Psychological Self-Help

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Research in the last decade or so (much of this information is
taken from Barlow, 2000) has shown that anxiety reactions are not
just simple conditioned responses (like Little Albert's learned fear
reaction to the rat), not just some chemical imbalance (like a physician
might have us believe), and not just some cognitive misjudgment of
the danger involved (as the Cognitive therapist would tell you).
Emotions, in general, have apparently evolved over eons to help us
survive, partly by helping us to be mindful of dangers and to help us
communicate with others. Likewise, some emotion-based symptoms
seem to be inherited from recent ancestors. However, although feeling
stress is the nature of our species, emotional responses can certainly
be modified by an individual's life experiences and by the species
evolution. For instance, some (but not all) fear responses have
apparently evolved to enable us to instantly respond (fight or flee) to
an immediate danger; the nerve impulses tend to go straight from the
eye or ear to our primitive emotional brain, then to the muscles,
bypassing the thoughts ("cognition") in the brain's cortex. Most
people's fear of snakes is like this. 
In contrast with the instant reaction of many fears and panic,
anxiety is usually quite cognitive, i.e. how we see a situation
determines how we feel about it. Barlow says anxiety results from
perceiving one's self as helpless and feeling unable to cope with an
anticipated danger or problem. A fear of public speaking might be an
example--you aren't going to be physically hurt but your pride and
self-esteem may be damaged. Anxiety, thus, involves constant
tension--vigilance, expecting trouble, and sensing, perhaps wrongly,
that we will be unable to handle a possible danger. He suggests a
better term might be "anxious apprehension." Anxiety is future-
oriented cognition, e.g. "I will mess things up in the future because
that is what I have done in the past." (Note: depression tends to be a
past-oriented disorder, "because of my past losses or guilt, I feel
bad.") It is important to realize that you may not be aware of the
specific trigger or cue that sets off the "danger alert." Also, one may
not have specific notions about exactly how he/she will be inadequate
in coping with the problem. In the more extreme cases, all these dire
expectations of disasters and failures to cope may become chronic and
intense, interfering with effective coping by the brain. The panicking
brain no longer effectively thinks of solutions; concentration is lost. 
Human emotions are not simple. Several things are happening
when we are anxious, unreasonably afraid, or excessively scared:
primitive alarms are being set off inappropriately, previous trauma has
conditioned us to over-respond, and our estimate of the true risks
involved has gotten confused. Of course, it is sometimes necessary
and healthy to respond to true threats with fight, flight, or freeze
responses. But what happens when real threats are actually present
but quite unlikely to happen? Some of us mis-calculate and become
overly fearful and panicky. As the anxiety becomes intense, we often
try to handle it in a couple of ways: (1) we avoid the frightening
situation (avoiding it may be self-defeating or lead to
rituals/compulsions and denial) or (2) we uselessly and excessively
worry (which ironically often produces more anxiety, not less) and our
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