5 Best Books for Dealing With Anxiety and Depression

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Depression blows. Anxiety isn’t any fun either. And perhaps the only thing worse than the well-intentioned friends and family who implore you to just “get over it” or advise you to “keep your head up” is the fact that there are approximately 3,102 crappy books out there promising to wave a little wand and sprinkle fairy dust in your ass, and everything will instantly be better.

In my experience, the best books on dealing with anxiety and depression are the best because they are honest about the situation. There is this thing that sucks, and you’re not going to magically make it go away. You have to deal with it, engage it, wrestle with it a bit and become stronger in the face of it.

I get hundreds of emails every month from people who struggle primarily with anxiety and depression. Many of them are looking for a solution or a piece of wisdom or advice. Unfortunately, the only thing I’m qualified to send them is this new care bear emoji I got on my phone. And that’s probably not a long-term solution for them.

So instead, I will send them here, to these books.

I’ve read a lot of books about anxiety and depression over the years and these are some of the best ones I’ve come across. They’re way more qualified than I am to help you through whatever suckage you’re experiencing. And this way, when nothing works and the world is still a steaming pile of dogshit, you can blame them and not me.

The Three Types of Mental Health Books

Books about mental health come in three flavors:

  1. Greater Understanding/Research – These are books that explain what the latest research suggests that’s happening in your life/brain and what the most effective treatments may be. Building your understanding and knowledge about your problem can often be enough so that you can take care of it from there.
  2. Feeling Less Alone – These books inspire hope. Usually, the author has suffered from the same problem as you, except that their situation was orders of magnitude worse than yours. This has the double-whammy effect of a) reassuring you that you’re not the only one to go through shit like this, and b) that there is hope — if this person made it, so can you. “Feeling Less Alone” books tend to be the most emotionally powerful (and best-written) of the three flavors.
  3. Exercises/Actions – I’m personally not a huge fan of books that want you to take out a sheet of paper every other page and write a bunch of crap down. But I know some people are. And I know that some of these exercises can be highly effective. And if the exercises are well-done (usually constructed by a therapist/psychiatrist with tons of experience) you can get good results from these books.

All three flavors can be more/less useful given the situation/personality/tastes of the reader. That’s why I’ve specified the type for each book below.

One last statement before we get to the books. Why anxiety and depression together? Well, because they often occur together. In fact, they occur so often together that people will mistake one for the other. A close friend of mine recently spent the better part of a year constantly complaining of anxiety and stress. After a couple of months of therapy, she discovered that she had actually been deeply depressed. Similarly, I felt depressed for a brief period at the beginning of this year and looking back, it turns out I was incredibly anxious about something in my life and the feelings of lethargy/meaninglessness were merely my ways of escaping that anxiety.

So anxiety and depression are like two peas in a pod. Sonny and Cher. Bonnie and Clyde. Piss and vinegar. They’re a package deal. Much of what you’ll get from these books is an understanding between the two and recognizing when one or the other takes over.

3 Ideas That Might Change Your Life

Never underestimate the power of an idea. Drop your email in the box below and I’ll send you three of them that might just change everything for you.

    The Best Books on Depression and Anxiety

    1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

    Noonday demon: an atlas of depression

    Focuses on: Depression
    Type(s): Feeling Less Alone and Greater Understanding/Research

    Solomon calls his book “An Atlas of Depression” and once you’ve covered about half of the 688 pages, you start to realize why: this is everything you would ever want to know about depression—the personal experience of it, the medical experience of it, the pharmacological treatments, the history of it, the cultural interpretations of it, and of course, Solomon’s own struggles with it. The book is a lot to take in. What carries the book, though, is the combination of how well-written it is, along with the shocking severity of Solomon’s own story.

    I’m going to be honest. I’ve been reading about depression and mental health for many years. I’ve even suffered from some mild depressive episodes myself. I had no idea the depths this thing can reach. This is the only book I’ve ever read that makes me understand why a person might choose to end their own life.

    Reading Noonday Demon changed a number of my attitudes and assumptions that I’ve had about not just depression, but antidepressants, therapy, and mental health. Had I read it while I was depressed, it would have given me more hope and helped me to navigate getting myself out of it.

    2. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson

    First, we make the beast beautiful

    Focuses on: Anxiety
    Type(s): Feeling Less Alone and Greater Understanding/Research

    I loved this book but I don’t think everyone will. This is mostly due to Wilson’s writing style and, I suppose, the way her brain works. Like a chronically anxious person, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is frenetic and at times, overly-energetic, leaping from story to story, back ten years to ahead five years to childhood to imagined old age, from personal disaster to scientific research to that thing my meditation teacher told me that, by the way, totally didn’t work, but hey, it’s funny now, looking back.

    I enjoyed it because my brain (and writing) sometimes operates in the same way. But I’ve seen reviews online from anxious people who have commented that the book actually made them more anxious, just by reading it. Obviously, that’s not the goal.

    But all of that aside, I think this book is the best demonstration of what it is to actually live with severe anxiety and still find a way to function and thrive in one’s life. Wilson has suffered from bipolar disorder, eating disorders, manic episodes, and intermittent depression. But the anxiety has always been there. Intensely there. And she’s somehow leveraged it to get her places. I’ve always argued that the key to anxiety is not getting rid of it but merely directing it in more productive ways. The heart of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is the same argument, demonstrated through a vibrant (and slightly crazy) life that is unlike anything else I’ve quite come across before.

