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Self-help for anxiety disorders: What helps and what does not help?

Klaus Bernhardt
by Klaus Bernhardt

The good news first. For some years now, there has been a self-therapy for anxiety disorders that has an above-average success rate. What kind of therapy this is and whether it is also suitable in your case, we will come to that in a moment. The bad news is that you should invest at least 6 hours of your time to learn this technique in such a way that you can use it effectively on yourself.

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But why is self-therapy useful at all? There are above all 3 important reasons why more and more affected persons are looking for a self-therapy instead of putting themselves into the hands of designated therapists:

  1. They do not want their environment to know about their anxiety disorder.
  2. They have to wait too long for a suitable therapy place.
  3. They have already had one or even several therapies without the desired success.

Whichever of these reasons applies, there is a strong case for taking responsibility for mental health back into your own hands, because you are far from alone with this problem:

Surprising facts about anxiety disorders

The word “anxiety” is thousands of years old.  The origin of the word stem speaks volumes: It derives from the Latin word “angor” and the corresponding verb “ango”. Translated both mean “to suffocate“, “to constrict”.  A related word is the Latin “angere”, which means “to close the throat”. Fear is a normal feeling and has always warned us of danger.  But when fear determines our lives, the step into an anxiety disorder is usually not far away. According to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their livesIn 2016, an estimated 19.1% of American adults had an anxiety disorder. That means that at this time, more than 40 million adults in the United States, ages 18 and older, were affected by anxiety disorders. Anxiety has become a widespread disease, and its manifestations are manifold. Panic disorders, agoraphobia (fear of crowds), social phobias, specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorders and anxiety mixed with depressive disorders.  But unlike other diseases, anxiety disorders are rarely talked about. After all, who likes to talk about it when he suffers from a specific phobia and the object of anxiety is darkness, noise, small spaces, social contacts or even snow.

However, as with other diseases, such as cancer, mental disorders can also limit the ability of those affected to meet the normal demands of life. And the number of people who suffer from anxiety disorders is increasing every year. Unfortunately, this also applies to young people. An estimated 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years suffer from an anxiety disorder. This puts anxiety disorders at the top of the list of mental illnesses in the young age group.   And there is a high risk that untreated children with anxiety disorders will perform poorly at school, miss important social experiences and slip into drug abuse. Anxiety disorders have become a problem for society as a whole.

There, not only is self-help support offered, but also information about various contact points within and outside of school to which young people with or without parents can turn.  Anxiety disorders have become a problem for society as a whole.

Anxiety disorders: When the trust in one’s own body has disappeared

People who suffer from an anxiety disorder want nothing more than to regain confidence in their own bodies. At the same time, patients are strongly burdened by the idea that mental disorders are still considered their own fault. Even as conceit or weakness. Many affected people therefore join self-help groups before going to the doctor. The pressure is enormous not to disappoint relatives, friends or work colleagues when a panic attack once again prevents them from fulfilling their social obligations. And it is precisely this smouldering fear of a new panic attack that then leads to constant tension throughout the body. Muscle tension and permanent arousal are the result. Relaxation methods can counteract the strong physical tension. In many cases, the anxiety reactions with symptoms such as anxiety, palpitations, nausea or pressure on the chest then decrease somewhat. These relaxation methods are particularly successful when the fear is not yet too strong.

But in most cases they do not help to get rid of panic disorders and anxiety attacks permanently. But they do bring at least a little reassurance into your life, which is why I would like to share these methods with you as relaxing self-help tips.

PMR: A technique that allows you to relieve your body of tension in stressful situations

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) according to Edmund Jacobson is a simple relaxation method that you can try out for yourself. Born in Chicago in 1888, Jacobson discovered that tension and effort lead to a shortening of muscle fibers. At the same time, he recognized that a reduction in muscle tension also reduces the excitation of the central nervous system, from which many sufferers with anxiety or panic disorders suffer. Jacobson concluded that relaxation exercises have a positive effect on psychosomatic disorders.

