Friday, July 24, 2015

Review # 298: Overcoming Anxiety by David John Berndt, PhD


          Psychologist David Berndt, Ph.D., in Overcoming Anxiety, outlines several self-help methods for relief from anxiety and worry. In clear language and a conversational style. Dr. Berndt talks with the reader like he might in a therapy session, and he shares what he has learned from his clients about how to make techniques for anxiety management more effective and helpful..
You will be able to learn:

  • A Self-hypnosis grounding technique in the Ericksonian tradition.
  • Box Breathing, Seven Eleven and similar breathing techniques for anxiety relief.
  • How to stop or interrupt toxic thoughts that keep you locked in anxiety.
  • How to harness and utilize your worries, so they work for you.
  • Relief from anxiety through desensitization and exposure therapy.

          Designed to be used alone as self-help or in conjunction with professional treatment, Dr. Berndt draws upon his experience as a clinician and academic researcher to give accessible help to the reader who wants to understand and manage their anxiety.


       Overcoming Anxiety by David Berndt is a short self-help guidebook that offers readers an array of anxiety relief strategies based on novel therapeutic and cognitive behavioral techniques used by psychologists. It focuses on using proven techniques to overcome anxiety, panic, and dread, without the use of anti-anxiety medications, allowing readers to begin understanding the biological and social aspects of anxiety as a disorder. Topics include: “Managing Anxiety by Coming to Your Senses”, “Breathing Easy”, “Worries That Work”, “Defusing Fears and Anxiety”, “Thinking Clearly”, and “All in Your Head? Physiological Factors in Anxiety, Stress and Panic”; covering both mental and physical facets of the disorder. The format is well-structured and easy-to-understand, but certain areas include more psychological jargon than entirely necessary. That said, the material is still very accessible and can be easily implemented/ modified by readers and/or therapists. Overall, I found this guidebook to be a good resource for people with mild to severe anxiety issues. I myself tend to become anxious at times, and the 54321 technique definitely helped me to relax and focus on other objects (not the stressor), especially when presenting projects at work. Overcoming Anxiety indeed holds a lot of worthy information in its forty-five pages, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for relief from anxiety and associated feelings.

Rating: Bounty's Out (3.75/5)


          “ I am teaching you my version. My modifications of the 54321 grounding technique have been improved and changed by my clients, to fit their needs. I would be pleased if you chose to change the technique somewhat, so that the skill rightly belongs very much to you. 
In fact, I hope you can forget that I taught it to you, and instead give yourself the entire credit. If you do the 54321 senses technique right, it will be yours. You will be comforted not only by your skills, but by the knowledge that there is so much relief available right inside you. 

How and When the Technique Works 

          Before we start, I want to explain a little bit about how it works. This technique is a good way to learn to manage or change any strong feeling. It not only works with anxiety, but with anger as well – in fact it can help with any feeling that is too strong. However, it is not really suited to dealing with sadness, a feeling for which we typically will use other methods. But the five sense technique really has the potential to work like a charm when you are anxious, fearful or worried. 
          This method does not aim to rid you of your anxiety or fear, and it does not - and should not - entirely stop the worry or fretting, or solve all your pressing problems.  What it can do is shrink the troubling feeling so it can be a lot smaller, and not feel so strong and compelling.  
          You don’t necessarily want to lose your feelings of fear or anxiety, because these feelings can be useful. Let me explain why. 
          Anxiety is a signal that something is either already wrong, or about to become a problem, or so you believe. It is like a red or yellow light, at a traffic signal. It tells you, “wait a second, something is up!” When you are afraid, you usually have a good idea about what it is you are afraid of, but with anxiety you don’t even really know what it is. 
          In either case, you don’t necessarily want to get rid of the signal, you just want to make it smaller, and more manageable. The signal is supposed to be useful, and in response to a signal, you are supposed to do something, right? That is what anxiety is – anxiety signals for you to do something. If something frightens you or makes you mad, you will probably want to fix it.
          If you bend your leg too far one direction, you feel pain, and that signal tells you stop bending it. If you cut yourself, you may use the pain signal to remember to clean a wound, and maybe even to get a bandage. But if the pain is too big, then it is not so useful. You need enough of the pain to get the message, but not so much that it will drive you crazy or keep you awake.
The same thing holds true with anxiety. A problem that is worrying you - or that you are afraid of, or dreading - probably needs your attention. But if there is too much anxiety or fear, or too many worries, then you are likely to get overwhelmed and not make use of the anxiety signal to make the needed changes.
          To go back to the traffic light metaphor, if you make use of the yellow light at the signal, then you will likely change your speed - slow down or speed up - in order to avoid a collision. But if the light was so bright that you couldn’t see the intersection well, then that signal is not of much use. It might even cause you to crash, or sit there frozen until someone coming through the intersection hits you.
          So the problem with controlling anxious feelings lies in learning how to shrink - but not get rid of - that big feeling of anxiety. The technique I intend to teach you uses your body’s five senses. It “grounds” the strong feelings in your body, in much the same manner as an electrical ground releases the pent up electrical charge that it drains off. 
          This technique is one method you can use to do neutralize your big unmanageable feelings. It is derived from several different approaches to managing feelings. One approach that is utilized, as part of the 54321 Technique, is self-hypnosis; it is easy to do, and easy to learn just from reading this chapter. As such, the 54321 Technique makes use of some principals from Ericksonian hypnosis, indeed most credit that technique to Milton Erickson's wide Betty. More about that later.
Distraction is another approach I draw upon with the 54321 Technique. The mindfulness literature provides a context that is important as a third body of knowledge I drew upon in refining this technique.

