8 calming nonfiction books to read when you’re stressed

8 calming nonfiction books to read when you’re stressed

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.

8 stress-busting and soothing nonfiction books

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say

Author:
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 →
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Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life

Author:
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 →
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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Author:
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 →
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Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America

Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America

Author:
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 →
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Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Author:
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 →
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The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature

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 →
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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Author:
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 →
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Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind

Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind

Author:
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 →
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Do you have any stress-busting nonfiction books to recommend? We’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments section.

P.S. Enjoy these 20 life-changing nonfiction books that you can finish in one day, or try one of these 12 nonfiction titles to restart your life.

P.P.S. Need more anti-stress reading recs? Check out WSIRN Ep 270: When you NEED a season of low-stress reading with author Lucy Knisley or WSIRN Ep 277: Books that feel like a vacation for your brain.

8 calming nonfiction books to read when you're stressed

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59 comments | Comment

59 comments

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  1. Terri says:

    The Happiness Project and Happier at Home by Gretchin Rubin are both go-to stress reducers for me. I love the focus on happiness and Rubin’s joy for the little things in life. These books definitely help me focus in on the things that make me happy.

  2. Jill says:

    Thank you for the suggestions. Tell Me More is on my list. In the meantime, I am loving Kelly’s podcast “Kelly Corrigan Wonders.” Great conversations with smart, funny, insightful people. I can’t get enough.

  3. Holly says:

    This list of calming nonfiction books couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you! I am especially interested in the book Breathe. Anxious to see if readers have any other books they’d add to this list.

  4. Miranda says:

    The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Saw this advertised in a bookseller catalog and checked it out from my library. Short, calming, and fascinating – just what I needed at the time. I’ve since gifted it to several family and friends.

  5. Debby Hudson says:

    I’ve recommended Maybe You Should Talk to Someone to so many friends. I got it as a library book but had to buy it as it’s a keeper. Tell Me More has been on my list so I better get going on that one. As always, thanks for expanding my reading horizons.

  6. Alison says:

    Not entirely sure if this is classified as non-fiction, but a short, peaceful book I enjoyed recently is “The Compleat Angler” by Izaak Watson. It is a book from the 1600’s celebrating the joys of fishing. Although not a fisherman myself, it was so restful to read about fish, fishing, how to fish, and rivers.

    Another short non-fiction I enjoyed recently was “One Writer’s Beginnings” by Eudora Welty. Having grown up in Mississippi myself I particularly enjoyed hearing about her childhood and her time at the college she attended in MS.

  7. Denise Amos says:

    Breath was such an interesting book! I think my family and friends got tired of me talking about the interesting facts I was learning.

  8. Suzy says:

    I’m not much for self help books, but it was you that put Maybe You Should Talk to Someone on my radar, and I steadfastly ignored it for a year. Then I read it and oh my goodness! It was delicious and thought provoking at the same time! I had to buy a copy of my own as well. I also agree with Miranda about Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Priceless and guaranteed to slow you down.

  9. Melly says:

    Books I can recommend highly that might fall in this category are: AW Tozer, “The Pursuit of God” (it’s concentrated reading), Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”, and Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy”. They’re excellent!
    Melly

  10. Sophie Botello says:

    I’m so excited to look into these books. My goal for 2021 has been to read 1 book at least a month and I am ahead of schedule. Yay!
    A few of the books I have loved (some of which I got from your book lists) are: Tell Me Three Things, What To Say Next, The Late Bloomers Club, and then To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

    If you are looking for a new book, my favorite was Tell Me Three Things!

    • Katie says:

      I loved the audio version, but heads up if you have younger kids – not always appropriate, imho, for the younger ones. But loved loved loved it!!

  11. Deborah Sue Ball says:

    I Miss You When I Blink is another one to add to this list, funny and poignant. A definite keeper on the shelf!

  12. christina mermis says:

    I find calm and perspective-shift from spiritual nonfiction and saint biographies. Keeping the end in mind helps put everything in perspective – don’t sweat the small stuff (and really, it’s ALL small stuff – keeping our eyes on the eternal prize is finally all that’s truly important). If spiritual books are they “why”, then saint biographies are the how-to manuals 🙂 My favorites are Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait” by Leo Maasburg, “Letter to a Young Catholic” by George Weigel, “The Discernment of Spirits” by Timothy Gallagher, and anything by CS Lewis or Bishop Barron.

