Self-care books are growing in popularity. Between the first and second lockdowns last year (mid-June to early November 2020) Nielsen Book Research found that people in the UK bought more than 1.6 million self-help tomes, while in 2019 sales of self-help, popular psychology and health books rose to a record 3.9 million.
Celebrities have been quick to extol the virtues of self-care books too. Adele revealed last year that Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living, a self-help book by Glennon Doyle, had helped her to discover she was responsible for her own "joy, happiness and freedom”.
Meanwhile, speaking on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s podcast, Meghan Markle singled out Matt Haig’s bestselling Notes on a Nervous Planet for praise. Haig’s book, published in 2018, encourages us all to feel happier, calmer and to live in the present rather than online.
The self-care titles we’ve chosen have all been published in the last few months and cover many different spheres, from looking after our mental health, to staying sober in a world that revolves around drinking, to carving out an extra hour in the day.
The following books are full of inspiration and aim to help us get us into good habits for 2021.
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‘No Such Thing As Normal: What My Mental Illness Has Taught Me About Mental Wellness’ by Bryony Gordon, published by Headline
Journalist Bryony Gordon has inspired millions with her honesty and frankness about her mental health. She admits she isn’t an expert on mental illness – “just someone who has a lot of personal experience of it” – but she shares what she has learned about sleep, addiction, worry, medication, self-image, boundary setting, therapy and learned behaviour.
She also highlights the power of walking and talking (she’s the founder of Mental Health Mates, a network of peer support groups which meet regularly to walk, exercise and share experiences without fear or judgement). One in four people experience mental health issues and this lively, accessible guide is comforting, reassuring and insightful.
‘Clean Mind, Clean Body: A 28-Day Plan for Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Self-Care’ by Tara Stiles, published by Dey Street Books
Tara Stiles is a US-based wellness expert. Her theory is that most of us are overworked, stressed out, glued to our phones and out of touch with what our bodies and brains really need. So with that in mind she’s created a 28-day detox for body, mind and spirit.
The first week is devoted to mental detox, which involves unplugging from devices and eliminating toxic relationships. The second is a spiritual detox, where she encourages readers to slow down, meditate and create mindful moments. The third and fourth weeks focus on changing the way we eat and move. Practical and user friendly, Clean Mind, Clean Body also features a variety of nourishing recipes, tips for making non-toxic cleaning products and exercises to do at home. We particularly liked the focus on integrating wellbeing into every part of our lives, from setting “feel-good goals” to doing some kind of physical activity every day.
‘The Sober Girl Society Handbook: An Empowering Guide to Living Hangover-Free’ by Millie Gooch, published by Bantam Press
In February 2018, Millie Gooch realised her drinking was, as she puts it, “a ticking time bomb”. So she stopped and founded the Sober Girl Society, an Instagram community “for sober and sober-curious women to make friends and celebrate being hangover-free”.
Now she’s written an ultra-practical self-help guide for the Gen Z and millennial generations, although her tips and advice on how to stay sober in a world that often revolves around drinking will help people of all ages. If you have just embarked on Dry January, this down-to-earth volume is exactly what you need. It also includes a host of useful resources and books.
‘Living Better: How I Learned to Survive Depression’ by Alastair Campbell, published by John Murray
Alastair Campbell is a long-time advocate of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. In his latest book he writes movingly about his lifelong struggle with depression, frequently paying tribute to his partner, Fiona Millar, who also gives her view of living with someone with the condition. “It will never be plain sailing but I hope the unvarnished story of our family’s experience gives others courage and the confidence that they can come through,” she says.
Campbell also offers a list of 20 things that he found helpful in lockdown, from cutting down on social media and staying active to doing “something good for someone else every day”.
‘Power Hour: How to Focus on Your Goals and Create a Life You Love’ by Adrienne Herbert, published by Hutchinson
In January 2017, Adrienne Herbert was offered a place in the London marathon. She had never run more than 10km before and wondered how on earth she would be able to fit training in with looking after her young son, working as a personal trainer and writing about health and wellbeing. She realised that the only way to manage was to get up an hour earlier – and so the Power Hour was born. This is Herbert’s first book and it’s bursting with ideas about making the most of the first hour of your day, pursuing your passions and achieving your goals.
