When I say reading is my favorite escape and go-to introvert coping mechanism, I’m usually referring to fiction.
Getting lost in someone else’s story soothes my stress, but I also enjoy gleaning tips from the experts by reading or listening to practical, well-researched nonfiction on habits, personal growth, and wellness.
I recently realized I read a few of these books in a row this spring and wanted share them here, along with a few past favorites. Even if you’re not in the midst of a stressful season, these books offer relatable advice and uplifting stories to make you smile—or simple exhale.
Today’s list includes a mix of humorous essays, well-researched tips backed by brain science, and advice from the heart. I hope you find a title that helps you slow down, breathe deep, and take a well-deserved reading break.
I adored this book; I want everyone I know to read it, and we'll never exhaust the discussion topics it presents. Kelly talks in depth about how after her friend Liz was diagnosed with cancer, they both pushed past the surface stuff to forge a powerful and enduring friendship. (The dedication page makes me cry every time: "I wish we could have done this together, Lizzard, though in a way, we sort of did.") This book will make you want to be a better friend, and also give you insight into how. Her twelve phrases give us a good starting point for figuring out how to improve communication skills with loved ones. Personal, heartfelt, and really really good. More info →
Nobody wants to live a life of constant overthinking, but it feels like something we're wired to do. But is it? My answer is no. Not only can you overcome negative thought patterns that are repetitive, unhealthy, and unhelpful, you can replace them with positive thought patterns that will bring more peace, joy, and love into your life. In Don't Overthink It, you'll find actionable strategies that can make an immediate and lasting difference in how you deal with questions both large and small. Don't Overthink It offers you a framework for making choices you'll be comfortable with, freeing you to focus on what really matters in life. More info →
I've reread this book countless times, as psychotherapist Gottlieb gets to the heart of what matters in life: how do we grow, how do we change, how do we connect with each other—and how can we do it all more effectively? She explores human nature through the lens of psychotherapy, employing an unusual two-pronged approach to show us how therapy really works. First, Gottlieb introduces us to four of her patients, taking us inside the room to show us what happens in their sessions. But Gottlieb is also in therapy herself, thanks to a sudden breakup, and through her eyes, we get the patient’s perspective as well. I so enjoyed getting to know the people in these pages, session by session, and rooted hard for them as they worked through the process. More info →
Sometimes a good laugh is the best stress-buster. If you love heartfelt and hilarious memoirs, then you must pick up this collection of essays by pop-culture critic R. Eric Thomas. Eric shares stories from childhood to adulthood, detailing his coming-of-age with hilarious honesty. He writes about discovering his identity, feeling like an outsider, and finding his voice, all the while injecting hilarious pop culture references, bits of wisdom, and his signature wit. I highly recommend the audiobook version, narrated by the author, for full humorous effect. These hopeful stories will stick with you. More info →
May defines "wintering" as "a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider." A "winter" can occur during any season of life. She takes this single subject and turns it, chapter by chapter, considering different events, aspects, incarnations, and inciting events of a winter season, guiding the reader through scenes of her life and inviting them to join her on adventures to explore what it means to winter—heading to Stonehenge, to Iceland, to ice-bathe, to sauna. I appreciated the multidisciplinary approach; May builds the narrative around events of her life, but draws from health, psychology, spirituality, religion, science, nature and more to tell her story. This was lovely on audio, as narrated by Rebecca Lee. More info →
As a self-certified plant lady, I recognize the benefits of surrounding myself with greenery, especially in the cold and dreary winter months. But now that it's spring, I'm turning my attention to the garden outside. This meditative exploration of the power of gardening from a professional psychiatrist inspired me to spend more time digging in the dirt and tending to my outdoor plants as a way to feel grounded. Stuart-Smith explains the connection between gardening with your hands and soothing your anxious mind with examples from her own gardening journey, her grandfather's post-WWI healing, and progressive prison gardening programs. I enjoyed the combination of research and practical gardening tips and feel inspired to try some new planting projects soon. More info →
It seems simple: a long, deep breath makes you feel better when you're stressed. But what if we're not breathing correctly from moment to moment? Journalist James Nestor argues that going back to the essentials of active, intentional breathing can help us feel and move better through our day to day lives. Nestor travelled the world to collect stories and practices to help us reconnect to our breath, from ancient yoga breath work to local choir school exercises. Combining these stories with scientific research from pulmonology, biochemistry, and physiology, Nestor crafts a compelling case for paying closer attention to our breath and adding corrective measures. I've already noticed better posture at my desk and better timing on my runs from putting some of these tips into practice. More info →
If you spent too much time doom-scrolling, procrastinating, or letting worry get the best of you over the last year, you're not alone. These not-so-healthy habits are tied to anxiety and serve as an attempt to escape irrational thoughts looping through our brains. Dr. Brewer shares practical science-backed tips for unwinding those unhelpful patterns, establishing new habits, and letting go of anxiety with a touch of humor and a brain-training approach. I've read quite a few books on anxiety over the years, and this one offered a mix of advice I've heard before and new tips to put into practice. I appreciated Dr. Brewer's timely advice and roadmap approach to easing anxious thoughts and stopping them before they turn into full-blown bad habits. More info →
Do you have any stress-busting nonfiction books to recommend? We’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments section.