The best books to conquer anxiety

Em Lyons Bouch Author Of Moving the Chains
By Em Lyons Bouch

Who am I?

I was born an anxious person and spent the first 18 years of my life trying to ignore panic attacks and anything to do with mental health. When I finally hit rock-bottom, I joined the CBT group Recovery International and discovered how freeing it was to be in control of my mental health. I now passionately talk and write about mental health, lead a weekly Recovery meeting, and teach CBT techniques to teens. Stigmatized portrayals of mental health in books - hospitalizations, suicide attempts, violent insanity, or being a pathetic burden - kept me from pursuing help, so I wrote my own novel with a positive, realistic take on anxiety and depression.

I wrote...

Moving the Chains

By Em Lyons Bouch,

Book cover of Moving the Chains

What is my book about?

As a freshman, Abby is the star quarterback of her tiny farming town's high school football team. When she finds out her family is moving to the big city and leaving behind everything she knows, Abby's latent anxiety becomes a problem that she can no longer ignore. To be successful both on and off the field, she must face stigma and her own fears before her nervous symptoms become crippling.

This is a work of fiction, but it incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques from the real mental health organization, Recovery International. You’ll be cheering for Abby and you might just pick up a CBT tool along the way.

The books I picked & why

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Mental Health Through Will-Training

By Abraham A. Low,

Book cover of Mental Health Through Will-Training

Why this book?

I’ve read this book about a dozen times in the past fifteen years, and I find new nuggets of wisdom with each visit. I was first convinced that I could overcome anxiety by reading Dr. Low’s strong conviction that there are no hopeless cases. He breaks down the root causes of mental health issues and describes cognitive-behavioral techniques for overcoming anger, negative judgments against oneself, fears, interpersonal conflicts, and many other ailments. His pithy sayings are easy to remember and have become the backbone of the self-help program Recovery International. Written in the 1950s, the examples and language can be somewhat dated – such as streetcars, elevator operators, and clotheslines – but his great love for his patients and his understanding of the human mind are timeless. 

Power Your Mind: Tools to Build Resilience

By Abraham Low, Recovery International (editor),

Book cover of Power Your Mind: Tools to Build Resilience

Why this book?

I use this book with my teen groups and have seen them take control of their stress, drama, and anger. Power Your Mind takes the CBT tools and techniques that I love so much from Recovery International, and applies them to young people. The workbook features colorful comic pages and high school characters who apply the tools to situations relevant to modern teens. The conversational writing, journaling activities, and clear progression of the key concepts make the workbook perfect to do alone or in a group setting. 

Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem

By Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning,

Book cover of Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem

Why this book?

So much of my own anxiety was caused by my broken self-esteem and the way I thought about myself. McKay and Fanning presented clear, relevant exercises to challenge my toxic self-talk and to create a balanced view of myself. Through their visualizations and exercises, I could see that anxiety wasn’t my only attribute. I loved that the exercises took only a few minutes each, but could powerfully improve my mood and create a positive, calm outlook. I bookmarked my favorites and came back to them when feeling anxious.


By Rainbow Rowell,

Book cover of Fangirl

Why this book?

Fangirl hit really close to home: I’m a twin and I struggled with anxiety when I went to college while my sister seemed to thrive, just like Cath and her sister Wren. I related to Cath’s love of reading, writing, as well as to her social awkwardness and avoidance strategies as the best way to deal with anxiety. I was rooting for Cath to succeed in school and to grow as a person. In so many novels, the anxious person is portrayed negatively, as weak or crazy. Fangirl challenges that with a delightful story of success. It asks, why shouldn’t an anxious person be a likable protagonist? Why shouldn’t an anxious person find love? Why shouldn’t an anxious person get a happy ending?

Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God

By Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn

Book cover of Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God

Why this book?

A lot of my anxiety had a spiritual component. I wondered how God could love me and still let me suffer from anxiety. I worried constantly about sin and the consequences. Good Goats helped me rethink my view of myself, my anxiety, and God. The Linns explain in very understandable language how a person’s image of God affects all areas of life. Seeing God for who he truly is – loving, parental, forgiving freed me from the spiritual burden of anxiety and also helped heal my view of myself. The authors weave in not only the Bible but also scientific studies, philosophers, and personal experiences into their explanations. The text is very accessible no theology degree needed! and the colorful illustrations are delightful. 

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