Since people with anxiety disorders are no longer aware of the constant stress in everyday life, this method is well suited for some patients to feel their body again and actively bring about relaxation themselves. With this method, certain muscle groups are tensed briefly and gently in exercises to be able to consciously perceive the associated relaxation when letting go. The name progressive muscle relaxation means that several muscle groups are always integrated into the exercises.  For example, the firm closing of the eyes, the lifting of the shoulders, the clenching of the fists or the bending of the toes alternate with the release of the respective muscle region. The aim is to develop a certain routine in muscle relaxation which can be applied in any stressful life situation and which should ultimately lead to a general reduction of the basic tension in the body. For self-learning of progressive muscle relaxation there are books, CDs, apps or videos on YouTube. A positive aspect of this relaxation method is the fact that those affected do not have to wait for a therapy place. Furthermore, they are not confronted with their feelings and can instead concentrate on moving their own muscles.

The disadvantage is that the method is not quite as helpful for pronounced and long-standing anxiety disorders. This is also the case with the next concept for stimulating the self-healing powers in anxiety disorders.

How you can influence your vegetative nervous system with biofeedback

With biofeedback, those affected should learn to directly recognize body reactions that occur unconsciously and to influence them themselves.  These reactions include, for example, the heartbeat, blood pressure, perspiration or even brain waves. The measurement takes place in a hospital, a practice or through biofeedback devices that patients can take home with them. The measurement methods are quite different.  For example, sensors are attached to the body and connected to a computer. On the screen, those affected can see how their bodies react in stressful situations. This enables them to visually recognize the connection between feelings of anxiety and body reactions. With relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, they can then influence the body themselves. Those affected learn how to lower their pulse rate or prevent a rise in blood pressure.

However, the biofeedback method requires a high motivation for body perception and dealing with one’s own feelings of fear. And for many people suffering from anxiety disorders, this is not the right way to get rid of panic attacks. I will explain why this is so in the next section:

Why behavioral or psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is not an instruction for self-help

According to the findings of modern brain research, negative or positive thoughts in their frequency and emotionality have a direct influence on the structure and networking of our nerve cells in the brain. The complexity of this neuronal network is incredibly complex. Approximately 86 billion nerve cells, also called neurons, are connected to approximately 100 trillion synapses in our brain. This means that each individual brain cell is connected to at least 1000 other brain cells. And this huge neural network constantly fires off information with positive or negative connotations. Depending on the feelings to which our thoughts are connected.

If you suffer from recurring panic attacks, you may remember that your anxiety developed slowly. And you may also remember that you slipped more and more into an avoidance behavior to avoid anxious situations. But with each new panic attack your fear of another uncontrollable panic attack increased.  And the longer you suffer from panic attacks, the more your brain has stored the anxiety behavior neuronally. Ultimately, the fear of fear becomes a fully automated program that is well connected and stable in your brain. Maybe you already have an idea of what happens when you talk a lot about your fears in behavioral or psychotherapy or brood about the supposed causes. By constantly dealing with your fear, your neural structures in the brain that fire negative impulses are strengthened. The same applies if you undergo confrontation therapy.

In principle it is the same as with salt consumption. Most of us love salt. It gives the food that certain spice. Our taste buds get used to the taste of salt and we add more and more salt. We no longer perceive the fine taste variations in our food. If we then go on a fasting cure, we notice afterwards that we have actually over-salted our food for a long time. We have got used to the increasing salt consumption and have encouraged it every day. And it is the same with negative thoughts. Every preoccupation with fear displaces our positive emotional variants until these disappear and our world of thoughts is finally over-salted with constant negative emotional impulses. Therefore, relaxation exercises or the biofeedback method also provide calming, but cannot interrupt unfavorable brain automatisms. After all, fear can only be permanently eliminated where it originated, namely in the neuronal structures of your brain. And this is exactly where a new form of self-therapy comes in, which has found more and more supporters in recent years: The Bernhardt Method.

However, before I explain to you how this method works, I would like to talk briefly about the drug treatment of anxiety disorders. Some people may think that a pill for anxiety attacks is the solution to all problems. After all, one does not have to deal with negative feelings. But this is a bad idea, as you will see in a moment.

