Anxiety by The School of Life

Meditations on the Anxious Mind 

“Anxieties thrive by not being thought about, by festering in the dank corners of the mind; they demand that we pay them attention but hate us to think through them properly. So, we need to introduce them to the bright sunshine of focused thought, give ourselves a pad of paper, plenty of time to reflect and encouragement to ask ourselves: So what would it be if like if X or Y happened…?”


If there's one thing I know all too well, it's anxiety. I guess that I should clarify, I know the feeling of anxiety. I know what it feels like to gasp for air, to feel like you're suffocating, like the surrounding room is closing in, and that there is no way out

What I didn't know, was much about what anxiety truly is. I'm aware of its sources and its triggers where my life is concerned, but I don't have the knowledge too much beyond that. So I was excited to read Anxiety by The School of Life. I picked this one up through Amazon's Kindle store. 

The School of Life should start referring to their books as prescriptions, because I could really do with a daily dose of one of their books, or at least some of their content, alongside my regular medications of course. 

This book contains exactly what it states on the cover: meditations, or thoughts, on the anxious mind. 

Anxiety opens with an introduction that states, “there is so much to which we are exposed, so many serious and unpredictable risks permanently waiting to threaten our peace of mind.”

The book then dives into what some of those things are, such as how we are repeatedly compelled to make enormous life choices without really having all the facts, how when at work our reputations could be destroyed, “in a moment by malice or error,” or how, our imaginations permanently remind us of everything that is missing, might go wrong, or perhaps everything that we've already messed up.

It goes on to say that despite all of this, we should strive to let go of one or two of our anxieties, by understanding them better. 

This is a book about anxiety and how to overcome it, The School of Life states. 

I took away quite a number of things from this book. Particularly from chapters: Basic Trust, Trauma & Anxiety, Self Hatred and Anxiety, Friendship & Anxiety, and Plan B's & Anxiety. Although I took much away from each individual chapter, these were the ones that resonated most with me.

I love this concept of Basic Trust, which I had never heard of before. According to the book, it means “that even though we can never know for certain what will happen, though we have no absolute guarantees as to how things will turn out, though we cannot wholly control our destinies and though there are some very uncomfortable dangers lurking in certain places, we maintain a belief that things are going to be – more or less – OK.”

I found this fascinating, and ever more so when I realized how little trust I have that things will be OK. Not having any kind of Basic Trust, leads me to overthink and overanalyze, as well exhaust myself trying to predict certain outcomes. 

So, not only am I tired, but I'm also mind reading, and anxious, all at the same time. Enter panic attack.

It was interesting to read about the different types of anxiety, specifically Trauma & Anxiety. This chapter outlines that “anxiety belongs in every life. But in some lives, we can fairly say it has become so constant that it is unnecessarily punishing.”

While the book uses a bear metaphor to describe their case, I'll use an example that happened right while I was reading this chapter. I had an encounter with a nurse, who was trying to get a needle into my arm to run an IV into my body. The nurse couldn't find a vein that worked for her, so she kept poking me, repeatedly. As a result of this, I felt extremely anxious. As someone who has never feared needles, has had many IVs, and has had my blood drawn on multiple occasions, I have never had a problem with them. The result of this was that, when she couldn't get the IV in, she called on not one, but two other colleagues, who also tried. 

The result of this nurse encounter is an unconscious commitment to “catastrophic generalization,” in that now every time I have to have a new IV put in, or in fact any time I see her, or any nurse pushing a cart full of needles, I feel my heart start to beat faster in my chest, and sweat starts to form in multiple pores throughout my body. So in a sense, this one encounter with one nurse, has now caused a traumatic ripple effect. I now associate her, her colleagues, her uniform, needles in general, and other things, with that one encounter. Making sense? I hope so. This example just happened to sit more with me since I experienced it while reading, and I'm not sure when my next bear encounter will be.

The book states that in order to get better, which in my case, means stop dreading nurses with needle carts everywhere, we need to spend more time thinking about the specific encounter. Our impulses draw our minds to the future, encounters with nurses or bears that haven't even happened yet. If we direct our mind backwards, we can “revisit certain damaging scenes with compassion and in kindly company.”

Another chapter I wanted to highlight is the Plan B's & Anxiety one. The chapter opens, “we grow up - inevitably - with a strong attachment to a plan A: that is, an idea of how our lives will go and what we need to do to achieve our particular set of well-defined goals.”

The concept itself wasn't anything new to me, but how it was laid out and written spoke to me in a new and more comprehensive manner. I've always only ever strived for perfection, and perfection for me is Plan A, and nothing else. Another way I guess I could think of this is all or nothing or black and white thinking, an extremely unhelpful thinking style, one I'm all too familiar with. There are times I've had to abandon ship on Plan A, and it's left me feeling devastated, empty, and above all else, anxious. I think to myself, well what on earth am I going to do now? 

The School of Life states that we should consider one of life's most vital skills: develop a plan B. “The path ahead may be blocked, but we have notable scope to find other routes through. One door may close, but there truly are many other entrances to try.”

Another extremely helpful takeaway.
The book also contains a Trauma Exercise and Self Esteem Questionnaire, which are both highly helpful. I only mentioned a couple of chapters here, but the book has a ton more information on diversionary anxiety, reputation, friendship, parties, and panic attacks, as well as so much more. 

About The School of Life

The School of Life is an organization built to help us find calm, self-understanding, resilience and connection - especially during troubled times. They place an emphasis on the need to understand ourselves better, so that we can secure serenity and make optimally reliable decisions, particularly around love and work. 

Anxiety: Meditations on the Anxious Mind is available to purchase on The School of Life website, at Indigo, and in e-book format on Kobo or Kindle. Check GoodReads for additional retailers.