I'm a fairly anxious person (although, as a New Yorker, being mildly neurotic is my birthright). I get anxiety-induced chest pains. For a while I thought that my constant pacing and inability to keep my hands still was a charming artistic tic, but I have since been informed that it's "disturbing" and "making everyone nervous." So, when I am unable to pace or weep copiously, I am forced to turn to the world of literature to calm my perpetually frayed nerves. Here are a few books to read when you're feeling anxious, because we all have those days.
Now, of course, anxiety is not something that you can just turn off at will. Books aren't going to magically deliver you to a land of emotional stability and happiness. We don't have that book technology yet. But, whether you're a generally relaxed person who's feeling a little anxious today, or someone with a chronic anxiety disorder, a good book can help. Novels and memoirs can distract from your worries, or even just remind you that you're not the only anxious person in the world.
So, fellow anxious people, let's all take a deep breath. Drink some water. Stop refreshing that social media website. And pick up a good book:
1'Hyperbole and a Half' by Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half is a perfect synthesis of hilarious cartoons about dogs and deeply resonant cartoons about anxiety and depression. Allie Brosh has an off-the-wall sense of humor, and her graphic novel memoir is funny and touching whether she's talking about being the "god of cake" or about her own struggles with mental health.
2'Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar' by Cheryl Strayed
When you're feeling anxious or worried or utterly crushed by life, sometimes you just need Cheryl Strayed (A.K.A. Sugar from the "Dear Sugar" column) to tell you that it's OK. Or even to tell you that it's not OK, but it will be soon. Tiny Beautiful Things collects the funniest and most heartbreaking stories from Strayed's advice column, for all of the brightest and most devastating moments in life.
3'Letter to My Daughter' by Maya Angelou
Spoiler alert: Maya Angelou never had a daughter. You are her daughter, dear reader, and esteemed poet and memoirist Maya Angelou has some advice just for you. This collection of essays and memories is both comforting and inspiring, without ever spilling over into saccharine. And Angelou's writing is, of course, as beautiful as ever.
4'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)' by Mindy Kaling
I mean... just the title should be enough to tell you that this is a book written by a funny, anxious person. Kaling's memoir is hysterical and real. Reading it is kind of like having a sleepover with one of world's wittiest comedy writers. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is cheerful, smart, and unapologetically feminist, and it's sure to make you laugh out loud at least once.
5'It's All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I've Drawn It Instead' by Ruby Elliot
Do you frequently shout "it's fine!" when it is absolutely not fine? Then you will get along well with Ruby Elliot. She draws brutally honest, deeply hilarious comics about living with mental illness. Everything she writes is infuriatingly relatable, and will probably make you laugh and cringe so hard that you forget to be anxious.
6'Don't Let Me Be Lonely: an American Lyric' by Claudia Rankine
Don't Let Me Be Lonely walks the line between poetry, memoir, and political essay. It's probably not a book that will cheer you up. But if you're feeling lonely and anxious about being a human person in modern America, then Claudia Rankine is right there with you. This book is a gorgeous meditation on loneliness, mental health, political unrest, and American self-hood. And it just might make you feel the tiniest bit less alone.
7'The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams
Far, far on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have your classic Douglas Adams comedy. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an outrageously absurd road trip through the cosmos. It will distract you from your troubles with its sheer nonsense. And anyone who suffers from anxiety is sure to feel a kinship with the supremely uncomfortable Arthur Dent, and his quest for a single drinkable cup of tea.
8'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman
Or, if romantic fantasy is more your style, soothe your anxiety with some good old fashioned swashbuckling fun. The Princess Bride is a send up of all fairy tale adventures, while still being a charming love story in its own right. You are guaranteed to fall madly in love with one or more characters. Side effects of reading this book include giddiness and an inability to stop smiling.
9'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar has such a reputation for being a downer that I'm starting to think no one's ever read it. There is depression and attempted suicide, true, and it's not a breezy read. But The Bell Jar is more of a book about recovery than it is about misery. It's a wry, honest story about one anxious young woman's terrible internship, her mental breakdown, and her (spoiler alert) successful recovery.
10'Essays of E.B. White' by E.B. White
If there is an essayist equivalent to a calming mug of tea, then it is absolutely E.B. White. You probably know White from children's books like Charlotte's Web, or from his style guide with William Strunk. But White's essays might be his best work. Each one is a funny, thoughtful, and thoroughly enjoyable slice of life.