3 lesser-known books to help you understand, manage, and overcome anxiety

books about anxiety

Readers, I have a short but important book list for you today. I’ve struggled with anxiety in the past; mine was brought on by 9/11, and it took a long, long while to get it under control.

In tomorrow’s podcast episode I’m talking to Kristin Economos, a 30-year-old Minnesota professional who also struggled through a serious bout of anxiety. You’ll hear her full story tomorrow—it’s sooo good—today I wanted to highlight three books about mental health and anxiety that Kristin shared during our conversation.

Update: Now that the podcast episode is live I wanted to share it with you right here. You can listen directly on this page without a podcast app by simply clicking the play button below. More detailed show notes can be found here.

Kristin sought professional help to overcome her anxiety, as did I. Kristin credits these nonfiction books, recommended by her medical health professionals, with helping her overcome her anxiety by teaching her effective strategies, pointing her towards new resources, and making her feel less alone.

These are the books I wish I’d had when I was in my own anxiety muck. (Not that I feel like it will ever be 100% behind it, but I am not deep down IN IT like I was then.) Kristin and I wanted to share them with you in the hopes they will help you or someone you love overcome their own anxiety. Books can’t substitute for professional help, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do you a world of good.

We talk about anxiety in detail in Kristin’s episode, and I so appreciate her transparency and openness in talking about her struggle. Lest you think that sounds very, very serious, we also talk about book clubs, best friends, and a book brunch that will turn you green with bookish envy (or planning your own, or both).

Would you share your favorite anxiety and mental health resources in comments? So many of us, like Kristin and I, can benefit from the effective strategies, new resources, and feeling of normalcy that a good book can deliver.

Books for Anxiety
The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety

The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety

This was the first book Kristin's physician recommended when she sought help for severe anxiety. The bulk of this book is about building a strong foundation for mental and physical well-being. In detailed chapters, Dr. Emmons explores how the right diet, regular exercise, nutritional supplements, and a practice of mindfulness affect the way your body operates and feels. He also explores why anxiety affects so many people today, the seven different types of anxiety, and how we can cultivate resilience for our bodies and minds. More info →
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts

The title says it all, right? This one is worthy of "best book you've never heard of" status. In this practical guide, Winston and Seif explain how to deal with an uncomfortable truth: Your attention may be hijacked by junk. They explore just what intrusive thoughts are, debunk common myths surrounding these unwelcome thoughts, be they fleeting or persistent, explain strategies to handle intrusive thoughts when they happen (I found out I was doing this wrong), and show you what it would look like to get over them for good. More info →
Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day

Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day

This handbook to meditation and mindfulness is from the creator of the Headspace app. In our episode, Kristin explains how she was at first resistant to meditation, but her doctor (and a few good books) convinced her it was worth trying. Now she's a believer. In this book, Puddicombe explains why these practices are so important in modern life, and gives very practical advice on how to get started for yourself, with interesting anecdotes to illuminate his points. More info →

What are YOUR favorite books and resources for anxiety and mental health? Please share them with us in comments.

3 books to help you understand and manage anxiety

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  1. Desiree says:

    Hi Anne,
    I don’t have any book suggestions. Just a thank you, I’ve recently figured out I have so much more anxiety than I realized and have scheduled an appt with my dr. These titles are timely for me to get ahead of my appt.

    Thank you,

  2. Alex says:

    When I was a grad student struggling to adjust to life in a new city (I had also moved away for undergrad with no adjustment issues), my doctor recommended Mind Over Matter, which is kind of a workbook. I only started working on the after finishing grad school (I know, I know), but when I did those first few pages were very helpful. I should really go back to it.

  3. Joan says:

    I found ThaTappingSolution.com to be extremely helpful! The technique looks crazy (tapping on points on your face and chest) but this does help to reduce the ‘fight or flight’ response that’s in all of us in certain situations. Reduce that reaction, then you can think more clearly about a situation and seek a solution, rather than attempting just to block it out. Try it. Please.

  4. JoLyn says:

    “When Panic Attacks” by Dr David D. Burns. This is excellent, along with its companion, “Feeling Good” for depression.

