I can't convince my anxiety-afflicted mom to get therapy, but she'll read a book. What book should it be?
January 22, 2012 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been trying to convince my anxiety-afflicted Mom to get therapy for ages. She finally said that if I were to buy her a book, she would promise to read it, and perhaps that would lead to finally giving therapy a shot. She's pushing 70 and has to deal with a new addition to the family who is aggressive and toxic, so I think its urgent for her to get a better handle on her mental state.

Some background, I'll try to keep this minimal... Mother in question (lets call her M) is pushing 70, and is an immigrant from Russia who's been in America for 20 years now. She's in a constant state of anxiety, agitation, and perpetual distraction that makes her unable to read, watch a movie, or generally concentrate on anything for longer than 15 minutes. She lives to deal with crisis and seems to engineer her life so she never has a moment of peace or idleness. This is all accompanied by skepticism toward western ideas of mental-health, which she basically sees as nothing more than compulsive valium-popping.

She also has some mental habits that are, I think, particular to people who lived through the Soviet Union. There's a sort of “set your jaw and keep going” attitude to life that denies any possibility of improvement – life becomes a sort of endurance test that you just need to get through – and this seems to preclude much internal awareness, or even acknowledgment of the existence of any internal life. There's also a deep fatalism – she openly tells everyone that she has very “weak nerves,” but she thinks that she is what she is and that's what she has to live with, she denies the possibility of self-directed personal growth.

What changed recently is the addition of a new family-member-by-marriage who is a toxic and aggressive bully, who seems to enjoy pressing everyone's buttons, but especially M's. Simply separating M from the bully isn't plausible – because that would also separate her from beloved grandchildren. M is always telling me that she's being driven to wit's end, and at her age I am afraid that this could get to the point of effecting her physical health. I finally convinced her that she will never change the bully, and that she has to master herself to some degree so that her buttons aren't so easily pushed, and so she can respond rationally – and to do that she has to get some handle on her anxiety. That's when she finally yielded and asked me for something to read. She is extremely skeptical – so this book should be dry, rationalist, (funny is ok), and completely devoid of the religious, the New Age and the Woo. Humanist and compassionate could also be good. Help me out hive-mind, I know this is a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of a single book, but what book should it be?
posted by tempythethird to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Dealing with People You Can't Stand - I have dipped into it on occasion and it may fit the bill for your mom in terms of providing handling methods for an unpleasant person. Not too dry, lots of practical tips although not so much on the anxiety-managing front - I suppose it would deal with that indirectly by helping to develop coping mechanisms. Give my very best to your Mom!
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:04 PM on January 22, 2012

Feeling Good. No woo, just rationality.
posted by facetious at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2012

Best answer: Full Catastrophe Living is a non woo-woo introduction to mindfulness that might click with her. Coping with Difficult People speaks more directly to how to set boundaries in relationships. Mind Over Mood is a very practical guide to cognitive behavioral techniques to cope with anxiety and mood symptoms.
posted by goggie at 3:07 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and this one is one I read some years ago when undergoing a full-on anxiety / panic attack break that lasted several months - The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook - again, very practical.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:10 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

David Burns' When Panic Attacks. Like Feeling Good mentioned above, no woowoo, just a rational approach.
posted by ellenaim at 3:18 PM on January 22, 2012

I know it might seem like 'woo' just from the title, which might be enough to put a skeptical person off, but Mindfulness is a great way to practice basic meditation and CBT. The CD it comes with is particularly good and only takes a few minutes a day to get into. It's very straightforward and easy to understand, yet not patronising.
posted by blaisedell at 4:32 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things Might Go Terribly Horribly Wrong, by Kelly Wilson.
posted by jasper411 at 5:24 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had great success with Oxford University Press' Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic. I used it for a 12-week program with a therapist, but I would imagine that a person could have positive results doing it themselves.

It's not woowoo at all; it's incredibly practical, explains why our reptile brains behave as they do and gives the reader hands-on tools to stop anxiety. But the reader has to really want to make some changes (and there's an excellent chapter about figuring out your motivation for change).
posted by kinetic at 3:06 AM on January 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, between the answers here and this thread, I think there's a nice mefi-consensus, which tends to be a good one. Not marking any best answers yet as that will have to wait until I comb through all the suggestions!
posted by tempythethird at 7:13 AM on January 23, 2012

Best answer: I've been enjoying Full Catastrophe Living, combined with some podcasts that walk you through body scan and progressive muscle relaxation.
posted by radioamy at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2012

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