Calm Anxiety: Taking Back Control
PART I: ANXIETY TODAY
1. The Medical Model
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder
Perhaps it's because our brain is different or works differently to other people's?
Maybe we have a chemical imbalance in our brain?
Or is it all in our genes?
2. "What We Think, We Wecome" (Buddha)
Classifying Anxiety Problems
Rituals: Trying to Control the Uncontrollable
Anxiety Problems and Medication
Taking Beta Blockers for Anxiety
PART II: NATURAL ANXIETY
3. Understanding Anxiety and How it Works
Breathing Too Fast
Feeling Nauseous/Needing the Toilet
Diziness and Feeling Faint
Trembling and Shakiness
Nervousness, Anxiety and Panic
4. Anxious Times
In the Family
Peer Groups and Belonging
School and the Workplace
Something About Us
PART III: CALM ANXIETY
5. Understanding Control and Change
Thinking Too Much
A Sense of Control by 'How to Be'
Change (Weakening the Connections)
Change in the Nervous System
6. Mind and Body
Your Acceptance Statement...
"I HAVE ANXIETY, I have a mental illness." We're not quite at this stage yet but we are getting there.
The speeding heart and rapid breathing, the sweating, trembling, feeling 'on-edge' and that sense of impending danger are all extremely
powerful. They descend upon us without warning and we cannot seem to stop them. These thoughts, feelings and behaviours, over which we have
virtually no control, affect us deeply – and they are supposed to, for if we had to consciously prepare for fighting or fleeing it would be
Anxiety is a vital part of being human. Indeed, every living organism on the planet has its own form of anxiety, its very own built-in
self-protection instinct. Essentially to help us survive, to keep us alive, it sits quietly in the background waiting to spring into action
when needed in times of danger.
We all have anxiety; it's with us to some extent for most of the time and we can see examples of it in
• Without anxiety over being knocked down we wouldn't be careful when we crossed the road.
• Without anxiety over losing food and shelter we wouldn't continue to go to a job we hate each day.
Such powerful feelings and so little control – it's no wonder that anxiety can be seen as an awful problem, a terrible weakness,
something that has to be eradicated from our lives at all cost. But it can't be. It's part of us.
It was Mark Twain who said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear." We cannot remove fear
from our life. Similarly, self-confidence and feelings of security come from the mastery of anxiety, resistance to anxiety – not the
absence of it.
He has not learned the lesson of life who does not
every day surmount a fear.
Caesar (100–44 B.C.)
When we understand and accept our anxiety we begin to take control. Rather counter-intuitively: acceptance controls
anxiety, fighting it makes it worse. Mastery of anxiety enables us to live life to the full and most of us start out this way... until life
Once anxiety starts to control us, things change. It can lead to a whole host of serious debilitating problems – problems classified
as 'anxiety disorders' and 'mental illness' today.
The start of these problems is often a period of prolonged increased anxiety, seemingly without cause. Numerous research studies have shown
that the one thing most people suffering from long-term anxiety disorders remember about the start of their problem is: "being too
nervous for a long time".
This book is about just that: 'being too nervous (or too anxious) for a long time without good reason'. It is to help you understand why
this happens and how to deal with it – how to take control of such anxiety rather than letting it control you – and in doing so
nip any potential future problems in the bud.
In Part I we'll look at the current beliefs and theories about anxiety-related problems and how they influence everything we think about
In Part II we'll explore anxiety through the lens of human evolution and survival. What is it? Why do we have it? How does it
work? Here, you'll discover the real reason for that increased anxiety that plagues so many of us today.
Part III will teach you how to take control of anxiety and master it. This can make the difference between a life ruled by fear or one
lived with confidence, so let's get started and take a look at how we think about anxiety today... Back
to Contents ^
1. The Medical Model (Part I, Chapter 1)
TODAY, ACROSS THE world, millions and millions of people struggle valiantly with problems involving anxiety. Ranging from increased nervousness through to crippling
anxiety disorders and severe depression, these problems are fast becoming the number one health concern in many countries.
