Making Sense of Anxiety
This episode was originally recorded in the studio. To watch the video series, head to
In today's episode of the 'Life Free of Anxiety Podcast', host Erica and co-host Dr. Charles Barr, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety treatment, explore the topic of anxiety.
They delve into whether anxiety is mental illness, the type of people who develop anxiety, and the reason for its development. They emphasize that anxiety is not a mental illness but rather a complex of symptoms triggered by fear and stress.
The discussion also covers the symptoms of anxiety, misconceptions about it, and the types of personalities prone to this condition. They introduce the listeners to the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program, a 16 week structured course that aims to replace unhealthy fear responses with positive ones.
And, most importantly, Dr Barr assures the listeners that anxiety sufferers CAN resume activities they previously avoided and overcome their fears.
01:12 What Is Anxiety?
05:13 Why Does One Develop Anxiety?
09:22 What Happens During a Panic Attack?
14:36 The Type of Person Who Gets Anxiety
18:56 How Do You Cure Anxiety?
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S02E02 Making Sense of Anxiety
[00:00:00] Erica Roth: Hi there. It's Erica. And today is going to sound a bit different because it's the audio from a recent series we did called Making Sense of Anxiety. Don't we all want to make sense of that? Um, if you want to see the video series, you can head to lifefreeofanxiety.com. That's lifefreeofanxiety.com and find it in our resources section.
Otherwise, keep listening. We cover some really great topics, including is anxiety a mental illness? Why did you get anxiety? And what type of person develops anxiety? And why it's usually people with a lot of incredibly positive traits. So a little bit of a different episode, but it's jam packed with really good stuff, and I hope you enjoy.
[00:00:38] Erica Roth: Welcome to the Life Free of Anxiety Podcast, where each week we'll bring you another discussion to help you on your way to overcoming your fears. I'm Erica and together with Dr. Charles Barr, a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in anxiety, we'll be your guides on this journey. Because you are not broken, you are not alone.
And you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety.
[00:01:12] Erica Roth: If you're like I was, you're asking, why did I get anxiety? What's wrong with me? Am I going crazy? And will I be like this forever? Today we will answer all those questions, plus an even more important one. How do I get better for the long term?
I'm Erica, the host of the Life Free of Anxiety podcast, and I am joined by my podcast co host, Dr. Charles Barr. Dr. Barr is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, California, and an anxiety specialist and director of the legendary CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program.
[00:01:44] Dr. Charles Barr: Hello, Erica. It's a pleasure to be here.
[00:01:47] Erica Roth: Before we get started, I often get a few questions, and I wanted to ask them right off the bat.
Can an anxious person, and please, be honest, ever get back to doing the things that scare them? For instance, flying, driving, being in crowds, riding an elevator, going to the store, or wherever, whatever it may be.
[00:02:05] Dr. Charles Barr: I get asked variations of that question all the time, and the answer is yes. In the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program, around the midpoint, we begin to help people reintroduce activities that they had previously been avoiding.
It's very exciting.
[00:02:19] Erica Roth: I'm very excited about this conversation. Today, we're going to be discussing, what is anxiety? What about your specific personality caused you to develop anxiety, and what happens physiologically when anxiety strikes? And, of course, why we do not view anxiety as mental illness.
Yes, I very much hope that by the end of this, whoever is watching will have a good understanding of anxiety, and if they themselves suffer from anxiety, a deeper understanding of themselves and some hope for the future, because there is hope.
[00:02:53] Dr. Charles Barr: We've watched over 200,000 people walk their way out of anxiety and begin to live their lives again.
[00:02:59] Erica Roth: Now, to get started, after working with so many anxiety sufferers over the past four plus decades, how does CHAANGE define anxiety?
[00:03:08] Dr. Charles Barr: It is our very strong view that this condition is a complex of symptoms brought on by a perfection seeking person's rampant fear of becoming out of control, ignited by an overload of stress.
We do not view it as a mental illness. We see it as a complex of symptoms or a physiological condition which has been brought on and is continuing because of fear.
[00:03:32] Erica Roth: Dr. Barr, you and I both know that anxiety can feel absolutely terrifying. I know you've mentioned before that it's common for people to end up in the emergency room because they think something truly devastating is happening to them.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
[00:03:48] Dr. Charles Barr: The symptoms often include shaking, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, chills, weakness, a pounding heart, heavy sweating, shallow breathing, tightness of the chest and stomach muscles, trouble swallowing, imbalance, a spinning mind, speeded up thoughts, lightheadedness, confusion, weird or uncontrollable thoughts, a feeling of impending doom, compulsive behaviors, and so forth.