  13. Patricia Harrison says:

    One of the best books in this vein I ever read was Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts from the Sea. Every woman whose had it up to here with family and all that entails needs to read this book.

    • Nicole says:

      I have read this book at different times in my life and love how it keeps unfolding. And I took notes and it’s interesting to see what I thought way back when. 🙂 I recently also loved Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First by Laura Tremaine.

  14. Anne Simpson says:

    At first, I thought I hadn’t really read anything that fit in this category, then I started looking at books I’ve read in the past 5 years or so. Quite a few jumped out at me as helping to restore perspective and provide peace, but these two I’ll mention: His Thoughts Said, His Father Said by Amy Carmichael; and Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily Freeman.

  15. Rebecca A Hillary says:

    The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey brought me lots of joy this year. I never knew snails could be so intriguing and captivating and this beautiful story offered me a different perspective on life, illness, and physical ability. I think reading it specifically during the pandemic was important, sometimes it is all about timing. I heard an interview with her on NPR, March 2020 and added this to my library list right away.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Martin Marten by Bryan Doyle a lovely novel about small town in Mt Hood. Beautiful lyrical writing that will restore your faith in mankind. He speaks to the joy of everyday things in everyday life.

  17. Joanna says:

    I just read Allison B. Kelly’s “There’s Spaghetti On My Ceiling: and Other Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist” and it is a hug of a book, like having coffee with your most understanding friend. The book is broken into short essays, so it is easy to pick up and read when you need to reclaim a moment of sanity.

  18. Danielle says:

    I second Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It manages to instill such a sense of hope that we can restore our relationship with the world.
    When not reading I’ve been dealing with stress by knitting up a storm and watching “silent hiking” videos on youtube…

  19. Nancy says:

    Anne, you must read “Running with Sherman”! About rescuing a Donkey and how he rescues in return. It was simply the sweetest boost I could have wished for. I just bumped into it. I kept thinking of you out on your runs and how you would no doubt love this challenge. Going to Colorado anytime soon?😊

  20. Angela says:

    Hi

    I am interested in joining the book club however, I am wondering if you provide a list of books that will be in the club in the upcoming months. Thank you.

    Angela

  21. Annie K says:

    Anything by Fiona Ferris, a self-published author from New Zealand, who writes about living a “chic” lifestyle. She’s a good writer and her mindset is lovely…I enjoy and use many of her tips and suggestions, and her books are always a relaxing read.

  22. Melanie says:

    I’ve read a few of these titles you’ve listed and have been pondering a couple too. I’m most excited you mention the audio versions are particularly good, I enjoy listening while walking or completing household tasks. I recently have read, Freely and Lightly by Emily Lex. Not only did I appreciate her openness, but her watercolors are so soothing. I stumbled upon, Running with Sherman earlier this winter and was delighted to read about the connections between donkey and human-such a feel good story.
    Right now I am in the midst of, Who is this Man? by Joel Ortberg. Loving the obvious and not so obvious influence in all of humanity of Jesus, as Ortberg points out to us. One certainly does not have to be “ religious “ to appreciate this knowledge.

  23. Elyse says:

    I definitely want to read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It sounds like the perfect stress reducing book for me. On the subject of nonfiction I remember a while back (I think a couple years ha!) you talked about a book that had to do with cell phone usage but I cannot for the life of me remember the title, can someone help a woman out? Lol

  24. Cameron says:

    I found Crow Planet, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, to be a lovely, soothing book. A little bit memoir, a little bit nature writing, she dives into researching crows after having a child and struggling with depression. I think about it whenever I see crows. Looking forward to finally picking up Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and I think I’ve finally been convinced by reader comments to read Wild Snail. Thanks as always for the great list.

  25. KTC says:

    Poetry and scripture often tick this box for me. I love Mary Oliver’s poems—full of nature and devotion.

  26. Casey Fogle says:

    Soundtracks by Jon Acuff, in print or audio, is an absolute delight and it is both soothing and helpful.

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