Review: The Anxiety Field Guide

The Anxiety Field Guide, Jason Cusick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.

Summary: A practical guide with daily exercises to help face anxieties and reduce feelings of anxiety integrating clinical practices and biblical insights.

We all know what it is to be anxious and we live in anxious times. The question is, how will we respond? Will we make healthy choices that face and normalize our anxiety? Or will we avoid situations that make us anxious or escape into unhealthy coping behaviors when we feel anxious? Will we step into anxiety-producing opportunities for growth and advancement, or will we choose the safe route?

Jason Cusick is an anxious person from an anxious family. Stepping into larger responsibilities, he experienced panic attacks. And it led to a season of therapy in which he learned about anxiety and about himself. He realized that anxiety is a gift of God for our safety, but can be awakened at the wrong time. He learned that healthy responses to anxiety are rooted in four principles;

  1. Normalization. Learning that anxiety is natural but can become unhealthy.
  2. Exposure. Learning to understand and face our fears rather than avoiding them.
  3. Habituation. Learning new skills that desensitize us to our fears.
  4. Care. Learning healthy ways to experience God’s love for us and others.

With this introduction, the remainder of the book consists of thirty short chapters. The idea is to read one a day and to practice the exercises at the end of the chapter which focus on the four principles above. Here’s one example from the early part of the book. It is to “Practice Pit Stops.” Noticing how good pit stops in a race occur in 10 seconds or less, Cusick advises 10 second pit stops when we are experiencing anxious thoughts. It begins with recognizing our need for help–that we are having an anxious moment, pausing what we are doing, allowing ourselves ten seconds, calling it what it is, noticing how it is affecting us, and using one of the other skills in the book to make a healthy response (e.g. put our anxiety in our “worry box”). He concludes with these three action steps: 1) When anxious, give yourself ten seconds; 2) Give yourself more than ten seconds if needed; and 3) Create a mood log to track our anxious moments.

Cusick’s practical helps include not only psychologically sound practices but also spiritual insights involving God’s care for us, practical prayer practices including lament prayers, practice resting with God, and choosing joy. He helps us learn to receive anxiety as God’s gift rather than something to be suppressed. Throughout, he shares instances where he struggled with anxiety, how he has practiced these ideas, and how he has been less than perfect. Perfection is anxiety-producing, and Cusick helps us see that progress can even be found in attempting and failing rather than avoiding what we fear.

We might be thinking of a particularly anxious friend to share this book with. It might not be a bad thing to get two and do it together. I suspect we all need an anxiety tune-up, or at least an anxiety pit stop!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.