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15 of the best books to read when you have anxiety

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I first started experiencing anxiety as a teen. It was mostly social anxiety: I hated drawing attention to myself, having to speak in front of others, and being in social situations where I was judged. I intentionally did badly in exams so I wasn't praised in public. At university, I dropped out of mandatory debate classes after I had a panic attack and ran out crying when it was my turn to speak.

My social and general anxiety disorders were also linked to Asperger's syndrome, the PTSD I was also diagnosed with, and being extremely introverted. I still have anxious days occasionally, but I've learned a lot about dealing with it in the last decade.

One thing that helped my anxiety a lot was EMDR therapy. But, as is often the case with this blog, I also read a lot of great books for anxiety during my adventures in bibliotherapy. In a small 2022 study with Turkish high school students, researchers found that reading fiction might reduce symptoms of anxiety by promoting awareness of other people’s feelings and improving problem-solving skills.

The best books for anxiety to soothe your nerves

I tend to think about three types of books to read when you have anxiety: self-help books about anxiety, books you can't put down to lose yourself in, and calming books to help you take a deep breath and relax. I'll share a few from each section below.

So here we go, my selection of the best books for anxiety, which I hope you'll find useful too.

1. Hope and Help for Your Nerves: End Anxiety Now by Claire Weekes

My heart beats too fast. My hands tremble and sweat. I feel like there’s a weight on my chest. My stomach churns. I have terrible headaches. I can't sleep. Sometimes I can't even leave my house...

This bestselling step-by-step guide – based on the author's years of experience treating real patients – will show you how to break the cycle of anxiety and feel more calm and balanced every day, no matter what life throws at you. With Dr Weekes's simple guidance, you can analyse your own symptoms of anxiety and understand exactly how to overcome them for good.

In a Reddit post on the best books for anxiety, amanda_l3ee shares that, "Claire Weekes' Hope and Help for Your Nerves helped me a great deal. She talks about how your brain can trick your body into feeling things and then those things make your brain spiral deeper until you are caught in a loop of anxiety. Just understanding that this happens and I'm not crazy has helped me manage my anxiety."

2. Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyō Masuno

This isn't a guidebook for anxiety per se, but it is extremely peaceful and soothing – and simple pleasures can be a powerful antidote to slow down and feel less anxious. Find them in Shunmyō Masuno's gorgeous little book, Zen: The Art of Simple Living. Here are some more of my thoughts on this beautifully illustrated book for self-care.

Read more: 12 relaxing books to calm your mind and soothe your soul

3. The Anxiety Journal: Exercises to Soothe Stress and Eliminate Anxiety Wherever You Are by Corinne Sweet

With this grounding and soothing journal for anxiety, psychologist Corinne Sweet helps you to manage your anxiety with inspiring quotes, mindful exercises, helpful coping mechanisms, and writing prompts backed by cognitive behavioural therapy.

It's a beautiful little book that's perfect to carry on the go, complete with a heavy cover to endure wear and tear and lined pages to record your thoughts and track your progress.

4. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

In a Reddit thread about books for anxiety, IntrovertiraniKreten shares that, "Dale Carnegie's 'How to stop worrying and start living' tackles [this] problem more than any book I have ever encountered. That is the go to book I would [advise for] anyone struggling with anxiety, worry or similar mental struggle."

5. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

If you're looking for a wholesome and comforting book to soothe your anxiety, The Enchanted April is one of my all-time favourite recommendations. An advertisement in The Times addressed to "Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine" is the impetus for a revelatory month for four very different women in The Enchanted April.

Mrs Wilkins, Mrs Arbuthnot, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a break from rainy England, come together to unwind and enjoy the Mediterranean spirit, building friendships they had all longed for in a medieval castle high above the bay on the Italian Riviera.

The Enchanted April is a perfect novel to help you to unwind and ease your anxiety, wherever you are in the world.

6. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

One of the best authors to read when you have anxiety or depression is Matt Haig. He'll ease your worries, help you be kinder towards yourself, and show you a gentle way of improving your mental health.

