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Anxiety can seem like it pops up out of nowhere.
It’s crippling. It’s confusing. It’s convoluted. And it can be downright cruel.
But the only way to stop anxiety is to take action against it. You can’t win the war if you’re not willing to send your soldiers out to battle. And I believe you can win this battle if you at least try.
Here are 8 books I recommend reading if you’re struggling with anxiety.
Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha
Not to toot my own horn, but a little awesome a day keeps the negativity away. I started my blog 1000 Awesome Things after my wife left me and my best friend committed suicide. My wife came home one day and summoned the courage to have a very honest conversation. Through tears, she told me that she didn’t love me anymore. Then a few days later my friend Chris took his own life after battling mental illness for quite some time. These dark clouds kept circling over me and the stormier the weather got, the more difficult it became to find any good in my life. So I started my blog and made a commitment to myself to find the good in every day, even if it’s as simple as “picking the perfect nacho off someone else’s plate” or “blowing your nose in the shower.” My hope is that my blog, which ultimately inspired and became this book, can give you a dose of happiness during your darkest days so you can start to find the good in your life again.
Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
I love Sarah Andersen. And not just because of this incredible cartoon about books which you absolutely should go check out right now or because she agreed to be a guest on 3 Books ... but because she’s the cartoonist behind Sarah’s Scribbles which addresses anxiety, social awkwardness, mental health, and millennialism. We hear a lot about the stats behind these issues today. Depression rising. Anxiety rising. But who’s helping us put a face to it all? Who’s directing their art at illustrating what it’s like to live with social awkwardness and anxiety and navigating adulthood during the most complex time to be alive? Sarah Andersen. Her comics offer thoughtful insight into the darker aspects of growing up these days and somehow seem relatable to 38-year-old men like me who don’t quite fall into the “millennial” age bracket.
If This Isn’t Nice, What Is by Kurt Vonnegut
Sometimes reading can be difficult if you’re experiencing a full-fledged anxiety attack. Odds are the last thing you want to do is pick up a book because you’re too busy trying to focus on your breathing. But that’s why this book is so great. It’s easy to appreciate Kurt Vonnegut and all his writing superpowers because he was able to distill complex eternal wisdom into simple positive inspiration that you can read in only a few minutes at a time. Just try it. Slow down. Read a few lines. Focus on your breath. Give in to the wisdom. This is a collection of every commencement speech Kurt Vonnegut made over about 40 years until his death. The book is made with a ton of TLC so other little one-offs (like magazine articles, award speeches, etc.) are also included, making it the perfect read to give yourself some TLC next time you’re feeling anxious.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Have you by chance heard of this book? I’m guessing yes given it’s been on top of bestseller lists for two years. I remember when it first came out, booksellers I spoke to were saying the f-bomb was attracting folks. Later I heard them say it was really tapping into the emerging counter-anxiety trend of not giving a f*ck. (Also popularized in the book and TED Talk by Sarah Knight called “The Magic of Not Giving a F*ck.) Because that’s the opposite of anxiety, right? Anxiety polarizes your emotions on topics and situations you wish you didn’t give a f*ck about. Anxiety tricks you into thinking you need to give a f*ck about all of the swirls and twirls of the outside world, but Mark Manson helps you ignore those triggers and zoom into the things you actually want to give a f*ck about. This book is littered with gold life advice shared in a disarming, accessible way by a new master. There’s less “new news” here but some pretty epic distillations of concepts like the value of failure and the importance of boundaries.
Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan
Meng was an early Google employee who had eight years of climbing the ladder as a software engineer before transitioning to the human resources side of the business. He got the strange job-title of Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow” and created and popularized an internal course on meditation called Search Inside Yourself. This book is all about accessibility. It’s written in really simple language and you just nod and nod and nod until you realize you’ve bought in to everything he’s saying. And let’s be honest, accessibility is crucial when it comes to meditation. How many times have people told you to try meditation to treat your anxiety? Probably countless. But it’s not helpful unless it seems doable. And retreating to the forest and silencing your mind doesn’t seem accessible for those of us battling the inner demons living in our heads. But this book makes it accessible. It’s the exception to the rule.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
If you’re falling into quicksand and can’t seem to find your way afloat, Jenny’s right there with you. Jenny Lawson struggles from a series of mental illnesses and uses a healthy dose of positivity, humour, and realism to relay her emotions and inner turmoil. It can be difficult to put into words what anxiety or depression feels like, which is what makes Jenny’s writing style so unique. She’s radically authentic and doesn’t hold anything back, so her vulnerability becomes the inspiration most of us desperately need to pull back the blinds and take an honest look at our mental wellbeing. Jenny shares her own heavy, heartwarming, and hilarious stories in this tell-all book which somehow sounds less like a memoir and more like a recounting of your own emotions and how to acknowledge those feelings and give them the spotlight they deserve.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Check out this scenario from Page 8 of this book: “One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You’re very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.” According to Carol Dweck, if you have a fixed mindset you’d think “I’m a total failure” or “I feel like a reject.” And if you have a growth mindset, you’d think “I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car, and wonder if my friend had a bad day.” She points out it was a midterm... not a final. A parking ticket... not a major infraction. Sort of brushed off... versus yelling about it or obsessing over it. I’ll be the first to admit it, I was totally in the first camp. This incredibly readable book helped me understand how to develop a growth mindset across all spectrums of my life from business to parenting. I've already started speaking to my children differently. And myself too, frankly. If you recognize that same negative self talk going on inside your head, I can’t recommend this book enough. Change your mindset, change your life.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
What’s anxiety? It’s an emotional blockage preventing you from doing what you love. It’s crippling. It’s all-consuming. It disconnects you from the outside world, forcing you to concentrate on your inner turmoil and resist the natural flow of present events. The War of Art is a completely simple guide to battling “Resistance” – the single word Pressfield uses to describe the set of emotions and barriers preventing you from doing work you love. And isn’t that what anxiety is? A barrier between you and living your best life? Within pages Pressfield inspires you to try your best to drop everything and tackle a creative project you’ve been thinking about starting. It’s the perfect book to help you stop making excuses, stop projecting your insecurities and your jealousy onto others, and start following your passions to help you reach true success and inner peace (because they’re one and the same). One of my favourite quotes from Pressfield: “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” We tend to make decisions based on desire and immediate gratification, rather than choosing the more difficult path, even if it’s what’s best for us. More often than not, it’s in those uncomfortable situations where we experience our most defining moments and most significant growth opportunities. Experiencing resistance and anxiety doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, it just means you’re human.
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