It is estimated that in America alone over 40 million people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. The most common one is social anxiety disorder (also called
social phobia), closely followed by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Around one in thirty to fifty people suffer from
obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and one in ten are reported to have a specific phobia. This doesn't include vast numbers of people who have depression or those
living anxious lives ruled by shyness or stress.
Many people feel they are working well below their potential and are unhappy and frustrated, more people are unhealthy and overweight than ever before, greater
numbers of teenagers are depressed and problems involving anxiety and stress account for the majority of visits to doctor's surgeries. In a world of better food,
hygiene, education and healthcare – emotionally, society is crumbling.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines anxiety as: 'a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome' but it is more than
just a feeling. It also involves our thoughts and the way we act. The list below reflects this.
These are associated with avoiding and/or dealing with danger and involve our body, mind and behaviour.
• Breathing becomes more rapid.
• Heartbeat speeds up.
• We feel dizzy and light-headed.
• We get 'butterflies' in our stomach.
• We feel sick and/or need the toilet.
• Our mouth becomes dry and it feels difficult to swallow.
• We sweat more.
• We feel 'jittery' / 'jumpy' / 'on-edge'.
• We feel frightened.
• We may tell ourselves that we are physically ill, having a heart attack or a stroke or going mad.
• We think people are looking at us.
• We worry that we may lose control or make a fool of ourselves in front of others.
• We feel that we must escape and get to a safe place.
• We make excuses to avoid going out or doing things.
• We hurry out of places or situations where we feel anxious.
• We walk to avoid buses or cross the street to avoid people.
• We may have a drink or take a tablet before doing something we find stressful.
Anxiety is a part of being human; we all have it. And to get anxious in certain situations is normal, everyone does. Most people even experience increased anxiety frequently. Things
like tests, interviews, public speaking, first dates and competitive sports can make anyone pretty anxious.
But for some of us things change, our anxiety grows stronger. It comes on more and more and seems to happen for no apparent reason.
Many people live like this, in a state of heightened anxiety, feeling apprehensive and 'on-edge' frequently, often getting 'too-scared' in various life
situations. Physical symptoms due to anxiety may appear.
For others, over time, this increased anxiety can lead to whole host of more serious problems if not resolved – awful problems such as excessive and
uncontrollable worrying, anxiety attacks or panic attacks that come 'out of the blue', irrational fears and phobias (particularly social phobia), obsessive thoughts
and compulsive behaviours even severe depression... problems we know today as anxiety disorders.
The medical definition of a disorder is: 'an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions'. Anxiety disorders are characterised by significant
feelings of anxiety and fear and there are five main types classified today:-
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves long-lasting exaggerated and unrealistic worry, mainly over things pertaining to the health and personal safety of our
self and family members. It is often accompanied by general feelings of apprehension and being 'on-edge' for much of the time.
Having generalized anxiety disorder is like being in a constant state of 'what if...?' We experience increased, persistent anxiety (seemingly for no apparent
reason) and so live in a constant state of apprehension and fear over something bad happening.
Physically, we frequently feel 'on-edge' and 'jittery' and live in a state of increased tension. Our senses, heart rate and blood pressure are higher than
normal. Over time... End of chapter preview Back
to Contents ^
2. "What We Think, We Become" (Buddha) (Part I, Chapter 2)
A MAN FOUND an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and
cackled and would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the eagle grew very old.
One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of
its strong golden wings. The eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked. "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his
neighbour. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he
This great little story from 'Awareness' by Anthony de Mello makes a very powerful point. Often what we believe to be true isn't, even though everything
around us appears to support it.
