10 of the best books to read when you’re stressed to rebalance

Photo by Jacek Smoter
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You’ve got a hundred things on your to-do list, they all should’ve been done yesterday, and your heart is racing just thinking about everything going on in your life. You’re stressed. But maybe a good book can help you to feel a bit better.

That said, sometimes it can be difficult to pay attention to a book when you’re stressed. One way around this is to choose a gripping page-turner you can’t put down. But you can also just take the pressure off yourself and pick up a book with no goal other than to flick through a few pages, read a paragraph, or look at some beautiful illustrations.

Here are some of the best books to read when you’re stressed – some are soothing, others are page-turners, and a few are self-help books to give you tools to reduce your stress.

The best books to help you de-stress and find more peace

1. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I recently came across a Reddit thread titled, When I am stressed or anxious, I read Haruki Murakami. What about you? I love this. Haruki Murakami is one of the best writers to read when you want to escape from the real world into a strange new universe.

Aside from the talking cats and fish falling from the sky, Murakami is also one of the best writers for slice-of-life descriptions of everyday life… making pasta, drinking whisky, enjoying coffee. Once you read one Murakami book, you know what you’re getting. His books are so distinctive. Kafka on the Shore is my favourite.

2. Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature by Rachel Williams

Spending time in nature is one of my best ways to deal with stress. Slow Down is a beautiful reminder of the mindful moments we can find in the outside world if we take the time to watch them unfold: a honeybee hive getting to work, a sunflower tracking the sun, or a shooting star lighting up the night sky. For more wild reads, you might like these novels set in nature.

3. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook

What about a practical book to deal with stress? This stress reduction workbook is one of the best self-help books for stress, including simple step-by-step directions for worry delay and defusion, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) techniques, and a body scan. It’ll also help you to explore your stress triggers and symptoms and create a personal action plan for stress reduction.

For another practical tool for stress relief, this mindfulness-based stress reduction card deck is also great.

4. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

For one of the most relaxing books to read when you’re stressed, read A Thousand Mornings. Mary Oliver’s poetry is some of the most perceptive and gently wise writing on the natural world and our place within it.

In this collection, Mary Oliver transports us to the marshland and coastline of her beloved home, Provincetown, Massachusetts to show us with clarity and kindness how the greatest teachings are to be found in the smallest moments.

A Thousand Mornings book cover

5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

If you struggle to read when you’re stressed, try a page-turner you won’t want to put down. One of the best authors to binge read is Taylor Jenkins Reid, especially here in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more surprised (and confused) than Monique herself. As secrets are revealed, she was right to feel surprised… and should also be concerned.

For more page-turners, here are some other gripping books to binge read when you want some time to unwind and escape, plus some of the best unputdownable non-fiction books.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

6. The Anxiety Journal: Exercises to Soothe Stress and Eliminate Anxiety Wherever You Are by Corinne Sweet

With this grounding and soothing journal for stress and anxiety, psychologist Corinne Sweet helps you to manage your anxiety with inspiring quotes, mindful exercises, helpful coping mechanisms, and writing prompts backed by cognitive behavioural therapy.

It’s a beautiful little book that’s perfect to carry on the go, complete with a heavy cover to endure wear and tear and lined pages to record your thoughts and track your progress.

7. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

Read The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down to ease your stress, breathe deeply, open your heart, and calm your anxiety.

It’s one of my favourite self-help books for gentle, soothing, and beautifully illustrated writing. I’ve shared some of the simple and timeless wisdom of Haenim Sunim here.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

What was your favourite childhood book? Sometimes the best book to read when you’re stressed is an old favorite. Think about books you loved as a child, especially adventure tales with happy endings, or feel-good classic favourites such as Pride and Prejudice.

One book I sometimes turn back to when I’m stressed is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I love crossing back into the magical land where four adventurous siblings discover the frozen, bewitching land of Narnia under the power of the White Witch.

9. The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell

If you love the soothing, feel-good writing of authors like James Herriot, you might also like this joyful, sun-kissed, and lighthearted autobiographical trilogy by Gerald Durrell, the British naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist, and television presenter.

The Corfu Trilogy shares Gerald’s story of growing up on Corfu in the 1930s as a budding naturalist, sharing his observations of the flora and fauna surrounding his home as he discovered his passion for animals.

10. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

The Samurai’s Garden is a graceful novel that will remind you of the beauty of life. Stephen, a 20-year-old Chinese painter, is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout of tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper, master gardener, and samurai of the soul; above all, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel world.

Over the course of a year, Matsu helps him not just to recover his physical strength, but also to realise profound spiritual insights.

For more books to help you de-stress, head over to my collection of the most relaxing books to read next. For some low-key and mindful time for creativity, you might also like my list of the most calming coloring books.


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