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Worry often gives small things a big shadow.

Swedish Proverb

Having been a chronic worrier since childhood, I completely empathise with anyone who feels like they’re in a constant battle with their own brain. It’s an exhausting, isolating, and largely invisible war that many of us go through every day. So if you or someone you know is struggling, I can’t recommend these books for overthinking and anxiety enough.

As with any behaviour change, my best advice is always to try and understand the ‘why’ behind it. Books provide knowledge, insight and strategies to deal with ingrained negative behaviour patterns, so they’re a great place to start. 

The list of books I’m going to share with you range from ancient classics to publications as recent as last year. It was certainly a comfort for me to realise that these are age-old questions about the human experience which have been pondered by great philosophers throughout history.

Let’s take a look at my tried-and-tested self-help books to combat overthinking and anxiety.

Here are the best 13 books for overthinking and anxiety

Here are my favourite books for reducing stress and anxiety, with actionable advice that you can put into practice in your own life. From recent releases that explore mental health issues to philosophical and spiritual texts, there’s a wealth of information here to help you reduce overthinking and tackle stress.

1. The Enchiridion (A Manual for Living) by Epictetus (AD 125)

What is it about: Stoicism, a school of philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century, aimed to remind people of what was truly important, providing practical strategies to deal with anxiety, stress and fear. My main takeaway from Epictetus’ The Enchiridion (alternatively titled A Manual for Living), is that there are events within your control and events that aren’t. As such, there’s no point wasting precious time and energy on things you can’t change. You can achieve inner peace and harmony by practising acceptance.

Some things are in our control and others not.

One actionable piece of advice: Trust your own opinion over others. If you’ve done something and believe it to be right, don’t fret over those who criticise your decision.

2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (AD 171-175)

What is it about: A student of philosophy from an early age (and a Roman Emperor!), Meditations is a great follow-on if you enjoyed The Enchiridion. You can really see the ways in which Aurelius was influenced by and built upon Epictetus’ arguments. Created to provide personal consolation for coping with adversity and interpersonal relationships, it’s reassuring to see that anxiety has always been a normal human emotion. For logical and rational arguments on how best to live, this series of reflections has stood the test of time for a reason.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

One actionable piece of advice: It may sound morbid, but get into the habit of regularly reflecting on the fact that you will die. This helps to put your worries into perspective and ensure you’re living fully in the present moment.

3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (1946)

What is it about: To truly put your worries into perspective, read Victor Frankl’s soul-searching bestseller. Man’s Search for Meaning talks about his experiences as a Jewish doctor in a Nazi concentration camp. Through horrific treatment and daily ordeals, Frankl explores the psychology of life as a prisoner, and crucially, how you can choose your attitude no matter the circumstances you find yourself in. In the second half of the book, he discusses the philosophy he has developed, Logotherapy. This importantly laid the foundations for modern-day techniques like CBT.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

One actionable piece of advice: Success and happiness are by-products of dedicating yourself to a cause greater than yourself. Ironically, they can only come to you when you stop caring about them!

4. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith (2022)

What is it about: Dr Julie Smith may have gained notoriety via her social media presence, but she is also a licensed clinical psychologist. I think that this gives her work the perfect mix of being easily accessible and digestible, with the scientific backing to underpin the concepts she discusses. A perfect choice for young adults (read: the book I wish I’d had growing up!), learn to manage anxiety, overcome low mood, raise your self-esteem and break negative patterns.

Thoughts are not facts. They are a mix of opinions, judgements, stories, memories, theories, interpretations, and predictions about the future.

One actionable piece of advice: The secret to your mental health can be found in your daily routine! It’s not just about your brain, but viewing yourself as a holistic whole. This includes your diet and exercise, how much you’re drinking, and how much sleep you’re getting.

5. Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear & Indecision into Confidence & Action by Susan Jeffers (1987)

What is it about: This classic self-help book uncovers the underlying causes behind overthinking and anxiety, by highlighting the ways in which fear has a destructive effect on all aspects of our lives. From discussing the ways in which fear shows up, to first-hand accounts of those who have addressed and overcome their fears, this was the book I needed when it came to facing my demons.

Remember that underlying all our fears is a lack of trust in ourselves.

One actionable piece of advice: Make a list of your fears and break them up into ‘those that happen’, and ‘those that require action’.

