11 Books to Read When You’re Mega-Stressed

Stress is a useful biological mechanism, because if we didn’t get stressed out, we would just be like, “F-it, who needs a job? Or love? Or emotional and financial success? NOT ME!” I don’t even know what would happen — I guess maybe we would just pour our life savings into a trip to the Netherlands and just live off the land or whatever. However, stress is a reality, and stress sucks. Stress makes me an over-caffeinated, angry mess prone to sobbing meltdowns. I don’t handle it well, but I know I'm not alone. 

Whether it’s a job, our kids, our partners, our parents, or just the thought of our looming futures, stress and anxiety will be there, hovering as they wait for us to screw up, or take too much on. While there are many ways of combatting stress, such as yoga or a cocktail or two, I firmly believe you can totally de-stress by reading a book.

I know what you’re thinking — read a book while I’m stressed? I barely have time to eat breakfast. Hear me out. Find a half hour — just a half hour. Immerse yourself in someone else’s reality. Either a funny reality, a charming reality, a terrible reality, or a reality that sends you back to your childhood. You either want comfort, or you want to know that it can always be worse. Here are 11 titles that give you all that:

1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris 

Any Sedaris book will do: When You’re Engulfed in Flames, Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, etc. However, those books don’t have the story about Sedaris’ colonoscopy. Read about someone’s colonoscopy, and I promise you will feel better instantaneously. Sedaris has an incredible gift; he can recall the time he worked for a moving company because he was broke and skill-less, or the relationship his brutish brother has with his dogs, and it will be the funniest thing you ever read. 

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2. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck 

Tortilla Flat is so unlike any of Steinbeck’s other works, it almost doesn’t feel like this is by the same author who wrote Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. But it is, and you’ll run into the same Californian imagery and simplicity of language; however, this book is different. It’s hilarious, and very Don Quixote-esque. Tortilla Flat, a story about Danny and his band of thieves and their love for wine and women, will make you laugh as it will remind you about loyalty at its finest (and maybe worst). 

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3. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger 

I often think of J.D. Salinger whenever I’m feeling crappy about myself. I loved The Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. I thought I really identified with Holden, and I guess that’s why we read Salinger in 10th grade. But I outgrew Catcher, and started reading Salinger’s short stories, which are a lot better. They’re still whimsical, but sad and beautiful. If you’re feeling angsty, read Nine Stories (and no, not just because James Franco told you to). 

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4. Lunch Poems by Frank ‘O Hara

You know when you think of the perfect day, and sometimes it consists of just buying a good coffee and walking around the city and people-watching? Maybe I’ve just always romanticized New York, but that’s one of my fictional happy places. Lunch Poems is a collection of poems that encapsulates that, as well as a life that’s kind of frivolous and wonderful. 

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5. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July 

I often flip through this collection of short stories just for a sense of belonging. I think a huge part of stress is feeling absolutely helpless, and Miranda July negates that helplessness with whimsical insight and characters who boldly express themselves in tears — the universal language!

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6. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion 

Aren’t feeling your status quo? Well, explore another one. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is an awesome glimpse into ‘60s San Francisco. This book of essays is a really well-written depiction of youth, what it’s like looking into something as an outsider, the American dream, and California optimism. It’s such a cool book that really transports you to where Didion was, and allows you to see things the way she did. 

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7.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel 

Like most movies, the books that inspired them are usually better. Such is definitely the case with Life of Pi, which is a gorgeous book that transcends the survival story trope and really enters a philosophical realm that helped me out in high school and college. Life of Pi is a character transformation novel; it solely focuses on Pi Patel and how he is able to survive over 200 days in a small boat in a vast ocean with, seemingly, a crew of zoo animals. Take this story as it is, or apply it to your own life. We’re all Pi Patel on some level, you know? Perhaps to get through hard times, we need to look at them through a different perspective or lens. 

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8. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young By Kurt Vonnegut

I was feeling really bummed out a few weeks ago. It was a combination of stress and plain ol' sadness. Sometimes just not knowing where you’re going to end up, or how you’ll be paying the bills a year from now is scary enough to drive any person to have a meltdown. I had bought If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? a collection of graduation speeches by Kurt Vonnegut a while back, and decided to read it. This advice doesn’t just apply to recent college grads. Two years after graduation, most of Vonnegut’s pearls are still relevant to me, such as: “Notice when you’re happy, and know when you’ve got enough,” and “We are all experiencing more or less the same lifetime now.” 

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9. The Year of No Mistakes by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz 

This book of poems was written after the poet’s really bad break-up. Whether you’re going through a break-up with a person, with cheese, or with a job, you know what it feels like. It hurts all over. You can’t think about anything else. The Year of No Mistakes is about a woman who is picking up the pieces, and it’s perfect because it’s what we do when things fall apart, or even when they’re just temporarily messed up. 

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10. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella 

First of all, this title is interchangeable with any “beach read” you loved as a 14-year-old. Not a senior in high school. Not a sixth-grader. But that tender age right after tweenhood and before real teenagedom. You have all these notions of life through these funny, absurd books about women who spend too much money on scarves and end up destroying their lives and relationships, right? And they’re hilarious and slightly alien, since you don’t have a job, or credit card, or a real boyfriend. Looking back on these stories as an adult is a way to relive that glorious naiveté and be that 14-year-old with no money and no problems. 

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11. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Like the prior pick, reading a book you read as a kid is also a fun stress-reliever. Pick out a book you absolutely ADORED and read it. It should only take you like, 20 minutes. When I was little, I worshiped Ramona Quimby. I thought she was the most rebellious, relatable female character in the small literary world I was a part of. Maybe it’s because I’ve done shit like squeeze all the toothpaste out because I wanted to know how it feels. Or feel disgusted by my toddler neighbor eating graham crackers with sticky hands.

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 Image: anniferrr/flickr

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