A new book by Dr. Mark Steinberg: “Overcome Anxiety: Break Free From Fear, Worry, Trauma, and Negative Thinking”

by Siegfried Othmer | December 18th, 2023

FOREWORD, by Siegfried Othmer

Our nation is experiencing a health crisis so pervasive that it is showing up in a decline of life expectancy. We now know this health predicament is rooted in a growing mental health crisis, which can hardly be captured better than by focusing on such an increasingly widespread affliction for which the prevailing remedies are largely unavailing: anxiety. Anxiety is an infirmity that has not been grasped and understood in its full essence. As we chip away at aspects of anxiety, its medical and psychological manifestations, respectively, the need for mind-body integration could hardly be more obvious. The concept had to be explicitly introduced into our discourse because it wasn’t naturally at home within the treating professions.

Such stark partitioning and compartmentalization is not a new problem. Plato recognized it some 2,500 years ago, when he said, “The greatest mistake in the treatment of disease is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the psyche (ψυχή), although the two cannot be separated.”

Going further back, Proverbs 14:30, noted: “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body.”

A peaceful heart was seen as the marker for emotional stability and equanimity, for what we would now call the “well-regulated brain.” Yet humanity has taken until the twentieth century to discover how to recover such emotional stability and equanimity when it has been deficient or lacking entirely. The process to alleviate the deficiency has been fitful and fraught, and even now largely remains in the hands of pioneers of mental health such as Mark Steinberg, the author of Overcome Anxiety: Break Free from Fear, Worry, Trauma, and Negative Thinking. Dr. Steinberg has been personally willing to breach the traditional boundaries of the practice of psychology and labor at the frontier of this new knowledge base.

What binds the psyche and the soma is our regulatory regime, and we have uncovered the rules by which it operates and developed the means for restoring good regulation. Yogis have been demonstrating amazing capacities to control their physiology (blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) just with their meditative techniques for eons, and that should have settled the issue of the mind-body connection in the West. Instead, a controversy raged within the research community for decades in mid-twentieth century as to whether conscious influences could be exerted on the autonomic nervous system, which was thought to be under essentially “automatic” if not exclusively reflexive control.

The question was resolved by scientist-practitioners. They brought instrumentation to bear on the task of self-regulation, and the field of biofeedback came into existence. By making available measures of physiology that reflected autonomic regulation (e.g. finger temperature, skin sweat gland activity, muscle tension, heart rate, etc.), people could be trained to improve their self-regulatory competence. Perhaps the most compelling finding of all was the new ability to resolve anxiety conditions. And then came neurofeedback, biofeedback for the brain.

Our ability to redress the mental health crisis has arrived none too soon. Anxiety is on a continuum with the fear response, which in turn is rooted in prior traumatic experience. These are physiologically encoded, and thus need to be remediated by means of a physiologically rooted approach such as neurofeedback. When the functions that are organized to protect us—anxiety, fear, and pain—are severely dysregulated, our burden is to restore regulatory integrity, which happens by way of a learning process. One can also disrupt patterns of negative thinking in the moment, and by virtue of the mind-body connection, one can once again appeal to our physiological responses to effect such disruption.

In the big picture, it must be recognized that we are dealing with individual solutions for what are in essence society-level problems. In addition to solving our problems at the individual level, we also have to raise our sights and recognize that we have created a society that is profoundly anxiety-producing, if not overtly traumatizing, to many of its members, from early childhood on up. Perhaps most of all, in this volume the reader will find satisfaction in the realization that our human predicament is coming to be understood, and it is increasingly subject to our effective management.

Mark Steinberg lights the paths to that end in Overcome Anxiety.


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