High Anxiety

Eons of evolution has gifted us with an excellent fight-or-flight response system. As with all animals, we’re quickly able to identify a potentially hazardous situation and move on it quickly, by dumping a plethora of hormones into the bloodstream. When you are living in the wild, this is life saving. When living in the modern world, it’s a source of ongoing anxiety.


To over-generalize, I’ve seen two main types of anxiety. Life-long and event-triggered. And a mixture of the two. Phobias generally fit into the life-long category. While acute (though potentially long lasting) anxiety is a state caused by a significant life changing event (death, divorce, illness).

Anxiety and depression can pop “out of the blue” for a lot of people. And there is always a root cause. Many will go through a tough life event with flying colors, only to find that several months down the road they feel down, uptight, and out of control. There’s a simple reason for this: during the event you’re using up all the available dopamine in your brain. After the event, your brain is left in a state of too little “happy hormone” and a body that has OD’d on it. This is perfectly normal and can be treated with various techniques, including medication.

If you are dealing with anxiety, or think you might be, I have a couple of recommendations which have helped me greatly.

First, get a copy of “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne. It’s an excellent book which covers just about everything you need to know about the subject. Some particular items I found most helpful:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is highly effective in helping figure out your anxiety. A key element of CBT is that it focuses on fixing the problem now, by giving you tools to help overcome your anxiety and/or phobias. It’s designed to be a short duration therapy, so you might have ten or twelve sessions, versus years of psychotherapy.
  • Progression Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to achieve deep relaxation, without the religious overtones of meditation. This is a five to thirty minute process where you tense and relax different muscle groups. This is easiest done with a script, audio being best (link to a free Android app is below).
  • Coping with Panic Attacks. This is a very helpful chapter to help you deal with those most dreaded of events, the panic attack.

Second, get a copy of “You Can’t Afford The Luxury of a Negative Thought” by Peter McWilliams. This book is more “self-helpy” and focuses a lot of people with acute illnesses. However, it is choke full of helpful techniques to deal with anxiety provokers. Each chapter is pretty short, only a couple of pages, so you can work through the book at your own pace, or flip around. For my personality, I found these sections to be very useful:

  • You Don’t Have To Do Anything
  • Don’t Worship The God of Other People’s Opinions
  • Commitments
  • If You’re Not Actively Involved in Getting What You Want, You Don’t Really Want It

Both of these books discuss following a healthy lifestyle. That means, you guessed it, exercise and better eating. The book “Eat To Live” by Joel Fuhrman is very popular right now and has some great general concepts you should follow. It stresses weight loss, and has a lot of “why this is” stuff — but the most helpful portion of the book, for me, was Chapter 8 – Your Plan For Substantial Weight Reduction. If anything, take the book out from the library and photocopy those 25 or so pages.

Third, talk to you doctor. I hope you have a good one. If you don’t, get a better one. Have a frank discussion of what you are going through. Medication may be necessary, especially after life changing events (it can take up to two years for your dopamine levels to get back to normal). I’ve found that the best doctors recommend a holistic approach, including:

  • Dietary changes (if necessary). Eat better — eat healthy.
  • Exercise frequently (aerobic).
  • Read up and understand your condition. You aren’t alone!
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Schedule some CBT if you can afford it. Many health plans cover it.
  • Medicate as necessary. It can make a world of difference and give you a jump start to overcoming anxiety.
  • Commit to getting better.
  • Do not rule out anything that will help to improve your life. Quit your job. Get a pet. Move away.

Here are some Amazon links to the books I recommend, along with a link to RelaxMe, a simple Android app that will walk you through PMR.