Notes on a Nervous Planet is one of the best books for anxiety, and Reasons to Stay Alive is one of the best books for depression. I'd recommend them both to anyone who is human.

Here's one of my favourite pieces of advice for anxiety from Notes on a Nervous Planet:

“Panic is physical as well as mental. For me, running and yoga help more than anything. Yoga, especially. My body tightens, from hours of being hunched over a laptop, and yoga stretches it out again.”

Read more: Finding balance in an anxious world: Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

7. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD

When I first started therapy for anxiety when I was about sixteen, my therapist told me to buy this book. It was an earlier edition than the one pictured below, but I remember it being a useful part of my toolkit for managing my anxiety.

That said, overall I found more comfort and guidance for my own anxious feelings from fiction. But therapeutic books for anxiety like this one can make all the difference for a lot of people. I'd definitely recommend getting your own workbook for anxiety and spending some time with it each day.

8. Don't F*cking Panic: The Shit They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, & Depression by Kelsey Darragh

If you don't mind bad language, Kelsey Darragh's aptly-named Don't F*cking Panic is probably the most laid-back and informal book you can read for anxiety.

9. How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh

Oh, all the things we can learn from Thich Nhat Hanh... I love the Buddhist monk's "How to" books, especially How to Love – which improved my relationship in so many ways with its timeless wisdom – and this book, How to Relax.

On Reddit, Kj_90 recommends for anxiety: "You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh, or any other of his books. His teachings are really grounding and helpful for anxiety."

10. Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton

Life isn't always perfect. But for those of us with anxiety, sometimes we think it should be... and that causes even more anxiety. This beautiful book is an ode to the gifts of imperfection. Relax and unwind with the best Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life in Beth Kempton's lovely little book, Wabi Sabi.

11. Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh

If you're tired of just "managing" your anxiety through self-help tactics or medication, Barry McDonagh aims to help you actually break free from anxiety. Based on science and his years of coaching, DARE offers a new way to overcome panic and anxiety disorders. There's also a popular and well-regarded anxiety workbook by the author to accompany this book if you want some more practical exercises.

One Amazon reviewer says of the book, "Coming from the worst of the worst and a non-reader, this book changed my life overnight", adding that: "It completely changed my perspective on anxiety and even life. It's true--YOU are the cure. You just need the right tools. And this book is it".

12. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

I've talked a lot about this book on the blog, and I know a lot of my readers love it too. Read The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down to slow down, breathe deeply, open your heart, and calm your anxiety.

It's one of my favourite self-help books for anxiety: gentle, soothing, and beautifully illustrated. I've shared some more about the simple and timeless wisdom of Haenim Sunim here.

13. The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition by J. R. R. Tolkien

When you're feeling anxious, sometimes one of the best things to read can be the books that have brought you comfort before. Maybe for you that means re-reading Harry Potter or listening to it as an audiobook before bed, or perhaps there's a feel-good novel you loved reading a few years ago that you can return to.

When I'm anxious, I love to head off on an adventure into new worlds and leave my anxieties behind with The Hobbit. For an extra dose of relaxation, choose this illustrated edition by Jemima Catlin for beautiful images to take in alongside Tolkien's timeless words.

14. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

When looking for books for anxiety, it's hard to go wrong with Bill Bryson. A Walk in the Woods is his feel-good story of hiking some of the most breathtaking terrain in America, spanning towering mountains, peaceful forests, and sparkling lakes from Georgia to Maine. Pick up a copy to hear about Bill's time on the trail and the memorable faces – human and otherwise – he meets along the way.

15. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

“If life could write, it would write like Tolstoy,” wrote Isaac Babel. War and Peace will forever feature on most of my lists of recommended books, especially when they're books for anxiety. I first read it during the most anxious part of my life, and it unexpectedly brought me so much peace and timeless guidance.

Read War and Peace to learn about life, appreciate its details, and glimpse new dimensions of our humanity. It's a huge book that can be intimidating, but my comparison of the best translations (short answer: I love the Anthony Briggs version) and guide to getting started with War and Peace should make it easier.

Read more: What Leo Tolstoy Can Teach Us About Overcoming Anxiety

 
 

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