    (Note: This book is not out yet in some countries.)

    3. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns

    Feeling good: the new mood therapy

    Focuses on: Anxiety and Depression
    Type(s): Exercises/Action

    Godwin’s Law famously states that the longer any internet discussion continues, the probability of someone being compared to Hitler approaches 100%. Well, in my experience, the longer an internet discussion about depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problem goes on, the probability that Feeling Good gets recommended to them also approaches 100%. I see this book mentioned everywhere.

    That’s because if you were going to write a comprehensive, “This is what three months with a CBT therapist would be like,” book, full of enough exercises to fill a small notebook, you’d have Feeling Good. Burns has done a fantastic job of essentially writing the closest replacement to a real therapist. As a result, pretty much any time I come across someone who needs a therapist but can’t get one for some reason, this book is the insta-recommendation.

    4. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris

    The happiness trap

    Focuses on: Anxiety and Depression
    Type(s): Greater Understanding/Research and Exercises/Action

    I love this book. It was quite influential on me when I read it years and years ago and I was quite upset to find out that I had inadvertently ripped off one of the exercises in it in my Self-Knowledge PDF (it has since been fixed and credited appropriately).

    Harris is probably the most visible proponent of something called ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is a relatively new form of therapy that argues that the key to dealing with depression, anxiety, or addiction is to not necessarily to remove bad feelings. Instead, ACT focuses on developing mental tools and habits to simply weather those bad feelings more effectively. Whereas CBT is focused on channeling pain and suffering into more productive interpretations and actions, ACT just says fuck it, bad feelings are bad feelings and they don’t necessarily have to mean anything at all, if we don’t let them. To me, ACT is one of the more promising recent developments in psychology as it incorporates some of the benefits of mindfulness, with a zest of eastern philosophy thrown in.

    The Happiness Trap is also one of the most approachable and enjoyable psych reads out there. The writing is clear and fun, and the exercises are engaging. In my opinion, the best pop psychology books bring some humor and humanity to the subject, and this is one of the few books that pulls that off really well.

    5. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

    Self-compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself

    Focuses on: Anxiety and Depression
    Type(s): Greater Understanding/Research and Exercises/Action

    In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (yes, I had to find a way to plug my own shit here), I made the point that true self-esteem can’t be a measure of how someone feels about their successes, it must be a measure of how we feel about our failures.

    This isn’t a terribly original idea. People have been shitting on self-esteem for a couple decades now. But Neff is the first psychologist to conceptualize an alternative metric for self-esteem: self-compassion.

    People with self-compassion can weather failures, can forgive themselves for screwing up, can accept their insecurities and flaws and continue trying despite them.

    Ignore the cheesiness of the title here. Self-compassion gives you the answer and the how-to for every time you’ve ever heard someone say, “hey, don’t be so hard on yourself.” In this book, Neff proposes self-compassion as a more effective measurement of psychological health and did the research into how we get there. How do we cultivate self-compassion? How do we forgive ourselves for fucking up, for not living up to what we want from ourselves, for having failures and down moments and days where nothing seems to go right? *Infomercial Voice* Read this book to find these answers and more!

    Like many pop psychology books, her examples and anecdotes are sometimes cliche-ridden. However, the central idea is important enough that this book is still worth a read if you are the insanely self-critical type.

    Can Reading About Depression and Anxiety Actually Help You?

    I think this list of books will help you better understand depression and anxiety. But you might still be wondering: will they actually help me deal with my depression and anxiety?

    Well, I’d answer that with “it depends.” (Sorry, but you had to have seen that coming.)

    I love books. I read them every single day. But if you’re reading a book with the hopes that it will permanently “fix” you, then no, none of these books will help you.

    You could read every single book ever published on money and personal finance. But if you don’t apply that knowledge and save and invest your money, you’ll still be broke. You’ll understand why you’re broke really well, but you’ll still be broke.

    This seems so obvious when it comes to more tangible outcomes like money or losing weight or whatever. But when it comes to our emotional and mental health, we often believe we can just think the problems away.

    Getting your emotional and mental shit together is a lived experience. You have to face and endure the pain, not rationalize it away. You can do it with a therapist or a family member or a good friend. In some cases, you might be able to do it alone. But no matter what, it has to be done, not simply thought about and analyzed.

    So, yes, these books are helpful—as a starting point. They will give you perspective on what your depression and anxiety really are and where they come from. They will show you that you’re not alone, and that others have gone through what you’re going through. They will show you that, yes, you can come out the other side a happier, stronger person.

    They’ll make the work a bit easier. But you still have to do the work.

    A Little Something for You

    If you’d like a simple—but not easy—process to walk you through overcoming your anxieties, I have a course on how to do just that. The Overcoming Anxiety Course is a bonus included with the Mark Manson Premium Subscription, with 6 video courses (each with a pretty digital workbook) that will help you:

    On top of these courses, the premium subscription gives you access to 40+ premium articles that offer a more intimate look at my life and philosophy.

    If you’re already a site member, you have full access to all that the Mark Manson Premium Subscription has to offer. If not, what are you waiting for? Check it out.