The Stress Solution
The Stress Solution:
Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and
by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD
Reviewed by Henry Reed, Ph.D.
Empathy is in. It’s the emotional intelligence social IQ superpower. It requires
imagination. It invokes intuition. We empathize by imagining being the other
person, and drawing from within our understanding. It is the prime activity of
Intuitive Heart, and so I can’t but bring to your attention a new book on
the subject—very scientific and inspirational, at the same time.
Here are some things I really like
about this book:
First, I like how he defines empathy, in a new and different way, besides the
usual way, which he also includes. Here’s his novel definition: “Seeing things
as the really are.” I like that definition because it is an admission that we
connect with the real world from within—empathy arises from within and is an
intuitive response. We become one with what we empathize with, which is one goal
of spiritual awareness.
Second, I like how he emphasizes being empathic with oneself. I recall an
important time in my life when I kept complaining, “no one listens to me!”
Finally, I got the message, “It is ME who is not listening to me!” So I began a
program of giving myself big doses of my imitation of Carl Rogers. For every
thought that appeared, I’d respond with reflective listening. Pretty cool! It
Third, I’m a big fan of using thought stopping, or story switching, to get
myself out of a bad mood. I can catch myself thinking thoughts that bring me
down. I now can recognize them more quickly and shift my focus to something more
positive. If the negative thoughts won’t go away, I pull out my self-empathy
routine to find out what’s going on. A whine is a pain that is not heard and
keeps asking for an ear.
Fourth, I really like his conception of “performance addiction.” Similar to Type
A mentality—that’s me!—and I find that when I feel stressed, I am probably
trying to get myself to do something I don’t really feel like doing. Depression
is my meat tenderizer and helps me get back on the path of, “chill out,” “loosen
up a bit, will you?” and “go for a walk!”
The author covers all the bases. It’s worth reading, assuming you’ve got the
time to spend with yourself that way.
Here’s what the publisher has to say about
The amount of stress in America and throughout the world is rapidly rising. We
work too much, sleep too little, love with half a heart, and wonder why we are
unhappy and unhealthy. Half of Americans indicate they lie awake at night due to
stress, while three quarters experience stress symptoms—either physical,
psychological, or both.
We know that
personal and professional success does not come without sacrifice, but it should
not ruin our health and leave our relationships devoid of love and intimacy.
will help readers take steps to free themselves from the obsession to excel; it
will allow them to begin the process of finding meaning in both work and
relationships. We need to go beyond material reward to establish genuine,
healthy accomplishments throughout all parts of life. Many people throughout the
world are discovering that what they thought would bring them happiness has put
them in an emotional prison, but there is a path forward.
defined as the capacity to understand and respond to the unique aspects of
another’s experience. It is our innate ability to decipher the objective
truth—meaning perceiving without bias, the accurate reading of another—in
situations and interactions. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on
understanding how thoughts, feelings and behaviors are related. CBT focuses on
changing how a person feels and behaves by correcting distorted thinking.
CBT lowers stress and changes the brain in individuals, couples and families.
The new combination of the power of empathy and CBT, as measured through the
science of neurochemistry, will provide the most comprehensive self-help tool to
date. Empathy calms the emotional brain so we can perceive accurately and
thoughtfully. Neurochemistry allows us to produce our own natural chemicals that
create calm, focused energy to do and be the best we can be. And finally, CBT
corrects distorted thinking. These three components produce a synergy that
enhances our lives and releases our potential.
includes a cognitive distortions glossary for terms used throughout the book,
exercises for examining past and recent events to identify biases in the thought
process, including journal prompts and action plans. In addition to real-life
success stories from Dr. Ciaramicoli’s thirty-five-year psychology practice, the
book also includes an extensive appendix with multiple questionnaires to figure
out one’s empathy quotient, stress scale, and determining how addicted one is to
Here’s some questions they asked of the author, and some great answers. Be sure
to read this interview.
is Empathic CBT?
The new combination of the power of empathy, brain science and cognitive
behavioral therapy will provide people with a comprehensive self-help tool to
lessen stress and balance. Empathy calms the emotional brain so we can perceive
accurately and thoughtfully. Being able to perceive accurately is crucial to
reducing stress, as old biased thinking, based on early conditioning, distorts
reality and causes unnecessary tension. Knowledge regarding neurochemistry
allows us to produce our own natural chemicals that create calm, focused energy
to do and be the best we can be. Finally, CBT corrects distorted thinking. These
three components produce a synergy that enhances our lives, reduces the stress
in our lives and releases our potential.
Empathy, brain science and CBT combine in one practical formula to reduce the
inordinate amount of stress in our society and in our world. I have been
practicing with these three elements for more than 35 years I believe that this
unique formula will allow you to lessen the stress in your marriage, family and
work-life if you are committed to doing the necessary work.
You mention prejudice being a cause of stress in your book, how so?
Whenever we encounter someone who we have an inherent prejudice against, whether
conscious or unconscious, we begin to experience a degree of stress. When we are
stressed we release the stress hormone cortisol, which limits our capacity for
empathy while also causing repetitive negative thinking. If you have prejudices
against several types of people it is likely that your cortisol levels will be
consistently high. In addition to causing negative thinking cortisol also causes
weight gain, inflammation, hair loss, breaks down muscle tissue, causes
flabbiness, depression, anxiety and memory loss.
Why have our stress rates risen so dramatically?
