I’ve always been an avid reader, and found, as a child, that diving into the world of a book often saved my sanity in my far-from-happy childhood home. For me, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll was my escape, but as I grew into my teens and twenties I turned more to psychological books. In particular, the then emerging genre of self-help. I now own over 3,000 books, and dip in and out whenever I need a little boost or a reminder of what is possible.
Here are five of my favorites, which have helped smooth the path along my way. Some are quite old, some fairly new, but all in all, they are books which have lifted my spirit, changed my mood, and made me think that change was possible. The insights and support within enabled me to get a handle on my own anxiety in an ever-increasingly stressful world and environment.
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist Monk who used to be a neuroscientist. He is known to be ‘The happiest man in the world’. His book, Happiness, looks at the convincing scientific research on how you can change your own well-being, physical health, and mood through meditation and living well. He spent two hours in an MRI scan and came out smiling, saying ‘What a wonderful mini-retreat!’. I saw him speak in London, and he was inspirational, humane, intelligent, and a warm, wonderful man.
I came across Jon Kabat-Zinn when I was writing The Mindfulness Journal (the precursor to The Anxiety Journal). Jon Kabat-Zinn is another amazing Buddhist teacher and author. He also wrote Full Catastrophe Living, about working with people with chronic physical conditions (like cancer, chronic fatigue), and alleviating their suffering through mindfulness and meditation. Wherever You Go, There You Are offers wonderful insights, information, and practical help.
I love this book, and have dipped into it many times over the years. The late Louise Proto was very much a healer, who strove to write a clear-sighted, clear-headed book about what we now call ‘self-care’. I first came across the book over twenty years ago and I loved the concept of being my own best friend. As someone who had struggled with co-dependence, it seemed a fabulous idea to give to myself what I usually gave away to others. Proto has a kind, warm ‘voice’ in the book, and he is indeed a good friend of mine in terms of the help his book has proffered to me over time.
A relatively new author, Catherine Gray’s book encapsulates, in a wonderfully feisty and modern literary style, her battle with booze. She is honest, fearless, and yet hopeful. I myself stopped drinking fifteen years ago, and always am delighted when I find a book that hits a really passionate and authentic note. I have recommended this book to many of my clients, and continue to dip into it, finding her journey to sobriety an inspiration and a reminder of how far I myself have come. I read many books at the time of giving up drinking, and found that was my way of coping. Hearing the ‘voices’ of many people who had dared to sober up and face life clean, and hearing about the inside struggle, the doubts, cravings, and fears, helped me stick with the first three to six months. Now I am just completely relieved that I remain sober through everything life throws at me: I feel stronger and better for it.
Piers Steel, PhD
Yes, I admit it. I can procrastinate. Fear gets in the way. And all the ‘what if’s.’ I am getting better and living in the now, but sometimes I slip back into either worrying about the future or regurgitating the past. Luckily, an hour of reading this puts me right back on track soon after. The book clearly reminds me that procrastination means I lose out, and that it is a manifestation of any powerlessness I might be feeling. It is a well-researched, well-argued, encouraging book about living in the now, and getting on with life.
All in all, these books are my ‘best friends’ and have helped me through many a wobbly moment or dark night of the soul. Dipping into books to gain solace, insight, support, and inspiration is a wonderful thing. It can be done quickly, in private, at your own pace, tucked up in a bed, in the bath, or on a sunbed. They can boost self-esteem and confidence, conquer fear, and therefore reduce anxiety.
What’s not to like?
These 5 books to reduce stress and improve mental well-being are recommended by Corinne Sweet, an author, psychologist, and psychotherapist. She regularly writes for magazines and newspapers and has published more than fourteen books, including several bestsellers. She regularly appears on TV, radio, and online offering expert insight as a “Psychologist Spokesperson.” She is the author of The Anxiety Journal.
Exercises to Soothe Stress and Eliminate Anxiety Wherever You Are