If I were going to recommend a self-help book for managing stress to a friend or client, this would be the one. The author, Jonathan Abramowitz, is a Research Professor and Director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He is a prolific author of peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and several other resources for the lay public. Here, he brings his considerable expertise to bear in helping readers understand, control, and cope with stress in its many manifestations.
Part I of the workbook provides an introduction into the origins of stress, how stress is affected by physical and cognitive influences, and the basics of stress phenomenology. Readers are encouraged to complete a Perceived Stress Scale in order to get them ready for more detailed discussion about signs and symptoms. Another chapter in Part I asks the question, "What is Stress Doing to You?" relative to medical conditions (pain, cardiovascular problems, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders), emotions, and patterns of behavior that suggest depression and mood instability. Through several case illustrations and recording forms Abramowitz then offers guidance about identifying sources of stress in one's daily life and considering stress reduction and management strategies.
In Part II of the workbook the focus is on evidence-based methods for dealing with stress from a preventive perspective. There are several informative chapters that teach the reader a common orientation to problem solving: (1) recognize your difficulties, (2) clarify what is to be solved, (3) list potential solutions ("brainstorming"), (4) isolate strategies for change, and (5) implement an action plan. Each of these steps is reviewed comprehensively using schema that simplifies the process and makes it more palatable at first glance. Also, there is some very good advice for communicating effectively through basic assertiveness training, managing time more efficiently, overcoming procrastination, altering "stressful thinking patterns," and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise, proper diet, and relaxation. Most of the methods Abramowitz suggests are culled from behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral treatment but also more recent developments in mindfulness-based and acceptance and commitment therapies.
The workbook concludes with Part III, a series of chapters on managing stress at work, within relationships, during unanticipated crises, and "when all else fails." This information follows and refines the content from earlier chapters, namely to identify the sources of stress, adopt a problem solving approach, test methods through simple "behavior experiments," and document results empirically. Again, the workbook provides a seemingly unlimited number of forms and documents for achieving these objectives.
In addition to covering stress and anxiety A-Z, Abramowitz writes clearly, with humor, and in an engaging style that should appeal to most readers. The workbook is ideal for people wanting to learn more about the stress in their lives and how to deal with it but additionally, as a supplement to working with a mental health professional. Indeed, Abramowitz writes that "one of my motives for writing this book was to have a good resource for my own patients and clients to use as they progress through treatment." Some of the information is repeated in the chapters but this redundancy actually serves as a strong teaching tactic for driving home salient points. Unlike many self-help tomes on the market, there is nothing in this workbook that deviates from research supported practices or slips into unchartered territory. Accordingly, this is a valuable resource for individuals concerned about personal stress and what they should do to successfully change their lives.
© 2013 James K. Luiselli
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 9 books and more than 300 book chapters and journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.