Too much stress is bad for our health — putting us at risk for conditions like depression, heart disease and memory problems. But life is full of commitments and pressures that make relaxation seem impossible, and finding ways to soothe can be difficult.
“Stress happens. Stress is normal. Negative emotions are normal,” said Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “But, whatever stress you’re experiencing, there are things you can do to bring more positive emotions.”
We asked 15 experts — psychologists, counselors, neuroscientists and others — for their favorite books on managing stress. Some are packed with science while others focus on techniques, but they’re all meant to help you breathe a little easier. Many of the experts recommended the same titles. Below are five books to help you cultivate a more peaceful state of mind.
1. “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It,” by Ethan Kross
In “Chatter,” Dr. Kross, the director of the Emotion & Self-Control Lab at the University of Michigan, offers tools to recognize and alter our inner monologues.
“It’s like the essential guide for regulating your negative thought patterns,” said Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale University who teaches a course on happiness and hosts “The Happiness Lab” podcast. For instance, Dr. Kross recommends chatting with yourself in the third person, which can make problems seem lighter.
“It’s hard to feel calm when our thoughts are racing and our emotions are swirling,” said Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times.
This book offers a “fascinating, evidence-based look at why the way we talk to ourselves matters far more than we realize,” he said.
2. “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Dr. Kabat-Zinn developed mindfulness-based stress reduction, an evidence-based program combining meditation and yoga. In “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” he unpacks the practice in a clear and digestible way, said Jennifer Wegmann, a health and wellness studies lecturer at State University of New York at Binghamton.
Aaron Weiner, a clinical psychologist based in Chicago, considers it one of the “most accessible introductions to mindfulness meditation,” and a good choice “for someone looking to get a peek into the philosophy and practice.”
3. “Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto,” by Tricia Hersey
Tricia Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry, an organization that highlights the power of sleep and dreams — and their importance for the Black community, in particular.
“‘Rest is Resistance’ is not your typical self-help book,” said Sarah Rose Cavanagh, a psychologist and senior associate director for teaching and learning at Simmons University in Boston. “It argues that we live in a toxic culture that idolizes overwork, and that by simply checking out and taking time for yourself to rest,” you put your well-being first.
Emily Nagoski, co-author of “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, recommends reading Ms. Hersey’s book “slowly and repeatedly, as your body gently unravels into the beautiful experiment of living.”
4. “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook,” by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay
First published in 1980, and now in its seventh edition, “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook” features a “comprehensive collection” of calming exercises, from meditation to muscle relaxation, said Alex Anderson-Kahl, a certified school psychologist based in Columbia, Mo.
Jenny Mahlum, an integrative psychotherapist in New York City, recommended the title with the following caveat: It may be best to read the book at a time when you are not feeling stressed, so you can experiment and “note the techniques that resonate with you.”
5. “Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind,” by Judson Brewer
A practical and easy-to-digest guide, “Unwinding Anxiety” explores “anxiety loops,” or cycles where someone experiences anxiety and avoids the trigger, resulting in increased anxiety. Dr. Weiner said he recommends this title “more than any other book right now.”
“It’s essential reading for anyone looking to understand how to navigate anxiety and stress from a cognitive, biological and mindfulness-based viewpoint,” he said.
Hope Reese is a journalist who writes for Vox, Shondaland, The Atlantic and other publications.