When it comes to self-help for mental health or wellbeing, much of it is about as useful as a porn site asking a teenage boy if he’s over 18. Translated: It’s worse than useless.
That said, when devising this list, I tried to take into account the author’s character — and whether I believe them to be full of shit or not — as much as I did the quality of their book.
Furthermore, one of the biggest problems I find with mental health — especially anxiety which is currently rampant — is that we give the symptom far more weight and power than it deserves. Not only hindering recovery but often making the situation significantly worse.
We don’t place nearly enough emphasis on the actual problem and the many solutions it presents.
Problems vary greatly, ranging from unhealthy relationships, abuse, bullying, narcissistic prick bosses, and everything in between. And so to the solutions. By challenging your current thinking and worldly views as well as tweaking behaviors and habits, you can radically improve your quality of life. And that’s coming from someone who despises the word “radical”.
Despair can turn to hope; anger can turn to love, anxiety to peace, depression to cheerfulness, so on and so forth. But you have to do the work. And, of course, accept that life will still suck from time to time.
To honor this topic’s complexity, I have strived to compel a varied list with something for everyone. A daunting task that actually left me with 24, not 22. If I’ve recommended a book, it’s for no other reason that I found it to be excellent and extremely worthy of a read. That’s pretty much the criteria.
Should you decide to pick one up, I hope it will both move, inspire, and thrust you into action for lasting change to ensure better days lay ahead. And with that said, I’ll shut the hell up.
Here are 22 of the Best Self-Help Books for Mental Health and Wellbeing
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff Ph.D.
Kristen Neff is to self-compassion as to what Brene Brown is to shame and vulnerability: A Godsend.
I would go so far as to call this a bible book for your mental health.
Studies show self-compassion is a significant predictor of long term mental wellbeing. And it probably comes as no surprise to learn most struggling excel at being a dick towards themselves, making this book an absolute must to help foster what could eventually be a life-saving skill.
File it under: Your Mental Health Bible.
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
All of Holliday’s books are great. This one just happens to be my favorite.
Easily digestible and packed with ancient wisdom, the stoic master seamlessly encapsulates a significant problem — our inability to be still — that makes us ineffective while offering many remedies drawing from Stoic and Buddhist philosophies.
File it under: Ancient Philosophical Wisdom.
Owning it: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide to Living with Anxiety by Caroline Foran
The first of four Irish authors to make this prestigious list. Who knew I was so patriotic?
As with all story-based books found here, you get genuine raw authenticity without the bullshit and a very welcome splash of humor — all of which Foran provides in spades as she outlines her battle with acute anxiety.
This book is a perfect mesh of storytelling and an extremely well put together practical guide to help you both understand and manage your anxiety.
File it under: Your No Bullshit Anxiety Companion.
Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition by Dave Trott
Dave Trott is a hard-nosed heavyweight genius in the advertising industry. So what the hell is he doing in this lineup, you ask?
Simple: The best advertisers know how to solve problems and find solutions through creative thinking. And your mental health and wellbeing is likely crying out for better solutions. Unless, of course, you want to be told for the zillionth time to take a breath or step out in nature?
Assuming the answer to that question is “screw you, Nicky,” then you might just benefit from a masterclass in creative thinking. Which is exactly what this book is: A masterclass.
In this instance, you are your own competition. And this book is packed with life lessons you can benefit from today.
File it under: Creative Thinking.
Everything is Fucked: A Book about Hope by Mark Manson
In a year where everything is fucked, and hope is all but lost, how could this not feature? Manson is extraordinarily gifted at taking complicated or boring topics and making them fun, digestible, easy to understand, and entertaining.
Not one to fuck around, you won’t find a sprinkle of fairy dust here. Drawing on a pool of psychological research and philosophy, you’ll be taken on a wild journey in search of hope that will help you understand why, when everything is technically better than it has been in our history, it all seems, well, fucked.
If you want to face the truth head-on while understanding your mind better to build resilience and greater self-acceptance, this book is an absolute must.
File it under: Retro Philosophy and Psychology.*
*I’m seriously struggling to come up with good themes for the filing cabinet.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown Ph.D.
It seems everything Brown touches turns to gold. And this book is no different.