‘Anything is Possible: Be Brave, Be Kind & Follow Your Dreams’ by Gareth Southgate, published by Century
“If I can go from a skinny, introverted teenager who was once told he wouldn’t make it as a footballer to someone who played for and managed his country, then I’m a clear example that anything is possible.” That’s the first line of England football manager Gareth Southgate’s motivating book, which features a foreword by Prince Charles, morale-boosting headings and lots of bullet points.
Southgate doesn’t baulk at detailing the famous moment in 1996 when he missed a vital penalty in the European Championships semi and dashed England’s hopes of making the final. As he says now: “Missing my penalty made me more resilient, and gave me a better perspective on life.”
‘Get a Grip, Love… And Other Helpful Mental Health Advice’ by Kate Lucey, published by HQ
Since Kate Lucey was diagnosed with depression six years ago, she’s experienced “everything from bad therapy, bad meds and bad friends, to good therapy and medication, and solutions that actually work”. In her wittily titled no-nonsense guide to mental health, she writes about her experiences of depression with insight, honesty and even humour, interweaving expert opinions and scientific research.
She says: “Nowadays, depression is very much still part of my life, but in a much more manageable place. Accepting that it’s sitting alongside me rather than just ignoring it and hoping it will just go away has made all the difference.”
‘Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life For Good’ by Tina Turner, published by Harper Thorsons
With eight Grammys and hits like “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “Nutbush City Limits” to her name, the extraordinary Tina Turner has turned her talents to writing a self-care book. Buddhism has been a key part of her life for decades and she shows how her faith has enabled her to find happiness.
She grew up in Tennessee at a time when racism was rife, her mother left the family home when she was 11 and she later endured years of domestic violence during her marriage to Ike Turner. “If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that encountering adversity as I have, isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” she writes. “It’s what we make of it, how we use it to shape ourselves and our futures, that ultimately determines our success and happiness.”
‘Ten Times Happier: How To Let Go of What’s Holding You Back’ by Owen O’Kane, published by HQ
Owen O’Kane has worked as a psychotherapist in frontline health services for 25 years. In the follow-up to his first book, Ten to Zen, he sets out to free us from the things getting in the way of happiness and help us to live happier lives.
It’s fascinating to learn that humans have 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day, and 60 to 70 per cent of them can be negative. From how to move on from the past, to being satisfied with what we have rather than comparing ourselves to others, O’Kane’s book is full of wise, easy-to-follow advice.
‘The Awesome Power of Sleep: How Sleep Supercharges Your Teenage Brain’ by Nicola Morgan, published by Walker Books
Nicola Morgan has written a series of wellbeing and mental health guides for teenagers and she’s now turned her attention to the science of sleep. Her new book is aimed at teen readers but it is suitable for all ages, with the latest scientific research, practical advice on how to get the best night’s sleep, quizzes to ascertain how well you sleep and a template for keeping a sleep diary.
Engaging and user friendly, it also gets to grips with conundrums such as: do power naps work? Can some people manage on very little sleep? And how much sleep do we need at different ages?
‘Open: Why Asking for Help Can Save Your Life’ by Frankie Bridge, published by Cassell
Best-known as a member of The Saturdays, TV presenter Frankie Bridge opens up about the anxiety, depression and panic attacks she suffered for many years. She’s now an ambassador for Mind, the mental health charity, and also has a podcast, Open Mind, where she talks to guests about mental health.
Part memoir, part practical guide, Open also features notes from both her psychiatrist and psychologist and an afterword by Mind. It’s a brave and honest book about the importance of asking for help and staying hopeful, even in the bleakest of times.
The verdict: Self-care books
All the books we reviewed offered succour in different ways, but for its frankness and empathetic approach Bryony Gordon’s No Such Thing As Normal: What my Mental Illness Has Taught Me About Mental Health gets our vote.
If you’re looking for ideas to make the most of your day, pursue your passions and achieve your goals, Adrienne Herbert’s Power Hour is upbeat and inspiring.
For more self-care help, read our review of the best mindfulness apps
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