From the Editor: Can Books Cure your Anxiety?

A visit to any bookshop’s mind body spirit section will show you a plethora of books to help you with just about any problem you can think of. So much effort has been put into the creation of these books, but do they really help? How would we know?

Among the subjects you will find many books to help those of us with anxiety, written by a range of people – many highly credentialled and some not so qualified.

There are six main types of anxiety. The mental health organisation beyondblue, which helps people with depression, anxiety and related mental-health issues, names them as follows:

Generalised anxiety disorder makes those with it feel anxious on most days, worrying about many different things, for a period of six months or more.

Those with social phobia have an intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated in everyday situations, such as speaking in public, eating in public, being assertive at work or even making small talk.

With specific phobias, the person feels intensely fearful about a particular object or situation – such as getting injections or travelling on planes – and may go to great lengths to avoid it.

With obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) the person has ongoing unwanted and intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. Although the person may acknowledge these thoughts as silly, they often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals. For example, a fear of germs and contamination can lead to constant washing of hands and clothes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event (such as war, assault, an accident or natural disaster). Symptoms include difficulty in relaxing, disturbing dreams, experiencing flashbacks to the event, and avoiding anything related to the event (an example might be a war veteran who avoids fireworks displays).

And a person with panic disorder has intense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, combined with a range of physical symptoms, such as an elevated
heart rate.

You probably know someone with one of the above disorders or you may have experienced the symptoms yourself. It’s estimated that one in three people suffer from anxiety disorders at some point in their life. That means that many of you reading this month’s issue will be dealing with anxiety of one kind or another. That’s tough. And you probably know someone, possibly many people, with one of these debilitating conditions. You’ve probably met hundreds of people who may be skilled at hiding the symptoms through years of practice, or you may see troubling signs in someone but not recognise the symptoms as indicators of anxiety.

…it’s still a taboo subject for many people. Sufferers still often feel embarrassed to admit how they feel.”

I have great empathy for those who suffer from this condition. I suffer from an anxiety disorder myself. In fact, it runs in my family. I’ve spent many years practising how to hide my anxiety and I’m very polished at it now. And it saddens me to know that even though so many people suffer from anxiety, and it’s now often discussed in the media quite openly, it’s still a taboo subject for many people. Sufferers still often feel embarrassed to admit how they feel. Somehow it makes you feel that you’re less than other people. But in fact it doesn’t mean that at all. Those who suffer from anxiety often have an inner strength that others may not have yet discovered. You often have to be amazingly resilient and powerful to manage day-to-day activities while dealing with this inner turmoil.

As this subject is close to my heart I was fascinated to read about a study being undertaken by the University of Tasmania this year. They are studying people who suffer from a variety of anxiety disorders and who are using only self-help books to treat themselves. The researchers will report back on how helpful these books were in treating the anxiety. The results should show whether self-help books are a good therapeutic treatment, or not. Of course, it may depend to a large extent on the quality of the books.

Fascinating, don’t you think? I’ll report back on the results when they’re in.

Here’s to getting lost in a book. I think it’s good meditation.


And Baxter Superdog, who loves a bit of therapy.

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