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While the past couple of years have been tough on everyone due to the pandemic, life sometimes has a habit of knocking you down when you least expect it. Getting back up on your own is tough — even the strongest of us have trouble with it. Even if no major tragedy has happened to you, anxiety and depression (along with a bevy of other mental health issues) can creep in. Most people have experienced some form of burnout from work, and don’t know how to deal with it.
Getting a helping hand in the form of advice is more than useful — it’s absolutely essential. The ability to weather any emotional storm isn’t built into us as humans — it’s a skill that can be learned, and educating yourself through the best mental health books is the first step.
Mental health books are cheaper than therapy, and in 2021, there are tons of helpful options rooted in science and proven results that aren’t spouting cliche self-help mantras. Some of these are memoirs offering relatable life experiences, while others are more directly advice-oriented, with the research to back it up.
If you’re going through it, this literature can act as another support system to make that uphill journey a little bit easier — check out our top picks for the best mental health books now.
1. The Body Keeps the Score
Traumatic stress is a lot to handle, and this book dives right into treating it from a holistic perspective, as well as exploring its impact on society. The tough topic relates to anyone who has experienced any kind of PTSD, abuse or form of childhood trauma, like having a relative with an addiction. This mental health book will help anyone who has experienced trauma to grow and re-engage in the present via creative strategies, despite whatever overwhelming life experiences they’ve undergone. One reviewer calls it “the greatest book I have ever read.”
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
2. How to Change Your Mind
Wallowing in a bottle of wine is so 2010 — today, many have turned to microdosing to help handle a mental crisis, which can help you cope with all sorts of mental health struggles. Renowned writer Michael Pollen explores how psychedelics can teach us plenty about consciousness, in the context of reducing anxiety and depression. It can also help those dealing with addiction. Fluent and well-written wisdom shines through in interviews with patients, researchers, and academic professionals. A reader calls it “the defining book of the psychedelic renaissance.”
3. Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity
Our society has a serious problem with toxic masculinity. The “man up” mentality of traditional masculinity has caused boys and men all over to repress their emotion and “feminine” qualities while avoiding vulnerability, which in turn damages their mental health. Here, actor and social activist Justin Baldoni writes a powerful and honest mental health book on his personal experiences, related to topics like strength, body image, sexuality, racial justice, and gender equality. Baldoni challenges every man to be sensitive, open up and remember that they are enough.
4. Stop Overthinking
Overthinking is a common result of burnout, stress, and increased anxiety. This mental health book tackles how to stop it at its root, including negative spirals and an inability to focus on the present. Not being able to turn off that mind chatter causes constant worrying, putting you in a loop that inevitably leads to unhappiness. This book shows how to stay present and re-wire your brain to put a stop to these harmful thought patterns, with visualization techniques, time management tactics, and other coping strategies. Start sleeping better and panicking less today.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is an effective form of psychological treatment that involves an effort to change thinking patterns, ultimately increasing confidence and problem-solving skills. It helps people get a better handle on hard-to-handle emotions like anger or panic. Written by Seth J. Gillihan in layman’s terms, these 10 strategies are a perfect intro to CBT. There’s also a section for positive self-evaluations, acting as a workbook to track progress and reflect. Additionally, it can be a resource for those already in CBT sessions and looking to add new themes, like mindfulness.
6. Heavy: An American Memoir
This nuanced lyrical exploration of depression from the lens of a Black man in America comes in the form of a memoir that’s been described as “astonishing” by author Roxane Gay. Kiese Laymon’s book chronicles his life as the son of a poverty-stricken addict in volatile, racist Mississippi during the 1980s and 1990s. It also tackles male body image through Kiese’s experience as an overweight kid who never felt comfortable in his own skin. Heavy is a gutting letter not just to his mother, but survivors of all walks, who may find closure through this read.
7. Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess
This mental health book by communication pathologist and neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf stops toxic thoughts in their tracks, with an Amazon reviewer saying that reading this book feels “like doing brain surgery on yourself” and “literally changed my brain and my life.” Real science is backed up by a real scientist who’s a master of breaking down complex scientific concepts and turning them into easy-to-follow hacks that promote a healthy brain — no diagnosis required. Get more in control of your mind today with Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.
8. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
We live in a culture that tends to value work over everything else. But career success, though fulfilling, often leads to personal unhappiness. Although many are constantly climbing the ladder towards promotions and more money, their lives outside of work can sometimes feel empty. This mental health book is, as one buyer puts it, is a “fantastic starter on living a fulfilled and engaging life.” If you can only seem to focus on the professional and your weekend life is suffering, check out this book to re-prioritize.
9. Make Your Bed
Many people think that routine is the key to happiness and stability. Admiral William H. McRaven focuses on just that in his inspirational mental health book that focuses on the little things. Filled with plenty of life lessons, this work was based on a Navy SEAL’s inspiring graduation speech. Using his own illustrious life stories, the Admiral devotes chapters about moving past failure, the value of teamwork, and standing up to bullies. A refreshingly different take on the self-help genre.
10. Pilgrim Soul Original Creative Thinking Journal
Sometimes, the best mental health book is the one that you fill with your own words. Although it’s advertised as being something to fill with your stoned thoughts (and cannabis can definitely be a mental health aid to relax and practice some self-love and reflection) you can fill this journal out sober if desired, flexing your imagination and giving your brain a guided creative exercise that it will love. Apart from an artistic flex, it can also increase productivity in the long run.