I Manage My Anxiety By Reading Books And Essays — And These Are 5 Of My Favorites
It is not always easy to manage anxiety, but reading has helped me cope with mine. When I start to feel overwhelmed or worried or fearful or panicked, I take a death breath, get a glass of water, and sit down with one of the books or essays that I know will serve as a reminder that things can and will get better.
If you are one of the over 40 million American adults who suffer from an anxiety disorder, then you are well aware of how debilitating it can be. What you might not know is that reading is one of the many techniques for coping with it. According to studies, reading can reduce stress levels, lower your heart rate and ease muscle tension, and even help rewire your brain to be more compassionate towards yourself.
Over the years, I have found that out of all of the anxiety-coping techniques I have tried — meditation, visualization, deep breathing exercises — reading has been one of the most helpful, and one of the easiest to adapt to. If you want to try it, too, I've got recommendations for essays to read the next time you're dealing with anxiety:
"Amelia and Me" by Jenny Lawson
In her darkly charming essay, "Amelia and Me," Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy and Let's Pretend This Never Happened, talks about the unique technique she uses to deal with her anxiety: thinking about the life and death of a woman whose gravestone she saw with her family as a child. "I still deal with the fear, and it still limits me. But when I feel like I can't possibly survive one more day in the real world, I think back to Amelia," Lawson, otherwise known as The Bloggess, writes. "I think of all the things that Amelia might never have had the chance to do, and of all of the amazing, ridiculous things she accomplished in my imagination. I think of the fact that I still haven't seen the view from the top of the tightrope and that I never will if I don't push myself to fight my anxiety and confront the terrifying task of living.
"The Blue of Distance" by Rebecca Solnit
Writer and essayist Rebecca Solnit seems to have sage advice for everything, including politics, art, and, yes, anxiety. "We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing," she writes in "The Blue Distance," an essay from her acclaimed collection A Field Guide to Getting Lost. "I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed?"
"How to Stop Being a Shy Person in 13 Easy Steps" by Lindy West
"Am I dead? Did I die? Is the world different? Has my soul splintered into a thousand shards and scattered to the winds? I think you’ll find, in nearly every case, that you are fine. Life rolls on. No one cares. Very few things—apart from death and crime—have real, irreversible stakes, and when something with real stakes happens, humiliation is the least of your worries," Lindy West writes in the essay "How to Stop Being a Shy Person in 13 Easy Steps. This advice, and a lot of the other writing in her memoir and soon-to-be TV adaptation Shrill, not only makes me laugh, but helps me feel a lot calmer about the less-than-perfect moments in my life.
"The Day I Realized I Couldn't Handle My Anxiety Alone" by Andrea Petersen
In "The Day I Realized I Couldn't Handle My Anxiety Alone," On Edge author Andrea Petersen opens up about not only her experience with anxiety, but some of the things she does to help manage it. "Although it was painful to admit, I knew I had to stop pretending I was okay and get back into treatment," she writes before describing several strategies she has — including therapy, meditation, and even baking — she uses to keep herself healthier, happier, and less anxious.
"Inheritance Tax" by Scaachi Koul
I am lucky to be able to travel a lot, but as someone whose anxiety about leaving home almost stops me from doing it, I always find it comforting to read "Inheritance Tax," one of the many hilarious and heartfelt essays in Scaachi Koul's debut collection One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. "Traveling tells the world that you’re educated, that you’re willing to take risks, that you have earned your condescension. But do you know what my apartment has that no other place does? All my stuff," she writes. "All the things that let me dull out the reminders of my human existence, that let me forget that the world is full of dark, impenetrable crags. I have, I think, a healthy fear of dying, and marching forward into the uncharted is almost asking for it."