The situation as a whole rarely triggers anxiety. You can usually isolate parts linked to your anxious tension. If you experience performance anxiety, is it falling short of a standard? Do you fear the feeling? Attend to the feared part.
    7. Expose yourself to aspect(s) of the feared situation that most troubles you. Gradually make adjustments in how you engage the situation. Give yourself time to settle into to a new way of thinking and experiencing.
    The references are Williams, T. A. (1923). Dreads and Besetting Fears. Boston: Little Brown & Co. and Williams, T. A. (1914). A contrast in psychoanalysis: Three cases. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology 9(2-3): 73-86.

    Self-Help in Absolving Anxieties and Fears
    Psychologist John Dollard is known for his work with Neil Miller on cognitive social learning. This team thought that by observing how people imitate what others do, and studying thought processes, they could better understand how people learn. Let's see what John Dollard (1942) had to say about extinguishing parasitic anxieties by studying thinking.

    Dollard's core idea for quelling needless anxiety is, "When afraid, stop and think. Examine the feared situation. See if there is any real danger in it. If not, try just that act to which the fear is attached" (Ibid p. 22). He uses a basic stop, look, and listen technique to implement the process:
    1. When you find yourself in an anxious pickle, an essential step is to stop and think about your thinking (the metacognitive way). If you don't figure out what is in your head, you'll run from what you feel in your gut. When in doubt, write out the thoughts. What are you saying to yourself when you have a parasitic form of anxiety? Do you worry about what is wrong with you? Do you hear an inner voice saying, what's the use, why bother trying? Dollard admits that thinking about thinking doesn't come naturally. However, you can develop a nose for sniffing out problem thinking by taking this on as an awareness challenge.
    2. When you look you examine the meaning of your self-statements. What is going on? What is the problem? Is there a thinking fiction? Through this self-revelation you may find you have a correctable problem to solve.
    3. Dollard struggles with his definition of "listening" to make the problem-solving mnemonic work. Here is the gist. When you listen you prepare yourself to separate vexing from useful thoughts and learn to learn to solve the problem of defeating anxiety thinking. For example, if you think you are powerless, what are the exception(s)? By asking the question, you've shown yourself you are not powerless. Dollard is explicit about what happens next: changes in thinking must include new actions if you are to make the new thoughts useful.
    Dollard advocated for self-study. This study can start with psychology self-help books that contain helpful ideas and tell what to do. Theme books on topics like anxiety, written by doctoral level mental health experts, are increasingly shown to have efficacy. Dollard's book fits that criteria. However, if you believe in magic you can go to your local psychic for help. But watch your wallet.

    The reference is: Dollard, J. (1942). Victory over Fear. NY: Renyal & Hitchcock.

    Cobwebs may surround these three old books. Still, the ideas stay vital and timeless. They are among the ancestors for rational emotive behavior therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, and my version of cognitive-emotive-behavioral therapy.

    For more ideas on understanding and quelling parasitic anxieties and fears, see Knaus, W. (2008), The Cognitive Behavior Workbook for Anxiety. Oakland CA: New Harbinger.

    Dr. Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books, including The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression and The Cognitive Behavior Workbook for Anxiety.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Fresh Ideas from Old Books on Conquering Anxiety started by Daniel View original post