Studies indicate that Americans have fewer friends; trust has decreased as well
as empathy while prejudice has increased. Half of Americans lie awake at night
due to job stress and three quarters indicate they suffer from emotional or
physical stress symptoms daily. We
have become a society that places a great emphasis on achievement, status and
appearance and far less on character and relationships. People from all walks of
life have been discovering that what they thought would bring them happiness and
contentment has caught them in an emotional prison that is stress-filled and
energy depleting. Many people have learned how to achieve, but they do not know
how to love and make lasting deep friendships, and this lack of love and
relational connections is the missing ingredient that plagues their lives. Our
political climate, with presidential candidates emphasis on aggression, insults,
lying and lack of integrity is symbolic of the de-emphasis of the importance of
character and empathy currently dominating our elected officials, the corporate
world and influencing our society.
What is the definition of empathy?
Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of
another. It is essentially everyday mind reading. Empathy is part of our genetic
endowment; it is not an emotion or a feeling but a capacity that is innately
present. We are born with this capacity, and if not developed, it will atrophy
like an unused muscle. I know from leading group sessions for more than 25 years
that human beings can be taught how to expand their empathic range in ways that
will reap profound benefits.
In recent years, research on empathy has exploded. We now know we have empathy
neurons, called mirror neurons. These cells have dramatically changed our
comprehension of how we understand each other. Mirror neurons send messages to
our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. The empathic connection
then releases the neurotransmitters dopamine (creating a sense of desire),
endorphins (pleasure and relaxation), and oxytocin (compassion and connection
How come empathy is often confused with sympathy?
Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy, as opposed to empathy, occurs
when we identify with another persons’ experience even if we do not know if our
experiences are similar. You hear a neighbor is being transferred to Texas and
you immediately respond how sorry you are that her family has to move. She
responds by telling you that she is going to work for her sister’s clothing
chain as a buyer and it’s the job of a lifetime, plus she and her husband will
be near family and close to her old university and college friends. You realize,
with embarrassment, that your quick reaction was not factual but emotional,
projecting how you would feel rather than slowing down and gathering the facts.
How does being empathic lessen our stress levels?
Empathy releases the hormone oxytocin, also called the love hormone, or the
connecting hormone. While cortisol makes us fearful, oxytocin makes us feel
comfortable, secure and in a position to give and receive empathy. Oxytocin
reduces anxiety, reduces the release of cortisol, reduces addictive craving, and
most importantly reduces aggression, fear and bias.
We now know we have empathy neurons, called mirror neurons. These cells have
dramatically changed our comprehension of how we understand each other. Mirror
neurons send messages to our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain.
The empathic connection then releases the neurotransmitters dopamine (creating a
sense of desire), endorphins (pleasure and relaxation), and oxytocin (compassion
and connection). Research has confirmed that empathy training creates trust and
causes a neurochemical change that produces a sense of security to allow for a
deeper understanding of one another.
How do we rid ourselves of old negative stories we created about ourselves?
Early in life we create a novel, a fictitious story about ourselves that we
write based on what we think is being reflected back to us from those around
us-as if we are looking at ourselves in a mirror. If the mirrors you are looking
into are cracked or inaccurate, you get a distorted view of yourself as you
would in a circus mirror. As a result you create an inaccurate story about
yourself and this story sets the stage for an irrational belief system. We
cannot change your story alone, we are all too subjective. We need a group of
people in our lives that will give us honest feedback so that we can obtain an
accurate view of who we are today, a more objective account than the one we came
to believe earlier in life.
Do we need to talk about the past to reduce our stress and anxiety levels?
The only time it is necessary to focus on the past is if it interferes with the
present, otherwise it is not necessary to explore. Once we understand the origin
of our old conditioning and how our past can create distorted views of ourselves
and others we can begin the process of perceiving others and ourselves more
is missing in our society that so many successful people lead unsatisfied lives?
Americans currently trust fewer people, have less empathy for others and
combined with these factors we have developed a society that tends to value
achievement more than character and image more than quality relationships.
Why is being authentic so important to reducing stress?
When we substitute our inherent personality for one that is trying to please to
gain acceptance and love it is a failing proposition, pretense is a burden that
is depleting and it also makes it difficult to maintain intimacy, as closeness
to others is based on being able to open, genuine and vulnerable. Authenticity
attracts others in powerful ways and allows us to feel comfortable in our own
skin. Authentic relating enlivens the spirit and gives us the energy and
confidence to go out into the world, tolerate stress and maintain resilience so
that we can come home with our self-respect and integrity intact.
What is Performance Addiction?
Performance addiction is the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving
status will secure love and respect. It is an irrational belief system learned
from early familial experiences and reinforced by our material/appearance driven
My first recognition of Performance Addiction came about largely as a result of
my work with a group of individuals who embodied so many of the qualities that
are highly regarded in professional and public life. There resumes were very
impressive but I noticed that despite their capabilities, they seemed to have
little regard for their personal achievements and their own physical appearance.
They all seemed to be scoreboard watchers.
Every day, they took inventory of how well or how terribly they were
performing, how attractive or dreadful they looked in the mirror.
You speak of Image Love in your book? What is Image Love?
Empathy is the heart of the relationship skills needed to help Performance
addicts move past Image Love to Real Love. Performance addicts have tremendous
difficulty loving, they base there own lovability on their daily performance and
unfortunately they expect the same of their partner. They are constantly
comparing and contrasting themselves and their partner to others. They find it
easy to fall in love, the binding and blinding effects of sex in the early
phases of a relationship creates an illusion, am image of love. The blinding
part is pure physical attraction-lust, raging hormones, and sexual excitement.
The blinding part is a screen of illusion obscuring the love object, the partner
who is a source of sexual devotion. The partner is a source of escape and
ecstasy, an object of desire. This
is what I call Image Love.
explore The Stress Solution on Amazon.com, click here!
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD, is the author of The Stress Solution:
Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop
. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and the chief medical
officer of soundmindz.org
a popular mental health platform. He has been on the faculty of Harvard
Medical School and chief psychologist of Metrowest Medical Center. The
author of several books, including The Power of Empathy
, he lives with his family in Massachusetts and his website is