Anxiety is a big word, rightly or wrongly it makes me think of panic attacks and clinical depression, but in fact most of us suffer some sort of anxiety in our lives pretty regularly. We might try to control it or push it to the back of our minds and ignore it, but it is there. It might be as simple as if you are going to get to work on time or it might be much more pervasive.
Through our fertility journey I lived with a nagging thought, possibly a belief, that I would not be able to have a child. This was almost constantly on my mind, at the front or pushed to the back, but there. People would say things, meaning well but I would dwell on them, mull them over again and again. Some comments I remember to this day.
Why do we always focus on the negative – the comments where people were trying to protect me by managing my expectations were the hardest, they played on my anxiety and amplified it. Of course, this is very personal, but I think we should lift everyone up and be there for people if the worst case happens not try to protect them in advance – stay positive!
Throughout this journey I was introduced to some amazing books that helped me manage some of these feelings, focus on the good, the positive and not worry about things we can’t immediately control.
So, I thought I would share my thoughts with you on the best books to help with anxiety.
Principles to live by
Book 1: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Quote that sums it up: Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive – the risk to be alive and express what we really are
This book is not going to be new to everyone – it is extremely popular. It spent eight years on the New York Times bestseller list, selling over six million copies!
It is really about these 4 (very simple) principles that should guide our lives:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Don’t make assumptions
- Always do your best
These 4 principles are all important, but I wanted to hone in on a couple specifically for anxiety:
Don’t take anything personally: This is probably the singular most important lesson from my personal experience for someone suffering from anxiety. We all do it, and as I mentioned above, people’s comments ate away at me, causing me much more negativity than anyone had intended. So, this book shows that you need to immunise yourself to other people’s opinions about you.
What people say and do to you is a reflection on them, not you.
In order to change this habit of taking things personally Ruiz recommends – start noticing the beliefs you have, which are based on fear and make you unhappy. They may often start from when we were children and they may have developed subconsciously. But it’s time to pick them apart.
Learning to forgive is a big one – not just others but also yourself. You might make a mistake and apologise to those involved but then still you let that mistake whir in your mind over and over. Meaning you are continuously punishing yourself – STOP!
Don’t make assumptions: Assumptions are often the enemy of anxiety. Asking questions, communicating or just forgiving is much better for you.
You might assume something, or someone is acting or thinking a certain way and it might play in your head for days but actually you very rarely know the reason, circumstance or full picture. I often catch myself now when I see someone do something like push in etc, in the past I would have got really annoyed. Now I wonder why – maybe they are really late? Maybe someone is ill, it’s an emergency or they just had a terrible day – it takes the anger I used to feel away & I just hope they are alright and whatever it is will get resolved.
It sounds so zen… in reality it’s not quite like that, but assumptions without all the facts are pointless and likely to cause you more anxiety than anyone else.
Book 2: The secret to feeling fulfilled
GRIT by Angela Duckworth
This one I really need to re-read. As I sit here thinking about my business and it seems like a completely insurmountable mountain I have to remember this book’s key messages:
- Grit is a mix of passion and perseverance
- Grit matters more than talent in achieving success
- You can grow your grit
- Find an interest, develop it into a passion & stick with it
I know these things, I am sure you do too. Can you think of anything in your life that you have really applied grit to?
I think learning Chinese is an obvious one that comes to mind for me. I hated it at university, I was rubbish at it and had to work so hard to memorise all the characters only to get to China and hardly understand anything! So, I decided to throw myself in the deep end and go back and live in a family in Chengdu where they didn’t speak any English, and slowly but surely over the years in different situations I learnt.
It’s far from perfect but I enjoy it now, I love being able to communicate in people’s native tongue, to understand the culture in a way I wouldn’t access only through English. It was a true story of grit, I spent months not knowing what was going on, or where I was going, but when people spoke English to me I replied in Chinese even if their English was better, because I was there to improve and learn and only through that & of course making a fool out of myself did I manage to learn.
Life is not about your talents – few of us are born with extraordinary talents but all of us, given the right mindset of perseverance, can do great things… I hope my little girl can grow up with a good dose of grit!
Amazon: Audible or Book
Book 3: Creating a habit of a lifetime
Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
I read this book and started to implement its morning routine about 3 years ago. It is based on the premise that how you start your day largely determines the quality of your day, your work, and your life.
It is effectively a morning ritual and it shows you how spending a little bit of time on you each day will potentially have a transformative impact on your life.
Pre-kids we would get up at 6 and do an hour split between the below:
S – silence. I would try to meditate for 10 mins. I found some good 10 min meditation podcasts that helped me focus.
A – affirmations. This felt so strange to start with, but it helped me to be more positive about the fertility journey, reminding myself that there was no reason I couldn’t have a baby and that I was on the right path.
V – visualisations. I always did these with the affirmations to make them more vivid & real.
E – exercise. This might have been as simple as a few stretches or a full workout depending on the day
R – read. I would take this time to read books that I usually found challenging or I wanted to write notes on.
S – scribing. This was very therapeutic, writing my feelings down, getting things off my chest on to paper – no matter what was going on I would always do this.
Nowadays we don’t have an hour to ourselves in the mornings… but we do try to set the alarm for a bit earlier than the little one wakes, and we creep around so as not to wake her. If we are lucky we might get one of the SAVERS done but it is still a great habit.
We put so much time and effort into other things in our lives like work but often not into personally developing ourselves, so a little bit everyday goes a long way.
Amazon: Audible or book
Book 4: Putting everything into perspective
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This book is pretty harrowing and quite tough going but don’t let that put you off. It is a really important one.
This quote from Frankl sums it up: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
This book is about Frankl’s three years surviving in a Nazi concentration camp and then his subsequent years as a teacher – teaching what he’d learned during the worst of times: that people can, and must, find meaning in their lives, even if all they know is tremendous suffering. It is at times gruesome and totally heart-breaking.
A few things he emphasizes are:
1. Finding an indifference to death or anything you fear greatly is crucial. In his situation by surrendering to the present and not spending one second thinking of the future, prisoners summoned the apathy they needed to, for example, grab a vital pair of shoes from a dead body. For you it might be as simple as getting up on stage in front of an audience. For me, right now it’s doing videos on Instagram….
2. You do not have to achieve huge things to have a sense of meaning in your life. You can find a sense of meaning in anything no matter how small. It is linked to how much responsibility you bring to the decisions you make – be impeccable with your word – if you decide to do something do it! Use that grit, don’t let fear get in the way just do your best!
These are my favourite books to help with anxiety – they helped me to deal with the anxiety I felt with not being able to get pregnant. But really all the learnings are super valuable in my every day. I don’t always keep them top of mind, but I should.
So I am going to sign off and remind myself that no matter what has happened or is happening or will happen in the future only I can choose my perspective and that includes not taking things personally, not making assumptions, and continually taking time to work on myself, using that inner grit to always do my best and this will in turn lead to a life well lived.