Watching anyone suffer from anxiety can be difficult, especially when that person is a loved one and a child. As a parent of such a person, I have often felt helpless and ineffective in trying to suggest some relief outside of a professional context. As a future holistic health practitioner, I also believe that individuals can work together with medical and psychological specialists to find healing and wellness. Emma Fletcher and Martha Langley’s Free Yourself From Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide to Overcoming Anxiety Disorders is a book that gives individuals suffering from anxiety tools to help find relief.
Fletcher and Langley begin by dedicating a lengthy portion of the book to defining anxiety and the context that surrounds it. Anxiety causes are discussed, interactions of drugs and alcohol are examined, and other factors such as diet and exercise are considered. Emphasis is placed on evaluating one’s sleep patterns, cultivating positive experiences, and time management. This section also looks at the importance of relaxation, goal setting, and life balance in managing one’s anxiety.
Next, Free Yourself from Anxiety transitions into a section that shows how sufferers can engage their anxiety. Fletcher and Langley suggest that one can accomplish this engagement through exposure to what is causing the anxiety. This exposure work is defined through change and risk evaluation, goal setting, and learning about coping skills. Fletcher and Langley suggest a ladder approach to anxiety exposure and offer several examples of exposure ladders.
Fletcher and Langley then up the ante on anxiety engagement by showing how one can challenge their anxiety and its hold on their being. Using a court trial motif, Free Yourself from Anxiety puts anxiety on the stand to face several charges, including distortion (world, personality, and intuition), extreme thinking, and selective attention. Charges are also filed against anxiety for creating self-reproach and changing thought patterns. Using a Socratic method of questioning anxiety, one begins to see ways of countering these charges. This cognitive work identifies thought processes and negative core beliefs. Naturally, a verdict of guilty is levied against anxiety, though no sentence is imposed.
Finally, Fletcher and Langley take a philosophical approach to anxiety by examining common themes behind it. The “why me?” question is addressed, along with facing up to life’s meaning. Strategies about improving one’s assertiveness, self-confidence, and self-esteem are also introduced. Decision making and problem solving in an anxiety context are also evaluated.
Free Yourself from Anxiety has many strengths to aid in helping individuals work with their anxiety. Fletcher and Langley frequently remind people to work with doctors and therapists, rather than forgoing professional help in lieu of self-help. Self-help is always encouraged when the conditions are appropriate, and the authors are specific in defining those conditions. Effective techniques are found in Free Yourself from Anxiety, including relaxation using breathing techniques and a strong emphasis on cognitive behavioral therapy. Fletcher and Langley are realistic in the limits of self-help, and often remind the reader that the process is not fast.
There is no miracle cure or magic wand for anxiety, and in the early stages your progress may feel painfully slow. (p. 27)
However, there are significant weaknesses in Fletcher and Langley’s book. Though Free Yourself from Anxiety includes a chapter on connections between the mind, body, and spirit, this chapter is more mind and body than spirit. Furthermore, Appendix 1 is supposed to include resources for both professional and complimentary and alternative (CAM) therapies, but it only lists cognitive behavioral therapy. The following excerpt seems to indicate a bias against CAM:
Some practitioners describe themselves as “integrative.” This means their training has covered more than one approach, and they can choose between the different styles to suit each individual client. Sometimes you will see the word ‘holistic’ applied to therapy. A holistic practitioner claims to treat the whole person, to look at the cause of their illness as well as the symptoms, and to examine all aspects of the problem (mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional). (p. 237)
The choice to put the words integrative and holistic into quotes, along with saying a holistic practitioner claims to treat the whole person, may indicate a belief of Fletcher and Langley that CAM therapies are not to be taken as seriously as traditional psychological therapies.
There are some practical weaknesses as well in Free Yourself from Anxiety. The book has 52 chapters with many only being two to five pages long. Having so many short chapters almost makes reading this book an anxious ordeal because the subject is changing so often, a strange byproduct in a book about dealing with anxiety. With this many chapters, along with the many lists and goals being proposed by Fletcher and Langley, some simple diagrams showing the therapy would be helpful. Another helpful suggestion would be to offer some resources in Appendix 2 that were not exclusively from the United Kingdom.
Despite these weaknesses, Free Yourself from Anxiety is an easy read and would work well for a person starting to manage their anxiety. There is a great need for easy-to-read books on anxiety from quality sources, and this book does just that. The simplicity behind the techniques Fletcher and Langley offer will help many with anxiety find some comfort.