Classifying Anxiety Problems
Categorisation reflects the way the brain and mind work and forms the basis of everything we understand. New information is analysed, compared and stored
by reference to what we already know so that we can use it to understand, predict and control our environment. The classification of anxiety disorders is no
different; it serves to describe and order various symptoms into well-defined categories to help manage them. This has promoted much research and expanded our
knowledge of these problems, however most of the research is limited to what can be physically measured and we can truly measure very little in our universe.
The names given: OCD, GAD, PTSD etc. are only descriptions of ways of thinking, feeling and behaving but naming them gives them a life of their own, a
whole new power. Suddenly they are an entity, they exist, and what we think of them is influenced by what we are told. Thoughts and behaviours fundamental to human
existence and survival (experienced by all in times of insecurity) that have become exaggerated due to negative life experiences are now deemed a 'disorder' and we
start to believe everything that the experts and authorities tell us about them.
Feelings, labels and well-meaning mis-information now interplay to shape our beliefs about anxiety-related problems in such a way that make them seem almost
How many 'normal' people (that is those who don't suffer from increased anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, phobias etc.):-
• Say 'Touch Wood' so as not to tempt fate?
• Repeatedly check doors, windows and switches?
• Take a drink before social functions?
• Avoid public speaking at all cost?
Almost everyone displays behaviours associated with anxiety disorders at some time in his or her life – usually in times of stress for they
Let's say I normally check the locks on my front door and back door twice before going to bed, once to lock them and once again just to be sure.
Then I hear vague reports of burglaries in the area and I start re-checking the door locks twice. Three times in total I now check each door.
Suddenly I discover for a fact that my next-door neighbour has been burgled and everything changes... End of
chapter preview Back to Contents ^
3. Understanding Anxiety and How it Works (Part II, Chapter 3)
IMAGINE YOU'RE LYING on a beach. It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze wafting over your body. Sounds of nature fill the
air as you chat and laugh with family and friends. You are surrounded by people that you love and respect and they love and respect you. You feel lovely and warm,
calm, contented and happy, totally relaxed, anxiety-free.
Now imagine a very different scene. It's the dead of night and you are walking alone down a dimly lit alley. There are doorways on either side – who
knows what's hiding in them, waiting to pounce?
You are scared and all your senses are heightened. Your sight and hearing have become more sensitive, able to pinpoint the slightest movement or
sound. Your breathing and heartbeat have become more rapid, you feel light-headed and dizzy and have an overwhelming desire to go to the toilet or throw up. Your
limbs feel shaky and your whole body is now charged with energy, full of anxiety, ready to fight or flee, possibly for your life.
These two scenes represent either end of the anxiety scale. In the first we feel warm, secure and safe; we are fully relaxed. In the second we are really
anxious, highly alert and scared. We are prepared for danger.
* * *
Anxiety is a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years in order to protect us from getting hurt. It is a series of
reflexes and responses involving thoughts and feelings that affect our mind and body as we become prepared to avoid or deal with dangerous situations.
Every single person on the planet has anxiety. It's an essential part of human make up designed to keep us alive and it does this in two main ways:-
Firstly, it helps prepare our body for action, making us more alert, ready to fight or flee from any danger or threat to our survival. Often referred to as
the 'fight-or-flight response' this is responsible for the direct physical sensations (such as rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, being jittery and on-edge, trembling
etc.) that we feel when we are anxious. In real, imminent danger we can go from being totally relaxed to extremely anxious in an instant, which is panic.
Initiated by the release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland the moment we perceive any danger, this fight-or-flight response explains most all of the
physical anxiety and panic symptoms that we experience. Some of the symptoms may be enhanced by thoughts, for example: a dry throat, with subsequent perceived
difficulty when swallowing, may be built up into feeling we are choking, but in essence everything that is happening to our body is a result of it being physically
prepared for action.
Much of this preparation involves the re-directing of resources to the major muscle groups (legs/arms/chest) to provide them with an energy boost for action and
enable us, ultimately, to fight or flee:-
• Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen (fuel) for these muscles into the blood.
