Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review (One Less Thing to Worry About)

Title: One Less Thing to Worry About (uncommmon wisdom for coping with common anxieties)
Author: Jerilyn Ross with Robin Cantor-Cooke
Published: NY: Ballantine Books, 2009 (269pp).

A) Overview
This is a book written by a woman aimed at a mostly women audience. [put it this way, female readers out there generally outnumber male readers.] Based on a premise that women generally worry more than men on a scale of 2:1, the author points out that the 'one less thing' to worry about is essentially learning to see anxiety as a friend rather than a foe. In other words, healthy worries are actually good. Packed with stories from her experience with various people, the author(s) outlines the 'Ross Prescription,' an 8-point set of techniques to free oneself from the tyranny of worry. Ross is currently a Director of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington DC. {you may seem surprised why I read this supposedly women's book. Two reasons. Firstly, in Christian ministry, we need to minister to both genders. Secondly, anxiety is a universal problem.}

Research also shows a significant link anxiety is connected with the following:
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Accelerated breast cancer recurrence
  • Alcohol & Drug abuse
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Eating disorders
  • Obesity

B) Main Points
In Part One, anxiety is given a new identity. The problem behind anxiety is not simply an emotional one. It is also biological. Ross's definition is an anxiety disorder is:

An umbrella term for a group of conditions that involve chronic, excessive, inexplicable anxiety that interferes with the way a person conducts his or her daily life. (39)

Ross writes that living with anxiety is like living with our family, and we need to learn to accept them rather than eradicating them completely. Instead, learn to 'embrace' them (21). It is also important to distinguish panic disorders from normal anxieties, so that we know how to treat them accordingly. In other words, anxiety has 2 sides, one that needs medical treatment and the other a normal occurrence of human living. The key is to know the difference. One way is to recognize our personal relationships with anxiety.

In Part Two, the author deals with four different kinds of relationships.
  1. Reflective-Impulsive Relationship
    Reflective (without conscious thought);
    Impulsive (acting without foresight);

    PROBLEM: people with such a relationship generally tend to do-it-first without much thinking. Instead, they need something to steady the way behind their decision making.
    "The defining characteristic of this anxiety is not the efficacy of the
    responses it catalyzes but its unplanned, fix-it-quick quality." (84)
    TREATMENT: regular meal times, regular sleeping times, exercise and establish limits to emails, phone calls etc.

  2. Pervasive-Adaptive Relationship
    Pervasive: diffused or spread through every aspect of
    Adaptive: adjusting oneself to particular conditions or ways
    "At the heart of the pervasive-adaptive relationship is the sense that anxiety is an inherent part of the self, that you just wouldn't be you if you didn't have a slightly apprehensive always-on-you-guard approach to life." (116)
    PROBLEM: is that if such anxieties are constantly hounded until it has no place else to go, it will surface somewhere.

    TREATMENT: "The key to making the pervasive-adaptive relationship work for you is to be conscious of why you are doing what you are doing." (133)

  3. Primitive-Preventive Relationship
    Primitive: of behavior, thought or emotion originating in unconscious needs or desires and unaffected by objective reasoning.
    Preventive: designed to keep something undesirable such as illness, harm or accidents from occurring.

    Such a relationship is like a IF and THEN one.
    "If I do this thing in just this way, then that thing that makes me anxious won't happen." (135-6)
    PROBLEM: In using this kind of relationship, while one may try to solve personal situations, it unwittingly creates anxieties in others. An example is the mythical or traditional do's and don'ts. Like if one sees a black cat crossing one's path, and then the whole day the person worries oneself to ineffectiveness.

    TREATMENT: Recognize some of these thoughts are irrational and not to be followed. Sometimes, imagined terror is worse than the terror itself.

  4. Imperative-Fugitive Relationship
    Imperative: an unavoidable fact compelling or insistently calling for action
    Fugitive: running away or intending flight

    PROBLEM: sometimes there are things which grows out of our inner fears and insecurity. One of them is the 'primal life and death anxiety,' which can make us blow life out of proportion.

