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The Most Important Lessons I Have Learnt From Every Self-Help Book I Have Ever Read

I have survived a long time struggling with my mental health. I have fallen over the edge of the cliff of sanity (a fair few times) – or whatever the saying is. This means I have had to put in a lot of effort to regain my balance in life, to readjust the straps of my straight jacket. It’s a depressingly numb, yet simultaneously, highly anxious experience when your own mind starts to turn on you. But I knew I had to keep trying to regulate my ever-changing, all-encompassing moods.

When I first began to embark on this journey of realising I was fucked and wanting a way out it was a matter of necessity as opposed to free will. I was hopelessly depressed, confused and was desperate for all of the answers to all of my problems. I remember some of the first self help books I discovered and read. I used to think that they would grant me a one way ticket out of manic-depression town. But I was doing it all wrong. There was no way out – only through – and I soon discovered that I would have to do a lot more than read one book if I wanted to feel okay.

I’ve compiled a list of the 7 most important takeaways from the (embarrassingly large amount of) self help books I have read over the past 6 years of my mental health and self awareness journey in the hopes that it will help someone who is eager to improve their lives but doesn’t want to read over 20 different books to get there.

Here they are:

1. You have to want to learn (and unlearn). This is the first and most important point: without the desire to grow, all of the other things on this list are pointless. You have to be interested and invested in changing your situation. 

2. Incorporate a healthy daily commitment into your routine. Even if it’s just to smile at yourself in the mirror everyday, drink a glass of water first thing when you wake up or take daily vitamins. Having something that you incorporate into your routine and do daily (and just for yourself) is a good way of communicating to your depression-brain that you are worth the effort which will help build up your self esteem and clear those self loathing thoughts thus resulting in better mental wellbeing.

3. You are not going to suddenly be fixed – it’s a journey, not an ending. When I first started to try and comprehend my mental health struggles, I thought I was suddenly going to reach a stage where I was free of depression. I was caught up on the idea of reaching happiness, reaching contentment, reaching peace. And unfortunately that never really comes (well, it does but sporadically). What I have learnt and now accepted wholly is that our emotional state is not fixed or permanent. Just like the ocean, we have great depth and experience feelings in waves. This may be the cheesiest phrase I’ve ever quoted but it’s simple and relevant: ride the wave. And funnily enough, the peace that I was striving for, comes to me more often now I have accepted this fact.

4. You cannot escape pain – in fact the more you try to escape it, the more intensified it becomes. The same as the point I made above; you can live with more ease and become more at peace with your pain once you accept that you cannot escape fear/pain/hurt. 

5. Have patience and compassion for yourself. I know it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book(s), but you really do have to be kind to yourself. Think about speaking to yourself as if you were talking to a child, or someone that you love – what would you say to them if they were struggling? Be mindful of the way you are talking to yourself. It matters.

6. Take or leave it. A lot of the advice I have read has really helped me, the practises of CBT by Melanie Fennel (Overcoming Low Self-Esteem), Sarah Knight helping me to “prioritise my fucks” (The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck), Lauren and her ‘Handel Method’ where I wrote out my desired life (Maybe it’s You). But sometimes I will read something and I don’t feel a strong pull to practise it or take it on board. And that’s okay. Books are there to inform us and we should be able to question things that don’t feel right. Everyone has their own individual way of learning and not every method of self help will work for us. Take what you want and leave the rest. It’s the same with this article, you don’t have to like it if you don’t feel it applies to you.

7. And lastly, you will need more than books, and what I have written here to feel mentally sound. It’s a constant learning journey. I have incorporated lot of outside support into my life in the form of therapy, meditation, exercise, a healthier diet, ocean therapy and writing to help me get to where I am now (calmer, happier, kinder). You have to have more than books and there is lots of support out there, even if that support comes in the form of something small and easily accessible, like a friend who you can text when your mood changes. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be surprised at the amount of people willing to help once you go looking for it.

I really hope this offers some sort of relief to those who are struggling (even a tiny bit)!

Below is a list of all the self help/self improvement books I have read (some more than once).

Self help books I have read: 
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Good Vibes, Good Life: How Self-Love Is the Key to Unlocking Your Greatness by Vex King
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Calm: Calm the Mind. Change the World by Michael Acton Smith
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
What a Time to be Alone by Chidera Eggerue
Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennell
Raise Your Vibration by Kyle Gray
How to Come Alive Again by Beth McColl
How to do the Work: Recognise Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past by Nicole LePera
How to Get Over a Boy by Chidera Eggerue
Million Dollar Habits by Stellan Moreira
Maybe it’s You: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life by Lauren Handel Zander
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
A Little Piece of Mind: Freedom from Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Stress by Nicola Bird
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

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