What doctors often conceal in the medical treatment of anxiety disorders

In the public, the image has been established that depression and anxiety disorders are caused by a disturbed messenger metabolism in the brain. This involves the above-mentioned exchange of information between the billions of nerve cells in our brain. As soon as one of these nerve cells registers a stimulus, it sends out messenger substances, the so-called neurotransmitters, to which serotonin and noradrenaline also belong. These enable the nerve cells to exchange information with each other. The majority of doctors will tell you that these messenger substances must remain in balance. Otherwise, there is a risk that the transmission of stimuli in the brain will falter, leading to depression or anxiety disorders.

And, of course, they will prescribe you a pill against this imbalance. Successfully advertised by the pharmaceutical industry for decades: The SSRI or SNRI pills. Antidepressants, reuptake inhibitors of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are supposed to restore the balance of the messenger substances. Unfortunately, this is nothing more than a marketing strategy, but most doctors will not tell you this. The frightening truth is that antidepressants for anxiety disorders do not work any better than a placebo, i.e. sugar pills without any active ingredient. If you want to inform yourself about this, I recommend an article about the current state of research published in the renowned Zeitschrift für Psychologie: “Antidperessants and the Placebo Effect”.

The scandalous thing about this is not only the fact that an incredible profit is made with the fear of those affected, but also the sad truth that these drugs can have considerable side effects and have a high potential for dependence. Therefore, discontinuing these preparations is often associated with considerable health problems. This is the reason why any drug treatment of anxiety disorders aimed at restoring the chemical balance in the brain should be critically questioned.

Instead, a truly successful anxiety therapy should rather teach you what processes actually take place in your brain during an anxiety disorder and then provide you with appropriate tools to consciously change your self-perception and literally eliminate pathological fear. The Bernhardt Method is one such therapy. It is not only excellently suited to self-help, but also manages without psychotropic drugs, which means that there are no undesirable side effects and no high addiction potential.

Successful against anxiety disorders: Is the Bernhardt Method suitable for everyone?

I can answer this question with a definite Yes. And it doesn’t matter which form of anxiety disorder you suffer from. No matter if agoraphobia, panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, hypochondria, PTSD or even special phobias, such as emetophobia or social phobia. The Bernhardt Method has already proven itself a thousand times in all these cases. If you have already made several unsuccessful attempts to escape your fear, you are understandably very skeptical at this point. Perhaps you have been taking antidepressants or tranquilizers for years, have undergone confrontation therapy or psychotherapy, or have tried various relaxation techniques without success. A therapy diary has not helped you and you have already contacted the self-help organizations in your state or district. Perhaps you carry life cards with you, whose pictures and sayings are intended to support you in stressful situations. Or in each of your pockets there are Vomex tablets against nausea and dizziness or Tavor if the fear is otherwise unbearable. In other words, you have already tried almost everything to get rid of the fear and the agonizing anxiety symptoms. But unfortunately, without success.

One thing, however, you may not have tried yet: Namely, to use the neuroplasticity of your brain in a targeted way to literally reprogram your brain, which is programmed to fear. We are not only talking about the self-healing powers of positive thoughts, but rather about a special mental training, which has already been successfully carried out by thousands of former anxiety patients.

The Bernhardt Method: 20 minutes a day that will free your life from fear

If we stick to the comparison with the world of thoughts over-salted (by negative feelings), the question arises how you too can wean yourself off it. Or whether you even have to go to rehab? I can assure you, nothing like that is necessary! On the contrary. You will love to let the lost taste variations of the positive emotional world back into your life. But enough comparisons. Now let’s get to how you too can get rid of your anxiety attacks permanently.

The Bernhardt Method is based on the latest findings of modern brain research. The point is that with targeted mental training you can restructure your neuronal connections in the brain itself so that your nerve cells start to fire positive impulses. All you need is your 5 senses and 20 minutes for a daily program, by reformulating your thoughts positively. That is all! Maybe you say now: How is that possible? Just by doing this alone I will lose my anxiety attacks? Since I am asked this question very often, I have recorded a video that answers this question in a simple and comprehensible way. It is the first of 52 episodes of an online video course that was developed especially for anxiety patients. Be surprised how easy and efficient self-help for anxiety and panic can be once you have understood how to control the neuronal processes of fear in the brain itself.