“My anxiety stops me from being able to focus. It gets so bad sometimes that I feel like I’m weighed down by a wet blanket. I can’t sleep at night. What can you do to help?”
Clients often share statements like this as a way of describing how anxiety has taken over their lives — and how it has made things miserable. This is particularly true for folks who struggle with various mental health challenges, such as generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Anxiety, left unchecked, inflates like a balloon — replete with sleepless nights, panic attacks, even flair-ups of irritable bowl syndrome. It can make the simplest of tasks overwhelming.
That’s why I was happy to come across The Four Gifts of Anxiety, by Sherianna Boyle. The author — a psychologist, yoga and meditation teacher, and college instructor — gives readers a new set of lenses to wear when looking at anxiety. Rather than see the emotion as an albatross, Boyle writes, we can view anxiety as a collection of gifts: something that can bring us resiliency, hope, empathy, and purpose.
Using strength-based approaches to wellness, Boyle includes useful exercises designed to spark personal reflection and growth and to help cope with anxiety in concrete ways. Too many books on the market that promise relief from anxiety fail to deliver. They spend far too much time on what anxiety is, rather than on what to do about it. Boyle takes the opposite approach. She does walk through some of the clinical issues, but devotes much of her writing to effective coping strategies.
The first few chapters provide an essential overview of anxiety with reflective, Socratic questions that get you thinking about your relationship with anxiety. Later, Boyle describes what she considers the benefits of anxiety when we harness the emotion in a positive way.
But perhaps the most compelling parts of the book are the personal stories. The ability to read how others apply the constructs taught in the book can help make the lessons inside more real.
I also liked the so-called “gift tags” that Boyle sprinkled throughout the chapters as a way of reinforcing various concepts, allowing readers to synthesize the material for real-life application.
Boyle’s book also takes on the issue of negative self-talk in a way that is free of clinical jargon and free of the kind of mumbo-jumbo you might find elsewhere. Instead, she writes in everyday language. I was particularly glad to see how she speaks to, not at, her readers.
Much of Boyle’s message about anxiety is focused on developing new and healthier ways of thinking. In many ways she borrows from CBT, intertwining it with a humanistic, non-judgmental outlook. By the end of the book, I actually found myself embracing my own anxiety — something I’ve written about previously — and doing so with a happy heart.
As a person who has lived with OCD for as long as I can remember, I can tell you it is a rare moment to find myself thinking about anxiety in this way.
Boyle is worthy of your time if you want to mindfully work through anxiety and stress without being overwhelmed by jargon. And if you are a clinician who treats clients with anxiety, you might want to suggest Boyle’s book to your patients.
Lastly, the book, though targeted at anxiety, seems like it would be able to help with various forms of depression, too. As a clinician myself, I can see how the principles and teaching in the text could be applied more widely to help clients.
The Four Gifts of Anxiety: Embrace the Power of Your Anxiety and Transform Your Life
Adams Media, December 2014
Paperback, 256 pages