• Our heartbeat speeds up to get this freshly oxygenated blood to the muscles more quickly.
• Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy) and from the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
• Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we need to get rid of it quickly – either through the mouth (feelings of nausea) or the
other end (wanting to go to the toilet).
• Other 'energy-wasting' systems (unnecessary in time of danger) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
• We sweat more to cool down all this energy production.
• The energy boost to the muscles makes them feel 'jumpy' / 'jittery' / 'jelly-like'/ 'on edge' ready for action.
These physical symptoms of anxiety form the basis of problems such as general nervousness, social phobias (in fact, almost all phobias) and panic
Secondly, anxiety causes us to plan ahead for any potential dangers and how we might deal with them. We also imagine any painful
consequences. This is an excellent survival strategy (it's better to deal with a danger or avoid it before we get into the situation) but an unfortunate effect of
this is that we can get nervous and anxious just thinking about certain situations.
A main ingredient in the cause of certain anxiety disorders, this function is related to symptoms such as persistent negative thoughts and excessive
* * *
The physical and mental aspects of anxiety affect us so strongly ("What is wrong with me?") that it may be wise to
examine them in more detail. Let's look into them a little deeper to find out what is happening and why, and in doing so remove some of the mystery that surrounds
A speeding heart is one of the defining symptoms of anxiety. We cannot be anxious with a calm, slow-beating heart.
To most people, heart palpitations mean strong, fast heartbeats and a faster pulse – something we can easily associate with anxiety and panic. However,
palpitations also refer to missed or skipped beats.
For the most part, heart palpitations are harmless but it is very important to have any symptoms checked by a medical professional to rule out physical
causes that may be serious.
Palpitations may be warning signs for heart disease, an over-active thyroid or due to certain prescription medications – problems that require
medical attention. A doctor should be called immediately for palpitations that also involve chest pain, loss of consciousness or shortness of breath.
Non-serious heart palpitations often occur due to external things that we take such as caffeine, nicotine and illegal drugs or may result from vigorous
exercise. These are a direct result of something we take or do, are usually less frequent and don't indicate anything is physically wrong.
Another category of palpitations, whilst not serious in the sense of indicating physical illness, generally occur more frequently, involve both speeding
heart and missed beats and reflect an underlying problem that needs attention. These are the heart palpitations caused by anxiety and panic.
Every year in the United States and the United Kingdom tens of thousands of people visit hospital emergency wards fearing they are having a heart attack...
only to discover they were having an anxiety or panic attack. The strong, rapid heartbeat really did make them fear the worst.
Why does our heart speed up so?
Anxiety and panic prepare us to deal with danger, either to fight or run away (the 'fight-or-flight' response). The heart beats faster to pump oxygen
(fuel) more quickly to the major muscle groups (arms, legs, chest) to provide them with an energy boost for fighting or fleeing. The greater the danger, the quicker
we need energy to take action so the faster the heart pumps.
With long-term anxiety and stress our heart generally beats faster than normal at rest and it doesn't take much for it to increase into the first stages of
panic (a harder, faster beat), which we notice as heart palpitations.
This also explains the 'skipped beats' phenomenon. A heart that is continuously beating faster than normal will occasionally miss a beat in order to
correct the pace.
Breathing Too Fast
In an effort to provide the extra oxygen (fuel) that our muscles need to take immediate action we breathe faster to take in more air.
In a truly dangerous situation this is exactly what we need – extra oxygen to keep our muscles supplied as we use it up rapidly in working them hard
to fight or flee.
However, if we are breathing faster... End of chapter
preview Back to Contents ^
4. Anxious Times (Part II, Chapter 4)
IT CANNOT BE SAID often enough: everyone has anxiety, a survival instinct that's evolved over millions of years, to help protect us from being hurt. It
prepares us to deal with anything that may harm us by avoiding it, fighting or running away. To fight or flee, the fight-or-flight response – it is this that we
come to associate with being scared.
