Living With Anxiety: Seven Books to Consider

(Updated in 2023) Living with anxiety has been the topic of several well-received memoirs in recent years. Six to consider, listed from newest to oldest:

I. Sarah Wilson, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful (2018)

The title comes from a proverb cited by psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind): The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful.

One bit of advice in the book she received directly from the Dalai LamaOn “how to stop the internal ‘fretty chatter that makes us so nervous’ (‘There’s no use,’ he says. ‘Impossible’)” (Publishers Weekly).

II. Andrea Petersen, On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety (May, 2017)

Psychologist David H. Barlow: “Everyone dealing with anxiety—the common cold of mental disorders—will benefit from the important information in this entertaining and erudite reflection on coping with the burden of anxiety.”

What Petersen recently told John Williams, New York Times, about her research regarding treatment issues:

…The two main evidence-based treatments are cognitive behavioral therapy [C.B.T.] and antidepressive medications, generally S.S.R.I.s [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of antidepressant]. About half the people with anxiety disorders who do a course of C.B.T. — about 12 to 15 sessions with a therapist — get clinically significant relief. About a third of people with anxiety disorders don’t respond to S.S.R.I.s, and there are others who can’t tolerate the side effects. So we need new treatments. Part of it is a lack of funding. One scientist at Harvard told me anxiety hasn’t been taken as seriously partly because it’s a normative emotion: We all experience it. So that may have influenced this idea that it’s not a big deal. But researchers are also finding that anxiety disorders are thought of as gateway illnesses. They can lead to depression, substance-use disorders and suicide.

III. Cathy DonaldsonCaging the Anxiety Monster: A Memoir (February, 2017)

Donaldson is a writer who was not only living with anxiety but plagued by panic attacks before getting the intensive help she needed. From the publisher: “In Caging the Anxiety Monster, writer, mother, and happiness enthusiast Cathy Donaldson describes how anxiety and depression upended her world, led her to the psych ward, and ultimately forced her to discover ways—and create some of her own—to confine her ‘anxiety monster’ and keep the fiend under lock and key.”

IV. Kat KinsmanHi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves (2016)

As Kinsman has stated (, “If depression is, as Winston Churchill famously described, a ‘black dog’ that follows the sufferer around, anxiety is a feral cat that springs from nowhere, sinks its claws into skin and hisses invective until nothing else exists.”

Behavioral therapy has helped her, and some other things haven’t so much:

Anti-anxiety medications work beautifully for millions of people. The withdrawal from a particularly wicked one nearly ended me, and the brain zaps (those are sharp, horrifying electrical currents you can physically feel inside your head) and metabolic sluggishness increasingly outweighed any benefits while I was on it. Perhaps I will change my mind someday, but for now that’s not an option.
The gym can be useful, but it’s on the other side of that damned door. So are the much-vaunted yoga and meditation classes that inevitably make me feel as if I’ve failed for being insufficiently zen and relaxed.

V. Scott Stossel, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (2014)

Stossel has been living with anxiety since early childhood. Although medications, therapy, and particularly meditation help, “none of these treatments has fundamentally reduced the underlying anxiety that seems hardwired into my body and woven into my soul and that at times makes my life a misery.”

VI. Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety (2012)

The author: “I’ve known anxiety for most, maybe all, of my life. The condition is genetic. My father was anxious. My mother was anxious. My grandparents were anxious. Probably my ancestors were all anxious…”

VII. Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D. and Lissah Lorberbaum, MA, Anxious in Love: How to Manage Your Anxiety, Reduce Conflict, and Reconnect with Your Partner (2012)

From the book description: “No matter how committed you are, anxiety can leave you feeling distanced from your partner. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome the anxiety-fueled reactions that keep you from achieving true closeness in your relationship.”

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