6. How to Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie (1948)

What is it about: You may have heard of Dale Carnegie through his bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, but this lesser-known text is a real gem! This is such a practical book, which looks at the negative effects worry can have on your family, relationships, work and money. It is chock-full of engaging real-life examples, and gives you a framework for living a more positive and enjoyable life. While the text itself may feel ever so slightly dated, the wisdom contained within absolutely transcends time and remains as relevant as ever.

The best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly.

One actionable piece of advice: I loved the idea of trying to live in ‘day-tight compartments’. In other words, only worry about what is happening today, because anything else is outside of your control.

7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson (2016)

What is it about: Right off the bat with the expletive title of this book, it’s going to be a marmite one! I’d advise you not to let this put you off though. If you want a straight-talking approach to self-help, Mark Manson does an excellent job of cutting through the sugar-coatingYou’d be forgiven for assuming that this is a book about learning not to care, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! With an intentional approach, you can be more selective about what is worth caring about.

You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact.

One actionable piece of advice: Things may happen to you that aren’t your fault, but you still need to take responsibility for how you choose to respond to them.

8. Outsmart Your Anxious Brain by David A. Carbonell (2020)

What is it about: Clinical psychologist Dr Carbonell’s 10-step approach is infinitely practical. Not only does this book encourage you to laugh at your anxious quirks, but it breaks down the taboo of mental illness. When scary and uncontrollable feelings flood your body and a physical response appears, Carbonell provides you with the coping skills you’ve been lacking. Managing anxiety is a muscle which takes practice to develop, but this book will give you the tools to start.

How can you outsmart the worry trick? You can do this by taking the counterintuitive approach.

One actionable piece of advice: Try the counterintuitive approach. When you feel the waves of a panic attack coming on and start taking deep breaths, do the opposite and exhale.

9. Stop Overthinking: 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress, Stop Negative Spirals, Declutter Your Mind, and Focus on the Present by Nick Trenton (2021)

What is it about: When I read the blurb of this book ‘for fans of Brene Brown, Martha Beck and Michael Singer’… I simply had to take a look for myself! Through scientific evidence, Nick Trenton offers readers 23 methods to manage anxiety. Using mindfulness techniques, you can step out of neverending thought loops and live more fully in the present moment. This is a great book to understand your triggers and build awareness of negative spirals of thought, so that you can take action at the source.

Stress is a fact of life, but overthinking is optional!

One actionable piece of advice: Use the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Slowly count down from 5 to 1, using each number as a cue to engage one of your senses in your immediate environment. By moving the ball of awareness outside of yourself, you can lower your anxiety and regain control.

10. The Anxiety Sisters’ Survival Guide by Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek (2021)

What is it about: Mental health advocates Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, aka ‘The Anxiety Sisters’ recently released this warm and compassionate book. As professionals but also sufferers of anxiety themselves, they are vital voices in the mental health space who are normalising an often embarrassing and isolating topic. And this is more than just a book – they have developed a community for those suffering with anxiety, as well as a popular podcast humorously called The Spin Cycle.

Instead of saying “I can’t”, say “not yet”.

One actionable piece of advice: Stop blaming yourself. Many anxiety disorders are a malfunctioning of the brain, not a personality trait or a moral failing.

11. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (400BC)

What is it about: This ancient spiritual text was written by Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and founder of the Taoist religion in China. Composed in 81 brief chapters, this text feels surprisingly alive, relevant, and almost made for an internet age with a limited attention span! With advice on how to let go, you learn to accept that you’ll be okay with very little. Despite the passing of places, people and things which can cause pain and anxiety, you will survive. A tantalisingly curious series – almost riddle-like in nature – that can’t help but challenge you and make you reflect on everything you believe to be true.

Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. When we don’t see the self as self, what do we have to fear?

One actionable piece of advice: If you want to flow with the Tao (spirit energy), just do your job and let go. Overthinking and anxiety will only hinder you.

12. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh (2012)

What is it about: If you’ve ever listened to Buddhist Zen master, poet, scholar and human rights activist Thich Nhat Hanh, you’ll instantly feel his calming and gentle presence. This book explores how you can overcome anxious thoughts by identifying the sources of pain that cause fear. Through his teachings and encouragement, you can move past them to find peace and a simple, happy life – from your original fear when you were born, to letting go of the inherited genetic fear of your ancestors.

