In this strange and difficult year, we've all learned how to seek out and find silver linings. Here's one: At a moment when we could all use a gift that says "Everything is going to be OK," these five books thoughtfully send that message.
Get Out of My Head
Sized perfectly for a stocking or a shoulder bag, Meredith Arthur's Get Out of My Head is like a soothing visit with a therapist who's there to take your call at any time. This one is for the overthinkers, those of us who let our thoughts take us down the wrong rabbit holes. People can experience physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea as a result of stress and anxiety. The challenge, which this little book gently helps us meet, is to recognize the signals of a stress-based physical reaction, then deploy specific moves like visualization, breathing techniques and other thought and sensory controls. Maybe lasting calm is more difficult to achieve, but trust me, this book has the right idea. Leah Rosenberg's cheerful illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this digestible and portable guide.
The Panic Button Book
Taking a different but no less tidy approach to stress, anxiety and typical relational woes, The Panic Button Book is set up as a series of flowcharts in response to questions like "Do you and your partner have different standards when it comes to housework/ambition/money/other?", "Are you dreading an upcoming event?" and "Are your muscles feeling tense?" The questions, which author Tammi Kirkness organizes into categories such as work, socializing, relationships and parenting, pinpoint both difficult feelings and physical concerns while reminding us that there's a shared awkwardness to being human, and we can take some solace in simply acknowledging that commonality. There's also comfort to be found in paging through this book and thinking, nope, that's not my problem right now. When you find a question that rings true to your current concern, the facing page will guide you, step by step, in coping constructively so you can move on.
There are times in life, however, when you may just have to sit with the struggle. This is what writer Katherine May calls a wintering, "a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider." May tells the story of one such period in her life in Wintering, which begins when her husband falls ill with appendicitis, setting off a chain of events that leaves her sidelined from work and her usual industrious lifestyle. In beautiful prose, she shows us that there are benefits to leaning in to these difficult times, even though our culture is set up to resist them. "An occasional sharp wintering would do us good," she writes. "We must stop believing that these times in our life are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. . . . We must learn to invite the winter in."
May's story follows the course of the actual winter months, so that it's about both a time of loneliness and the challenge of the chilliest, most barren season. She is a poetic observer of the natural world, and quotable lines abound. "The cold renders everything exquisite," she writes of a morning frost. "Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It's a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order." I want to share Wintering with all my friends who experience the winter blues, and keep a copy close at hand for the inevitable winterings of my own life.
One thing that brings me cheer during winter is my collection of happy houseplants, and science backs me up on this. Plant Therapy dives deep into research that shows we could all stand to be more connected to the natural world; indeed, distance from it may be one of the chief causes of our discontent. Bringing some green into our homes is one small but significant step toward nourishing a relationship with nature. Therapist Katie Cooper begins by presenting the environmental, physiological, cognitive and affective benefits of proximity to plants, then shows us how making houseplants part of our indoor lives is a study in positive reciprocity: As we care for them, they will care for us.
Be Water, My Friend
Once you've got your new plant buddies positioned nearby, consider curling up with Be Water, My Friend from Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee. The martial arts icon is remembered and revered for his philosophy as much as for his physical prowess, and here, readers are given the opportunity to learn from the legend. "The idea of being like water is to attempt to embody the qualities of fluidity and naturalness in one's life," Lee writes. "Water can adjust its shape to any container, it can be soft or strong, it is simply and naturally always itself, and it finds a way to keep moving and flowing." Lee shares stories from her father's life and her own to illuminate how curiosity and a graceful flexibility can serve us all, no matter what life throws our way.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Love audiobooks? Check out Be Water, My Friend and other nonfiction audiobook picks.