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5 Books for Better Mental Health


Article by Mary Ellin Arch

Photography by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine have us all thinking about ways to stay healthy, physically and mentally. In particular, mental health impacts of the pandemic and quarantine are just starting to be more widely reported in the media, mainstream and social. In keeping with this theme, here are some of my favorite books focusing on mental and emotional wellbeing. Now, I’ll be upfront – I’m a Christian, and I read a lot of Christian fiction, devotionals, and faith-based literature. I’ll make no bones about my belief that a sturdy faith in God is the best prescription for all manner of mental maladies. Some (though not all) of the books below are written by my favorite Christian authors. That said, the faith-based books and authors I’ve chosen below all approach God and religion with a light touch, and as such I recommend them to everyone – including those with a non-Christian faith, or those with a questioning and skeptical spirit.

1. Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life, by Shauna Niequist

I first heard about Shauna Niequist in researching how to help a family member struggling with depression. Cold Tangerines was specifically recommended by one of the sources I reviewed, so I checked it out. Niequist has since become one of my favorite authors. That someone so young could be so full of wisdom and clarity is nothing short of astounding. If you’re a Christian, you’ll love her books; if you’re not, she’ll introduce you to God and faith in a way that won’t scare you off. Niequist will inspire you to a life “that sizzles and pops,” to hanker for cold tangerines, and “to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.” And if you like Tangerines, move right into Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way. It’s another helpful, insightful collection of essays that will help you draw closer to God, if you’re so inclined, and become more at peace with yourself, your circumstances, and your life. 5 out of 5 for both.

2. Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out – and Never Say Diet Again, by Rebecca Scritchfield

Rebecca Scritchfield is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist who teaches you how to love your body and not subject it to rigid anything – diet, exercise or thought processes. Her main premise: Treat your body with compassion, just as you would any other friend. Filled with wisdom, practical suggestions and fun activities, Body Kindness will set you on a path to healthier eating, exercising and living. While you’re on this topic, check out Breaking Vegan: One Woman’s Journey from Veganism and Extreme Dieting to a More Balanced Life, by Jordan Younger. Younger doesn’t hold back in describing the emotional hell she endured during years of disordered eating, and the lifelong recovery process. Both books are recommended for anyone who wants to forge a healthier relationship with food, and for loved ones seeking to understand and support anyone in the throes of, or recovering from, disordered eating. Combined rating: 3.5 out of 5.

3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey

You might think of this as a business book or a text on leadership. It is both of those things – but, as noted in the subtitle (which you may not have bothered to read), it’s also a book on how to live a happier, more fulfilling life. The world would be better if everyone would Begin with the End in Mind (Habit 2), Think Win-Win (Habit 4), and Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Habit 5). Must read, for everyone. Also available in a version for teens (7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, natch) and for young readers (Seven Habits of Happy Kids). 5 out of 5.

4. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren

Worship is not just for Sundays in church. Worship is not necessarily just a religious thing, either. It’s a spiritual practice that renews, refreshes and brings peace to the soul. Tish Harrison Warren shows you how to find worship opportunities in such simple activities as making the bed, losing keys, eating leftovers, and enjoying a cup of tea – and it’s in these humble, homey moments that we can find peace. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5.

5. Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World, by Max Lucado

Max Lucado makes Christianity comfortable, both for Christians and for those with doubts. He knows how to explain Scriptures in a clear and understandable way, and, he offers quiet, practical, wise advice for anyone (all of us?) grappling with our nerve-wracking world. It’s a short, easy read, to boot. My favorite quote from the book: “You can choose what you think about. You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport.” 3.5 out of 5.