Time and again, our shame or reluctance to vulnerability wreaks havoc on our mental health. In Daring Greatly, Brown packs years of research on both shame and vulnerability — what it is, what it isn’t — to help inspire the reader to find the courage to be vulnerable for a happier, lighter, and freer existence.
File it under: Inspirational Feel-good Research.
The Anxiety Epidemic: The Causes of our Modern-Day Anxieties by Graham Davy
Having had the pleasure of interviewing him twice, I’m a big fan of Davey, who is the Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex. Much of his research extends across mental health problems, specifically anxiety and worry.
What I love about this book is that it doesn’t tiptoe around the topic. It’s hard-hitting research at times and incredibly informative and educational as to what anxiety is, its many disorders, and their symptoms, etc.
If you are looking to understand anxiety better, this book is for you.
File it under: Easy-Reading Academic Research
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
If we are honest, most of us want to be liked more, to connect more, to succeed more, to do and be better in all aspects of life.
Unfortunately, when life is kicking the shit out of us, we inevitably become preoccupied with ourselves and forget how important it is to form connections with others. We also become lonely which has severe consequences in itself.
This timeless classic is here to help in all facets of life.
File it under: Psychological Life Skills
Bonus Time: A True Story of Surviving the Worst and Discovering the Magic of Every Moment by Brian Pennie
What can I say? This is an absolute belter of a book.
Unable to escape the pain of anxiety and desperate for relief, Brian turned to heroin, which saw him fall into a 15-year addiction that nearly — and probably should have — took his life. Until one fateful day, he managed to break free from it all.
Bonus Time is his extraordinary account of a life consumed by addiction — a life he managed to break free from to the point he is now a Ph.D. candidate studying the neuroscience of mindfulness.
File it under: Inspirational Storytelling
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson Ph.D.
Brian Pennie credits this book in Bonus Time for playing an intricate role in his recovery. And for a good reason.
Rick Hanson does a spectacular job presenting cutting-edge neuropsychology and ancient Buddhist wisdom with steps you can take to help rewire your brain for greater levels of happiness and resilience.
All of which will make you bulletproof like the Buddha himself.
File it under: Easy-reading Brain Science
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
In a nutshell, this is an account of Frankyl’s time in a Nazi death camp. Not necessarily focussed on the horror experienced daily, the emphasis is more on the psychological journey and how he found meaning in his suffering, which ultimately gave him the strength to persevere.
A key takeaway is there will always be suffering, but you get to choose what meaning you assign to it, which is critical when pursuing freedom.
To say he delivers a profoundly powerful message is an understatement. This book is a classic for a very good reason.
File it under: The Classic.
Jump: One Girl’s Search For Meaning by Daniella Moyles
One word: Exceptional. I just finished it and think it is my favourite read of the year, reaffirming my belief the best books are all story-based accounts, as told by the author.
I saw a quote once that read, “anything but raw authenticity is a fucking waste of time,” and my God, does this book stay true to that. Not only is it exceptionally well written, but it’s also a masterclass in authenticity, which — let’s be honest — is very refreshing with so much fake authenticity out there today.
The first chapter is a good introduction. The second chapter blows the roof off. Moyles then continues this trajectory while documenting her personal account of panic and anxiety and everything that goes along with as she strives to find meaning from it all.
File it under: Inspirational Storytelling.
Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Dianne Pool Heller Ph.D
Ah, attachment theory. I suspect I’m not the only one who hates it? This shit goes right to the core of you.
If you haven’t heard of attachment theory, you’re probably best remaining blissfully ignorant. But as we are suckers for punishment, it was hypothesized by British psychologist John Bowlby in 1950, and concerns itself with emotional attachment between humans, formed from our early relationship with our parents.
There are four main types of attachment. The only desirable one is secure attachment, and if you are reading this, the likelihood of you being secure, I’m sorry to say, is pretty slim. That means you are either anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, or fearful-avoidant.
As we grow into adults and end up in relationships that don’t seem to pan out as Hollywood predicted, attachment theory will certainly help you understand why.
Trust me, when you find out, you’re going to want to fix it. And praise the lord because all hope is not lost, you can take steps to move towards secure attachment. That’s why you should read this book. Enjoy.