Oh, and I almost forgot my favorite one, those good old depersonalization feelings. I call anxiety the great mimicker, because each of these symptoms could be a symptom of another scary condition. So, of course, one would want to see a doctor and make sure they're okay.
[00:04:32] Erica Roth: The idea that this is all caused by a mental illness made me feel like...
Well, if it's mental illness, I must be doomed then. Why do you say that anxiety is not a mental illness?
[00:04:42] Dr. Charles Barr: True mental illness is typically something that is ongoing and lifelong. We do not view anxiety as a mental illness because with practice, one can fully overcome it. It is our belief, based upon working with hundreds of thousands of anxious patients, that this complex of symptoms develops as a biopsychophysiological response to stress.
In a person with a very particular type of personality. And it's possible to replace these responses with healthy, productive ones.
[00:05:13] Erica Roth: So you're saying that there are certain types of personalities that are more likely to develop anxiety. Can you share with us what type of person this usually is?
[00:05:21] Dr. Charles Barr: Biologically, that person is usually very intelligent and is typically overly sensitive to stimuli of all kinds, including lights, sounds, medications maybe, even allergies. Psychologically, that person has usually been raised in a critical environment. has more than his or her share of anxiety about separation, is perfectionistic, is extremely sensitive to criticism, and has an overriding fear of rejection.
Physiologically, that person's body is reacting to being in a constant and chronic state of fear. The fear that it, those terrible panicky feelings might happen again. Although classically, agoraphobia is described as a fear of open spaces, many people do not have that particular fear. So we like to refer to the broader term, anxiety.
Most people with anxiety have multiple fears, such as going shopping, driving, worrying excessively. traveling, going to grocery stores, and to shopping centers. So the fear is not typically of open spaces. It is more a fear of becoming out of control in any of these situations, or of being so uncomfortable with anxious feelings that it makes what they're doing nearly unbearable.
[00:06:36] Erica Roth: I feel like this is definitely relatable.
[00:06:38] Dr. Charles Barr: Me too.
[00:06:39] Erica Roth: So, now that you have explained the type of personality who gets anxiety, tell us why do we develop anxiety?
[00:06:46] Dr. Charles Barr: The person who develops anxiety with this complex of symptoms has typically been someone who has not had experience or developed skills in understanding or relating to his or her body as a machine.
It is instead, to them, a mystery. Typically, this person was raised in a situation where there were many rules either imposed on them or developed by themselves. The interconnections of bodies and feelings were not discussed. Often, we find there was alcoholism and the resulting chaos or large effort to keep it secret and to keep things calm, as well as anxiety about separation and some parental reversal where the child in some way took on some parental responsibility.
And also the view that there are perfect people. Another thing we see is that the person who develops anxiety is usually very analytical and intellectual in the way they view things. Approval for this person is usually performance related. There were often many rules, and they were often raised very critically.
We find also that there was often a big secret in the family, that everyone used a lot of energy keeping covered. Sometimes, too, there's been a feeling of, we must be better than others. We also find that the young child has often heard messages about crazy, which are less than positive ones.
Like, "you don't want to be like crazy Aunt Jane. She can't go anywhere!"
It is our view that because of this background and the fact that the person was born intelligent and extremely sensitive to all kinds of stimuli, that this person develops into one who tends to deny his body responses, has many should rules for himself, is very competent and dependable, has extremely high expectations of himself, places a high value on calmness, and has a need to always be in control of himself.
He or she is very sensitive to criticism, has a real tendency to see things as total, fair or unfair. Black or white, either or, right or wrong, and has more than his or her share of fear of rejection that all people have to a certain extent, and is overly concerned that others will not approve of him. He or she is perfectionistic.
Tends to grade himself either at 100 or 0. Seldom allows him or herself to be average. As one can easily see, this is the kind of person who gets the job done and is valuable to us and to our society.
[00:09:22] Erica Roth: You know, Dr. Barr, it's interesting because before CHAANGE, I had never heard anything said about the type of person who develops anxiety.
When you describe the anxious person, it really does sound like somebody you'd want to be friends with, somebody you'd want to hang out with. Um, but something somewhere along the line goes wrong, obviously. What causes someone's anxiety to kick in all of a sudden, um, especially on such a well meaning person?
[00:09:46] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes, Erica. It's very true that these are very fine people, and some people with this personality managed to avoid ever developing anxiety at all. But when this person as described is in a situation where there was an overload of stress and is unable to respond to the body's message that it needed rest, the problem began.
[00:10:06] Erica Roth: I think I'm going to have to ask you to back up because some people listening or watching might say, what's good stress? That sounds strange. Um, but what are some examples of good and bad stress?
