How to love someone who has anxiety

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"What should I say?"

I get this question a lot. It almost always comes up when I do speaking events at colleges and conferences. During the Q&A, an incredibly kind and thoughtful person stands up and says, "I don't have anxiety, but my partner/friend/parent/kid does. How do I help them?"

I first tell them they are pretty much an angel walking around among us. They care so much that they came to a talk about someone else's issue just so they could learn to help. I hope that a million blessings fall on their heads.

Then I say that I don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can tell them what helps me when I'm in the middle of an anxiety spiral:

Ask if there is anything you can do 

99% percent of the time, I'm going to say there is nothing you can do. But it's going to make me feel loved and supported that you asked. And on the occasion that I really do need something (Can you bring over dinner? Meet me at the gym for a workout? Get me out of this social obligation?) I'll know you actually mean it.

Understand that I don't need you to fix anything

Most of the time, I just need to explain what is in my head and have someone hold my hand and say something like, "ugh, I'm sorry, that sucks." Please know there is zero pressure on you to fix whatever is going on. And you definitely don't need to fix me. I'm not broken. I'm just a girl with some anxiety.

Let me cry

Crying is good for me - it's a release valve. Trying to shove those emotions down is much worse than just crying it out for a little while. If you can just sit with me through the uncomfortable ugly cry and maybe get me another Kleenex, that is incredibly meaningful.

Tell me you get it, that you've been here (if you really mean it)

This is a controversial one. I frequently see the advice that you shouldn't tell a struggling person your own stories of struggle or say that you know how it feels. But personally, I love it when someone does that. It makes me feel less alone to know that other people have had to deal with this shit, too. It reminds me that things won't always feel this hard. So use your own judgment with this one. But always make sure that you are listening first, and sharing your experience as a distant second.

Be silly with me

Lightening things up always helps me put things in perspective. Not in dismissive "it could be worse, you could be a Rohingya refugee" kind of way -- but let me know we can laugh together and it's not always about my anxiety.  Cute animal memes or cuddling up together for an Arrested Development marathon might seem frivolous, but it can help to stop the Doom Spiral.

Text to check in the next day

The "Just thinking of you and sending a hug"  text is a wonderful thing. A well-timed heart emoji has been known to turn my entire day around. For many of us with anxiety, we worry that people will decide that we're annoying or overreacting or just too much to handle. A quick check-in lets me know that you're still here, that my anxiety didn't freak you out, that you love me for who I am, which is so much bigger than the anxiety. (And you know that phone anxiety is a legit thing for some of us, right? So yeah, a text is better than a call.)

It's not easy to love someone with anxiety. So to all those friends and family members who care to learn and support us -- thank you. We're grateful from the bottom of our anxious little hearts.

**Want to read more from me about anxiety and depression? I wrote a whole book on the topic -- Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird. **

Have additional ideas that have been useful to you? Please leave them in the comments!

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Mostly I write but sometimes I say the words out loud

Hey all, I wanted to share this clip from a talk I did in June - all about anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Even though I don't entirely love living with these things - I love talking about this stuff. It makes me feel less alone, it reduces the social stigma around mental health and above all, it reminds me that healing is possible when we can connect and laugh and say to each other oh my God, I totally know what you mean.

Hope you enjoy this short clip. (I have been doing more talks lately, so I should have more clips to share soon.) And if you're interested in having me come talk at your school, organization or conference - you can see my speaking kit here!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilcjT2Sbbnc&amp]

Panic in the produce aisle: dealing with loss at the holidays

I think it was mostly about the way the collar of her denim shirt was flipped up all wonky on one side. I couldn't stop staring at the woman in the Whole Foods. I watched her shuffle along, pushing one of those tiny carts with just a few lemons and a box of salad in it.

Her hair was thin and silvery and it flipped in at her jawline in a way that thin hair doesn't do naturally. She must use those pink plastic foamy rollers. I would find those little rollers randomly strewn around my house after my grandmother would visit - they'd be sitting on the side table, stacked up on the Kleenex box, lost under the guest bed.

This woman reminded me so much of my Gramma that it took my breath away.

Literally.

I have a panic disorder, so when something startles me - like thinking I see my grandmother, who died in ten months ago, contemplating avocados - I tend to hyperventilate. My husband was putting red peppers in a bag when I grabbed his arm and managed to say something about stepping outside.

"Are you okay? What happened?"

"Fine. I'm. Outside."

I don't tend to get my words right when I have anxiety.

I almost slammed into the sliding door as I stumbled outside. The December air felt good on my flushed face. I hid behind a pile of locally made Christmas wreathes.

