The only problem is that I usually don’t implement what I have learned. This was not the case with My Anxious Mind by Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez. It’s almost impossible to walk away from this book without useful tools under your belt to help you cope with anxiety. That is, if you have the stamina to read the whole thing.
This book does an excellent job of breaking down how to deal with anxiety in all its forms. The authors start with the basics of differentiating between normal, occasional, and excessive anxiety. They help you identify excessive anxiety through the use of “The Four D’s,” which means paying attention to whether your anxiety is disproportionate, disruptive, or distressing, as well as the duration of your anxiety. This tip is beneficial because a major problem in obtaining help for anxiety, or for most mental disorders, is that in school or at home no one teaches teens how to recognize its symptoms. Therefore, having a way to identify disorders is a crucial step in recovering.
I also love that the authors point out the patterns of anxiety, which I think are often missed when you've been dealing with anxiety over an extended period of time. For example, they explain a series of steps that keeps your stress going. They call it "The Worry Wheel." Essentially, an anxious mind leads to an anxious body, which leads to anxious actions, and the vicious cycle only repeats. The book then teaches you how to deal with the first part of the worry wheel, your anxious mind.
A few days ago, I implemented the authors’ advice by analyzing how I was "mind-reading" my peers. I wanted to isolate myself from them because I thought that whatever I contributed to our conversations annoyed them and that they hated hearing me speak. I took a step back from this thinking, which had been an automatic response for me, and classified it as anxious. I thought about the evidence for my worry: when I spoke, my peers didn't make much eye contact with me and seemed tired. On the other hand, those same people had walked up to me before and seemed happy to see me and talk to me, and the past week we had had many tests, so everyone seemed a bit tired and on edge. I came up with the more balanced thought that, while my peers seemed uninterested when I talked to them, this could very well be because of other factors, such as the stress-inducing environment of that crazy week. It was a substantial improvement to see what seemed to be inescapable thoughts re-written through a more objective lens, so that my immediate reaction wasn't self-defeat.
Once you can identify the parts of your anxiety, the book leads you through steps to overcome each aspect. The authors teach you many techniques, such as abdominal breathing, which I put into practice at school. School is where I tend to feel the most anxious, especially during tests. Often I would re-read a question over and over again because I would be so stressed that my mind couldn’t even process what I was being asked. The quiet of the room and people handing in their tests early put me even more on edge. My breathing got shorter, my chest felt tight, and my mind blanked out. How was I supposed to focus on the test when I couldn’t even get enough oxygen to my brain? The shorter breaths I would take and the weight on my chest were a type of background noise. It was ever so present yet felt inevitable and automatic. After reading the detailed explanation about exactly how to breathe and how long to hold in and let out each breath, I finally could turn down that background noise. After being more conscious of when my breathing was at its worst, I actively and repeatedly used Tompkins and Martinez’s breathing techniques, which brought a sense of calm. Controlling my breathing is something productive I can focus on even when the rest of the world feels out of control. Although these techniques can be adjusted or might not work for everyone, it’s still nice that Tompkins and Martinez lay out all the information, so there is no guesswork needed to implement their tips.
This book is marketed to teens as a guide to managing their anxiety. While I appreciate the details included and consider them helpful, the book could be simplified at times. I know that teens have busy lives, and reading a small-font book that talks extensively about one thing can become unengaging. The author uses a monotonous textbook-like tone rather than a personal one, which can make engaging in such a book a challenge. However, if you are a teen who is committed to self-improvement, reading a chapter a night while taking notes allows you to really focus in on the key points, tips, and practices so they won't get lost and can actually be helpful to you once you have finished the book.
I recommend My Anxious Mind to those 14 and above. This recommendation is not limited to people suffering from diagnosed anxiety but for anyone subject to the harmful stress caused by our fast-paced lives. I rate this book four out of five stars because it gave me practices that I think will stay with me for the rest of my life, whether I am stressed before a test or dealing with general anxiety for weeks at a time. It is different from other self-help books in that it truly gives you a roadmap on how to improve anxiety, from making a “Time Machine” to de-catastrophize your thoughts to structuring a panic plan when you just have to ride out your anxiety. It was an amazing feeling to take back the freedom that my anxiety robbed me of. With these practices I finally feel more at peace with this uncertain, uncontrollable world.
Sofia Mesh is a 10th grader at The Computer School in New York City. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, reading inspirational literature, and international travel.
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