File it under: I Did Not Sign Up For This Shit.
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Originally published in 1903, this bad boy is the OG of self-help. Based on the principle you are what you think, Allen explains how our character, identity, ability, and success are all determined by the thoughts in our minds.
It’s not The Secret or some new-age spiritual bullshit where if you want a Ferrari, all you have to do is ask the universe for it, and — abracadabra — there it is in all is glory with a big red bow on it.
The ethos is very much around our ability to shape our thoughts to improve our lives. And it shows you how in a very inspiring way.
This book packs a punch. What I love most is it’s only 61 pages and simple to read. So you can go back and read it often to help keep you on course. Take it with a pinch of salt, and it has the potential to be very powerful, indeed.
File it under: The OG.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
What a legend Bessel Van Der Kolk is. He comes across as so genuine and sincere. And my God, is he accomplished. This book is incredible. It is also, without a doubt, the toughest read on the list. The subject is trauma, after all.
A must for anyone looking to better understand trauma or for anyone who has experienced trauma and doesn’t fully understand its impact.
Personally, I would be selective in the chapters I read. You do not need to approach it chronologically. Cherry-pick the chapters you believe are going to impact you the most, and take it from there.
File it under: Essential Trauma Reading
Love In, Love Out: A Compassionate Approach to Parenting Your Anxious Child by Dr Malie Coyne
I must admit, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this one yet. But I did have the pleasure of interviewing Dr Coyne, and she is amazing. Not to mention the work she does is incredible.
More importantly, the message, wisdom, and tips offered in this book can be a complete gamechanger for so many underserved parents out there who might be struggling with their own anxiety or have an anxious child whom they have no clue how to help.
File it under: Essential Reading for Parents.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg
As stated on the cover, much of how we communicate could be considered violent. Obviously, this isn’t great, especially in our relationships, when communicating with those that matter most.
NVC is an extremely practical book that is easy to navigate with lots of strategies to improve your communication for better relationships.
File it under: Your Communication Bible
The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression by Edward Bullmore
For such a dense and — you know — depressing subject, this book is a bit of a page-turner. It provides lots of interesting anecdotal stories throughout, all the while examining the link between inflammation and depression and the potential for a new exciting treatment, which is something we haven’t seen since the birth of Prozac.
File it under: Hope for a Brighter Future
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
No other book on the subject comes close to this bad boy. James Clear is quite simply, the master of habit.
So many of us struggle to break bad habits and routines that are negatively impacting our health. In this book, Clear breaks down all the science in a practical and easy-to-understand manner, ensuring you know exactly what to do to adopt new habits into your life for a healthier, happier future.
File it under: Essential Reading
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
The consequences of breathing incorrectly, as it turns out, can be pretty catastrophic. And while there is nothing more essential to our health than air, it seems we’ve lost our ability to breathe correctly somehow somewhere along the way.
Nestor brings you along on a fascinating journey unraveling the science of breath, and ultimately, guiding you to a place where you will be breathing better for a longer, happier, healthier, and more prosperous life.
File it under: The Power of Breath
Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World by Meredith Arthur
Currently being translated into many different languages, if you are an overthinker who appreciates the arts, then this little gem of a book is for you.
Packed with beautiful illustrations, Arthur provides you lots of guidance and inspiration, as well as soothing techniques to help you move through the traps of overthinking, all the while maintaining a light and upbeat tone throughout.
File it under: Your Pocket-Sized Buddy
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins
I found this book to be excellent. It’s almost too positive for me, but it’s not. If you know what I mean? Of course, you don’t. I don’t know what I mean.
The science behind it is fascinating. And the delivery is uplifting and pleasant. It also inspires you to play with your fears and take action, which can only be a good thing.
I’ll put it this way: I doubt many struggling with anxiety won’t be inspired to take action for having read this. And really, everything we need to do for change is found in action.
File it under: Feelgood Inspiration
Oh my God, I forgot David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
To be filed under unbelievable inspirational storytelling. It’s so so good.
Crap, I cannot forget my buddy, Melissa Drake’s heartwarming tale of how she found reprieve from the grips of depression through dance.
File it under: Inspirational Storytelling.
And that’s all he wrote.