October 10, 2022

Boosting your mental health with a good book

Once when I was in a slump, I made a project out of reading biographies. I figured reading about others who had fallen into slumps—or much worse—might lift me out of my malaise.

I was right. Reading how luminaries like Eleanor Roosevelt or athletes like Andre Agassi navigated challenges inspired me and put my woes into perspective.

I didn’t know it then, but I was practicing a form of bibliotherapy—the use of literature to improve psychological well-being or provide support, guidance, and information.

While books can’t replace in-person therapy or treat severe mental illness, studies show reading fiction promotes empathy and critical thinking. Bibliotherapy also fosters imagination, social skills, and problem-solving in children. And at the very least, getting absorbed in a good book gives you a break from whatever troubles you.

With World Mental Health Day arriving October 10th, the thought of diving into a book to support my mental well-being resonated with me once again.

If it sounds appealing to you, too, I highly recommend picking up a biography of someone who inspires you. Of course, there are plenty of other remarkable books—too many to mention—that also can boost your mental health, improve your mood, teach you valuable psychological skills and open your heart. 

Here are five books that will help you develop wholesome habits, become more mindful, spark your creativity, better understand your body, and bring a bit of childhood magic back into your life.  

  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. There’s a reason why Atomic Habits has been on best-seller lists for months. It’s chock full of evidence-based advice on creating wholesome habits and eliminating ones that aren’t. Want to read more often? Clear’s book is a great place to start. 
  • Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn’s book became a best-seller nearly 30 years ago, and its wisdom still resonates. So, too, does Jon Kabat-Zinn and his approach to stress reduction, which continues to influence the mindfulness movement.
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Whether we know it or not, every day, we create something—even if it’s just a sandwich for lunch. Most of us want to create something much more significant, but often we’re too afraid to do so. Gilbert’s book is like a good friend coaxing you toward your next audacious or modest pursuit.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk. We’re living in dramatic and traumatic times. As a result, many of us want to know more about our personal and collective trauma and how it affects our daily mental, emotional, and physical health. Van der Kolk’s transformative book delves into the topic with a potent mix of caring and research. 
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. DiCamillo is an award-winning children’s book author. But her story about a rabbit named Edward Tulane transports both adults and children into a poignant tale about love and belonging that reminds us of what it means to be human. 

If you’re interested in step-by-step guidance around the themes discussed here, check out eM Life’s on-demand programs on mindfulness topics ranging from stress management to fostering creativity.

Written by Kelly Barron, eM Life teacher