Book Review: Anxiety And Avoidance

Anxiety And Avoidance:  A Universal Treatment For Anxiety, Panic, And Fear Based On Proven Techniques From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy And Mindfulness And Acceptance Therapies, by Michael A. Tompkins, PhD

This book is clearly aimed at its target audience, that portion of the roughly ten percent of the population that suffers from various anxiety disorders [Note:  in my life I have been diagnosed, to date, with two of these, namely Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder] or those who are therapists dealing with people suffering immensely from anxiety.  It is telling that on this book, which I borrowed from one of my local county libraries, has a sticker on its over and another one on its table of contents that warns the reader not to write in or remove pages from this book, given that it is a self-help workbook that provides many worksheets for people to write on in an effort to master their intrusive and extreme anxiety.  Anyone who is reading this book will likely know that anxiety is a problem and will be looking to this book as a way of solving them, and the fact that the book adopts a general approach to anxiety as a whole in order to help a whole suite of difficulties, including those not specifically related to anxiety like depression gives this book a wide degree of applicability and usefulness to those who choose to take advantage of it, managing to maintain an intelligent approach without falling prey to the desire to encourage New Age spirituality or promote Buddhism, making it much better than many of its peers [1].

The contents of this book are straightforward and well-organized with a process of growth in mind, as would be expected given its genre.  The book’s nine chapters take up a bit more than 150 pages of 8 ½” x 11” paper, many of them filled with worksheets that help to provide some sort of data to encourage the reader that their efforts at improving their responses to stress and anxiety are working.  The author introduces the book’s subject by discussing anxiety, avoidance, and anxiety disorders and then advocates a process of watching and learning by separating ourselves from the intensity of anxiety to allow us to examine the arc of anxiety (antecedent, or trigger, response, and consequence) and the types of anxious behaviors.  After this the author advocates a process of moving forward by examining the pluses and minuses of avoiding change or deliberately and consciously seeking to overcome anxiety, seeking to encourage more rational thinking rather than rigid behaviors which encourage people to remain in “the anxiety box.”  The author then advocates watching and waiting, developing an attitude of mindfulness towards the physical acts of breathing and the somatic symptoms of anxiety, encourages readers to think inside and outside the anxiety box by viewing their anxiety at a distance, with a critical eye to the processes of catastrophizing and remaining stuck in obsessive rumination that often go on.  Perhaps of most help, the author has a chapter devoted to stepping towards discomfort, deliberately seeking out the people and situations that make one uncomfortable so as to be able to overcome such discomfort through frequent exposure.  The last three chapters of the book are devoted to encouraging the reader to keep up the attitude necessary to overcome anxious thoughts when they sneak up on us, gives some discussion of the medications that are prescribed for anxiety, and then provides encouragement to the reader to maintain helpful habits in diet (like limiting or eliminating caffeine), exercise, and sleep in order to preserve better health overall before concluding and providing resources and references for further reading and investigation.

In many ways, this sort of book is likely to be read by people who are already, at least in some way, prepared to take its comments to heart.  By consciously and deliberately avoiding direct appeals to Eastern religious beliefs, this book is designed for those who are irreligious or hostile to such heathen traditions, appealing instead to those who have a strong inclination towards intellectual understanding.  Indeed, much of this book is structured to appeal to someone comfortable with checklists, quantitative estimations of anxiety level, calculations of the fallacious nature of catastrophic prophecies of doom, and seeks to provoke a great deal of rational thought and examination of the internal systems of anxiety in the mind and body.  Those who read this book, and who complete its worksheets, are likely to be those who believe that their anxiety can be mastered and overcome, and who are willing to face what makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable so that they can be less rigid and more flexible in their thinking and in their response to the threats and dangers of life, and are likely to benefit from what this book has to offer, and to encourage others likewise.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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