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I Learned to Manage Anxiety and So Can You!

18 August 2020

Barbara was interviewed for a Life Free of Anxiety podcast episode and was happy to share the story of how she learned to manage her own anxiety over 35 years ago.

Tags: barbara read, covid-19, mental health, mindfulness

I had a few panic attacks in the early 1980s but didn’t even know that term when they first started. I had been a worrier for as long as I could remember but had never felt that my anxiety was debilitating. Then in 1983, we moved to Maitland, Florida, so my husband could transition from being a pediatrician to a physician administrator. We loved living in Charlotte, NC, but there were very few HMOs in the country at that time, and George wanted to be a medical director.

I gave up a job I loved teaching English literature at Queens College. I became sadder, angrier, and more anxious during the first year after the move and finally didn’t sleep for eight nights in a row. I had left a friend in Charlotte who had been telling me for years there was a program that could help me stop having panic attacks. I called her, ordered the 15-week cassette tape program, and did what they told me to do.

The essential but boring assignment was to listen to a ten-minute relaxation audio tape and do what it said–breathe and relax each set of muscles in my body. I had tried many different relaxation exercises in the past, but I’d listen one time and say, “Well, that didn’t work.”

The speakers on the audio program, which is called CHAANGE said, “We’re not talking about one time.” (I’m afraid to tell you this for fear you will stop reading. Please keep reading!) “You need to lie down and do the relaxation exercise 10 times a day and listen to it with a headset on another 10 times a day while you go about your life—cooking, getting dressed, exercising, whatever.” This was not intellectually difficult, but it took extraordinary discipline to make myself do it. However, I was miserable and willing to try anything.

I learned from the program that some serious effort is needed to teach your body how to stop pumping excessive adrenaline which is what is happening when you are afraid and your heart is racing. All people feel this way in dangerous situations, but those of us prone to anxiety overdo it and keep pumping adrenaline long after the time when it is helpful. It is impossible to be relaxed and have a panic attack at the same time. If an attack begins, and you do this program’s slow breathing, muscle relaxing, and calm thinking, the panic will stop.

You may be thinking, “But I don’t have panic attacks.” Well, my anxiety wasn’t always in the form of an attack either. It was often a low-grade pulsing in the back of my mind that kept me from sleeping well, accomplishing goals, having important conversations, trying new things, and generally just enjoying my life. I would have never imagined that after just 15 weeks I'd be brave enough to parasail!

During my 25 years of coaching physicians, I have often recommended the program to people who were suffering from anxiety. This spring my daughter went to the CHAANGE website to recommend it to one of her clients and discovered the site had been taken down. She asked me to do research to find out what was going on. I clicked on so many things I don’t remember what they were, but finally a group of podcasts popped up with Erica Roth and Dr. Charles Barr. Bingo!!

I listened to about six episodes and heard the soothing therapy voice of Dr. Barr and the crisp, clear, personable podcast voice of Ms. Roth and was excited to realize the program was in good hands. At the beginning and end of each one, Erica says, “You are NOT alone. You are NOT broken & You CAN live a life FREE of anxiety!" That was exactly what I needed to hear 35 years ago.

I filled out the contact form and shared that I did the program in 1984 describing how it changed my life. We exchanged several emails and had a phone call. Erica wanted details of my story and to know if it was helping me now in these new and difficult times. I explained I had panic at the beginning of the pandemic, but that I returned to the exercises and soon, I settled down more than I thought possible.

I was delighted when she asked to interview me for this episode and am glad that I can still recommend the program to others. I am not happy about being sheltered in place more than most people due to my husband's Parkinson’s disease, and I miss how my life used to be. However, even in the midst of this crisis CHAANGE is still helping me to cope. While I had to commit to a very intense program for 15 weeks back in 1984, I now get relief as soon as I do the exercises. Once upon a time, I was scared of flying and today I fantasize about when I can safely get on a plane again. Perhaps this program is right for you or someone you love. I’d be happy to have a phone call with you to answer any questions.

p.s. If you're not quite ready to sign up for the whole program, try this exercise first.


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