Tears poured from under my sunglasses as I continued to gasp like a fish. I've had these attacks since I was eleven years old, so I know the drill. I started with my breathing exercises. I counted my inhale for four counts. Hold for two. Out for four. I propped myself up against a pile of scented pinecones and felt the pleasant burn of the cinnamon in my nostrils. My breathing started to normalize, but my hands were still numb. I moved on to my grounding exercises. I counted my fingers. Pressing each one to the opposite palm. One. Two. Three...

My Gramma loved Christmas, so this holiday season - my first one without her - is feeling thorny for me. Over the past few years, she has given me many of her favorite Christmas things. The little nativity set she and my Poppa got in Europe back in the 1960s. The hand-made gold spray-pained angel that now sits on my bookshelf year round. Various tree ornaments with sentimental meaning to her - the details of which I've now forgotten and they are precious just because they were hers. As I unwrap each one from the plastic storage box, I'm hit with memories that are both sweet and feel like an ice pick to the chest.

But it was the unexpected sight of a flipped up collar that had me undone. I was always flipping the collar of Gramma's denim shirt down. I don't know how many denim shirts she had, or why the collars were so troublesome, but it seemed to be my eternal karmic job. If I wasn't flipping her collar, I was twisting her necklace around so the clasp was at the back. And she'd do the same for me. She would attempt to smooth down my hair - mermaid hair - she called it. We had a lot of similarities, but my thick, wild curls are one of the few traits I clearly didn't get from her. I will never be in need of those pink plastic curlers.

In the most simple of ways, we took care of each other.

I walked back into the store and found my husband, who gently rubbed my back. Knowing I needed a distraction, he asked me if we needed bananas.

I didn't accost the woman and fix her collar. I didn't sob into her denim shirt and tell her that she reminded me of someone I still can't believe isn't here. I didn't tell her that the holidays are nice and all but sometimes they are really really hard. Instead, I let her finish her shopping.

And because the Universe finds things like this to be hysterically funny, we ended up in the check out line right next to the denim shirt woman. And I saw her trying to snap closed that familiar elderly lady wallet - stuffed full of receipts and coupons and newspaper clippings.

In the middle of my sadness I found a chewy center of joy - memories of the tiny acts of love that live on forever. What a wonderful thing, to know that kind of love exists - that someone has smoothed our frazzled hair, fixed our collar, rubbed our back in the produce section. They tried, in some simple way, to make something better for us. Those seemingly tiny gestures live on and reaffirm love at every moment. And my pain dissolved, as it always does, in the face of gratitude.

What a stunning act of love it is, to say:

"C'mere. Let me fix that for you."

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Embrace your weird

Me. At my wedding. I've always felt like I was weird.

I'm goofy and dorky and awkward. I make faces like that when I'm supposed to be a composed bride.

Sometimes people stare at me. There is pointing. And whispering.

I didn't go to school the way most other people did. I had different experiences and I didn't know things that other people knew about. I didn't know how to play hopscotch or jacks, I knew how to play poker and craps - those were the kinds of games we played on set.

I was super insecure about that. I liked my job as an actor, I enjoyed working, but I also felt ashamed because it made me different.

I felt like I'd never fit in anywhere.

But I've realized that the vast majority of people feel like they are different for one reason or another. They think that they don't fit in. That they have to hide something about themselves so that other people will accept them.

But the problem with that fear is that it isolates us and keeps us in situations that stifle our talent and true purpose.

That thing that makes us feel weird is actually really important. That thing can make us powerful. Because if we can learn to embrace that, we can do anything. If we embrace our weirdness, we can be our true selves and bring our own unique perspective and experience to the world.

Hiding and feeling ashamed just doesn’t work. The desperate desire to fit in only makes us invisible.

I was always terrified to share my writing because I was worried that people would tell me that I sucked...and I didn’t know if I could recover from that. But I realized that I'd never be happy if I didn’t at least attempt thing I was most passionate about. It got to the point where it was more painful to stifle what I loved than it was to be criticized for it.

After I started this blog -- that really scary thing actually happened. There were some people who told me I sucked. Anonymous Huffington Post commenters said all the terrible things I worried people would say, that I was washed up and irrelevant and a bad writer and it made me cry and feel miserable.

It felt like a punch in the face.

But it didn’t kill me.

Because, actually, it didn’t matter what they thought of me. There are plenty of other things those people can read on the internet. There are lots of things about cats wearing sunglasses and endless Buzzfeed lists -- and I hope they enjoy those more than my work. Eventually, I stopped crying and went back to my desk and I wrote more. Because my job is to write. Because it's none of my business what those other people think about me - it matters most what I think about me.

