The Best Books for Self-Care and Mental Health
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We’re often our own worst critics.
While other external factors can affect our outlook and worth, a lot of it is up to us. And that’s not easy, especially for the perfectionist-personality types that put immense amounts of pressure on themselves.
Fortunately, mental health isn’t a taboo topic anymore. The shame and stigma of past decades has dropped away significantly in recent years, and that’s overwhelmingly a good thing. Even celebrities have come forward and shared their struggles with things like depression, anxiety, negative body image, and addiction, along with how they were able to rise above and persevere.
Introducing even a little bit of self-care into your routine can prevent burnout, and reduce the effects of stress (both psychological and physical).
“Paired with the basics like proper sleeping, diet, exercising, and hydration, taking some time aside for yourself can actually make you more productive, and benefit those around you as well,” says Amanda Gross, a clinical social worker and therapist who works with college students and young adults. “Just like how weightlifters need a rest day for their muscle fibers to heal and grow, our brains need some respite too, in order to perform at its best. Especially in these times when our usual support systems might not be available, it’s more important than ever to find ways to take care of ourselves.”
A chance to recharge looks different for every individual. Some find journaling extremely helpful to express emotions and “rage on the page” instead of letting those feelings fester. Meditation is another. But it can be something as simple as going for a walk, or even taking a long shower.
Related: From (Heated) Pillows to Light Therapy, Here Are 10 Ways to Relieve Stress
The change isn’t just behavioral either – getting into a healthy habit of self-care can physically rewire our brains through a process called neuroplasticity, and the science behind it is pretty incredible. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge shows how the results are fully visible on imaging scans, and with practice, we possess the power to create new inroads in our brains, and break out of stagnant old emotional ruts that hold us back. Adapting healthy ways of thinking not only builds new and better neural pathways, it can also change the chemicals our brains are churning out that affect our moods and how we physically feel every day.
These books are a helpful guide in the right direction, but aren’t meant to fully treat or cure any serious mental illness after simply reading. They’re here to educate and set you on the right path, but talking to a therapist in addition is still the best way to get help.
It’s a long, uphill journey, but the results are life-changing, and the benefits last a lifetime.
1. The Self Compassion Workbook
If you’re a relentless perfectionist with a tough inner critic, this book offers a personalized experience that takes it a step above just reading.
The Self-Compassion Workbook is full of exercises and examples to help quiet unhelpful thoughts and break out of a negatively criticizing pattern. Written by Atlanta-based LCSW and psychotherapist Joy Johnson, the book stems from strategies that she herself used as a personal practice, and now passes on to patients and readers.
The strategies inside make it easy to navigate tough times, while still remaining kind and forgiving to yourself.
2. The Way Out
When we get embarrassed, our faces turn red. When we get nervous, we often get a tensed-up stomach. There’s a clear and instant link between emotions and the resulting reactions we can see and feel.
So it only makes sense that when stress and burnout or overwhelming emotional trauma go unchecked, all sorts of symptoms can arise in our bodies – including ones we feel physically and can mistake for illness or injury, but in reality, is coming from our brain and nervous system.
Alan Gordon is an LCSW, psychotherapist, founder of the Pain Psychology Center in Los Angeles, and experienced exactly that in grad school, when chronic pain hit hard and no doctors could seem to pinpoint its medical origin. As a result, he developed Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT), significantly reduced his own pain, and has gone on to help thousands of others.
Together with neuroscientist Alon Ziv, The Way Out takes the reader through a deep but digestible understanding of mind-body symptoms, why it affects the perfectionist personality type the hardest, and most importantly incorporating some self-care into your routine, even just a little, can have major positive results in the long run for mental and physical health.
3. Self-Love Workbook for Women
Therapist and MSW Megan Logan’s book shows that changing behavioral and thought patterns that we’ve been caught in for years isn’t easy – but it is possible.
Created specifically for women, the book starts the reader off with achieving self-compassion, along with addressing more serious issues like body image and eating disorders, gently uncovering the root causes behind them.
It’s written with kindness and wit, easy to understand, and there’s a lot packed in here, from journaling prompts, quizzes, quotes and meditations, to clear road-maps that define how to reach your mental health goals and become unstuck from the habits that hold you back.
4. Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It
At only 103 pages, Dr. Shad Helmstetter’s book is a quick read, but says everything it needs to say without any filler.
This book takes a deep dive into reinforcing the ways which negative and self-critical thoughts can come to define us, the protective purpose it’s built to serve, and the techniques we can do to safely break out of it.
Helmstetter, a behavioral researcher and best-selling author of more than 20 books, has been a leader in his field for four decades. His writing is concise and cuts right to the core, explaining how all our self-talk is “recorded” in our brains, eventually becoming a solidified pattern. But thanks to the incredible process of neuroplasticity, it’s possible to rewire this way of thinking, and see the benefits start to appear.
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