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Summer Reading for Mental Health

a person sitting in a chair reading a book at the beachI’ve always enjoyed reading. As a young girl I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and devoured the Sweet Valley and Babysitter’s Club series. As a teenager, my babysitting profits were spent on as much YA Romance as I could get my hands on. Over the years, my taste in books may have changed but my love of reading continued. Reading is a source of relief for me. It helps me relax and feeds my spirit.

Studies have shown that reading as little as 6 minutes per day can improve your quality of sleep, reduce stress, and sharpen mental acuity. Reading strengthens the neural circuits and pathways of our brain while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

In 2009, a group of researchers measured the effects of yoga and reading on the stress levels of students in demanding health science programs in the United States. The study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological distress just as effectively as yoga did.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has begun Reading Well, a Books on Prescription program, where medical experts prescribe self-help books curated by medical experts specifically for certain mental health conditions.

A long-term health and retirement study called the Survival Advantage of Reading Books, followed a cohort of 3,635 adult participants for a period of 12 years, finding that those who read books survived around 2 years longer than those who either didn’t read or who read magazines and other forms of media. The study also concluded that people who read more than 3 1/2 hours every week were 23 percent likely to live longer than those who didn’t read at all.

In addition to making you live longer, reading can be an affordable (libraries are a good way to save money) and accessible way to combat stress and create happiness. In honor of the start to summer, I’ve decided to share my ‘Mental Health Summer’ reading list.


1. Reasons to Stay Alive
Matt Haig

Haig’s classic memoir is essential reading for anyone living with depression or who loves someone with the disorder. With humor and encouragement, he shares heartwarming lessons learned in his triumph over depression and reminds us that if we don’t give up, there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.


2. How To Do The Work
Dr. Nicole LePera

Known as the Holistic Psychologist, LePera developed a philosophy of mental, physical and spiritual wellness that equips people with the tools necessary to heal themselves and to create a more authentic and joyful life. From tips on manifesting what you want, to ego work -what she describes as a “shift in consciousness,”- LePera dives in to the self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in and teaches us how to change them. Her Instagram page has over 3.5 million followers of this revolutionary approach to producing lasting change.


3. Untamed
Glennon Doyle

This book has been called a ‘testament to self-love’. Doyle’s third memoir dares women to stop striving to meet others’ expectations and to start listening to their own true inner voice. Through metaphors and Pinterest-worthy quotes, it encourages us to be comfortable with being ourselves. “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself.”


May Cause Miracles (A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness)
Gabrielle Bernstein

This is a nice guide for beginners on their spiritual path to letting go of fear and allowing gratitude, forgiveness, and love into their lives. Each day’s exercise offers a subtle shift in one’s perspective toward life. In order to truly benefit from this book, make the commitment to do the work daily, don’t just read through.


5. Furiously Happy – A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Jenny Lawson

As the subtitle suggests, Lawson takes us into her world of severe depression and anxiety in an outrageous spin on mental illness. Her honesty breaks through stigma barriers and leaves you feeling (furiously) happy and alive.


6. Wow, No Thank You
Samantha Irby

In a book dedicated to Wellbutrin, Irby shares how uncomfortable she is in her own skin in this hilarious collection of essays that will have you howling. Laughter is the best medicine after all.


7. We Are The Luckiest – The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life
Laura McKowen

An honest sobriety memoir about waking up to the many blessings of a life without alcohol. Filled with personal stories, this book is not only about getting sober, it’s about living a beautifully vulnerable and grateful life.


8. Girl, Wash Your Face
Rachel Hollis

Each chapter in this book addresses a different lie we have believed about ourselves and then provides methods to defeat those lies. This book will leave you feeling empowered to chase your dreams and stronger against the negative voice in your head.


9. Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind – How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear & Worry
Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

“For thousands of years, sages have likened the human mind to a monkey – leaping from one branch of thought to another, never content, never at rest.” This book offers a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based approach to help you stop worry and anxiety from taking over your life. The guide teaches us that by seeking out and confronting the things that make us anxious, instead of avoiding them, we’re able to actually reverse the cycle that keeps our worry alive. The cute illustrations are a total bonus!


10. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone
Lori Gottlieb

Through a voyeuristic look at people’s problems (including her own), Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient. This is a smart and funny tribute to therapy that is a must read for anyone who normally avoids self-help books- and/or therapy.


Reading can help improve sleep, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, fight depression symptoms, prevent cognitive decline and contribute to a longer life. It’s never too late to begin taking advantage of its many benefits. Being mindful and intentional about what we choose to read can further help improve our mental health and help us to create a meaningful, healthy life.

Lisa Brecher was not paid to promote these books.

Lisa Brecher - Marketing and Community Engagement Manager

Read More By Lisa

Lisa Brecher regularly shares blog entries for her ‘Honest Mom’s Take’ series.

The series centers on a range of topics, from insights in mental health and sober living to tips in navigating personal, familial and social needs.