[00:10:26] Dr. Charles Barr: Usually, the kind of stress is seen are new jobs, moving. Lots of company, problems with children, illness or surgery, which is a big issue in our culture, pregnancy or birth, parental demands, relationship problems, and so forth.
Obviously, a new job or a new baby, a new marriage, can be a wonderful form of stress. But others, not so much. Because this is the kind of person who has never learned to listen to his body, and because there is a real need to be in control and to handle things, the person does not take it easy and get rid of the extraneous stresses.
It is at this point that the first incapacitating episode occurs. Often in the form of a panic attack, with pounding heart, dizziness, sweating, and so forth. Usually, the person decides after going to their family doctor, or the ER, and being reassured that it was just nerves, or a fluke, or just panic, and begins to relax about it.
Being the kind of person she is, however, she still is not giving her body the rest it is demanding. Therefore, soon another attack occurs. It is usually the second episode that begins the spiral of anticipatory fear. Body reaction to that fear, more stress to the body, more anticipatory fear, more body reaction to that fear, more stress to the body.
It is at this point that the person can be said to be suffering with severe anxiety or the agoraphobic condition.
[00:12:09] Erica Roth: Can you describe what's happening to the body when somebody is having a panic attack?
[00:12:14] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes, of course. When the body does respond to fear, it has no way of knowing whether the fear is an external fear, say from a physical threat such as a massive earthquake or an attacking tiger.
Or if it's an internal fear. Regardless of it being an external or internal fear, the body reacts in exactly the same way, by preparing the person to protect oneself and, or, to get away. The fear message from the brain causes adrenaline to be released in the body. This, in turn, causes the heart to beat faster for the purpose of mobilizing the body to respond to the danger it perceives.
The heart pumps faster in order to carry the blood to the brain and internal organs and to the arms and legs and to prepare the body for either fight or flight. This can cause dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the head, nausea, shaking. Weakness, coldness in the hands and feet, sweating and chills, and a tightness in the muscles.
As the heart pumps faster and the rest of the body reacts in reaction to the fear it perceives, it causes the body to need more oxygen, which can cause one to feel short of breath. This, in turn, causes one to breathe faster and in a more shallow manner. This then often leads to over breathing, which can cause a decrease in carbon dioxide in the blood.
This makes one weak and gives a sensation of numbness and tingling in the toes, fingers, and mouth. We call this hyperventilation. It can also cause one to tremble, to be dizzy, to lose balance, to become lightheaded and confused, thus frightening the person even more. which causes more adrenaline to be released into the bloodstream.
[00:14:02] Erica Roth: And the last thing I think somebody needs during a panic attack is more adrenaline.
[00:14:05] Dr. Charles Barr: It certainly doesn't help one calm down, does it? In addition, while the body, because of the messages it receives from the brain, is preparing itself to protect the person from the danger it perceives, the person has a heightened awareness of surroundings and even more sensitivity than usual to sight and sound.
It's no wonder that people suffering with this kind of physiological reaction are often afraid of dying, of having a heart attack or stroke, or of going crazy.
[00:14:36] Erica Roth: Thank you for going so into depth on that. That explains a lot. Um, if you don't mind, I want to go back to something we touched on previously about there being a particular personality that is more likely to develop anxiety.
I know when I first heard this, it gave me a lot of comfort because it made me feel like... There was somebody who understood me. It was a big part of why I trusted the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program to be just different from any of the other treatments I had tried. Can you talk more about the person who develops agoraphobia or severe anxiety?
[00:15:07] Dr. Charles Barr: Certainly, Erica. It's important to remember that the anxious person is wonderful and special and has a lot of incredibly positive qualities. And after spending over 30 years working with anxious individuals, I know what wonderful people they are, so we don't want to change the person themselves, but rather to help show them how to unlearn unhealthy responses to fear and replace them with positive ones.
They are lovely people who are neat. Competent, dependable, eager to please, intelligent, sensitive to others needs and feelings, eager to do for others, and able and willing to get the job done. As I mentioned, they are usually very intelligent and sensitive. perfectionistic, and seek to make people happy.
The person with this condition, however, is usually very incapacitated because they are also very frightened, sometimes incapacitated to the point that they cannot leave their homes. Often they're unable to shop, buy groceries, go to any social events, or take their children anywhere. You can see, knowing the kind of person this is, how terribly devastating that is to a perfection seeking person who has a real need to be in control.
And to feel that he or she can handle it. In addition, worrying about what is happening and anticipating when it will happen again is taking up practically all of their energy so that they're exhausted all of the time. Often, the person becomes depressed. Also, as a result of the feeling of loss of the person they used to be as well as the fact that they are so physically exhausted.
