This Is the Only Book that Helped My Anxiety
I have anxiety, and it has always been difficult to treat. I tried an antidepressant, which helped a lot, but wasn’t a cure. And due to my busy schedule, making it to therapy sessions is tough.
I was discussing my progress with my primary care provider recently. Since my anxiety tends to be generalized, therapy hasn’t always helped. I can get stressed out about pretty much anything, which makes it hard to treat with counseling. If someone has more specific anxiety, such as one linked to a phobia or a life event, it’s easier to work on.
Then someone recommended the book Feeling Good by David Burns.
Let me just say, I have read a lot of books on anxiety. In my opinion, none were helpful — until I read this one. Dr. Burns is a psychiatrist who believes that our thoughts can help create, or remove, sad feelings.
One example in the book that helped me was about a student studying to be a psychiatrist. He received negative feedback from a patient, and thought he was a failure and would be asked to leave the program. Most of us have been in a similar, lousy situation, and probably thought the same thing.
But one negative comment, although it may be painful to hear, shouldn’t make us think it’s the end of the world. This is “all or nothing” thinking: that if we make a single mistake, we must be a failure. But humans make mistakes! It’s normal and part of how we learn.
I had always thought that success comes easily: that some people naturally have the skill to open every door in front of them. But that’s not the case. I was talking to my advisor, saying how extraordinarily difficult I was finding the program.
She responded that yes, it was difficult. And every student thought so! It was designed to be difficult, not easy, so that we would learn a lot.
I drive a lot for work, and used to be incredibly anxious about finding a place I’d never been to before. If I got lost, I’d feel like crying. This is especially tough when navigating construction and one-way streets, which means the way I drove to a place can’t be the way I go back.
But I quickly realized that everyone I worked with was facing the same problem. One study found that the average person drives around lost over 250 miles a year! I’m certainly not alone, and shouldn’t feel bad when I miss a turn. And the more I drive, the more of a “mental map” I get, and now it’s much less common for me to get lost.
Another common myth that the book explores is that if we aren’t incredibly successful, our life is worth less than others’ lives. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that I have to achieve a lot to have self-worth.
For a long time I chased my education, thinking grad school would bring me meaning. And while it’s brought me knowledge, I still don’t feel any different about myself than when I was cleaning houses. I was proud to earn my own money, no matter what I was doing.
Of course, the book isn’t a replacement for therapy or antidepressants. It’s an additional tool to help people change their thinking.
When something bad happens to you, it can feel earth-shattering, but you can keep going. On the road to success, a lot of doors slam shut in front of everybody. Allow yourself permission to search for other doors, and to feel happy while you do it.