  5. Lisa Johns says:

    Anxiety is a real disease. Many people slough it off as a “made up” thing. But if you have ever experienced that debilatating feeling of panic, one truly would say it is real. I recommend reading Anam Cara by John O’Donohue, the poetry of Mary Oliver, anything by Pema Chadron, The Universe Has Your Back by Gabby Bernstein, and Outrageous Openness. I also recommend yoga, intentional walking, (much different from just walking although that is great too) and meditation time each day… May we all know that life is good…

  6. Kristin says:

    Anyone have suggestions for pre-teen/early teen appropriate anxiety books? Middle school has exacerbated anxiety in my son. Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      I had anxiety when I was a teenager (still deal with it now, but am able to cope better), and I found Bev Aisbett books really helpful. They have cartoons in them, and are really good for anyone, but for me, as a teenager (who already had books for school to read ect), they’re quick and easy to get through.

  7. Kim Bailey says:

    I found a book called
    You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life: Simple 4-Minute Meditations for Inspiration…
    by Rebekah Borucki
    I love it it helps with my anxiety. Rebekah also has a blog and Facebook you can follow with other helpful hints

  8. Joan says:

    Thanks, Anne. I needed this post today! Anxiety, stress, fear and worry is definitely an ongoing up/down battle for me. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone. I will be checking out the books you listed and keeping an eye on the comments. So helpful and encouraging.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for talking about this. Anxiety has been a life long struggle for me, but I didn’t even recognize the pattern in my life until about three years ago at the beginning of my oldest child’s senior year of high school when I began having panic attacks again (had my first one MY senior year of high school but didn’t know what it was at the time!). My daughter is now beginning her junior year of college studying abroad(!) and I am finishing three years of counseling for anxiety. Therapy has taught me so much. When I first started I just wanted the therapist to help me stop the anxiety–make it go away! Now I understand it will always be something for me to manage and I’m okay with that. I’m interested in the book you shared about Calm without medication. I’ve chosen the non-medication route and there were times I thought I would never be better without meds, but I am! 🙂

    • Megan says:

      Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! I too had a desire to do it without medication, but I did have those moments where I thought I couldn’t do it and maybe medicine was what I needed to get better. But I think I’ve got a good handle on it now!

  10. Chelsea says:

    Thanks for this list of books. One thing I’ve recently stumbled upon are mediation apps. I’ve been using the app “Escapes.” They offer some free ones and paid ones. I find that I get anxiety when I try to sleep, and listening to a couple of these helps me calm down.

  11. Megan says:

    Nobody talks about Anxiety. I’m 31 years old and I didn’t even know what a panic/anxiety attack felt like until my husband drove me to the ER one Friday night in January of this year. The doctor didn’t even acknowledge that what I was experiencing was a panic attack. They gave me some Benadryl, allowed me to calm down, and sent us on our merry way. For the next two months or so I continued to experience attacks, although less brutal than that bleak night in January, they left me confused, hurting, and helpless. It was super frustrating for my husband because he wanted to make it all better but didn’t know how.
    After speaking with my mom and mother-in-law, who had experienced anxiety in the past, things gradually began to get better. I spoke mostly with them and tried to share less with my husband. Not because I didn’t want to share with him, but I knew how draining it was for him and talking about it only helped me. Thankfully I have two great women in my life and another two great best friends who love to talk and listen.
    Today, the attacks no longer exist but I still do have those moments of sensitization and panic rise up in me at least once week. I’ve learned how to get through those moments, talk myself down, stay calm, and let time pass. A book that my mother-in-law gave me helped save me from this nightmare I was experiencing. This book absolutely changed my life – Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes (www.amazon.com/Hope-Help-Nerves-Claire-Weekes/dp/0451167228/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503930919&sr=8-1&keywords=hope+and+help+for+your+nerves). She speaks from a medical perspective, which is awesome to be able to understand why our nerves do what they do. But she also speaks from an encouraging standpoint, as if she was your very best friend sitting next to you, having a heart to heart conversation. There are many, many things I love that she says (I could literally highlight every sentence of this book!) but one thing that stuck out to me was, “It takes time for a body to establish acceptance as a mood and for this eventually to bring peace, just as it took time for fear to become established as continuous tension and anxiety.”
    I know that I will always continue to struggle with anxiety. I still wonder if I should speak with a counselor – I know it wouldn’t hurt anything. I do know for a fact that experiencing this anxiety has served a greater purpose in my life. It has caused me to draw to closer to Christ than ever before. It has also started coming up in conversations where I’ve been able to share my story and provide some insight to others who are struggling.
    Needless to say, anxiety is something that needs to be talked about, but I think there’s this stigma of shame that comes with it. For me, it made me feel like I looked weak. Like I didn’t have it all together. Like I was going crazy and nobody knew how I felt. I did feel all alone. But hearing others say that they struggle with it too gave me the confidence and encouragement to face it and seek out the help and advice I so desperately needed.
    Thank you, Anne, for speaking about this topic and sharing your experience! I am so looking forward to this podcast episode!

