|CONTROLLING ANXIETY, William Stewart, Oxford: How To Books, 1998, pbk. L 9.99, pp.160.|
For example Andy, a man in his forties, gets anxious when being alone at home. So he thinks back to other times when he has had the problem in the past. “Gradually he traces this feeling to the time when he was in hospital as a child. This insight removes the anxiety of being left alone.” Having had the privilege of training and working with ‘Phobic Action’ for several years, I must confess that I never came across a truly anxious person who changed their behaviour patterns just by finding out why they had developed them in the first place. It makes it sound so simple.
The author does acknowledge that stress aggravates anxiety and phobias and makes helpful suggestions in improving one’s lifestyle in general. Sometimes however Mr. Stewart again was not specific enough in distinguishing between what Isaac Marks calls ‘normal’ anxieties and fears (see “Living with Fear”, p. 30ff.) and irrational ones.
When the author discusses coping with
anxiety over long-term illness (Ch. 10) for example, the case-study he
chose to illustrate his point, namely the fears of long-term carers who
see no way out, struck me of being quite ’normal’ under the circumstances.
Here I see two people who are coping better than average with Multiple
Sclerosis. They are of course feeling sorry for themselves and wonder how
much longer they will be able to cope, but they are still going through it
together, more than ten years after hearing the initial diagnosis. They
are indeed desperate, but I can’t see how their fears are irrational and
in need of treatment. In my view they have every reason to feel the way
He does however include one topic, which has rarely been dealt with in the arena of anxiety management, and that is ‘eating disorders’. It is an interesting and probably valid point to claim that anorexia and bulimia are closely linked to feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, and constitute a kind of food-related OCD (“the mind of the bulimic is constantly full of thoughts about food”, p.80).
Finally, only the last two chapters deal directly and consistently with the question of combating anxiety. Here Mr. Stewart discusses questions such as cognitive restructuring, thought stopping, relaxation, breathing techniques and imagery work, self-esteem, autosuggestion and how to empower oneself. All these skills are in themselves extremely useful and necessary. But the author only gives us snippets of how these techniques work and can be acquired. I would have preferred one or two case studies where an array of techniques is applied to in detail, step by step, and how the person gradually changes. There is a lot of material but no in-depth-teaching. The inclusion of a relaxation-script might have been useful too.
It could be argued however that I am
expecting too much of a self-help book. Maybe it is only meant to point
people in the right direction. This is certainly something the author has
achieved: basic education of the reader, some techniques that might be
useful and foremost the importance of accepting oneself ‘warts and all’.
Definitely a good read and introduction manual for the fresher first
coming across the subject under discussion.
Copyright © 2000
Stressminus Dr. Patrizia Collard
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