As a person who suffers from anxiety, I am always on the hunt for new ways to deal with unpleasant symptoms. Sure, the traditional routes of speaking with a therapist, contacting a friend, and using CBT workbooks have helped me make great improvements, but it never hurts to expand your toolkit.
This year, one of the goals I set for myself was finding ways to independently conquer my fears. Attempting to self-soothe when I'm alone and don't have the mental energy to complete exercises at home left me yearning for more options.
Naturally, as a writer and avid reader, I set my sights on the bookstore. I've always been wary of self-help books and found that the positive effects wane shortly after reading the last chapter. I had a list of my favorite quotes, affirmations, and inspiring speeches on hand in case of emergencies, but I was in search of something life-changing. I did a deep dive into books on religion, performing arts, spirituality, philosophy, and psychiatry.
A universal truth that was communicated throughout almost all of the works I read was that the person most equipped to guide you towards an anxiety-free future is yourself.
I'll admit that no matter how close I've gotten to my therapist, family, or friends, there are just some things I am taking to the grave! However, being brutally honest with myself has some perks that have allowed me to work towards a better version of myself in the comfort of my own home. I've learned these skills from a few non-traditional self-help books.
These 4 books have stuck with me throughout the years. Words from each chapter have sat in the back of my mind, silently working their magic and allowing me to become a more positive, open-minded individual.
'Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality' by Anthony De Mello
I love a sturdy hardcover or paperback edition, but I love this book so much that I also have it in eBook form so I can access it anywhere. The author, Anthony De Mello, was a Jesuit priest with refreshingly progressive views. He believed that the cause of anxiety stemmed from rigid beliefs and the unwillingness to examine them.
"There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them."
Awareness is chock-full of funny anecdotes from De Mello's own life. One common theme throughout the book is that people's interpretations of a situation are a direct result of their conditioning and current disposition.
"If you find me charming, it means that right now you're in a good mood, nothing more."
"We see people and things not as they are, but as we are."
At less than 200 pages, Awareness is a quick and insightful read that can increase self-awareness while providing a few laughs along the way.
‘The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself’ by Michael A. Singer
I was sold on this book from the title of the first chapter alone ("The Voice Inside Your Head"). This lighthearted spirituality-based book is paced perfectly which ultimately leads to the shocking revelation that you have complete control of your annoying "inner roommate". Nope, I don't mean the person who you go half on rent and utilities, I'm talking about your constant internal dialogue.
"There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind - you are the one who hears it"
It doesn't stop at acquiring self-awareness for Singer, he takes it a step further by showing you how to serve your annoying roommate an eviction notice.
"When a problem is disturbing you, don't ask, 'What should I do about it?' Ask, 'What part of me is being disturbed by this?'
Much like De Mello, Singer wants you to challenge your beliefs instead of suppressing negative feelings. You'll find that approaching problems that way helps resolve minor issues almost instantly. Now that you've shown negativity the door, you can choose which thoughts you want to engage with or let go of because:
"The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it."
‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’ by Anne Lamott
The Good Copy
Although Bird by Bird is partly a book geared toward improving writing skills, Lamott's advice can be used by anyone regardless of their chosen field. Especially because the author believes the best work comes from people who write for themselves. She gives practical advice that is often overlooked in a society that praises ambition at the risk of your mental health. There is absolutely nothing wrong with competing in a race to the top, but enjoying the journey would certainly make it more fulfilling spiritually and financially.
"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out."
Whether you might be anxious to pick up a new hobby or change careers, Lamott's best advice is simply to get started without worrying about how others might perceive your actions.
"Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance."
‘Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization’ by Karen Horney, MD
The most badass thing about Karen Horney's studies is that she challenged Sigmund Freud's views on feminine psychology which she criticized for being wide off the mark. She directly responded to some of his most popular theories in her book aptly titled Feminine Psychology.
As a psychoanalyst whose career began in the early 1900s, Horney is not for the faint of heart. However, Neurosis and Human Growth break the human psyche down in layman's terms. This classic self-help book will leave your jaw on the floor.
"The neurotic, as long as he must adhere to his illusions about himself, cannot recognize limitations, the search for glory goes into the unlimited. Because the main goal is the attainment of glory, he becomes uninterested in the process of learning, of doing, or of gaining step by step — indeed, tends to scorn it. He does not want to climb a mountain; he wants to be on the peak. Hence he loses the sense of what evolution or growth means, even though he may talk about it. Because, finally, the creation of the idealized self is possible only at the expense of truth about himself, its actualization requires further distortions of truth, imagination being a willing servant to this end."
At times, some passages hit too close to home but also reminded me that the anxieties we deal with today are far from unique.
"It is naturally a sign of inner liberation when a patient can squarely recognize his difficulties and take them with a grain of humor. But some patients at the beginning of analysis make incessant jokes about themselves or exaggerate their difficulties in so dramatic a way that they will appear funny, while they are at the same time absurdly sensitive to any criticism. In these instances, humor is used to take the sting out of otherwise unbearable shame."
Her scientific but simple approach to self-analysis differs only in delivery from De Mello, Singer, and Lamott's, but the lesson is the same. It's always great to maintain a variety of resources for mental wellness, and self-analysis shouldn't be used in lieu of professional help. But take pride in knowing that you are the most valuable resource when it comes to overcoming any obstacle.
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