Writing to Overcome Anxiety

Terri Bacow photo

By Joshua Pinckney

Some of the most impactful events in life are often entirely unpredictable. For Terri Bacow (ΦBK, Brown University), this has proven to be the case on more than one occasion. When she was referred to a publisher by one of her colleagues to write a book helping adolescents and young adults manage and overcome anxiety, the Covid-19 pandemic had just begun. Needless to say, inspiration for the book Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry was not hard to find. And while of course, like all of us, she wishes this pandemic was something we never had to endure, the fortuitous timing of the book’s conception made publishing one of its kind all the more urgent. Her book can be a lasting resource for people struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression—whether brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic. The opportunity to write it was one that Bacow may not have anticipated but was certainly well-suited for, and the same could be said for her induction into Phi Beta Kappa.

In her final semester at Brown University, Bacow recalls standing in the mail room and getting the letter notifying her of her ΦBK invitation. In that hub of the university, buzzing with students walking and talking all around her, she was shocked and remembers asking herself, “How did I earn this?” It was during her reflection that she recognized in herself the very qualities for which she was selected for induction into Phi Beta Kappa—her innate love for learning and self-driven motivation to get the most out of her coursework. One anecdote that stood out in her memory was getting a graded paper back in a college course and receiving an “A with distinction” for being the only student who quoted the professor from one of his lectures. That same keen skill for listening attentively that made Bacow an accomplished student in the classroom then, serves her even better in her profession now.

After graduating from Brown with a degree in psychology, she went on to receive her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Boston University. In her time there, she received what she called, “outstanding training” in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and gained additional experience working at a clinic specializing in the treatment of phobias, anxiety, and mood disorders. She found the intersection of psychological research and practice, using evidence-based treatment through CBT, to be “really rewarding.” This love for seeing improvement in her patients’ conditions and overall lives translated in the care she put into crafting Goodbye, Anxiety. Bacow wrote and created the book with the knowledge that there is currently a youth mental health crisis front of mind. She lamented, “Young people are social creatures. They thrive when they can have experiences that give them a sense of mastery and of positive reinforcement. Adolescence is already the peak moment for experiencing anxiety, and the pandemic brought isolation, anxiety, health anxiety, and stress.”

With empathy for this demographic, Bacow tactfully blends CBT practices and approaches in the guided journal with pop culture references and graphics without overwhelming the reader with either. With writing prompts to purge anxious thoughts from the mind, encouraging phrases and science-backed coping strategies found throughout, the book is a gift to all of us who have been struggling with our mental health. Perhaps the book is the unexpected, impactful resource that many of us didn’t know we needed.

Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry was published by Sasquatch Books in December 2021, distribution by Penguin Random House.

Joshua Pinckney is recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where he received a degree in International Relations and Politics with an additional major in Hispanic Studies and a minor in Sociology. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa’s Upsilon of Pennsylvania chapter there in May 2021.