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Book Review: My Anxiety Handbook

My Anxiety Handbook is aimed at young people aged 12 – 18 years who suffer with anxiety. It is written by two senior clinical psychologists with extensive experience of working with young people in a diverse range of settings, and a college student with lived experience of anxiety; Sue Knowles, Bridie Gallagher and Phoebe McEwen.

I have used this book in my work with secondary aged students, including a young person aged 11 years, and without exception the content has been invaluable.

My Anxiety Handbook is comprehensive, yet easy to understand. A complete guide to anxiety, it addresses everything from what anxiety is and where it comes from, to tackling anxious thoughts and why it is important to get a good night’s sleep. Scientific concepts, such as the body’s biological response to threat, are explained in simple terms that any young person can understand.

The overall feel of the book is friendly and non-judgemental, and the authors are positive in their approach. Anxiety is normalised throughout the book – the first reference to anxiety affecting everyone is within the first two pages, something which I have found to be extremely beneficial for young people who believe they are alone in their suffering.

Many young people I have worked with, who are experiencing debilitating anxiety, have unrealistic expectations of what recovery means. A common misconception is that a therapeutic intervention will eradicate all symptoms of anxiety and several young people have questioned the extent of their recovery, on the basis that certain situations still evoke symptoms. An important message the authors carefully convey is that anxiety will remain part of the readers' life, because it is a biological response to threat and is essential to our survival. The authors also offer examples of situations, which are relatable to young people, where anxiety is extremely useful when experienced appropriately.

I was really pleased to see a chapter dedicated to coping with School, College and Exam Stress. The authors explain how anxiety may affect the reader when at school or college and includes a section specific to perfectionism, an issue I frequently encounter with young people. The top tips for studying and exams are just one example of the plethora of tips and strategies contained within the book aimed at helping young people recognise and manage their anxiety. It was also heartening to see a chapter on Transitions, an area I have rarely seen directly acknowledged in literature focused on anxiety and young people.

Within the book six individuals of varying ages share their personal experiences of anxiety, and how they have managed their symptoms successfully. This offers hope to young people and most readers of this book will be able to relate to at least one personal story. A 13-year-old, who had a copy of the book, commented it would have been useful to include more personal stories of younger teenagers given the majority were from people aged 16 years and over.

The book contains a good balance between illustrations and text. Larger chunks of text are broken down with sub-headings and bullet points, so the amount of information does not appear overwhelming. The sections in each chapter are clearly marked which makes it easy to find information on a specific subject and to dip in and out of the book.

I particularly like the chapter on ‘My Anxiety Survival Plan’. The purpose of the survival plan is to help the young person to create an understanding of their anxiety and to think about what can help them to feel more in control of it.

The layout of the plan includes sections for what makes the young person vulnerable to anxiety, anxiety triggers, anxious bodily reactions, thoughts and behaviours applicable to the young person, details of people the young person feels able to talk to, how to help the body feel calmer and how to deal with anxious thoughts. Each heading includes information regarding where in the book the young person can look for relevant information and ideas.

The only recommendation I have for this section of the book would be to offer a link to download copies of the survival plan. This would be useful for young people who would like a portable copy and to enable the survival plan to be developed as and when appropriate. It would also be useful for professionals working with multiple young people.

To complete the book, the authors have provided a section containing details of helplines, websites and other organisations who can offer support in addition to a bibliography. I highly recommend this book and believe it would benefit young people, parents, teachers, and any other professional working with young people. It has certainly helped me in my work, enabling me to articulate and discuss anxiety more clearly with young people.

Available at Jessica Kingsley Publishing, most good bookstores and here at Amazon

Author's Bio


Fiona McNally is a Person-centred Counsellor and Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. She has a private practice in Oxfordshire, works as a Primary Care Counsellor within the NHS and works in primary and secondary education as a School Counsellor. Fiona has completed the Master Practitioner Programme with the National Centre for Eating Disorders and has additional training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

Find out more about Fiona at her website or get in touch via Facebook

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