This week I ran an #AskMeAnything on Anxiety with my colleagues at work. I shared my journey with my anxiety disorder over the last few years – and answered their questions on mental illness, wellbeing at work, coping mechanisms, and talking to others. One of the questions I was asked, and was subsequently asked by friends of mine this week looking to buy for struggling loved ones this Christmas, was to name the book(s) that I felt gave the best insight into mental health or helped me in my recovery.
2020 has been a trying year and as we approach a holiday period that will look different for most of us, I thought to share a list of my favourite books on wellbeing, mental health, or personal stories that encouraged and inspired me. I’m hesitant to call them stocking-fillers to diminish their value, but I am confident to call them gifts. These books and stories have helped me many times over. I hope you buy one of them, for yourself or a loved one, this Christmas. I promise it’ll be one of the best presents you (they) get this year.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
I’m starting with the “big guns” because it’s my favourite book on this topic. I am not alone in my adoration for Matt Haig’s work, but this book gave me the validation and acceptance I needed, and it’s the book I recommend more than any other – for those who’ve been on the brink like me (and Matt) and for those wanting to learn more. #spoilers He also lists his reasons to stay alive at the end which I replicated after finishing the book and continue to add to. The act of writing this list gave me hope and genuine reason to push through the dark days – whether feeling the lows of depression or not – I encourage you to write your list (and buy the book!).
£8.99 at Waterstones
Happy, Calm and Quiet* by Fearne Cotton
OK, so this is three books, but they feel like a set. I found a real joy reading these books and have since bought them for family and friends. Fearne’s writing is accessible and her intertwining of personal anecdotes, interviews with friends and experts, drawings and exercises to try at home make these a great “beginners” introduction to wellbeing literature – also available in journal versions should you wish to work through Fearne’s steps as you read.
Happy, Calm and Quiet all £8.99 at Waterstones
Eat, Drink, Run by Bryony Gordon
Bryony is one of the Queens of mental health literature. Her unashamedly candid nature makes her newspaper article and books easy reading despite the traditionally heavy topic. Bryony has written quite a few books on her mental health journey, but I found Eat, Drink, Run the most enjoyable. It charts her journey with alcoholism, OCD and acceptance as she “accidentally” signs up to run the London Marathon in 2017. I finished it in a couple hours and have re-read it a few times. Bryony’s story is inspiring, but it’s also incredibly relatable – even as someone who has not experienced much of what she describes – a must-have on the bookshelf.
£9.99 at Waterstones
Real Love and Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
As the description to Real Love states “by redefining love, [Salzberg] helps us to recognise our desire for happiness and enhance our connections with each other.” I read Real Love and Real Happiness when on holiday in Australia at the start of the year, feeling burned out and in need of rest – physically and mentally. These books helped me understand my relationship with love and happiness, how I valued these in myself and others and what I could do to stay present and create deeper connection to myself and those around me. Sharon’s books are grounded in her Buddhist teachings but aren’t overtly religious – instead focus more on the philosophy she lives by and the meditation practices she teaches. One to recommend for those in need of some soul-searching or improve their meditation practice.
Real Love £14.99, Real Happiness (with free meditation programme audio download) £12.99 at Waterstones
My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope by Karamo Brown
I first fell in love with Karamo, along with many of you, for his raw, positive energy on Netflix’s Queer Eye. His book embraces this and so much more. In this memoir, Karamo details the highs and lows in his life with a deep sincerity and realness. As the book’s blurb says “It is only by exploring our difficulties and having the hard conversations-with ourselves and one another-that we are able to live our best lives”.
£18.99 at Waterstones
The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof
One of the most transformative books I’ve read. For those who don’t know about the Wim Hof Method, I would encourage you to search the Iceman (or click here) immediately. Wim details his fascinating journey into wellness, from deep trauma to mental exploration and a profound connection with nature. His writing is charismatic and engaging and he provides a step-by-step guide to his method and how you can bring it into your life. I am sure after reading you’ll be joining me in the cold-shower deep-breathing high!
£14.99 at Waterstones
Jog On by Bella Mackie
When I first read this book I could not stop singing it’s praises. As someone diagnosed with anxiety disorder and struggling to get into exercise even though I’d been told countless times it would help me, I related to Bella’s story more than any other I’ve read. That being said, my friends, family and colleagues who read this book after my almost badgering recommendations also found it illuminating and inspiring. Bella is unfiltered, honest and engaging. Her writing is clever and funny without being prescribing – she is simply sharing her story. This book inspired me to get out there and give running a try, and like Bella, running has “saved my life” – please do give this book (and running) a go.
£8.99 (or £14.99 in journal form) at Waterstones
I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson
Not strictly a book on wellbeing or mental health, but a personal journey – or collection of “essays, drawings, vulnerabilities and other stuff” – I found entertaining and relatable when I needed both a laugh and hope. Broad City co-creator Abbi takes a trip across America alone to “reset” and explore. As she reaches each new city, town and road-side pit-stop we are taken on her journey of mental and physical adventure – I laughed, I cried and you will too.
£9.99 at Waterstones
I’ve shared links to Waterstones, but am mindful there are many local booksellers in need of our help this Christmas. Please enquire with those local to you, many have set up delivery services during this time. And if you have to use Amazon, please head to smile.amazon.com for your purchases – Amazon donates 1% of the value of your purchase to a charity of your choice.
*Quiet not pictured as I’ve currently leant it to someone…