The Anxiety Toolkit: A Review

I just HAD to write a review of this new book!

Publication Title: The Anxiety Toolkit
Publication Author: Alice Boyes
Publisher, year of publication, paper/hardback, price: Penguin Group, 2015, paperback, NZ$18.33 from thebookdepository (as at 6 April 2015)

This is a marvellous book. It might equally be counted as a self-help toolkit for the lay person, as well as a therapist’s toolkit. The content and style are accessible to both, and constitute an integration of psychological research and practical life skills written in bite-sized pieces. The concepts are simply put without ever being simplistic – a book for the thinking person who wants to be taken seriously.
The book is divided into three sections: (1) Understanding yourself and your anxiety; (2) Your anxiety toolkit: Overcoming your stuck points; and (3) Where to next. The first section covers a wide range of psychoeducational material about anxiety, temperament and personality, and personal goals.

There are frequent pauses to help the reader reflect on their own psychological profile with question and answer techniques. The second section covers practical strategies for addressing cognitive “bottlenecks” like Hesitancy (putting off doing things because of uncertainty), Rumination; Paralysing perfectionism, Fear of feedback and criticism, and Avoidance of stressful activities. Each chapter begins with a self-reflection quiz on the topic and then lays out simply-put and easily understood thinking and behavioural activities that can bring about change. There are experiments set up in many places, ensuring that new insights are immediately reinforced by elaboration and practice. The final section presents ideas on consolidating that change and preparing for slip-ups. This last section also reminds the reader of the other parts of life that can be developed alongside the integration of anxiety acceptance and management that build meaning and pleasure.

Boyes is obviously widely read and has integrated research from many well-known domains, including social psychology, cognitive psychology, positive psychology, ACT, self-compassion therapy, CBT, mindfulness, temperament and personality. Her familiarity with the research is obvious in her creative application to problems of everyday life and her comfortable inclusion of research findings. The references to the research never feel contrived or boring. Her use of quizzes helps develop self-reflection and metacognition, and there are always parallel practical experiments to broaden the thinking and behavioural repertoire. She uses visual aids such as tables and flow-charts, and presents the narrative material in brief sections with frequent headings.

The multiple approaches to mastering our anxiety and harnessing its positive power are fleshed out in lots of brief, practical strategies to work on, increasing the chances of success. I particularly liked her chatty style and self-disclosure, which built an intimacy that promotes trust in what she’s saying. I also liked the way she emphasises that there is an upside and a downside to everything about us, and that our psychological characteristics exist on continua not as dichotomies. Her encouragement to focus on small successes to build mastery, her suggestion that we focus on managing our resources rather than our time, her proposal that we shift our focus from our performance on tasks to our mastery of skills, and her insistence that her readers customise their strategies for a best-fit for themselves, all contribute to a programme that is most likely to be successful.

There is a useful index and a list of references for those who would like to read further on the various topics covered. I have no doubt that this will be an extremely useful adjunct to the therapist’s toolkit – I can imagine that working through the book alongside our clients will prove beneficial for us all. And the fact that the book is endorsed by Robert Leahy doesn’t hurt!


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