    • Lacey says:

      I was about to recommend the exact same book to you, since it sounded like your ER visit was a panic attack. I had them last year and my therapist recommended the Claire Weekes book, too. I still see a therapist, so if you think it’s right for you then go for it. My experience also brought me closer to Christ. I still have a long way to go, but it helps knowing He brought me through the darkness that is panic attacks and is still by my side.

    • Jessemy says:

      Your story sounds a lot like mine! I also come from a Christian background and found solace in my beliefs, though eventually I realized that modern psychology had a lot to offer too! I just wanted to chime in and encourage use of a therapist or counselor who knows about anxiety (look for cognitive behavioral, it’s the type of thing that Claire Weekes did). I found it to be consistent with my faith, an adjunct rather than a replacement. My family (to my surprise) was really on board after I explained what it involved!

  12. Grace says:

    These sound wonderful! My counsellor recommended The Mindful Way through Depression for me, and now I recommend it always. I know there’s also a The Mindful Way through Anxiety book which my friend has read. They’re both excellent resources!

  13. Pamela says:

    Honestly, the BEST thing I’ve found for my anxiety is medication. I was really opposed to it for a long (looooong) time, but it’s been the only thing that really helped enough for me to feel good. I tried meditation, tapping, walking, journaling, tea, lavender smells, etc and they all worked to take the anxiety from a 10 to maybe a 9.5 – but for me, that just wasn’t enough to feel *good*. While I’ve had anxiety my whole life, it peaked last summer and I’d lost 20 lbs from not eating, I was having daily panic attacks, and I was just a wreck. Within days of starting a low dose of lexapro, I felt WORLDS better. I feel like now I have the space in my head for all the other things (like walking and journaling) to work also. Now I’d put my anxiety on a level of 1-2, which is sooooo much easier to deal with. Just thought I’d mention this – I think going the non-medicated route is great if it works, but meds are an absolute godsend for me.

    • Nan says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Pamela…any piece that helps diminish this choke hold on life “works”. Medication has also been extraordinarily helpful for me. I also saw a therapist for several years. Both pieces to my puzzle have worked…all pieces are different for everyone’s unique puzzle. I have had anxiety for 30+ years. Most days I manage it. On the days I’m feeling the ramping up in my mind and body, I think I’d like to try yoga, mindful walking etc.

  14. Terri Torrez says:

    Thanks for this list. My son deals with anxiety issues. Our favorite book so far has been Anxiety-Free Kids by Bonnie Zucker. I see there’s a second edition now but it’s still the same structure – parent book in front and corresponding kids book in the back. It’s a very practical approach to CBT and we still use the lessons we learned many years later.

  15. Becky says:

    I’ve read many books on anxiety and panic and the best by far is DARE by Barry McDonagh. It’s straightforward, practical, simple to implement and has done so much more to help me than any other book I’ve read.

  16. Melinda says:

    My anxiety was brought on by 9/11 also, and I still struggle this time every year. My 9 year old son has gone through several health issues since birth, and that has increased my anxiety. It wasn’t until I started having panic attacks…mostly in my sleep….that I really sat down and realized I was struggling as much as I was. Thank you for sharing these, I’m looking forward to giving them a try.

  17. Curtis says:

    For anxious children or adults, Dr. Reid Wilson has you covered.

    Anxious kids anxious parents by drs. Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons is written to parents to help their children work through anxieties. An accompanying book called playing with anxiety: Casey’s guide for teens and kids will be helpful. It is very good.

    Stopping the noise in your head, also by Dr Wilson, is a great book for adults. It’s genius is that it frames anxiety as our competitor and gives us plenty of strategies for scoring points against it. I’ve read a few of his books and he is really good.

    He made a series of videos–vignettes really, and they are effective at teaching the strategies.

    Noiseinyourhead.com has the videos and book info.

    Thanks everyone for your book recommendations. I will check them out.

