7 best self-care books: Learn how to look after your mental wellbeing during lockdown
From moving memoirs to practical pocket guides, these reads will help you through the pandemic and beyond
Self-care has often been dismissed as a millennial fad – but these books promote the idea that looking after your wellbeing is sensible rather than selfish. And for those who suffer with mental health issues, it’s essential.
“Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can be very useful in helping us manage the symptoms of many mental health problems,” says Rachel Boyd from mental health charity Mind.
“They can even help to prevent them developing in the first place. Taking regular exercise, for example, particularly outdoors, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating issues like mild depression or anxiety.”
Boyd adds that: “It’s important to see self-care as complementary to mental health services, like a course of talking therapy, rather than as a substitute for them.”
These self-care books range from moving memoirs with handy tips woven throughout to practical pocket guides filled with interactive exercises.
Each begin with their own definitions of “self-care”, but all agree that learning to listen to your own needs will ultimately help you become healthier and happier.
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‘Remember This When You’re Sad: Lessons Learned on the Road from Self-Harm to Self-Care’ by Maggy van Eijk, published by Lagom: £7.37, WHSmith
Funny, irreverent and unflinchingly honest, Remember This When You’re Sad is both a memoir and a vital self-care manual. Writer and social-media editor Van Eijk, in her words, turns her brain inside out on the page. She shares her own story of lifetime suffering with mental-health issues – including depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder – and pairs it with pragmatic advice for those facing similar issues.
The book is divided into 15 digestible chapters with to-the-point heads, such as “remember this when you’re scared of your own brain” and “remember this when you can’t stand your own body”. What follows is razor-sharp prose that reads like advice and anecdotes from a trusted friend.
Van Eijk tackles traumatic incidents from her own past, such as the time she badly burnt her forearm with cigarettes, with lightness and even humour. A self-professed lover of lists, she punctures the prose with bulleted sections designed to help the reader take better care of themselves. Themes include “things you could do instead of self harm” and “not-so-cringeworthy mantras that help me”. A raw and comforting read.
‘The Self-Care Project: How to let go of frazzle and make time for you’ by Jayne Hardy, published by Orion Spring: £10.59, Amazon
The Self-Care Project busts the myth that self-care is “selfish”, presenting it instead as imperative for our overall health, happiness and wellbeing. It’s written by someone who knows firsthand the impact of neglecting self-care. Jayne Hardy is the founder and CEO of mental health charity The Blurt Foundation and depression, as she writes in an early chapter, “gobbled up most of her twenties”. It was being unable to undertake “the most basic acts of self-care” – she lost a molar as she “didn’t feel worthy enough” to brush her teeth – that led Hardy to set up her foundation and ultimately write this self-care handbook.
In its essence, Hardy writes, self-care is about taking responsibility for yourself. That means being “hyper-aware” of how you feel and making choices accordingly. In 10 practical chapters, Hardy offers straightforward advice on how to assess your own needs and build self-care into an already busy schedule – tips range from changing your relationship with your phone to creating the ultimate “comfort retreat”. Each chapter concludes with an interactive exercise that helps you unpack what self-care means to you, from writing down your fears to listing things that comfort you on “lemon-pelting days”. You should finish the book with a better understanding of your own wants, needs and boundaries.
‘Take a Moment: Activities to Refocus, Recentre and Relax Wherever You Are’ in partnership with Mind and Michael O’Mara: £9.99, Waterstones
Described as a “self-care companion”, this colourful guide was created in partnership with mental health charity Mind, and all the proceeds go to the organisation.
Affirming quotes are peppered throughout, including Aristotle’s “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. This sets the tone of the book, which is about developing your own methods for managing stress and anxiety – or discovering “simple everyday things you could do to care for yourself”.
The book begins with breathing practices, and encourages you to write down any niggling thoughts and feelings early on, so you can focus on the activities that follow. From here, exercises include physical ones, such as a “body scan” and stretching routines, plus creative tasks that encourage things like doodling. There are also pages dedicated to dealing with panic attacks and those that help break down a daunting task, be it applying for a new job or simply leaving the house. Designed for use on the go, it easily slips into a handbag or rucksack too. A practical and accessible guide to self-care.