In the past, dangerous things that could harm us (and made us scared) included the likes of wild animals, poisonous snakes and insects, strangers, heights
and confined spaces. Being confronted by any of these could have been life threatening.
In the modern world we no longer face the direct threats of our ancestors. They still exist of course (wild animals, dangerous strangers etc.) and could potentially
kill us in certain circumstances, but they don't impact our lives as they did hundreds of years ago.
Today, the things that make us feel scared are more subtle and vague. Their effects build up slowly over time and include such things as:-
• Conflict with family members
• Conflict with peers and partners in relationships
• Trouble with work colleagues or the job itself
• Money, bills and fear of debt
• Health, diet and the fear of illness
• Violence in the world as reported daily in the news
All the above can make us feel bad, unhappy and miserable for a very long time. They involve threat and a lack of control and start to fill us with
As we go through life there are many situations and circumstances that involve unpleasant experiences and can lead to inner feelings of weakness and
vulnerability. Let's take a closer look at some of the significant ones:-
In The Family
Family conflict is one sure fire way to instil deep feelings of insecurity in a child as they grow.
There has been much debate and research around the influence of parents on a person's emotional health. Parents have gone from being fully responsible or
having no responsibility at all, to a middle ground where other things such as peers, school, society and the media play a major part. And these things do play a
part, a very important part (and we'll come to them later) but nothing affects us quite like our parents. Their genes are our genes and from the day we are born we
are shaped by their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours; we are moulded by their hopes and fears, and the way they make us feel often sets the foundation for how we
feel about our self for much of our life.
There are two very common family conflict situations involving our parents that invariably lead to massive feelings of insecurity. These are parental
conflict and parental criticism.
The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love
...Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887)
Perhaps a truer word has never been spoken. When our parents argue we feel awful, simple as that.
Fighting parents pose a threat to a child's sense of safety. Their fighting instils feelings of insecurity, worry and self-doubt and it doesn't take a
great leap in faith or imagination to see how regular and extreme arguing between parents can leave a child in an almost constant state of distress. It makes them
feel bad and that there is nothing they can do about it – two of the essential elements for anxiety.
Constructive criticism, given and received correctly, can be extremely beneficial. But there are no benefits from destructive criticism. It destroys
children; it can destroy anyone.
Destructive personal criticism is an attack and it's not just the words used... End of chapter
preview Back to Contents ^
5. Understanding Control and Change (Part III, Chapter 5)
WHEN IT BECOMES less about the external situation and more about our self, anxiety can be very difficult to deal with. With external threats we have an
element of control: we can avoid the situation in the first place, flee from it or fight our way through it. These are classic responses; exactly what anxiety is
designed for, to save us from getting hurt. But when much of the anxiety we experience is linked to the way we feel about our self, it can seem as though we have no
control at all.
From nervousness and anxiety to panic attacks and phobias; from the obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviours in OCD through to the hopelessness and helplessness
of severe depression... the feeling that there is nothing we can do about it plays a massive part in strengthening the problem.
It lies deep within human nature – the need to be in control of our environment. It must, for our very survival depends on it.
We have an innate drive to understand things that influence our lives so that we can have some control over them, some control over our own survival and
existence. Any situation that we cannot understand or control remains, in one sense, unresolved and anything could happen. Such situations have the potential to cause
us harm and so remain frightening.
This drive has led humans to conquer the oceans, the highest mountains and outer space and we'll search a lifetime to achieve insight into something we
feel has power over us. When we have a sense of control over something, we feel safe for we know we can handle whatever may happen. However, the knowledge that we
cannot control something, in itself, increases our anxiety over it... Back to Contents ^
END OF BOOK PREVIEW
If you have enjoyed this preview and would like to read the book, you can get a copy below.
Taking Back Control
Format: Paperback (Kindle Version)
Author: Terry Dixon
"The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind"
... Caroline Myss