Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and whether you’re dealing with significant trauma or the ups and downs of life, books can often be a huge support. Self-help is an enormous genre for a reason; many people want to work on themselves, to improve their own mental health, productivity, or general happiness. Therapy, courses, and classes are useful, but can be expensive or inaccessible, while books are a cheaper, reliable option that can be picked up and referred back to again and again.
However, the problem with a genre being popular is that it gets oversaturated. A lot of self-help books are, unfortunately, rather unhelpful. While it’s understandable that books can’t be tailored to an individual in the way that therapy can, there are many self-help books that are overly generic. Some simply repackage the most obvious advice, which many people reading them would have already tried, while others offer shallow platitudes in lieu of anything pragmatic or life-changing.
Fortunately, there are some self-help books that are actually helpful. Whether you’re looking for a path out of depression, a way to challenge intrusive thoughts, or a guide to working on your creativity, here are some of the best self-help books out there that deliver on their promises.
I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Sehee
A combination of self-help book and memoir, Sehee’s account of her sessions with her psychiatrist during a period of major depression is a fascinating read. Framed around 12 weeks of therapy, Sehee uses her book to explore ideas around negative thought patterns and harmful behaviours that readers can apply to their own lives.
Hollywood writer/producer Shonda Rhimes is best-known for shows such as Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, but, as her book Year of Yes reveals, she was also known for being an introvert who said no to invitations and social events whenever possible. Rhimes decided to change her habits and spend a year saying yes to every opportunity that came up, and her book shows readers that making big changes doesn’t need to be scary.
Communion: The Female Search for Love by bell hooks
Renowned feminist author bell hooks wrote extensively on the subject of love, including a trilogy that culminated in this book, Communion. Here, hooks offers a pathway to women readers on how to find and claim love in their own lives, in all its different forms. She looks at self-help, feminist movements, and freedom of choice, along with many other topics, considering them all through the lens of centring love in one’s life.
How to Stop Overthinking: The 7-Step Plan to Control and Eliminate Negative Thoughts, Declutter Your Mind and Start Thinking Positively in 5 Minutes or Less by Chase Hill and Scott Sharp
As someone who spends most of my time overthinking, I’m always looking for ways to try to quiet my mind. This book is full of tips on how to deal with anxiety, and how to shift stuck thoughts. With practical strategies and details on how to approach issues, How to Stop Overthinking is a useful guide to anyone who struggles with their thoughts.
Carving out space and time for creativity is one of the biggest challenges people can face, and in Find Your Unicorn Space, Rodsky discusses how we can do this against the challenges of work, family life, and the extra pressures that we have encountered following quarantines and lockdowns. Find Your Unicorn Space gives readers a programme they can follow to find their creativity and focus on self-discovery.
Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones
Fear and self-doubt are two of the biggest obstacles that get in our way and stop us achieving our potential. In Professional Troublemaker, Ajayi Jones talks about how to set boundaries, ask for what we want, and try new things, without letting fear take over. Whether you struggle with impostor syndrome or have trouble saying no, Professional Troublemaker will help you remove fear from your life.
Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley
I’ve loved Jessamyn Stanley’s yoga videos for a long time — as a fat woman who wants to work on my flexibility, it’s great to be able to follow a class led by someone with my body type. In Yoke, Stanley discusses how yoga has impacted her life, and gives readers guidance on how they can use it as part of their own self-help journey, to improve their own wellbeing on multiple levels.
Break Free from OCD: Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with CBT by Fiona Challacombe, Paul Salkovskis, and Victoria Bream Oldfield
I’ve lived with OCD for many years, and recovery is a long road, with many setbacks as the illness adapts to whatever technique you’re trying lately. One of the most useful self-help books I’ve found while working on beating my mental illness is Break Free from OCD, a practical guide that helps you work out ways and form plans to overcome your obsessions.
Obsessive Intrusive Magical Thinking: A Life Lived Obsessively by Marianne Eloise
Another useful book for anyone who has experienced obsessive thinking, Eloise’s essays explore her history of intrusive thoughts, obsessions and fixations. While not a traditional self-help guide, her insights into her own thought patterns will be immensely useful to readers struggling with similar problems.
If you’re looking for more guidance on how to get the best out of your relationship with yourself, try 16 of the Best Self-Love Books. For a look at self-help books that could be more concise, check out Should Most Self-Help Books Be Pamphlets? You might also be interested in reading about Best Selling Self-Help Books and the Missing Women Phenomenon.