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Margaret Dilloway: Anxiety, Improv, and Ava Andrews

[Teachers/Educators, please note there is a GIVEAWAY of a classroom set of 10 copies - look for info at the end of this post!]

When I took my first improv class, I thought I was doing something that was a little fun and scary, but I didn’t know it would help my anxiety.

Anxiety is something I’ve dealt with since I was a young child. I’d get stomachaches, stay up late feeling a sense of dread that wouldn’t let me sleep. If I told my parents I felt worried, they’d tell me I had nothing to worry about because I was a kid and to get over it—after all, my parents’ impoverished childhoods (in a coal mining village and a war-ravaged Japanese town, respectively) had been a lot worse. I also had social anxiety so severe that I didn’t talk to anyone except my friends—I’d freeze up.

This continued through school and then manifested again hard when I went away to college. I remember one semester where I only spoke to people in class. That’s a particularly sad memory, as I’ve never felt so isolated in a big group of people, and led to depression. I was in constant fear of rejection. Why couldn’t I just make friends and be normal? I didn’t know. Because I couldn’t overcome it on my own, I felt pretty worthless.

Post college, anxiety ebbed and flowed. When I had children, I realized just how genetic anxiety is, as all my kids have similar issues. I understood it wasn’t a problem I could easily overcome on my own. And, when I found out I had the same genetic heart disease as my mom, I knew that anxiety always made the heart palpitations worse. My cardiologist told me they didn’t know what could set it off but they speculated that anxiety does it. I knew then that it wasn’t just my mental health that depended on me controlling my anxiety, it was my long-term physical health too. I went to therapy and got on some anti-depressants, which made a world of difference. But some vestiges of the anxiety always lingered.

Then I found improv.

When I first started taking improv classes, I felt nervous. But here’s the thing about improv—it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, mistakes are usually better than what you intended to say, because your fellow teammates turn your gaffe into a running gag or make it the centerpiece of a scene. We call mistakes “gifts” in improv.

Through repetitively making mistakes, I became desensitized to the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Anxiety also wants you to live in the past or future. The “I should have” and the “what ifs” that keep you up at night are anxiety’s food. But improv teaches you how to be present in the moment you’re in, to focus on listening and concentrating on lending support to others’ ideas.

All of this made its way into FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS. I wrote it for the kid I was, for my kids, for those with invisible disabilities, and for everyone else to understand what it’s like to live in that skin and to freeze up when you intellectually know it makes no sense and your body’s not cooperating. It’s like stepping on a broken ankle and willing it to not be broken; it’s just not going to work the way you want it to. You have to set the bone and heal it. It’s the same with anxiety.

Improv helped me do that.



Margaret has graciously donated a classroom set of 10 copies of FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS for a lucky teacher or librarian. To enter, just head on over to Twitter:

  1. Follow Margaret at:

  2. Follow A Novel Mind at: -- and tweet us the words: AVA ANDREWS

A winner will be chosen in about a week.


Margaret Dilloway is the award-winning author of 10 books for adults and children, including the upcoming WHERE THE SKY LIVES (Balzer + Bray/2022). She lives in San Diego with her family. Currently she performs in a Baby-Sitters Club parody, in an online interactive improv/trivia show through the Pack Theater in LA.

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