Stacey Chillemi: What inspired you to write your book?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: The reason we decided to focus our second book on this topic was the fact that anxiety is the most frequently diagnosed condition in Psychology. Anxiety is often referred to as, “The common cold of mental health”. If you were to ask 100 people if they could identify something that they are worrying about, 33% Americans would report that they are chronic worriers.
Stacey Chillemi: How did you come up with the title?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: There are two important aspects to the title. “Take Control of Your Anxiety” reflects our goal to encourage individuals to take a proactive approach to dealing with the stress in their lives. Take Control of Your Anxiety provides the tools that empower people to address and resolve their anxiety/stress. Secondly, “A Drug-Free Approach to Living a Happy, Healthy Life”, reminds the reader that medication is never a primary intervention. The research consistently reveals the importance of developing healthier coping skills, adapting their responses to the stress of life, and helping individuals alter their perception of different situation in life.
Stacey Chillemi: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: There are several messages we hope our readers acquire from reading the book. First, anxiety or arousal is normal and is helpful towards moving towards our goals in life. Second, there is an elegant yet simple equation that explains anxiety; Investment + Perceived Threat = Anxiety. You must be emotionally invested in the issue and you must perceive a threat (real or imagined) in order to feel anxious. Remember that your emotions are not based on reality but on your perception of reality. Lastly, anxiety disorders can be treated but you have to take an active role in resolving your condition.
Stacey Chillemi: What causes anxiety and panic disorders?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Remember the anxiety equation; Investment + Perceived Threat (real or imagined) = Anxiety. The difference is oftentimes a matter of duration. Generalized anxiety usually is a byproduct of chronic stressors and can linger for quite some time; while Panic Disorder occurs suddenly, and has intense symptoms (often the individual mistakenly believes he is experiencing a heart attack). In our vast experiences in treating patients with anxiety/panic attacks (we use the terms interchangeably), most often the “attack” is preceded by the perception that one is trapped, overwhelmed and/or out of control. That is why panic attacks rarely occur while golfing or fishing, but occur routinely in closed in spaces, (planes, elevators or subways). Note that the fear of experiencing a panic attack is another potential contributor to creating panic attacks. That is, merely fearing a panic attack will occur can be enough to trigger a panic attack. The good news is this: when people understand how they create their own panic, by telling themselves they are trapped, they can learn a new way to think about panic. As a result, they often lose their fear of panic, and as a result, reduce or eliminate panic attacks from their lives.
Stacey Chillemi: How do you know if you’re having an anxiety attack?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: It is always wise to err on the side of caution. If you think that you are experiencing a heart attack, you need to undergo a medical evaluation. Once a heart attack has been ruled out, you will need to begin the process of addressing your anxiety. There are three ways that anxiety presents; 1) thoughts, 2) feelings and 3) physiologically.
Stacey Chillemi: Describe how anxiety can impact people’s lives?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Individuals may develop elaborate coping skills to manage their anxiety symptoms. The most common coping tool used, yet also the most unproductive strategy is Avoidance. Some people self-medicate, while others create extreme rituals which might provide short-term relief, but never provide long-term resolution. Avoidance is seen when someone declines a dream vacation because of their fear of flying. Other people claim to be health conscious to explain why they take the stairs to the 24th floor because their fear of elevators. Avoidance may remove you from the feared stimulus/situation but it only works until the next time you are in that situation. Perhaps the worst impact on human life is human suffering. Anxiety is not typically deemed to be dangerous, per se, but it seems to suck the joy out of life. Long-term resolution to the symptoms is what our goal is in the book.
Stacey Chillemi: How can people effectively overcome anxiety?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: In our book, Take Control of Your Anxiety: A Drug-Free Approach to Living a Happy, Healthy Life we five common anxiety disorders as well as chapters that address a wide variety of helpful, adaptive coping strategies. In Chapter Four titled, “Garden Tools” we offer an array of skills that any reader could directly put into practice into their own lives. In Chapter Five titled, “Power Tools” we review more potent and complex strategies. These oftentimes are best developed with the assistance of a good mental health provider.
Stacey Chillemi: What anxiety reduction methods do you find most helpful?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Depending upon how anxiety is being experienced by the individual (e.g.; thought, feelings, physical) will often determine the intervention. One of our very favorites is Visualization/Guided Imagery, because it is a magnificently powerful coping skill. Since your emotions are not based on reality but on your perception of reality Visualization/Guided Imagery works because you mentally develop healthier coping mechanisms, and help you accept/release traumas and painful experiences. Your Central Nervous System responds to whatever you perceive. In essence, whatever your mind’s eye sees becomes your reality. I like the combination of Deep Breathing, Muscle Relaxation and Visual Imagery when working with my patients. Other helpful techniques include focus = energy, “What’s the worst that could happen?” acting as if you were the healthiest person in the world, The Serenity Prayer, etc.
Stacey Chillemi: What was the most difficult aspect of eliminating anxiety?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Recall that whatever you practice, you get better at. So, even by practicing unhealthy decisions and behaviors, you will become more adept at engaging in unhealthy decisions and behaviors. In Psychology 101, we learn that if you associate one thought, feeling or action with a specific outcome, the two will become paired. Hence, some individuals hold on to and maintain the poor choices, thoughts and feelings, since they serve a purpose of providing short-term relief. Acceptance is the hardest skill to perfect, but the most powerful tool in the universe, because acceptance begets peace, the opposite of anxiety.
Stacey Chillemi: How has your life changed now that you are anxiety-free?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: I have found that I need to help my patients who have resolved their anxiety to develop a healthier identity and self-image. They have been struggling with anxiety for so long that their identity is oftentimes tied to the diagnosis. Once they are liberated from the self-imposed shackles of the label anxiety, they need to broaden their perspective of the world and of themselves. Also, learning Mindfulness-the ability to live in the now- allows me to enjoy each day without borrowing potential catastrophes from tomorrow.
Stacey Chillemi: Do you have any advice for people suffering from anxiety?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Snap out of it! And just in case that doesn’t work, I know of an excellent resource that you can read, Take Control of Your Anxiety: A Drug-Free Approach to Living a Happy, Healthy Life. (You had to see that coming). Additionally, consider mastering your A-words: decrease your tendency to avoid challenges and admit that there are issues, Approach/Address the challenges and struggles, adapt your coping skills and adjust your perceptions. Finally, learning how to effectively replace worry with faith can reduce anxiety significantly.
Stacey Chillemi: What are your current projects?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Dr. Cortman and Dr. Shinitzky have converted our first book, Your Mind: An Owner’s Manual for a Better Life into an evidence-based youth prevention curriculum, The Social Black Belt. We are now in the process of implementing the program for all age groups (e.g.; Elementary, Middle and High School). Eventually, our goal is to have a proactive, transformative television show that helps individuals in society use these tools from our prevention program to address and resolve their life challenges.
Stacey Chillemi: Do you have a website people can visit?
• Dr. Christopher Cortman – www.srqshrink.com
• Dr. Harold Shinitzky – www.drshinitzky.com
• Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor – The Social Black Belt youth prevention program – http://www.thesocialblackbelt.com
Stacey Chillemi: Where can people find your book?
Dr. Christopher Cortman, Dr. Harold Shinitzky and Dr. Laurie-Ann O-Connor: Barnes & Noble, Amazon and a bookstore near you.