How to Help Yourself With Your Anxiety

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There are many types of treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), including a number of talk therapy and medication options. ‘Self-help’ refers broadly to less formal, but potentially quite beneficial, approaches to address anxiety symptoms with limited (or no) guidance.

The use of self-help resources can be tried if:

  • You are seeking to bolster the treatment you are currently receiving. [In this case, it is advised to speak with your clinician for personalized recommendations of resources based on your particular needs.]
  • You have struggled with GAD in the past, and you’d like a refresher on helpful strategies or a way to track your continued progress.
  • You experience subclinical anxiety. Even people who don’t worry ‘too much’ are apt to find the material covered in self-help resources to be enlightening and thought provoking.
  • You are concerned about a friend or family member’s anxiety and would like to learn more about their condition, how you can and cannot help, and what formal treatment might involve.

Self-Help Resources for Anxiety

The following is a description of some of the available self-help resources for anxiety. This list is by no means comprehensive and is selective for books that are consistent with evidence-based psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

  1. The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You (Robert Leahy, Ph.D., Random House Publishing, 2006). This book is appropriate for the most chronic of worriers as well as those who experience circumscribed anxiety specific to a particular stressor. It will help you learn about your worry patterns, distinguish between productive and unproductive worry, and create a plan for moving beyond both. Dr. Leahy takes an integrative approach, tapping into useful elements of different evidence-based psychotherapies for GAD.
  1. Face Your Fears: A Proven Plan to Beat Anxiety, Panic, Phobias, and Obsessions (David Tolin, Ph.D., John Wiley & Sons, 2012. This can be an especially helpful book for someone suffering from multiple types of anxiety problems (including disorders like social phobia and OCD, which can sometimes co-occur with GAD). Its main focus is on the importance of facing fears, rather than avoiding them. For people with GAD, this is likely to include exposure-based exercises to strengthen tolerance of uncertainty.
  1. The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Chad LeJeune Ph.D., New Harbinger Publications, 2007). This book is well suited for anyone interested in learning more about ACT. The basic principles of the approach – nonjudgmental emotion awareness, separation/defusion from worry thoughts, and commitment to core values – are described. Relevant research is reviewed and practical advice and exercises are provided to help readers bring ACT to life in their daily life.
  2. Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety (Kelly G Wilson, Ph.D., Troy DuFrene, New Harbinger Publications, 2010). For an individual looking to better understand the ACT mindset, this book presents provocative questions such as does your anxiety need to go away for you to lead a meaningful life? Appropriate for individuals with GAD or subclinical anxiety, this resource can help encourage a richer conversation about personal values and how to live in accordance with them, as your anxiety ebbs and flows.
  3. The Mindful Way Through Anxiety (Susan M. Orsillo, Ph.D., Lizabeth Roemer, Ph.D., Zindel V. Segal, Ph.D., Guilford Press, 2011). This book can help the reader to develop or expand a mindfulness practice. It emphasizes gaining awareness of and tolerance for the psychological and physical state of anxiety and includes audio of specific mindfulness exercises.
  1. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David D. Burns, MD, Harper, 2008). The most commonly co-occurring condition with GAD is depression. This book is well suited to anyone who experiences anxiety and depression (either simultaneously, or independently). Material presented is consistent with CBT, with an emphasis on cognitive theory. Dr. Burns guides the reader through ways to identify thinking errors and challenge them.
  2. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam, 2013). This revised edition of a book published 25+ years ago explains the main tenets of Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach to improving psychological and physical wellbeing. Older adults with anxiety may find this an especially helpful resource to better manage pain and promote healing. Because this book emphasizes the havoc that stress can have on our physical and psychological health, it may be particularly beneficial for those managing an acute stressor, or individuals who experience impairing anxiety symptoms in the setting of particular life stresses.

    In addition to the books listed (and the many other books not listed), there are self-help programs available online that may be relevant for individuals with GAD. The Center for Clinical Interventions (CCI) of Western Australia, for example, has workbooks available as user-friendly pdf files on anxiety-related topics including health anxiety, procrastination, and chronic worry. 

    There are also a number of smartphone apps that can be used as self-help anxiety management tools, including relaxation apps and programs that emphasize aspects of different psychotherapeutic approaches.

    Finally, please note: If your anxiety persists at a debilitating level, or worsens while using a self-help book, it is important to seek consultation with a professional, possibly your physician or a mental health specialist.