This is because of the constant state of anticipatory fear that has developed by this point. Another complication is the fact that by now, those close to the suffering person are just as frustrated and exhausted from the condition. Often, they've begun to lose patience and are annoyed that the suffering person won't just stop worrying about it and get on with his or her life.
[00:17:14] Erica Roth: And I, I think what the problem is, is that just applies more pressure and it, you really are already truly suffering. Um, in my experience, the anxious person has probably tried many, many treatments to try to get through this and it comes at great personal expense, but with very little relief.
[00:17:33] Dr. Charles Barr: Yes. And that's very sad.
By the time the person seeks our help. They have usually been to many other people for treatment, from specialists of all kinds, to psychologists, to psychiatrists, and is convinced that they either have a very exotic and unusual disease that no one has been able to find, or that they are indeed going crazy or dying.
It's understandable that the person would feel this way when so many authorities have been unable to help. It is for this reason that it is important to understand that this is a condition that is often missed, misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated. And to understand and accept that it is not a mental illness, but rather a complex of symptoms brought on by a very particular set of circumstances in a very particular person.
[00:18:23] Erica Roth: Yes, and that is why I was so grateful when I found you and you introduced me to the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program.
[00:18:31] Dr. Charles Barr: In the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program, we teach more about the condition, but mainly in order to help you get over this, we will be helping you learn how to stop frightening yourself so that you can get on with your life.
Our purpose in this process is to give you what you need to get on with your life. We do this over a period of 16 weeks, and we show you how to go through that process step by step.
[00:18:56] Erica Roth: Maybe it would be helpful if we talk a bit about how you've helped so many people walk their way out of anxiety and panic.
After so many treatments that likely haven't worked, this might sound too good to be true. I know it did for me.
[00:19:09] Dr. Charles Barr: It does seem too good to be true, but the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program has been around for many years. It is timeless, effective therapy. We are living in a time that is so very stressful and we have many people suffering from anxiety.
Our mission is to help people escape the suffering that comes with anxiety. At one time, this included ourselves. Today, it may be you or a loved one who is suffering. And it truly is suffering. Our goal is to free you so that you can live your best life again. So that you can take your life that has been made so very small by anxiety and fear and panic and expand it once again so you can begin to live freely and feel much more comfortable in your own body.
[00:19:56] Erica Roth: And yes, it is possible. And this isn't some new treatment. It's been around for quite some time. How was the program developed?
[00:20:04] Dr. Charles Barr: The CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program has been around since 1979 and was a breakthrough therapy developed by anxiety sufferers alongside their therapists and refined and perfected over many years.
It helped myself 30 years ago, it helped my podcast co host 10 years ago, and it is still helping my patients today. It is timeless, effective therapy based on cognitive behavioral principles that have held up to scrutiny by psychological research over all these years. It is a cognitive behavioral program, so it is highly structured over the course of several weeks to deal with vital issues that you must deal with, if you want to get over this disorder.
[00:20:48] Erica Roth: And it's not a magic cure, it takes work, it takes practice, but it's not hard work, is it?
[00:20:53] Dr. Charles Barr: No, it's not hard work, but it does take work. It's rewarding work, because you get to live your life again. Our promise to you is this. If you use this program, if you will take it seriously, If you truly want to get over panic disorder, then you've come to the right place and we can help you do just that.
[00:21:15] Erica Roth: We're both living proof that the process works, Dr. Barr. Why are you so confident that it can work for others? Because not everybody's necessarily the same.
[00:21:25] Dr. Charles Barr: I'm glad you asked. We're going to be asking you to follow simple and easy to follow directions. The techniques we use seem simple, but they require work.
We believe that anxiety is not a mental illness, but rather learned habits and responses. And you've fallen into some very, very bad thought habits, through no fault of your own. Panic is terrifying. I know because I have felt panic. Terrible panic. I was suffering. It is hard to imagine the strength that panic comes with.
It's hard to describe the strength with which it comes. I didn't know my body could even feel the way I felt when I had my panic attack. Fortunately, I knew what caused my first panic attack, and what had triggered it. It was an earthquake. You may not know what your panic attack is about, and you may not know what caused it.
That's even more confusing. You may have been suffering with panic for only a short while, or you may have been suffering with panic for a long time, years even. You know the strength of panic. You know the fear that comes with that. You know that your body feels dysregulated, and feels like something has changed.
And I agree. Panic changes you. Panic changed me. That's why I feel so passionate about getting the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program out to people who need relief from panic.
[00:22:51] Erica Roth: That's well said. Can you describe the process of the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program and what one can expect during it? What sort of commitment is required?
