Ridding Yourself of Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the easiest disorders to heal if only the patient would give up their resistance to change

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address

The last full week of July I had the privilege of attending a 4 day seminar conducted by Dr. David Burns, MD. This is equivalent to a LEO seeing Lt. Col. David Grossman, Graham Gordon, Coach Sokolove, or Dave Smith. All of these gentlemen have contributed forward movement in the field of law enforcement in a manner that changed it forever. Dr. David Burns, MD, as one of the founding fathers of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), has worked alongside well-known greats in the field such as Albert Ellis and Dr. Aaron Beck. CBT is used by many therapists because it was developed out of time-tested research and to date, from what I understand, is the only method of therapy proven effective by research. This is not to say other methods are ineffective, because that is not true, but CBT continues to be researched and developed. Dr Burns continues his research at Stanford University where he teaches and mentors other professionals. Dr. Burns has passion for the advancement of the mental health field.

I’ve been treating anxiety disorders since 1996 and I find them one of the easiest disorders to help someone heal from if the patient is willing and motivated to make life changes and to give up irrational beliefs rooted in self-protection. People with anxiety, however, tend to be the most stubborn and resistant to change. Which, if you think about it, is why they have anxiety; they fear changing what they believe to be true, but what is often what we call cognitive distortions, as coined by Dr. Burns, that are exaggerated and irrational thoughts. It is my belief, as well as other professionals, that an anxious mind can be retrained to be peaceful and calm, even without medication in the majority of the cases, if a patient is willing to challenge the thought and belief system they have convinced themselves keeps them from emotional and physical harm.

The irony is that their belief system actually hurts them and others around them. It creates restrictions on their day-to-day life, inhibits the flow of intimacy with friends, family and significant others, keeps them from taking opportunities that could advance their careers and interpersonal development, and they live their life focused on the problems around them rather than seeing the solutions.

First Step

Anxiety disorders can be healed or retrained quickly, often in one to six sessions, if the patient is willing to, as Dr. Burns puts it, “roll up their sleeves and get to work” and are “willing to pay the price” - meaning emotional turbulence, pain, anger, and discomfort - to obtain the desired results. However, most people with anxiety have protected themselves from those very emotions for a long time and are having difficulty with negative emotions on a daily basis; the fear of more discomfort scares them motionless. Anxiety patients often want to have the desired results without the work, or hope for a “magic bullet,” but nothing that is pure and good in this life is given to us, it is earned through hard work. So the first step in working with anxiety is to break through their resistance, which is often thought distortions, which keep someone stuck.

For instance, with panic disorders I have had tremendous success and have often had patients that, after a few sessions, the panic attacks go away. Panic attacks are very scary for people and, if left untreated, can develop into restrictive behaviors and thought patterns that talk them out of going into stores out of fear everyone is watching them, driving for fear of having a panic attack that will cause them to pass out and crash, taking a test for fear that their mind will go blank and they will fail, etc. My recommended course of treatment for panic attacks goes against every self-protection mechanism that the patient has put into place over the years, but it is the only way to retrain the brain. I challenge their worst fear and advise them they need to start having the panic attack instead of following their instinct to block it from happening. If my patients are willing to experience the flood of emotions and physical reactions that accompany a panic attack over and over again, they begin to find out the panic attack does end, they are not crazy, and each time the panic attack is less severe, until it comes back rarely or not at all. Seems simple, but few are willing to fight through the walls of their cognitive distortions and beliefs; instead they hold onto their perceived truth that their distorted thoughts are true and right.

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