When we’re struggling, books can become a lifeline. They can uplift and inspire. They can provide helpful, even transformative, tools to navigate stubborn challenges. And they can remind us that we are absolutely not alone—and we will get through this.
We asked psychotherapists to share their favorite books for coping during this strange, stressful time. Below, you’ll find books on everything from shifting your mindset to reducing perfectionism to divvying up domestic responsibilities.
- Rising Strong by Brené Brown. “This book is an inspiring and important read [if you’re coping with a difficult situation or overcoming a challenge],” said Christie Kederian, LMFT, a psychotherapist and organizational psychologist in Los Angeles. “Brown dives deeply into ways to value emotions…and how to sit with uncomfortable emotions rather than trying to avoid them. She shares stories of resilience and hope that can help us overcome challenges and develop stories of our courage.”
- Atomic Habits by James Clear. Pasadena-based clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, noted that this book “helps readers organize their time by making small changes and put systems in place to improve their functioning.” It helps you “change your whole mindset regarding habits and organization.” This is especially critical right now since so many of us are struggling with staying productive and caring for ourselves.
- Feeling Good by David Burns. “This is an oldie but a goodie,” said Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and executive director of The Center for Relationships in Austin, Texas. “Chock full of practical ideas, tips, and techniques to manage your anxieties and worries, this book will help you ‘change your mind’ through step-by-step, easy worksheets that have been used by mental health therapists around the world.”
- You Are Here by Jenny Lawson. “This is part coloring book to destress during challenging times, and part inspirational guide that soothes and satisfies,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in New York and author of several books on depression, including the children’s book Sometimes When I’m Sad. “I love this book so much that I keep several in my office to give to patients.”
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple by Seth Gillhan. “I love this book,” said Joel Minden, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Chico, Calif., and author of the new book Show Anxiety Who’s Boss. “The book is full of pragmatic strategies for restructuring negative patterns of thinking, modifying undesired behaviors, and remaining mindful of difficult inner experiences before deciding how to respond to them.”
- Fair Play by Eve Rodsky. “Every couple struggles with finding a balance between work, kids, and life,” said Menije Boduryan-Turner, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. Which the pandemic can easily amplify. The solution isn’t to divide domestic responsibilities 50/50, Boduryan-Turner said. Rather, Fair Play suggests prioritizing what’s important for your family and shares a practical system for specifically identifying who’s completing each chore.
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. “In these stressful times, it is so important to go easy on ourselves. Rather than being our biggest critic, or beating ourselves up because we are overwhelmed, it is crucial that we learn a practice of self-compassion,” said David Klow, LMFT, founder and director of Skylight Counseling Center in Skokie, Ill., and author of the book You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist.
- Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani. “During this anxiety-provoking time, anxiety can try to seek certainty through the need for control and perfectionism,” Boduryan-Turner said. “This book confronts all the subtle messages that feed into the fear of taking risks and fear of failure… Now more than ever we need to practice letting go of perfectionism and learn self-love.”
- The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care by Anna Borges. Both Serani and Howes emphasized that this book is one of the best for practicing self-care. According to Serani, “During difficult times, self-care is a must,” but many of us don’t acquire this vital skill. This book is filled with “innovative ideas for caring for your mental health,” Howes said.
- Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. “I highly recommend this book because we can turn self-quarantine into self-discovery,” Boduryan-Turner said. “Somewhere along the way, we stop dreaming big and start playing it safe. This book confronts all the barriers to finding our voice and going after what we want.”
- Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. “This is my new favorite book,” noted Meunier. “In this book, Dr. Joe integrates neuroscience, epigenetics, the science of mindfulness, and cognitive change to show you how you can be your own worst enemy”—and how you can “shift your attention and energy away from negativity and build a positive resonance in your mind and bodies.”
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl’s “focus on creating meaning and purpose out of life’s challenges is a powerful application that can help us when facing the worst of challenges,” said Kederian.
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. “Written by a Buddhist nun, this book gives relatable and practical advice for when our lives take turns that are out of our control,” said Klow. “When the world is falling apart around us, there can be a number of things we can do within ourselves to help cope with the changing landscape.”
- Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. According to Kederian, “this book is an inspirational blend of Sheryl Sandberg’s personal story of losing her husband and finding strength in adversity combined with Adam Grant’s research on loss.” It helps us identify areas in which we’ve experienced loss, cultivate resilience, and find joy once again, she said.
- Finding Meaningby Dave Kessler. “A lot of people are dealing with loss right now—the loss of routine, the loss of structure, the loss of social contact, and for many, the loss of jobs or loved ones,” said Howes. In this book, Kessler, who worked with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, adds a sixth step to her stages of grief: meaning. As Howes noted, it helps us to answer the question: “How can we understand the losses we’re experiencing and grow as a result?” “This important book brings clarity and structure to a chaotic time,” Howes said.
Ultimately, we’re greatly affected by the media we consume. Fill your bookshelves and your soul with words that comfort and nourish—rather than deplete and disconnect. And that goes for today and any day.