The Anxiety Game

The Anxiety Game

It’s Rigged, so Let’s Change the Rules

By Reid Wilson

January/February 2013

Anxiety and its next of kin, fear, are arguably the oldest, most basic human emotions, bequeathed to us by a vast history of prehominid ancestors. We owe our survival as Homo sapiens to these emotions, which were literally built into our nervous systems as an evolutionary hedge against extinction. Yet today, while still protecting us from genuine danger, they’ve morphed into a multitude of extraneous and dysfunctional afflictions—panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and all-purpose generalized anxiety disorder (summoning up anxieties on any and all occasions)—the only effect of which seems to be to torment us pointlessly.

When I began my practice, psychotherapists still knew precious little about anxiety, even though it was probably the commonest form of suffering among the clients we saw. By and large, it was considered a symptom of some deeper psychodynamic process, and analysts helped clients find the deep-seated meaning behind their fears. The working Freudian hypothesis of agoraphobia in women, for instance, was that they withdrew to their homes out of an unconscious fear that they’d become prostitutes.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, when behavioral psychologist Joseph Wolpe’s experimental research perfected relaxation techniques and systematic desensitization, that anxiety began to be treated as a separate problem. To treat a fear of dogs, for instance, Wolpe taught the patient how to become deeply relaxed. He then introduced…

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Friday, August 9, 2013 12:39:31 AM | posted by Oppidhome
Wonderful post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?

I'd be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Bless you!

Saturday, July 20, 2013 1:33:47 PM | posted by Shelli
I'd like to find out more? I'd want to find out some additional information.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013 1:12:48 AM | posted by Jason Linder
Hello my name is Jason Linder. I'm finishing up my Master's in MFT at Alliant International University in Mexico City. I really enjoyed the article.

I'm wondering how applicable these principles of tough love and going toward anxiety are to Insomnia treatment. Part of me would deduce that the same concepts equally apply while another would say that they would all cause even worse sleeping. Sleep is different than panic attacks, phobias & OCD.

Any ideas?

Monday, January 14, 2013 7:45:53 PM | posted by Jayne Grimes
Thanks for this article. I really enjoyed the read. Great depiction of the chronology of the writer's developing thought process. There are possibilities raised for me that within the treatment of anxiety, perhaps where we should begin to focus to a greater degree is on client's discomfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Perhaps the feeling of anxiety is enhanced by the unknown nature of the situation and outcome-so maybe we should also focus on the 'unknowingness' in tandem with habituating to the anxious feeling? Lots of food for thought here for me-thank you!

Sunday, January 13, 2013 4:29:28 PM | posted by Patricia Simpson
Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience. You might look into Richard Miller, Ph.D's iRest At Ease guided meditation program; as well as Yoga Therapy. Yoga offers many tools for healing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013 3:52:54 PM | posted by pair of
I'm trained and certified by the Department of Defense in both CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy) and PE (Prolonged Exposure) therapy: The DoD's gold standards for treating and resolving PTSD (or in other words, Anxiety).

This approach closely aligns with the PE treatment model, but is better. I'm going to start applying the principles, and I expect to see positive outcomes.