About Roger Davis and AnxietyMadeEasy.com

Dr. Roger Davis is a Licensed Psychologist in all PsyPact states (red). He is also a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional in all PsyPact states. Consultations are always free. Happy to chat about your anxiety, worry, and panic. Call me at 941.208.2220 or email at Roger@FloridaAnxietyCenter.com. I return messages within 24 hours. –Roger Davis, PhD, CCATP

When I originally started as a psychotherapist, I soon discovered a talent for helping clients with anxiety disorders. Several things attracted me to this area. First, I started my career as in psychology with the intention of being an academic. In much of psychology, the theoretical principles are constantly evolving.

With anxiety, however, the theoretical principles are pretty well known. Therapy can then be based on these principles, with some reassurance about its success. Every human being is individualized in terms of their own history and biography. In adapting techniques to the specific person, some theoretical lens is extraordinarily helpful. The principles underpinning anxiety seemed definite enough to support a therapist who prefers to synergize empathy and science.

Second, my anxiety clients were suffering enormously and were extraordinarily grateful for help, any kind of help. True, some of these clients were stressed by various life demands, but most seemed to be battling an invisible Godzilla loose in their heads. They coped mainly with distraction and suppression, and their efforts were spectacularly unsuccessful. Once loosed, Godzilla always destroys Tokyo, that’s just how the universe works.

To repel the monster, clients were looking for weapons. They wanted me to supply those weapons, something high tech, more sophisticated than a fancy way to ignore it. That became my introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT emphasizes acceptance, values, and commitment to values for guiding life and motivating action.

Anxiety about Anxiety

Eventually, I began referring to this invisible monster as “anxiety about anxiety.” Athough the various anxiety disorders each capture and exemplify a particular symptom from the total anxiety constellation—Generalized Anxiety Disorder is mostly about worry, for example—anxiety about anxiety is “second order symptom” that involves dread of anxiety itself. Anxiety about anxiety exceeds anxiety about health, finances, relationships, or any particular content area.

As such, I began to see anxiety about anxiety as both a marker of severity and as the main treatment focus. Clients eventually have reactions to their own anxiety. Maybe it starts with a medical scare or a breakup. Eventually, however, anxiety decouples from any content area and becomes anxiety about anxiety. At that point, it has become a full blown, self-sustaining, psychological autoimmune disorder, attacking the client’s own defenses by detecting its own symptoms as threats. Once this begins, the monster is loosed. Clients don’t care about their health scare or their breakup anymore. Instead, they have one question on their mind: “When is this damn anxiety going to go away?”

Entanglements with Anxiety

As the work continued, my clients continued teaching me more and more about anxiety. I began to see anxiety about anxiety as merely the most salient exemplar of a whole set of reactions to anxiety. Anxiety about anxiety can entangle other negative emotions as a means of weakening the client’s coping mechanisms. Frustration with anxiety is probably universal, but I’ve also seen client exhibit extraordinary anger at their anxiety. They don’t just want to stop their anxiety, they want to hurt it, the way you might hurt an insidious, obnoxious parasite feeding on your quality of life. When other negative emotions are strongly involved, these becomes another layer or focus of treatment that must be addressed before improvement can occur.

Self-Reactions

Client’s also exhibited a variety of intense self-reactions, including frustration and anger with the self, guilting and shaming themselves for having anxiety, and disappointment with themselves. Underlying all such self-reaction is the assumptions that “I should not have this, because I should be able to control thoughts and feelings. Client’s are suprised to learn that one of the most therapeutic changes they can make is NOT trying to control their thoughts or feelings, but instead controlling their reaction to them.

My own Anxiety Episode

Third, I went through period of intense anxiety myself before the birth of my son, Levi. While my wife was pregnant, red tide ravaged the whole southwest cost of Florida from Naples to Clearwater. We lived maybe a mile from the beach, and the fumes were overpowering sometimes, even inside the house. I began to wonder what chemical might be in those fumes, and whether it would effect my unborn son somehow. I began making phone calls and talking to research scientists, and no one could tell me it wouldn’t. One researcher suggested we move away, just to be sure.

About the same time, the red tide started affecting my respiratory functioning and it became nearly impossible to breathe through my nose. My ENT twice put me on prednisone to try to reduce the sinus inflammation. To this day I tell people that red tide almost killed me. Descending into sleep sometimes felt like descending into suffocation. If the fumes were having that effect on me, what were they doing to the baby?

And that’s how my own anxiety started. I can still remember my thoughts racing, my heart pounding, the muscle tension in my body. I remember laying in bed with all these symptoms happening simultaneously and thinking “This is what a panic attack feels like, I’m having a panic attack.”

The anxiety surged in waves, seemingly dependent on the nature of each successive thought in my mind. The stages detailed above…I went through all of them. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “This is going to make me better as a therapist…if I ever recover.”

A Better Therapist

I’m sure it has made a better therapist, but wow, that period of my life was really difficult. Instead of just talking about radical acceptance, I had a chance to practice it myself. Any little stressor could get the symptoms started. I remember sitting at the computer, needing to troubleshoot something that shouldn’t have been any big deal, and my throat feels like it’s going to close up and I’m going to suffocate. I’m practicing radical acceptance by telling myself, “Well, that’s how it is right now, I’m not going to fight it, I’m just gonna be okay with it,” and relaxing my mental attitude and reclaiming some energy by letting go of the frustration. That was really helpful.

When my son was born, he was fine, thank God, and I had learned a life lesson not only about anxiety, but also about the importance of framing anxiety as a growth message. The meaning of all our life experiences are constantly open to revision depending on our actions. I began asking myself, “How am I going to leverage this experience in a way that furthers my personal growth as a human being?” Caring deeply about clients is one way, understanding their anxiety because it happened to me is another way.

AnxietyMadeEasy.com

And now there’s this website, a changing, ever-growing entity, which tries to distill everything I’ve learned from my clients, from my reading, and from my own experience with anxiety into a formula or plan that can help other people. Dare I call it wisdom? The site does try to incorporate helpful perspectives from some of history’s great teachers, like Epictetus and Mother Teresa and the Buddha. Their work is addressed, not just to anxiety, but to suffering in general, and so becomes highly relevant. Anxiety is part of suffering, and anxiety about anxiety doubly so, just like any self-inflicted wound.

If you’re out there reading these words, my hope is that your spirit finds herein the sustenance you need to make it though. Life goes on, and if we can find some way to give meaning to our anxiety experiences, it goes on in a much better way than before.

My personal belief is that the earth is a place of education and our lives are a time of education. Believe it or not, anxiety has some important lessons in it, especially lessons about control and acceptance, at so many levels. I don’t mean just acceptance of the symptoms, though that’s an important foundation, too. I mean letting go of anger and disappointment and guilt for having the symptoms. That’s the lesson of self-forgiveness and the cultivation of mindful awareness in regard to all of one’s own self-reactions. If you let anxiety be your teacher, you will come out the other side of your anxiety stronger and much, much wiser. That’s my wish for you, and for every human being who is suffering with anxiety

Sincerely,

Dr. Roger Davis
Sarasota County, Florida