Stress Management Reading List
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
In my family, a love of reading began when I was very young. Every night, my dad would gather all five of us kids around him and read aloud from Little House on the Prairie and other classics. While many families prioritize and emphasize reading with their kids, I think my family has taken it to a new level of nerdy. As adults, my siblings and I have a Google spreadsheet of the all books we have read, complete with a complicated recommendation system. Now I will fully admit to slacking on contributing to this list as efficiently as the rest of them, but I do love it. Sometimes I find myself oscillating between having too much to read and then having nothing, kind of like my closet... Therefore, I often rely on the recommendations from family and friends to steady my reading flow.
With that in mind, and the fact that I have recently read multiple books that I want to shout about, I am compiling my own recommended reading list for stress management. As you might guess there are some books that fall under the Self-Help genre. However, many of these books also fall outside of the genre but are included because they have helped me to gain a new frame of reference of the world. This list will always be a work in progress and will likely have multiple versions, so feel free to bookmark this post and check back in from time to time. Another note, these books are in no particular order and may or may not have things in common, I simply found that they added value to my life and wanted to share them with you.
Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
Why I liked this book: I am a sucker for revolutionary history and female empowerment. And while I could leave it at that, I will expand for those who might be less enthused about those topics than I am. By presenting a non-traditional view of multiple revolutions, Traister acknowledges what most narratives ignore: emotions have power. And women, as a group, have been particularly good at translating those emotions into action, even while we struggle with our emotions on an individual level.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: This is one of the books that got me to accept the important role of negative emotions. It also helped to explain why we struggle with emotions as individuals, and now when that struggle attempts to reassert itself, I feel better prepared to interrupt the charade and change my experience.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Why I liked this book: I have never liked economics because I find that many of the "rules" feel too simplistic and reductive. Therefore I was wary of a book on behavioral economics. But as a behavior change specialist, I was curious enough to borrow it from the library and give it a go. What I found was that this book gave greater depth and dimension to my understanding of what is "rational". I had been caught up in the idea that rationality should/could be universally understood. With this book, I came to see that we each have our own rationality that helps to us to meet our needs. It helped me realize that we sometimes perceive our actions as "irrational" because the needs we are trying to meet are unknown or unacknowledged.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: The first step to change is understanding your current circumstances. One way to do this is by recognizing all of our behavior as a rational means of meeting our needs. This helps to remove our damaging self-judgements and allows us to dive deeper into the work of recognizing and meeting our needs.
The Courage Habit by Kate Swoboda
Why I like this book: Its refreshingly honest and engaging. Swoboda isn't trying to sell you the answers like many in the Self-Help world. Instead she invites you to engage more deeply in your experience and explore other possibilities. Specifically, she creates space for new possibilities around fear and harnessing the fear that is and always will be present in our lives.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: A lot of our stress is based in some form of fear. Spending time learning to understand our fear is a far more effective form of coping than constantly running from it or trying to conquer it. This is another book that helped me to accept the role of negative emotions.
Fed Up by Gemma Hartley
Why I like this book: Emotional Labor. This was not a concept that I could articulate until I read this book. But it explained why after a long day of coaching I would sometimes feel completely depleted and emotionally exhausted. Those in the caring professions know what I am talking about. Or even why Christmas as an adult is not as much fun as Christmas as a kid. Regulating and nurturing our emotions both individually and collectively is intangible and therefore often ignored by economists and other experts. But these tasks have a major impact on those other tangible things that those same people are so concerned about.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: Hartley creates a shared vocabulary around emotional labor and explores some of the common pitfalls that are necessary to address on the topic. Without a shared vocabulary we would not be able to have productive discussions, and change the way we understand and value the energy we are expending. She also validated a lot of feelings and experiences that are unfortunately far too common in some of our relationships.
The 7 Graces of Marketing by Lynn Serafinn
Why I like this book: As a small business owner, I have to market myself, and while I was excited about it I was also wary of falling into the stereotypes of the small business marketing. This book has helped explain why some of those stereotypes or so cringeworthy and suggests alternatives to explore to avoid them. It also explored the many other aspects of marketing that impact me as a consumer.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: This is not so much a handbook for marketing as an exploration of the history vs the future possibilities of marketing. And even if you aren't in marketing, Serafinn sheds invaluable light on our consumer experience. As consumers we are inundated with marketing messages all the time and it is bound to have some kind of impact on us. As I have said many times before and will say again, lasting change comes after you understand your current circumstances.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Why I like this book: As you can probably tell, I read a lot of non-fiction, but I also love and value fiction because it can shed just as much light on our experience as its factual, researched based counterpart. I loved the prose and premise of this book, especially since it breaks many of the traditional fiction rules. While this book will not be used to teach the essential components of literature, I personally would make it required reading for high schools students because of its valuable perspective.
Why I recommend this book for stress management: There is a constant debate about the influence of violence in media. While the conclusions are always mixed, it has made me wonder about the parallel idea of the distorting impact of "greatness" in our stories. As I look the dominant narratives, I sometimes find myself feeling inadequate. And logically I know that people might not be captivated enough to read a story without significant action and drama. But if all we hear about is action and drama, can we easily accept the mundane as normal? The Interestings breaks from all the action and drama and allows us to appreciate the way life can naturally unfold.
Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch, PH.D.
Why I like this book: Winch opens the book and his TED talk by exploring how strangely we behave when it comes to our health. He points out that while we are taught to take care of our physical bodies from the time we are very young, through preventative measures, as well as, minor and major repair efforts, we are not taught similar lessons for our emotional or mental wellbeing. Thankfully, this practical guide attempts to remedy that. It is a quick easy read, with a consistent format that is easy to reference as needed down the road.
Why I recommend it for stress management: Just like our bodies, our minds and emotions face constant strains and challenges. Just like our physical resilience is increased with proper care, our emotional resilience is also increased as we address our negative experiences quickly and adequately. Tangentially, his TED talk was the final factor in my decision to begin the transformative experience of talk therapy for myself.