In ‘Own It: Make your Anxiety Work For You,’ Caroline Foran advises moving away from ‘curing’ anxiety

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The thing about anxiety is that everyone gets it. Anxiety is inevitable, as stressors are unavoidable in today’s society. In her new book, “Own It: Make Your Anxiety Work for You,” released in the United States earlier this month, Caroline Foran writes: “This whole idea of ‘curing’ your anxiety … only serves to makes you feel worse in the long run.” Instead, Foran advises readers to “own your anxiety so that it no longer negatively impacts your life.”

“Own It,” originally published in 2017 in Ireland (where Foran is based), is a self-help book in which Foran outlines the strategies she has used to cope with her own anxiety. It’s fairly easy to read, filled with tips and chapter summaries on dealing with anxiety, and as such, may be especially useful for busy college students (who are no strangers to stress and anxiety).

Foran draws attention to the fact that most people expect anxiety to be the result of something visible and immediate — a stressor or the aftermath of a major traumatic life event. She notes, however, that anxiety can also be a slow build-up — the result of which can rear its head many years down the line. It’s a “deeper, quieter stress that erodes your ability to keep your sh*t together,” she writes.

Foran chronicles her own struggles with anxiety, which started off manifesting with a “dodgy tummy” as a teen. As a young adult, her anxiety continued to creep up on her — even despite external achievements — before bursting into full bloom and leaving her to crash.

The cornerstone of her journey with anxiety has been cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which she recommends as a fundamental tool for “owning” one’s anxiety. The trick, she explains, is not necessarily to look for workarounds to avoid one’s anxiety — but rather, to modify the way one looks at anxiety itself and one’s relationship with anxiety. In fact, she notes, anxiety can drive one toward a better work ethic and provide self-awareness and awareness of others. In short, we need to make anxiety work for us rather than letting it drive us.

Foran also discusses other strategies for taking control of anxiety, such as changing one’s lifestyle, exercise and sleeping habits, each of which directly impacts one’s health and mental well-being. She also points to practices borrowed from ancient Eastern philosophy such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga breathing. In addition to that, there are methods that include positive affirmations, music, simply getting out in nature and prudent social media habits. Many of these things may seem like common sense in today’s world, but, ironically, we often resort to them only when in crisis.

It is commendable that Foran has been able to make use of these techniques and strategies to not only identify her issues but also face them head on and overcome her anxiety. Her story is one that is worth telling — a story of successfully overcoming obstacles. It is not an easy journey by any means, and her work in this book cannot be discounted. The strategies in the book, however, are not revolutionary, since other authors have also delved into many of these strategies used to address mental health issues.

The reality for many with anxiety and other mood disorders is that they require not just knowledge about these strategies but also access to the right resources at the right time and place (not to mention at the right price). This is not a journey that one can undertake alone. Therapy is a very people-oriented profession, which means that there is variation between therapists offering the same service. For some, effective treatment requires that a number of things come together, such as the right amount of support from friends and family and access to a qualified and affordable CBT therapist as well as to qualified doctors if the medication route is necessary. Even alternative therapies have to be taught by effective practitioners. So while Foran’s book is a good starting point, the task of making your anxiety work for you is not an easy one.

While the book is a good read for students, it’s important to take a holistic approach to tackling mental health issues. For students here at UC Berkeley, the Tang Center offers mindfulness classes, workshops, sessions with counselors and other classes to help you deal with stress, anxiety and other mental health issues of both the everyday kind and more significant ones.

Contact Hari Srinivasan at [email protected].