That's what happens when you embrace your weird.

When you get comfortable with your weird, then you no longer feel the need to pick on someone else for theirs.

In embracing my weird, I wrote my first book. And then my second book. I started giving talks at colleges, high schools, and conferences. I brought to light everything that I was once ashamed of. I talked about how I never graduated from high school, that characters in books were my best friends, that I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

I've gotten to the point where I would rather fail than quit - and that's when cool things become possible.

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(By the way, this is pretty much what I talk about when I do workshops and talks. If you think your school/conference/company might want to hear more about embracing your weird - contact me - LisaJakub108@gmail.com) You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook or Twitter!

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Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer's panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie's, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It's lovely.

But I've started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don't see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking. Or an uncomfortable conversation. Or a group of strangers. Or an opportunity that is unnerving. Or a situation we can't control. Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That's the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It's hard. But it's not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me - and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this - I hear my teacher's voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I'm stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath - then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak - the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

"Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I'm a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it's different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time."

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That's what can happen when we don't operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It's not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run - the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we're rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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How to care for your introvert: a helpful guide

mr fox Does the photo above look familiar to you? If so - congratulations! You're in a relationship with an introvert!

This introvert might be your romantic partner, friend, child, parent or even yourself. No two introverts are exactly alike - some are more introverted than others, some are outgoing introverts, some are shy introverts - but these simple care tips will help you to have a long, enjoyable relationship with your introvert.

  • Give your introvert a minute. We are not always fast on our feet and sometimes we need a while to adjust to a new situation. We need to quiet the voices in our head and figure out what we really think. We'll get back to you as soon as we can get the words together in a succinct way.
  • Understand that if we never call you, it's because we have a deep and eternal hatred of talking on the phone. Texts or emails are how we connect.
  • Please don't tell us to not be shy. Shy is different from introverted, anyway, and it's pretty much like telling someone not to be tall. It also insinuates that there is something wrong with us. Not everyone needs to be extroverted.
  • Last minute invites are often challenging for introverts. Dinner with just one close friend usually takes several days to gear up for. Large gatherings (more than three people) need even more emotional prep. Sometimes, we just can't manage it. No offense. But please keep inviting us to things, with as much notice as possible, because we have a wonderful time when we're psyched up for it.
  • New people can be intimidating, but we'll warm up. Introverts don't need an army of friends, but we have a tight inner circle of people who we love wholeheartedly.
  • If we leave early, it's not because we are having a bad time. It means we are leaving before we get overwhelmed. We probably had an absolutely lovely time.
  • We love the environment but we're not carpooling because we need to have our own get-away car, in case we need to leave early. (See above.)
  • We are not judging you, we're just good listeners. We are not bored or annoyed or zoning out. We like observing. We're just taking it all in and we'll share our thoughts when it feels appropriate.
  • Small talk will make us want to peel off our fingernails, but engage us in a conversation about the deeper things in life and we'll talk for hours.

Trouble shooting

  • "My introvert is being quiet. Sitting on the couch, reading a book and looking serious. Is there something wrong with my introvert?"
    • There is nothing wrong with your introvert. This is her natural state. Allow her to recharge. Maybe bring her more tea.
  • "My introvert said she didn't want to come out with me to a concert with all of my friends. Does she hate me?"
    • No. Your introvert still loves you. In fact, she loves you so much that a quiet dinner and a Netflix binge sounds much better to her.
  • "My introvert invited me to go to a loud concert with all of her friends/is talking in front of a large group/seems to be enjoying the company of others. I feel like I don't know her anymore. Is my introvert still an introvert?"
    • Yes! But sometimes even introverts enjoy extroverted activities. Some introverts are great at public speaking and performance. Just be aware that she will likely need lots of downtime afterwards to recover.
  • "Only, like, two of these things apply to my introvert."
    • People are different. We are not actually like plants. This is just the guide I wish I could hand out to everyone in my life.

(For a great read on introversion - check out Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain.)

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Don’t just do something - sit there

  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.03.43 AM The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren't prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television -- so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I've had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I'm not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I'm told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this "chanting hippie shit" was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn't fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan't like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 

At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 


Recently, I did an interview and we discussed anxiety disorders. I realized that although I've written about that topic in other places, I've not addressed it much on this blog. (ETA: since I posted this, I wrote an entire book on the topic of mental health - Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

It can be challenging to talk about panic attacks and social anxiety. We've been taught that it's either nerdy (think someone with high-waisted pants, sucking on an inhaler at a party) or it's just regular stress that we should be able to handle.

It's neither of those.