Mindfulness isn’t something we practice only in the meditation hall; we also practice in the kitchen, in the garden, or when we’re on the telephone, driving the car, or washing the dishes.

One actionable piece of advice: To let go of craving, hold the mantra: ‘Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the disappearance of desire.’

13. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer (2007)

What is it about: From mental health specialists New Harbinger Publications, The Untethered Soul is a beautiful book that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. Despite its big concepts, it isn’t over-intellectualised and is simple to understand. The book draws on spiritual practices to explain how you can navigate your own mind, distance yourself from your thoughts and become your own master. Divided into 5 parts, easy exercises at the end of each chapter help you to grasp the ideas Singer presents.

The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it.

One actionable piece of advice: Life is short. Imagine you’re going to die in a week – how would you spend your final days? Now ask yourself why you aren’t prioritising these things today.

Why Do We Worry When It Won’t Change Anything?

Now that we’ve discussed my favourite book suggestions, let’s take a moment to contemplate this compelling question.

I have been guilty on many occasions of trying to think my problems away. If I just apply enough logic and reason to this, my brain says, I’ll be able to stop worrying about it. Of course, I can’t recall one time when this strategy actually worked for me!

It’s also a way of trying to feel in control as we subconsciously label things as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Rather than accepting whatever comes our way in life and dealing with it, we desperately cling to desired outcomes.

With more severe responses like panic attacks, your body kicks into fight or flight mode. The problem with this, according to Dr Carbonell, is that your brain tricks you into treating discomfort like danger. Whilst reliance on safety behaviours may ease your discomfort in the moment, long-term they just continue to fuel the worry cycle.

Ultimately, when we boil it down, at the crux of all fears is a primal overarching fear that you won’t be able to cope. This applies to anxiety in all shapes and forms:

  • Social anxiety – for example, getting panicky when you’re in a public space, or having to do a presentation in front of work colleagues
  • Generalized anxiety disorder – for example, losing your job or worrying that something you said upset someone
  • Health anxiety – for example, googling your symptoms and convincing yourself you have cancer
  • Panic disorder – for example, worrying you’ll pass out at the supermarket
  • OCD – for example, fear that your house could burn down because you forgot to turn off the oven

Fortunately, there are healthy ways in which you can practice self-care and create habits to lessen negative thoughts.

Proven techniques to reduce overthinking and anxiety in your everyday life

Proven Techniques to Ease Worry and Soothe Anxiety

In my personal experience, the first step towards recovery was simply acknowledging that perhaps my coping strategies weren’t working. I recognised that obsessive rumination was having a debilitating effect on my enjoyment of daily life. I also began to realise that the things I worried about rarely seemed to actually materialise.

Understand what you do and don’t have control over

A true lesson in Stoic thinking, one of the best exercises I ever did was to write down all my fears, no matter how irrational or crazy they sounded, and split them in this way. A shocking proportion, for example my anxieties over incurable illness, were largely out of my hands!

Take action

Armed with your list of what you have control over, these are the things which you need to take action on! This involves courage to face your fears, and faith that whatever happens, you’ll be okay. If you’ve done everything within your power right now, leave it to the universe!

Do a brain dump

When you’re caught up in racing thoughts that just won’t let you rest, one of the best solutions to cleanse your mind is to get it all out on paper. Do a brain dump of everything you need to do or remember to sleep better at night.

Practice mindfulness

Using mindfulness techniques like meditation or yoga teaches you how to distance yourself from your thoughts. Experiencing your interconnected one-ness with all things helps to break down barriers of individuality, secrecy and shame.

Try positive reframing

This is a helpful practice I learnt through cognitive behavioural therapy. Challenge yourself to write down the things you’re grateful for in ‘negative’ situations. By shifting your perspective towards the idea that everything is happening for you in life, rather than to you, you start to see the opportunity in all things.

Reduce anxiety with books to overcome stress and overthinking

Banish Negative Thoughts & Soothe Anxiety

I hope that this list of my top books to reduce stress and anxiety gives you an insight into where to start on your journey towards inner peace. There is no right or wrong place to begin, and what resonates for you will be unique to you.

Always remember that if you’re struggling, you should seek the help of a mental health professional. These texts work really well alongside therapy and help you to take responsibility for your own mental health.

They also pair perfectly with law of attraction books when it comes to understanding the power of thought to transform your life, so check out my article here if you’re interested in further reading. I’ve also written more here on how to overcome fear and live your best life.

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