  18. Kay says:

    “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” (Albert Camus) Quoted by Erin McReynolds in her blog titled “10 memoirs that lifted me out of my anxiety,” printed in http://www.audiblerange.com/playlisted/ which is the official blog of Audible. These memoirs are close to her career field, I gather, but she also refers to the work of Dr. Claire Weeks.
    I liked each of the comments and helpful suggestions. Thank you, Kay.

    • Anne says:

      Now you can listen right on the page, because when we released the podcast like usual on Tuesday morning, we added a player in this blog post. Click the little triangle to listen, the one next to the square What Should I Read Next logo.

  19. J. Hall says:

    Hi Anne, Thank you for today’s post, I sincerely hope many of your readers will be helped by one or more of these books. I have my own opinion of self-help books for anxiety and depression – usually, they don’t work. Twenty-six years ago, at 2:15 a.m. (yes, I remember the exact time), in the midst of a sound sleep, I bolted upright in my bed suffering a full blowns panic attack. I’d never had a panic attack before and was convinced I was dying. My husband was out of town and our 3 and 4 year old children were asleep in the room next door. All I could think of was what would my babies do when they woke in the morning and were unable to wake Mommy. That anxiety soon brought a deep depression; not long after, I was hospitalized. In the following years I saw a dozen psychologists, went to more CBT groups than I can remember and per all of their instructions, had accumulated a small library of self-help books. When an indivdual is so beset with anxiety or depression or both, the first things to go are concentration, motivation and ability to focus. All I could read were words with no comprehension at all. As time has passed, I’ve stayed in treatment and on the spur of the moment, purchased a couple of new books on dealing with anxiety. They ring so hollow with me and sound quite cliche. The lists of new things to “think about”, incorporate into my daily routine, journals to keep or how to make my environment more serene seem silly to me. Fortunately, fifteen years ago, I found a psychiatrist who practices psychotherapy along with medicine management. (a dying breed of docs these days) He is a kindred spirit, a compassionate soul and is worth the 240 mile round trip I make for each appointment. My anxiety/depression are managed amazingly with the proper medication and I have joy in my life again. I’ve written this epistle not to dismiss the worthiness of books, but as a comment many might need to hear if books they’ve read or CBT groups they belonged to have them still suffering from anxiety.

    • Debi Morton says:

      I think you are right for most people most of the time, J.Hall. I have been clinically depressed, as well; although, not to the point of needing hospitalization, and agree that reading books at that time was fairly useless.
      I think these books are great for people who know they are anxiety or depression prone to read when they are not in the midst of an attack. Read them when your mind is clear, and put to use some of the ideas and practices, forming some of the habits, so they are ingrained in you when you do have an attack. At least that’s how I’ve found it has worked for me.

  20. Jenna says:

    I couldn’t ever find the book I wanted on anxiety, so I wrote my own ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s called 30 Days to Calm: create your own anxiety toolbox. I’d love to send you a copy, Anne!

  21. June says:

    Sorry for two comments, but thank you, Anne, for talking about this. I’m struggling too and I think the more we share, the more it loosens it’s nasty grip!

  22. Bernadette Vaughan says:

    “Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions” by Edna Foa, PhD and Reid Wilson, PhD
    Changed my life during my bout with Postpartum Intrusive Thoughts and Anxiety. Also “The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts” by Lee Baer, PhD.

  23. Bernadette Vaughan says:

    Both books were recommended to me by my medical therapist at the time along with a prescription for Cellexa.

  24. Ann says:

    Any of the IT books by Bev Aisbett. “Fixing IT” is the compilation of her 3 books about anxiety. Its simple, funny and no nonsense. The books helped me in a dark patch.

  25. Ashley says:

    After trying many things over the years nothing has helped as much as L-theonine. I Happened to take a melatonin with L-theonine and wondered the next day why I didn’t have my usual buzzing feeling and figured out what I had done differently. Now I just take L-theonine from time to time and my life is changed. Target has “Stress” gummies in the vitamin section that contain it.

  26. Theresa says:

    I’m one of those people that needed meds before a book would help, although I realized something was wrong and tried desperately to absorb as much information as possible prior to it. Afterward I found the books by Edmund J Bourne to be helpful The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook and Beyond Anxiety and Phobia. They covered a lot of ground and so are books you want to set aside time for going into each section.