I know these were my questions when you first introduced it to me.
[00:23:04] Dr. Charles Barr: That's right. During the course of this program, which is a 16 week program, we believe, and I have experienced, that you can walk your way out of anxiety. You can just walk your way out. In that, over the course of these 16 weeks, you can free yourself from these terrible thoughts and terrible feelings, terrible fears, and you can regain your life.
Our goal is to help you be able to do that, but you must be committed to going through the process. You must be willing to do what we ask. If we ask you to listen to an audio session, you need to listen to an audio session. If we ask you to do homework, which we're going to do, you need to take some time, sit down, write out some answers, every week.
Every week for 16 weeks, we're going to ask you to sit down and do homework. I would like for you to think of this as you taking yourself back to school to learn how to live again, instead of living in fear all of the time. If you really think about it, would you be willing to go back to school for 16 weeks?
If you knew it would cure you? Because we know this can cure you. You can learn how to re regulate your breathing, learn how to relax your body, learn how to talk to yourself differently, so that you can become free of this terrible burden that you've been carrying.
[00:24:28] Erica Roth: I know before I found CHAANGE, I'd spent many years and many thousands of dollars, so I was not eager to keep wasting money on treatments that just didn't work.
What would you say to somebody who is still skeptical?
[00:24:41] Dr. Charles Barr: I would say that I've heard that same concern countless times. But our goal is to help every single CHAANGE participant heal themselves, because we know that this program works. It worked for us, and so we want to get this. to as many people as possible.
So we've made the program as affordable as possible with several plans, including a monthly plan that costs less than a dinner for two. In 1979, when the program launched, it cost $400, which was quite a bit of money at that time. It would be almost $1,700 today.
[00:25:17] Erica Roth: I know that today, if I was still suffering from anxiety, I would pay many, many times that amount to be free of it.
[00:25:23] Dr. Charles Barr: And many people have. But as I said, our mission is to help people. So we still offer an entire year of the program for that same 1979 price of $400.
[00:25:34] Erica Roth: That's pretty amazing. I also want to mention that we do have a monthly membership that is a fraction of that price up front.
[00:25:41] Dr. Charles Barr: And I'm so glad we do. because I feel so deeply for everyone suffering from this condition.
The bottom line is this, ask yourself, what would you give to be free of anxiety? What would you be willing to do? I'm sure that if you knew for sure that you could have freedom from anxiety, you'd pay almost any price. And it would be worth that price, because it's not about money. It's about freedom. It's about self control and being back in control of your own life.
[00:26:11] Erica Roth: Dr. Barr, this is something I appreciate so much about you. When I first walked into your office You told me, Erica, if you can only afford to meet with me or buy the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program, you told me to buy the program. I was a newlywed at the time, money was a little tight, and you said, just buy the program, you'll get better.
I appreciated that you knew what I needed and you cared more about helping me than making money off a weekly session with you. But now with the monthly membership option, I'm so excited for people to have access to this tool at home or parking lot or wherever it's done, wherever you have the time, you know, to fit it in.
I don't think you could even meet with a therapist every other month for that price. And especially, you know, the pretty much, Good outlook that you're going to get so far, that...
[00:26:59] Dr. Charles Barr: ...that it's going to actually be effective. And that's something that we're very excited for and very proud of.
[00:27:05] Erica Roth: We are. Well, thank you so much, Dr.
Barr, for taking the time to talk to us about what anxiety is, why we don't view it as a mental illness, which I think is a huge deal, why and how we developed anxiety, and most importantly, how we can walk our way out of it. I know it's something I wish I'd heard years before I actually did.
[00:27:25] Dr. Charles Barr: Well, it's exciting, isn't it?
I just hope that it has given some hope to those watching that there is a way out of this suffering. Because like we say each week on the Life Free of Anxiety podcast, you are not broken, you are not alone. You're on your way to a life free of anxiety. And we're here to help.
[00:27:45] Erica Roth: So there it is. I know this is one worth listening to a few times, and it's also one you can watch if that's what you want to do. You just head to lifefreeofanxiety.com. You can watch it, look for Making Sense of Anxiety. We'll be back next week, and I can't wait to talk to you then.
[00:28:00] Erica Roth: Thanks so much for tuning in today. I hope that something in today's conversation provided you with a feeling of hope, determination, or purpose. I know what you're going through, and that's why I want to give you some of the tools that helped me in my anxiety journey. To get a free copy of Free From Fears head to freefromfearsbook.com to find out more about the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program.
Find us at CHAANGE.com Thanks again for listening.
And remember you are not broken You are not alone and you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety. See you next