Distraction as Way to Manage Anxiety 

          Think back to the last time you saw a child throwing a temper tantrum. What can you as an adult do that can make the child stop? If your six year old nephew is along on your shopping trip, and he gets it in his head that he wants some extra candy or that chocolate-coated cereal, what can you do?
          Distracting him is one approach that works fairly well. You can distract the child with a serious threat and a loud voice, or maybe with some tickling, but a more pleasant and effective way is to just get them thinking about something else. If your child or nephew is a fan of Disney, you can get them talking about the trip the family has planned for next week to Disneyland. If your eight year old is into collecting coins, you can pull out a pocketful, and soon he will be inspecting your change for their latest treasure. 
          Adults do not have as many temper tantrums, but distraction works as well with their version of these affective storms. Indeed, one of the classic techniques of anxiety management uses distraction at the core of it - you simply find a distraction from the feeling of anxiety and run with it. The idea is this:  if you can find a way to distract yourself - or have someone else distract you - then that distraction takes your mind off the anxiety. Of course something distracting works best when you find the distraction sufficiently interesting, so that it can easily hold your attention. 
          If your child is into Disney, or coin collecting, then that will probably work to divert them from a tantrum. The distraction has to be something they like, are interested in, or that they find compelling for some other reason. It has to be at least as interesting – ideally more so – than the thing causing the tantrum.
          So, too, you will need something quite interesting to divert your anxiety. If you can use distraction to overcome a child's tantrum in the supermarket, surely you can find a way to use the same principal on yourself, if you want to manage your own out of control feelings. The 54321 technique as I teach it uses this principal of distraction, as a core feature, and it teaches you cool ways to distract yourself from your anxiety.
          Using the 54321 technique, you can get really good at finding ways to distract yourself from your anxiety, and that is only one third of the recipe I am preparing for you. 
Mindfulness- Embracing the NOW
          For the purposes of teaching the technique, I will be asking you to get distracted by noticing your world around you, in the here and now, using your five senses. While there are plenty of things you and I can think of that could capture the imagination even more completely, we are all interested in what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. It is certainly  a lot easier to teach this method if I use something everybody experiences, so I am utilizing these five senses. It just so happens that this is making use of another area of psychology- the mindfulness literature.
          Mindfulness research has shown that paying attention in the here and now to what your senses are experiencing can be a very powerful way to bring your feelings under control...”

About the Author:

          David John Berndt received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago, and was on the faculty at the University Of Chicago Department Of Psychiatry. Berndt has published or presented over 80 papers professionally before moving more recently to Charleston, South Carolina.

          In addition to his professional writing, Doctor Berndt maintains the Psychology Knowledge web site, blogs, and he sees clients in his psychotherapy and marriage counseling practice in his downtown Charleston, SC psychologist office. He recently published a book Overcoming Anxiety.

*** I received this book from the author/ publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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