Mark Reinecke, head of psychology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, has written a book about controlling anxiety and effectively managing stress and fear.
The book is titled “Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On: Twenty Lessons for Managing Worry, Anxiety and Fear.”
“We live in an age of anxiety, whether it’s economic worries or potential terrorist threats, or how you are going to care for your aging mother,” says Reinecke, “There are a whole range of things that come at us as a society that make us feel more anxious than at any time in our recent history.”
Anxiety is a natural and adaptive emotion from an evolutionary perspective. It protects us from perceived threats, he notes. It leads to neurochemical and cognitive changes, which prepare us for fight or flight.
We tend to overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening and underestimate our ability to cope. “When you do those two things, the estimation of how much danger you are in goes up proportionately,” Reinecke says. “We go to the worst-case scenario immediately. We awful-ize.”
In the book, Reinecke discusses productive versus unproductive worrying, how to cope with recurring intrusive negative thoughts (which he likens to the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz”), how to control your anxiety, accepting an uncertain future, changing dysfunctional thoughts and strategies to relax. All of these skills can be learned, he notes. They are effective for daily life as well as for dealing with serious illness.
“You don’t want to avoid the things you fear; you want to think about how to effectively manage them,” Reinecke says. “The more you effectively cope with a situation, the more confidence you have. Then, when a threat arises in the future, you know you can manage it.”
Security doesn’t reside outside of us, like an insurance policy. Rather, Reinecke says, security resides within us. “No matter the problem life brings us, we know we can manage and cope.”