A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, riddled with insomnia and emotional terror, I searched the word "anxiety" in Spotify, hoping to find a podcast episode that would comfort me back to sleep. I came across an interview with Dr. Russell Kennedy on the Mel Robbins Podcast. I hadn't heard of either person, but was hooked by the description: "Everything you think about anxiety is wrong." And, "...this interview today is so revolutionary, it's forever changed the way I think about my anxiety and my relationship to it."
I was not disappointed by the interview. I soon fell asleep, soothed and curious about this new method, and in the morning purchased Anxiety Rx.
It took me about two and half weeks to read the book, along with reviews here and there, plus episodes of Kennedy's podcast. Yes the book is repetitive, but in the end I am thankful for that. Without being steeped in the concepts and drilling them over and over, a real shift in a lifetime's worth of negative thought patterns would not be possible. (The suggestion I would make for a revised edition would be to state from the introduction that there will be repetition—and to explain the importance of it—in order to manage reader expectations.)
Like a lot of other satisfied readers, I highlighted vast swaths of the book. Also like a lot of readers, I am familiar with other books, teachings and modalities in the emotional suffering and healing world: The Power of Now, Radical Acceptance, yoga, Buddhism, Byron Katie, Gabor Mate, mindfulness meditation, psychedelic psychotherapy and so forth. I also take an SSRI, completed over a dozen years of counseling, adopted a low-carb, high protein diet, and even became a personal trainer and nutrition coach because of the anti-depressant effects fitness and diet have on my emotional state.
Having done all that, the "alarm" still would find its way through to terrorize me, and I believed the cruel, negative thought loops to such a point that I wanted to die.
What Anxiety Rx did for me was to distill wisdom I had learned from other sources into actionable steps that I could implement immediately.
Dr. Russ teaches (among other things):
-All anxiety is separation anxiety from childhood. In adulthood, we become separated from ourselves.
-Believing negative thoughts is what causes the pain, not the thoughts themselves.
-Approach healing from the neck down. The mind lies. The body never lies.
-JABS = judge, alienate/abandon, blame, shame. JABS are the negative thought loops that lead to depression, paralysis, despair.
-When we were abused or abandoned by our caregivers, we still looked up to them. We could not blame them so we figured we must be to blame. We turned on ourselves as unlovable.
-When alarm strikes, ask yourself three questions: am I safe right NOW, what am I thankful for, where in my body am I safe?
-ALARMS is really what our inner child is feeling. (Abandonment, Loss, Abuse, Rejection, Maturing too early, Shame. Dr. Russ loves his acronyms. I have every one of these letters from my childhood, and had to skip parts of the ALARMS section because it was too overwhelming.) The inner child needs to feel safe and protected. Alarm is triggered in the present by experiences that recall the initial wound. (For me it's also triggered by high morning cortisol.)
-Tune out of the fictional mind and into reality: physical sensations. Hand on your heart, set the intention to protect your inner child. She is safe now. She can rest.
-In the millisecond after the body feels the alarm, the mind scrolls through the rolodex of potential fears to justify the panicked feeling. These thoughts are never true. Don't engage with the thoughts. Keep to the body.
-Trying to heal negative thoughts with more thoughts is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
I LOVED creating visualizations and having conversations with my inner child. It helped me detach in a creative and magical way from incredibly paralyzing thoughts. With an inner child ally, it becomes easy to see that the negative thoughts cannot possibly be true. They can't apply to an innocent child, and we ARE our innocent inner child. Now, every time a negative thought threatens me, I call up my inner child and we dismantle the thoughts together through visualizations and self-compassion.
Since reading the book, I have found a true ally within myself. I have learned that the "ego dragon" is an ancient protective mechanism that warped into a terrorizing demon who also needs to be heard and loved. By telling myself that I am a terrible person it keeps me from taking risks or living in the uncertainty of the present moment, and that uncertainty, as an abused child, was more terrifying than the familiarity and strange comfort of self-hatred. That was a huge revelation that I am so thankful for.
Another revelation for me was the slipperiness of the ego dragon. Over the years, in addition to self-flagellation, my ego dragon fed me enticing fantasies of rescue, which Kennedy associates rightly with victimhood. I used to have great hopes of fame and fortune, along with all-consuming romantic infatuations. I now see that my ego was playing a long con on me—building up the hope of rescue through external and grandiose validation only for the fantasy to never manifest, leaving me feeling humiliated, rejected and inevitably despondent. Now, along with my inner child practice and the ABCs, I remain not only vigilant for self-hating thoughts, but also for fantasies of grandeur, knowing that they are the cunning work of the ego dragon. This helps me stick to the present moment, slow down and lean into the sometimes painful but never deadly uncertainty of life.
I know this book will not resonate with everyone but for me it was a true gift. If Dr. Kennedy ever creates a teacher certification program I would definitely sign up, because it would be incredibly meaningful to help others overcome decades of emotional pain.
To that end I came up with a few of my own acronyms, to customize Dr. Russ's teachings for me and little me:
Whereas Dr. Kennedy created ABCDE—
A — Awareness, attendance, acceptance. Aware of the alarm when it starts. Accept it. Attend to it.
B — Body. Focus on the body—where the alarm is and isn’t. Caress. Hug, Tend.
C — Compassion. Tell yourself you’re safe, you’re okay, it’s perfectly fine to feel afraid. We’re going to move through this together. Reparent yourself here.
D — Discipline. This simply reminds us to practice A, B and C. This dynamic started a long, long time ago, and the...
E — Ego will stop at nothing to attach rationalizing thoughts to the physical sensation of alarm...
I came up with—
PACT. Practice Awareness and Acceptance of your Alarm with Compassion and bodily Caress along with Thankfulness without attaching Thought. Remake this PACT with yourself every time you feel alarm. It will reassure you that you are SAFE. You are WHOLE—
SAFE. Strong Survivor Amidst Adversity, Anxiety and Alarm. Free from Egoic attachment.
WHOLE. Whole Human Owning Life Experience.
Another way I tailored Dr. Russ's wisdom to suit my own needs was to create a morning visualization with my little inner me, for those menopausal mornings when my high cortisol levels shock me awake at 5:47AM with my heart pounding for no specific reason. (It's always 5:47!) The visualization is a physical one. Little E and me will walk by the seashore, or hike through the woods, with her on my back, or we'll run down the beach or anything we can come up with—pyramids in Giza, jungles of Peru, dancing around a campfire in Malibu... The trick is to do something physical because it matches the intensity of my alarmed heartbeat. The magical quality of the visualization then slows my heart out of panic mode and I can fall back asleep and awake an hour or two later much more peacefully. This is a practice I am happy to repeat and have even come to look forward to. It also circumvents the always waiting ego dragon with her negative thought loops. Sometimes when the ego dragon looms too large, I picture her shadow high above us, in a storm at sea and Little Inner Me and me cling to each other, reassuring each other—and the dragon—that we are safe, even as the storm rages all around us. We wait out the storm as a physical visualization and it always passes. The dragon shrinks, the sea calms, and the three of us sail on toward the sunrise, flooded with relief and gratitude.
I always did have a rich inner life, complete with imaginary friends and even an imaginary dog—a pink Yorkie named Raspberry. As a child my fantasy life was a coping mechanism, a way to escape the pain of my dysfunctional and chaotic household. I am thankful it's now coming in handy to help combat the chaos of my mind—a relic from childhood that might never let me go, but that I see now, with Anxiety Rx, I can befriend and utilize for meaningful growth.