9 Non-Fiction Books for a Mental Health Boost

Liz Sheldon

I’ve never thought of myself as a self-help book person. That changed last year when I found myself reading the first 50 pages of a novel over and over (and over!) again, unable to focus and move forward. My scattered brain and the weight of just everything led me to seek some written advice on feeling better. And, honestly, a lot of it involved changing how I perceive my value when it comes to work and being better at unplugging. Hearing other people describe the very thing you’re struggling with is also extremely satisfying, and it always helps to know you’re not alone.

So if you’re feeling low-key (or high-key!) stressed, anxious, or in a funk, and need something not-too-heavy that can still do some mood lifting, consider this list of soothing and informative reads. They’re less traditionally “self-help," i.e. don’t be surprised if the cool shop-person at your local bookstore gushes over your choice. And who knows, one may even change how you think. Take your pick based on if you…

Need a laugh with a side of career inspo

She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson

Creator of the smash hit show Abbott Elementary, comedian Quinta Brunson details her unexpected, often hilarious path to becoming a meme queen. If you’re into the way she perfectly captures coworker dynamics on her “mockumentary” sitcom, you’ll love her stories of becoming an internet fave.

Can’t bring yourself to mentally clock out

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

A manifesto of sorts by artist/writer Odell, who dives deep into why we’re all addicted to being so busy all the time—and what to do about it. Published (prophetically?) in 2019, its floral cover has been front and center at booksellers since. A great antidote to the attention economy that suggests that by changing how we define productivity, we can rediscover that relaxation is just as valuable as output. Also, it made me want to befriend some crows. What’s more intriguing than that?

Are reassessing your WFH sitch

Out of Office by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen

It’s truly wild that this book was in the works pre-pandemic, and we need it now more than ever. If you, like me, are both very into not having to commute but also trying to figure out what it means when your living room is now your office, pick up this guide to help you navigate.

Photo illustration by Brenden Lovejoy

Don’t want to face packing for that beach vacation

The Body Positive Journal by Virgie Tovar

For me and everyone I know, the last couple of years have been strange ones when it comes to feelings about food, bodies, and confidence, especially as some of us are seeing our colleagues in person again (maybe for the first time!). This new title is more of a diary than a sit-down read, but it’s rich in short essays that double as enlightening pep talks, images designed to inspire, and writing prompts to help you heal negative self talk and go back out into the world truly feeling yourself. Maybe the perfect chill thing to add to your morning routine?

Are just over it (whatever it is)

Against Everything by Mark Greif

Think of this as a book of gripes that’s a nice balance to any toxic positivity you may be experiencing. Akin to the satisfaction of hearing a friend go off about something that drives them crazy, it’s a cathartic read that’s also a genuine attempt to help us understand how our current culture came to be, and why we’d be better off if some of it just…went away.

Need YOUR creative MUSCLE to stop leaving you on read

You Are Here for Now by Adam J. Kurtz

Adam J. Kurtz, aka Adam JK, has patented a cute-but-not-saccharine style of real talk that’s the perfect thing to pick up when your thoughts are spiraling. It’s a compact little book you could even take on your commute, if you have one, and is kind of like sitting down and having coffee with your wisest, funniest friend. It’s great if you’re feeling jealous of other people’s success or weird about not knowing what your all-caps PASSION is, with gentle reminders that trying is cool, even if you fail.

This book is a reminder that the only way you’ll find time to do the stuff you love is by making time, and there’s no moment like the present.

Feel weird about the commodification of feeling better

Who Is Wellness For? by Fariha Róisín

Technically this book doesn’t come out until June 14, but it’s worth preordering. Poet and author Fariha Róisín addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to American wellness culture: that much of our modern healing tools, from yoga to ashwagandha, were appropriated from other cultures and stripped of their origins. The book aims to set the record straight, while offering gentle guidance and practical advice for caring for yourself and others outside of the latest trends.

Want to radically shift your perception of time (non-psychedelically!)

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Okay, the premise of this book is that we all, if we’re lucky, have about 4,000 weeks to live—and if that is the opposite of calming to you, please know I felt the same at first. But Burkeman makes a great case that never actually having time to do everything is liberating, as opposed to terrifying. This book is a reminder that the only way you’ll find time to do the stuff you love is by making time, and there’s no moment like the present. Set those boundaries and let yourself off the hook!

Worry you’ll never have a great idea again

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

If you’ve ever finished a movie or used a product so good it makes you wonder how someone even came up with it in the first place, add this to your library list. Johnson explores how historic innovations like batteries and the printing press came to be, and digs deep to see if there’s any commonalities in how these great ideas came to be. It’s inspiring, and also rich in conversation-starters for the next time you’re making small talk before your next meeting.

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