Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

From the Editor

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

From the Editor

Article excerpt

From the Editor

When I was a 12-year-old, I wanted so badly to win at basketball and was so afraid of losing that my heart would start pounding, my throat would constrict, and my palms would go clammy every time a game got close. But what made it worse was that I couldn't tolerate even the idea that I was anxious--it was just such an uncool state to be in. I regarded fear as a foreign intruder into my life, and I summoned all my energy to squeeze it out of awareness--which was, of course, futile. It was like being in a losing fight with my own autonomic nervous system.

Now, more than 40 years later, I still play basketball and still feel my heart pounding when the competition ratchets up. I haven't exactly learned to love the nervous stomach, tight jaw, and shallow breathing when they pay their accustomed visits, but at those moments, it's as if I'm greeting a very familiar, although often difficult, acquaintance. I share a lot of history with this demanding, lifelong companion who, in his own way, I now realize, has been looking out for me all these years. After all, a certain amount of anxiety can be a good thing--it certainly gets my attention, usually makes me try harder, and always lets me know when certain things really do matter to me, whether I want them to or not. You could say I've developed a kind of relationship with my anxiety.

For some of us, anxiety is a constant presence, always perching on our shoulder like a vengeful gargoyle--the last thing we're aware of at night, the first thing we feel in the morning. Getting away from this miserably persistent companion becomes a major focus of our lives. We try to drink it away, smoke it away, eat it away, exercise it away, shop it away--frantic consumerism is a well-known American antianxiety pursuit--down tranquilizers by the bottle, or outright deny it and end up exploding at our kids, swearing at other drivers, and watching our blood pressure rise.

Many therapists today seem to treat anxiety as an alien intruder that needs to be subdued, extirpated, flushed away--through medications, hypnosis, cognitive restructuring, or some other kind of therapeutic exorcism. But, as several of the writers in this issue suggest, maybe the whole idea of trying to suppress or escape our anxiety is wrongheaded, not to mention unrealistic. …

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