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7 books to read when you’re anxious

These titles provide advice, energy, and inspiration for anyone who has ever felt butterflies in the stomach. And that means you.

7 books to read when you’re anxious
[Photo: Thought Catalog/Unsplash]

Anyone who says they never get anxious is lying.

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National Institute of Mental Health studies may say things like one in three young people are affected by anxiety, and one in five Americans in general suffers from clinical anxiety, but I’m not talking about an official diagnosis.

I’m talking about sweating an interview or stressing about an upcoming big trip, to the point where it’s difficult to concentrate on anything else. I’m talking about thinking and overthinking a decision till you ultimately just avoid the decision completely.

What helps?

For me, a few things: journaling, going for a long walk, talking to my wife, doing a tough workout, calling up my parents, and . . .

Books.

Yes, books help me move through anxious bouts, so here are the ones I find myself turning to again and again to nudge my brain forward.

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1. How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie

Is your anxiety about giving a speech, an interview, or a date? I give a lot of speeches, and sometimes I get anxious right before a big one. Enter this book. This book is a lot less known than How To Win Friends and Influence People because, I think, it’s slightly less applicable. But it’s gold, honestly, packed with timeless advice showing how to make a speech (or a conversation) all about the listener. That’s the key. My favorite chapters are templates with examples on how to open and close speeches (i.e., arouse curiosity, share a human interest story, share a shocking fact, etc.). Perfect for anyone shoulder-tapped for a toast at a wedding all the way up to the corporate honcho in the big hat.

2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A completely simple guide to battling “resistance”–the single word Pressfield uses to describe the set of emotions and barriers preventing you from doing work you love. For me, anxiety gets swirled into this emotional stew. A helpful brain reframe.

3. What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin

This book is a shot of nitro. There’s no way you can read it and not feel your confidence and energy lift up for your next project. Flip through it in an hour or two. A visually beautiful book from the incredibly wise master Seth Godin on taking risks, starting businesses, and just doing it.

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4. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays by Henry David Thoreau

 The title essay is great, but the one I really want to talk about here is “Walking.” A fiery piece on the philosophical, meditative, and creative benefits of . . . walking. My wife, Leslie, and I picked our house based on what we could walk to and I try and do most of my meetings walking. (Here’s a great TED Talk on walking meetings.)  This essay was both a justification and reminder of the benefits. As Thoreau says: “We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.”

5. The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

Can I recommend my own book? The reason I wrote it was because my first wife asked me for a divorce and my best friend took his own life right around the same time. I was in shock. I was spinning. I had to find a new place to live. I started therapy for the first time. I looked for any way to help avoid slipping down to emotional rock bottom. The awesome things in The Book of Awesome were the bounce from the bottom for me, and I wrote one every single day for four straight years on 1000AwesomeThings.com. The best ones are in this book. (Here’s a Ted Talk that shares more of this story.)

6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Have you by chance heard of this book? I’m guessing the answer is yes, given it’s been on top of bestseller lists for years. I remember when it first came out, booksellers I spoke to said it was the f-bomb that attracted folks. Later I heard folks say it was tapping into the emerging counter-anxiety trend of not giving a f*ck. But now that I’ve read it I can say . . . no, it’s the book itself. Pure solid-gold life advice and mind-expanding philosophy, told in a disarming, accessible, warts-and-all way by a new master. (P.S. Manson is an upcoming guest on my podcast, 3 Books, and he just announced his new book.)

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7. Mindset by Carol Dweck

Check out this scenario from page eight of this book: “One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You’re very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.” According to Dweck, if you have a fixed mind-set, you’d think, “I’m a total failure,” or, “I feel like a reject.” And if you have a growth mind-set, you’d think, “I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car, and wonder if my friend had a bad day.” She points out it was a midterm, not a final. A parking ticket, not a major infraction. Sort of brushed off, versus getting dumped or screamed at. I’ll admit I was totally in the first camp. This incredibly readable book helped me understand how to develop a growth mind-set across all spectrums of my life from writing to marriage to parenting. Since I read this book I began speaking differently to my children. And to myself.

(I also did a condensed video version of this article on Youtube.)

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