I've had anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid. I've always been described as "sensitive" and "thoughtful" and "a worrier." When I was about 11, my mother would push her thumb into the middle of my palm, calling it my Breathe Button. She'd remind me to take a deep breath as I gasped like a fish and anxiety drained the color from my face.

At a certain point, my inherent shyness and introversion turned into hyperventilating, blacking out, and not being able to leave the house. At its worst, I was having a couple of panic attacks a day. If you don't know what a panic attack feels like, consider this:  it's common for people to end up in the emergency room during their first one because it feels so much like a heart attack.

It feels like you are dying.

And I was doing that twice a day.

That anxiety was complicated in my early 20s by the fact that I was not happy in my life. I felt trapped and scared and not sure what could ever comfort me. I've been carried out of restaurants mid-panic attack, I've made bad choices in a fog of anxiety-ridden self-sabotage. The world had become a very dark place and there were many times that I was not sure how I could ever get out of it.

I've written before about what has helped me. Personally, it's all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation and yoga. I wanted to avoid the drug route - I don't think there is anything wrong with taking drugs that you need - I just wanted to try a different way. Although I have had prescription bottles at the ready, I've always found other ways to manage it.

Even though it's greatly improved, my anxiety has not disappeared completely. Last weekend, I felt some significant panic just thinking about having to leave the house to go to the grocery store. My heartbeat was irregular. My hands went numb. Flickers of light clouded my vision and made me cling to the counter with vertigo. Those are all signals that I'm not breathing well.

The difference now is that have a whole arsenal of tools that I can use to stop that panic before the sobbing-on-the-floor point. I have breathing exercises. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and will pass. My husband knows what he needs to do, and not do. My friends understand that sometimes I can't come to large social gatherings (large means more than 2 people) and if I do, I always drive myself so I can leave if I start to feel panicy. There are preventive things I do every day to reduce my anxiety so that it no longer runs my life - like yoga and a daily meditation practice.

Whenever I talk about anxiety publicly, I get messages from people who deal with similar things and who are glad that we can talk about it. That sense of connection is the reason that I write words and put them out into the world. Because I hope that someone will find them, read them, and say, hey, I totally get that.

I wish there was one common answer we could all share -- sadly, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are dealing with this stuff, know that you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. There are people and books and techniques that can help you. Anxiety tends to drive people into isolation, but suffering alone is never the answer. You can take control of your life and your own wellbeing. You can ask for help.

I used to think my panic attacks could be alleviated by some external image of "success." Maybe if I got cast in bigger movies or dated a different boy, I would suddenly be fixed. When I finally realized that I was capable creating some peace for myself, right where I was  - that's when it all started to get better.

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I created a bookshelf of some of my favorite books that helped me with my panic attacks. You can see it on Goodreads. (And while you are there - friend me so we can share books!)

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My Elephant Journal article and meditation book recommendations

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Hello, everyone!

I wanted to share my brand new article which was just published in Elephant Journal - Learning to be Still: Lessons from a Former Child Actor.  I write about my experiences with anxiety, therapy and finally learning to find a little peace.

I've had many people write me to say that they have issues with anxiety, too, and I'd love to offer a little more information about meditation for anyone who might be interested.

First of all, I know that some of you roll your eyes when you hear the word "meditation." Maybe you have zero desire to be a dread-locked hippie, burning pachouli incense and randomly using Sanskrit  - you just want to chill out a little. That's totally fine. Books #1-3 on the list have very little woo-woo shit at all!

But, if you are down with the Dharma, there are some books here that get a little more into the spiritual history of meditation and use words like Sangha and Buddha-nature. You'll get a little more of that in books #3-5.

But all the books here have practical advice in managing panic attacks and anxiety. Most of them sit on my bedside table and have gotten me though some tough times.

Happy reading and most of all, just remember to breathe!

1.    Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D: He's a molecular biologist, you can't get much more straight shooting than that. He's reasonable, logical, and he has an entire center dedicated to the PROVEN medical benefits of meditation (or mindfulness, as he calls it, so that people don't get intimidated).  I like everything the man has written.

2.    The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook - Edmund J. Bourne: This is the first book my therapist started me off with. It has clear directions for anxiety reducing techniques and short writing exercises.

3.    Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation - Sharon Salzberg: I love this because it's a 28 day program that comes with a CD of 15 minute guided meditations.

4.    After the Ecstasy, the Laundry - Jack Kornfield: Besides that it's an awesome title, this book has some great thoughts on waking up to our life.

5.    Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life  - Thich Nhat Hanh: He is a beautiful writer and puts complex ideas into simple to understand concepts.

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