‘Self-Care for the Real World: Practical self-care advice for everyday life’ by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips, published by Hutchinson: £16.99, Waterstones
Written by sisters and seasoned wellness pioneers Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips, Self-Care For The Real World is a deep dive into doing your best for yourself whatever your circumstances. Despite their own personal brand, the sisters dismiss early on that self-care is something solely for “wellness influencers”. What it is, they say, is “learning to look after your own self as you would a child or a very dear friend – with love, kindness and patience”. They also unpick the idea that self-care is about “retreating from the world” – instead, they write, it’s about “being switched on, fully present and engaged in your life”.
The book, which is clean and minimalist in its design, is broken down into easily absorbed, instructive heads: expect sections such as “self-care for social media” and “what to do when you’re heartbroken”. The tone is didactic but unpatronising, friendly yet not overfamiliar, and as well as written-through advice there are recipes, bright photography, yoga flows and bulleted sections such as the “Stay-well travel guide”. It’s a thoughtful street map to self-care that will also look beautiful on your shelf.
‘The Little Book of Self-Care’ by Mel Noakes, published by Ebury Press: £6.99, Amazon
Pretty and pocket-sized, The Little Book of Self-Care crams an impressive amount of information into some 200 pages. Mel Noakes, an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner who has gained recognition as the Self Care Coach, begins with her personal story: she suffered with an eating disorder, low self-esteem and a “fundamental lack of self-care”, before she finally learned how best to look after herself.
The book’s core is split into three parts – “mind”, “body” and “life” – and Noakes advises that the reader dips in and out of the book, testing various tips and figuring out which ones sit best with them. The mind section is about retraining your thoughts, from managing your inner critic through a series of questions to using positive affirmations. The “body” chapter shares easy-to-follow guidance for mindful eating and for building physical activity into your everyday. The “life” section shares advice for nurturing friendships and seeking out nature.
A “self-care takeaway tips” box at the end of each section helps package the chapter up nicely and the self-care “tool kit” in the book’s final pages offers information on mental health organisations and more. It’s a clear, concise, convenient guide, ideal for those just getting to grips with the idea of self-care.
‘The Self-Care Revolution: Smart habits and simple practices to allow you to flourish’ by Suzy Reading, published by Hachette: £12.99, WHSmith
Suzy Reading, psychologist, yoga teacher and author of this comprehensive self-care guide, wastes little time in her opener. The reader is plunged immediately into a visceral description of Reading’s experience as she struggled with postnatal depression, exhaustion and grief for her desperately ill father. This personal narrative provides firm grounding for the informative, research-backed guide to self-care that follows – the long list of references at the book’s end is testament to the author’s groundwork.
Reading first discovered the term “self-care” when working with a counsellor for postnatal depression. She describes it as “any life-giving activity that restores, sustains or improves your health” and even deems it “proactive healthcare”. The Self-Care Revolution is intended as a “tonic” for the reader, Reading says – and that it is.
Reading strikes an inclusive tone as she introduces the concept of the “vitality wheel”, which the book is focused around. The wheel comprises “eight avenues of nourishment” (including sleep, rest, relaxation and breathing; movement and nutrition and coping skills) and each chapter deals with a single spoke in this self-care wheel.
Colourful diagrams and bulleted sections make the sage and straightforward advice on managing time, creating a nourishing physical space and boosting your mood even easier to take in. A smart, well-presented self-care textbook.
Speak Your Truth, Heal Your Heart: The Broken Girl’s Guide to Radical Self-Care’ by Christy Abram, published by BGW Publishing: £10.31, Amazon
Christy Abram is the founder of Brown Girls Write, a “self-care initiative” that encourages women of colour to share their stories. Abram shares her own in Speak Your Truth, Heal Your Heart, a straight-talking and uncensored presentation of the abuse and neglect that led Abram to a deep depression.
In laying bare her own struggles, Abram reveals ways that other trauma survivors can begin to heal through a process of self-care. Concrete tips include creating a “worry jar”, learning to recognise your own triggers and finally making an actionable self-care plan. The latter involves identifying your “discomforts” and choosing activities that counter them (be it meeting up with a friend or listening to a particular song) – you can then draw on items from your “self-directed” plan in times of particular need.
Journal prompts throughout the book help the reader tailor Abram’s teachings to their own needs: you’ll be invited to write a letter to your inner critic, and recognise your passions and dreams. It’s not always a comfortable read, but it’s certainly a galvanising one.
The verdict: Self-care books
The seamless way Maggy Van Eijk balances her intense personal experience with clear and thoughtful self-care advice makes Remember This When You’re Sad a winner. If you’re after a more pared-back guide to self-care, the expertly curated exercises in Mind’s Take A Moment should be your pick.
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