  27. Trisha says:

    I’m a big fan of getting through things or past them by doing something beautiful. That beautiful thing that you love doing will carry you through your troubles and then stay with you forever. So in that vein, I recommend Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, for example. Remembering it, there is a part where he talks about ‘diving into your typewriter’ when life throws those terrible moments at you. Follow his advice and maybe you come out with a writing habit too. There is also a book–Yoga for Depression. I read it a LONG time ago. I’m a huge yoga fan and it was so interesting to see something research based about the way that something like yoga can affect your mood. Plus it’s something meaningful, beautiful and fun so you won’t just do it to survive the worst days. It will be something you love on the good days too!

  28. Jessemy says:

    What a great post. Thanks, Anne! Reading books has been an important part of coping with my own anxious thoughts. I first read Claire Weekes’ Hope and Help for Your Nerves, which is just a primer on all the different ways anxiety manifests itself. It has a decidedly old-school feel, sort of paternalistic, but it really demystifies all the symptoms that make panic and anxiety so uncomfortable (ie, you have palpitations…not the same thing as a heart attack). The second book I read became my favorite. When Panic Attacks by Paul Burns teaches you how to write down your distorted thoughts and challenge them. I still use his worksheets to this day!

  29. Meredith says:

    I’ve always suffered from anxiety. About a year ago, I was ready to ask a doctor for a prescription, but a friend recommended I start taking sublingual B12 supplements and it’s changed my life! Things I’m worrying about don’t stay stuck in my head like a broken record any more. The difference is amazing. I’m not a doctor, but I wanted to share something that has had such amazing results for me.

    • Vanessa says:

      Hi Meredith, I have been struggling with anxiety a lot this past year, maybe I should say A LOT, as it has been killing me. I have just added Magnesium after a fair amount of reading and seeing that recommended repeatedly and it helped with the heart palpitations and constriction of muscles in my chest. I have also seen the B12 a few times and maybe I’ll add that too. Thanks.

  30. Patti says:

    I have friend who is suffering from PPD since giving birth a week ago. She had serious anixiety prior to delivery and was and is under professional care. Which of these might be the most helpful or appropriate for her? I will be visiting next week with food and gifts. We keep in touch as I am her MOPS mentor. Any help is appreciated. This post was very timely.

    • Anne says:

      That’s a hard question! I think Intrusive Thoughts might be the one that is easiest to put into immediate practice, but it’s also the one that makes the strangest gift (because it’s not the kind of title you see every day). The Chemistry of Calm focuses on establishing healthy habits in all of life, and that may be a good read during a time of transition. (Wishing your friend well, thankful to hear she has someone like you in her life, and hoping her therapist also gets her the resources she needs.)

    • Becky says:

      DARE by Barry McDonagh is also very quick to put into practice. Super practical book, the best I’ve read on the subject. There’s also a free app with audio clips that I’ve found helpful and a supportive FB group. Can’t recommend it enough!

  31. Casey says:

    I really liked Get Some Headspace by Andy Puddicombe! I read it shortly after starting to use the Headspace app to manage my postpartum anxiety. When I filled out your Reader Survey a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that the Headspace book was the only one I had rated five stars on Goodreads in the last year or so. Truly life-changing for me.

  32. Amelia says:

    I wouldn’t say that I suffer from clinical anxiety (mostly because I’m currently able to self-manage it), but I’d say I experience feelings of anxiety pretty frequently. One book I’m currently reading with my small group that has been meaningful for me–especially in my moments of anxiety–is Life of the Beloved by Nouwen. It doesn’t deal directly with anxiety, but being reminded that I am beloved by God helps me to cope with the other stuff. Beyond that, I’m all about literary escapism as a way of avoiding my feelings!

  33. Heather says:

    Like so many women, I have my own anxiety story. A perfect storm of hormones, meds, and stress brought on depression and anxiety. I got the help I needed, and was supported by my amazing husband and loving parents. The book, Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff (and her website) helped me immeasurably. I also learned about mindfulness and picked up a few other tools to help me find my normal self. My experience is a black hole that I don’t look back into, but I am grateful for what I learned. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

  34. Melanie says:

    The book “The Highly Sensitive Person”. By Elaine Aron. It helped me realize even though I am wired to let things overwhelm me; I can still thrive. This is constantly a work in progress so thanks for all the suggestions!

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