I waited more than a month to write about Therapy Notebook’s Anti Anxiety Notebook. I felt it was important I give it a proper review. Now, I can affirm that this is, without a doubt, the most useful tool I have used to date to rewire my negative thinking. I can’t wait to delve into the positive aspects of this book. It is a revolutionary way of addressing mental health, especially for those who don’t have the financial means, time, or space to seek out a therapist in person.
Let me start by saying I have no background in psychology. Although both of my sisters specialized on the subject, I personally have very few tools to improve my own thinking. I have a history with mental health, having experienced depression in my 20’s and anxiety in my 30’s. It took half a decade to figure out how to heal from depression, and it is taking just as long with anxiety. But the fact that I did move on from depression really proves that there are ways to undo harmful thinking. This book has empowered me in ways I didn’t know it could.
Before delving into the anti anxiety notebook, here are a few related post on mental health:
- Gift Guide: Well-being and Mental Health
- Self-Care Guide for Health Professionals
- Healthy Coping Skills During Times of Stress and Anxiety
- How to Beat the January Blues
- 30 Activities to Get Out of a Rut
How the Anti-Anxiety Notebook Works
The Anti Anxiety Therapy Notebook applies the science of cognitive behavioral therapy. An introduction in the book walks one through separating the objective facts of what happens in our lives from the subjective narratives we attach to those events. We attach narratives in an instant – most of them are thought processes ingrained in us from childhood or our formative years. Deconstructing reality from our perceptions is a thinking process that takes practice. It starts with awareness. Properly asking yourself, what happened (physically) without judgement or bias requires effort.
Identifying Emotional Responses
Once you’ve separated what actually happened from what you perceived happened, it is time to address your feelings around the event and your thoughts. A feelings wheel in the appendix illustrates the emotions that can we can feel. I was surprised to learn that some emotions I thought I was feeling are actually a misdiagnosis of another, more accurate emotion. For example, when I felt nervous, I realized that the nervousness was rooted in fear, a fear of disappointing others or letting them down. Likewise, when I feel anger, sometimes it’s really because of embarrassment or shame. I used to think I got angry at people when really, I was most angry with myself. The feelings wheel really helped me narrow in on the most accurate emotion.
We tend to name an emotion and land on it, but reflecting on what other emotions are leading us there is crucial to our understanding. Emotions, like narratives, are reactive in nature. Usually, it is a repeat response to similar situations from our past. Analyzing those responses and peeling back the layers requires patience. All of this takes time. The journal has helped me to sit down with my emotions and identify them properly.
Once your emotional state is identified, the journal asks you to question the thought patterns that brought you there. Before this book, I didn’t know what thought patterns were. They are actually referred to as cognitive distortions, because of their inaccuracy and reinforcement of negative thinking and emotions. These lead us to think things that are unhelpful and untrue. There are 12 distortions described in the book:
- All or Nothing Thinking
- Blaming Others
- Emotional Reasoning
- Fortune Telling
- Magnifying the Negative
- Mind Reading
- Minimizing the Positive
- Should Statements
When I first started using the book, I made assumptions on my thinking tendencies. I thought the patterns that I fell into were Magnifying the Negative, Self-Blaming, and All or Nothing Thinking. I was surprised to learn that the traps I usually fell into were Catastrophizing and Fortune Telling. This makes sense now as my mind tends to lie in the future tense. A lot of my anxiety and negative emotions come from my fears that project out what I think could happen in the future. I realize that more often than not, my predictions are wildly dramatic and unlikely to ever happen.
Rewiring Negative Thinking
The last section challenges our brains to rewire and think in a new way. It begs the question, how can you think about the situation differently. I use this section to brainstorm all the different interpretations available, the possible outcomes, and the alternative emotional responses. This part of the process is cathartic for me. I imagine living in a multi-verse, where a different version of myself will think and choose to act in a more positive way. Then I choose which version of myself I want to be. This gives me more control of the situation’s end result. For me, that bit of control releases my anxiety.
How This Journal Helped Me
After using this journal for a month, I am less anxious about the things that once worried me. For one, it has shifted my attitude towards gratitude. It has increased my ability to be kind and to forgive. It has also increased confidence in my abilities, and removed some of the stresses of “What-Ifs”. Now I know that even in the worst case scenarios, there will also be a silver lining. I can’t stress enough how much improvement this book has given me in one month! If you wish to start your journey, I really do recommend this book. And if this is any indication as to the healing effects therapy provides, then it really is worth a try, for those who have been debating about it for a while.
What’s In the Journal
The Anti Anxiety Notebook starts with a few key points on how cognitive behavior therapy works. Interspersed throughout the pages are quotes to reflect on, as well as 5 coping mechanisms: Changing Mindsets, Mindfulness, Sleep, Positive Relationships, and Distraction. There are also empty pages scattered between journal entries, with enough room for a brain dump. I use this space for reflection, doodling, venting, and more. At the end of the book are 3 very useful appendices: CBT Basics, Cognitive Distortions, and The Feelings Wheel (my favorite resource!).
As for the journaling portion, the book includes dated pages where I was able to jot down events that caused anxiety. Questions I was forced to ask myself were:
- What happened? (describe the situation)
- What is going through your mind? (describe your thoughts)
- What emotions are you feeling?
- What were the levels of intensity of those feelings?
- What thought patterns do you recognize? (more on that below!)
- How can you think about the situation differently? (challenge your thoughts)
Is this book for you?
I have no experience in receiving therapy in person. But I know this to be true: Therapy Notebooks provided a way to map out my thought patterns and cognitive biases in my own space and my own time. Although it is made by therapists, it isn’t a replacement for therapists (if that is what you need). However, it does bridge the gap between those who can and cannot afford therapy sessions. The notebook lowers the barrier to getting help, when perhaps you don’t have the means to pay for it or the ability to leave work or home for a proper chat.
If you do end up trying it, I am curious to see how it serves you.
This post was written in partnership with Therapy Notebooks, a company looking to empower people with tools that improve mental health. My anti anxiety notebook was gifted to me by the company to try. As a practicing dentist, I experience anxiety every time I go into work. I also experience daily anxiety at a much lower level, because my thoughts tend to lie in the future, which is unknown. Part of my suffering is caused by a longing to control my environment and outcomes. That coupled with a culturally ingrained need to get along with everyone and avoid causing ripples in the proverbial water. The thoughts, opinions, and experience noted here are of my own.