    TREATMENT: Don't become a helpless victim. Do something about it.
PART THREE outlines the Ross prescription to do something about all of the above. It is essentially a 3+8 technique. The three stages are:
  • Assess the anxiety;
  • Observe the situation and circumstances;
  • Accepting it in terms of doing something about it.
  1. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety and stress are part of life.
  2. When you feel yourself getting anxious or starting to worry, stop, breathe and think.
  3. Focus on what you can do, rather than on what you cannot do
  4. Label your anxieties from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Note the thoughts, and behaviors you have at this level and what happens to the level when you change your thoughts and behaviors.
  5. Ask yourself: "What am I really anxious about?"
  6. Ask yourself: "What can I do to lower my anxiety level?" - and do it.
  7. Stay rooted in the here and now. Focus on the information you have rather than on the 'what if?' that often accompany anxiety.
  8. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety, and stress will return, because they are part of life.
C) What I Like
There are some very perceptive pointers about human behaviour. Since Ross's presciption is an 8-step technique, I shall list 8 things I like about them. Firstly, even though the author recognize women tends to be more easily anxious then men, the truth is women also cope better. One of them is via the 'tend-and-befriend' response, which generally puts women better able to handle stress and worries better than men. Women shares their problems while men keep problems mostly to themselves. In other words, men fight-or-flee while women tend-and-befriend.
The theory is that women's responses to stress have evolved not only to overcome or flee it but also to maximize the chances of their own survival and that of their children. To this end, Dr Taylor's team concluded that women typically tend their young and befriend other adults, often women, to mitigate and manage stress and reduce the risk of harm. (59)
In a nutshell, Ross's book reminds us the importance of relationships.

Secondly, there are many studies of gender differences, human phases of life, their various clinical disorders and anxiety research. The author encourages us to have a 'healthy skepticism' whenever we hear findings of any research or lab discoveries (75).

Thirdly, we need to be open that some of our anxieties do require professional help.

Fourthly, easy to read and follow. For an anxious person, the last thing the person needs is a hard to understand manual.

Fifthly, the stories are real life and adds authenticity to the concepts introduced.

Sixth, the way the 4 different relationships are highlighted brings my understanding that anxieties while we should not be enslaved to it, does not mean I should not seek to understand it more.

Seventh, the Ross Prescription's last step is a reminder that anxieties will most likely occur again. The most realistic thing we ought to have in dealing with anxiety is not eradication but education and reduction. In other words, learn from our past, and be better equipped to deal with future occurrences.

Eighth, the book blends scientific research and human experiences in a warm manner, making the book real in many ways.

D) What is Lacking
There is nothing written pertaining to spiritual forces of darkness. This limits the scope of the book drastically as it sees anxieties more with humanistic views. What about healing, especially inner healing? External techniques can only do so much. Sometimes, in order for one to be rational, one cannot simply depend on self-help mechanisms. Apart from taking with the doctor, how about religious groups or community support?

E) Personal Comments
It would seem that the main content provider of the book is Jerilyn Ross, while the second author helps put them together. It seems that the book is also too 'clinical' for comfort. It presupposes that anxiety is something that does not simply 'happen to us.' By saying that anxiety is a 'normal thing,' is Ross downplaying the seriousness of sin? I know that Ross meant well in saying that anxiety is a part of life. However, in the light of Paul's teaching, should we learn to see anxiety from the dimension of focusing on God rather than on our anxiety per se?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Though this is not a book on spirituality, I feel that the roots of anxiety has a more spiritual origin. The Christian worldview recognizes the presence of spiritual forces of evil, lusts of the human flesh and the terrible state of society due to sinful nature of people. Stress indeed can be managed, but the extent to which it is managed is ultimately not about techniques or self-help methodologies. It lies with knowing how we are created, and our purposes in life.

Personal Rating: 3 out of 5 bookworms.


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