These action-oriented books offer hope for those who suffer.
Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. They can steal your motivation and often mask your life’s purpose. They put up debilitating roadblocks to basic daily routines: Even getting out of bed in the morning or eating can seem like a chore.
While genetics and life circumstances play a role in depression and anxiety, the right tools and information can give anyone a chance to fight back and find happiness. We’ve put together a powerhouse list of books—recommended (and often written) by psychologists—to give you the resources to release yourself from depression’s grip and live the life you want.
1. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
By David D. Burns, M.D.
In this important book, Stanford psychiatrist David Burns, M.D., explains how cognitive behavioral techniques can shift how we feel in every moment. Cognitive distortions are a cause of great suffering in depressed and anxious people. When we learn to challenge our negative thinking and choose different thoughts, we can learn to “feel good.”
Takeaway: When you change what you think, you can change how you feel.
2. Healing the Child Within
By Charles L. Whitfield, M.D.
We all have an inner child who is alive and energetic, according to physician and psychotherapist Charles Whitfield, M.D. A dysfunctional childhood and resulting shame can cause our inner child to be lost. Since it was first published in 1987, this classic book has helped countless people find their inner child and heal the pain of the past.
Takeaway: Contacting and living from our true self is the central task of personal growth.
3. The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook
By Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.
Since its publication, this practical workbook has been a go-to for anyone suffering from an anxiety disorder, from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Learn how to use breathing, food, exercise, meditation and positive self-talk to ease your fears.
Takeaway: An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.
4. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
By Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
This fascinating book outlines research done by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., one of the founders of positive psychology, regarding depression and its opposite: learned optimism. An optimistic attitude, according to Martin, is a key factor in overcoming depression. The good news is optimism can be learned. Take an optimism quiz to learn how optimistic you are (or are not). Luckily, you can reset how you think. This book gives you the tools to do just that, for yourself and your children.
Takeaway: Pessimism is escapable.
5. The Anxiety & Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution
By David A. Clark, Ph.D., and Aaron T. Beck, M.D.
Cognitive behavioral therapy founder Aaron T. Beck, M.D., and psychiatrist David A. Clark, Ph.D., offer strategies to identify the triggers that lead to anxiety. Learn how to challenge thoughts and get the courage to take small steps to face situations you fear.
Takeaway: Stop it and give yourself a chance.
If you second-guess yourself and are hard on yourself in general, you are more likely to suffer from some kind of anxiety. Get unstuck by acquiring new coping skills and understanding how your thought patterns may be causing anxiety. Recognize your innate resilience and ability to cope with things that don’t go as planned.
Takeaway: Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself.
7. On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety
By Andrea Petersen
A health and wellness writer for The Wall Street Journal, author Andrea Petersen had another factor motivating her to write a book about anxiety. She has suffered from panic attacks and a diagnosed anxiety disorder since college. On Edge is both a memoir and an objective look at the history and understanding of anxiety, including discussions of current research, medication and non-pharmaceutical treatment. The book makes those experiencing anxiety for the first time (or for a long time) feel as if they are not alone.
Takeaway: Enlist the support of family and friends if you find yourself suffering from anxiety.
8. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
By Andrew Solomon
An intellectual, historical and personal study in depression, The Noonday Demon is a research-based book that examines the disease from multiple perspectives. Author Andrew Solomon, winner of the National Book Award, is also a longtime sufferer of depression. He depicts the depths of despair and offers glimmers of hope in this beautifully written work.
Takeaway: I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems worse than life is good.
One message in this classic book is that avoiding our problems causes pain and suffering. Though not strictly about depression or anxiety, The Road Less Traveled has helped millions of people grapple with the difficulties of life. Only by facing our pain, says M. Scott Peck, M.D., can we grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Once we accept that life is difficult, we can transcend the problems holding us back.
Takeaway: The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior.
10. When Bad Things Happen to Good People
By Harold S. Kushner
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner writes that pain is the price we pay for being alive. When his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that meant he would only live into his early teens, Harold asked himself, “Why?” We have a choice: We can capitulate to the pain or use these experiences to create meaning in our lives. Again, though this book is not only about depression, it deals with circumstances that can easily cause people to fall into a deep depression if they are not equipped with the right tools to choose another path.
Takeaway: Forgiveness is a favor we do for ourselves, not a favor we do for the other party.
Sandra Bilbray is a contributing Editor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.