We’re just over a month into the new year and already the burn-out is starting to set in: between the discouraging headlines, inane Twitter wars, endless blustering executive orders courtesy of the new president, and the increasing sense that no amount of direct action will ever be enough to stop him, (plus, the weather is just sucking pretty much everywhere right now, amirite?) it’s easy to start to feel hopeless, helpless, and completely drained. And the one thing all you big-hearted activist warriors out there always, always neglect is yourselves — which is why you definitely need to add some books about self-care to your shelves. It’s just a fact: you can’t save the world if you’re not taking care of yourself. (And we really need you to help out the world a little. Even if it’s just your one tiny corner of it.)
As a fellow activist/volunteer/protester/defender of social justice, I have had very intimate relationships with both burn-out and a little something called compassion fatigue. I’m familiar with the feeling that my white, American privilege demands that I use some of that privilege to try to advocate for others — and I’m just as familiar with the doubt that, in a world filled with people profoundly more uncomfortable than myself, I’m even entitled to a little self-care in the first place. But the fact is, we all do whatever world-changing things we do a whole lot better when we’re not completely drained, disheartened, and exhausted. These books that encourage self-care will start to send you in the right direction.
Take even just five minutes away from your rallying, marching, representative-calling, and protest sign-making to check out these 11 books that promote wellness, inspire mindfulness, and encourage self-care. You’ll come back twice as energized and ready to take on anything.
1‘Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide’ by Tessa Watt
Filled with basic information about the philosophies and traditions behind mindfulness, including examples of mindful practices like yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques, Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, by Tessa Watt, reads like a beginner’s guide to mindful living. But you don’t have to start with a complete overhaul of your schedule, routines, and commitments — Watt’s guide offers practical tips for bringing mindfulness into the daily activities you’re already doing: eating, walking, and even something as small as brushing your teeth. Introducing just a few minutes of mindfulness into your day can help you reenergize, reconnect to your goals, and find balance in an otherwise chaotic world.
2‘Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself: Essays on Yoga's Healing Truths and So Much More’ by Anne M. Samit
You’re already moving a mile a minute in your life, so if finding moments of stillness seems just a little unrealistic (and maybe even intimidating) right now, I totally feel you. Which is why you should check out Anne M. Samit’s collection of essays, Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself: Essays on Yoga's Healing Truths and So Much More. Beginning with the question: “what if healing were as simple as moving?” Samit takes readers on a journey into the self, all through mindful movement atop a yoga mat. That self-care you need could be just one yoga class away.
3‘Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed’ by Glennon Doyle Melton
In addition to all that fighting-for-justice you’re doing, chances are you have other things on your plate too: a job, bills, family, your SO, friendships, hobbies… laundry. (Seriously, all the laundry.) And being able to balance everything, all at once, while doing it all flawlessly, is just beyond overwhelming. And impossible. So stop trying to be perfect, and start trying to add a little love and self-care to your day instead. Filled with essays from her own life, Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed will inspire you to discover all kinds of small acts of radical love you can add to your day: for yourself, for those around you, and for the world.
4‘The Creation Of Health: The Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Responses That Promote Health and Healing’ by Caroline Myss and C. Norman Shealy
So maybe all this self-love and care talk is reading a little too, shall we say, hippie for you. That’s fine, because self-care has science on its side too. The Creation Of Health: The Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Responses That Promote Health and Healing details the deep connection between emotional dysfunction and physical illness — proving not only that stress and emotional turmoil can definitely lead to disease, but also that you really do need to take care of yourself before you can adequately take care of others. Science says.
5‘Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War, and Death’ by Susan D. Moeller
There has been a whole lotta speechin’ against the media coming from the White House of late — and while attacks on the free press (not just now, but throughout history) have proven false, politically motivated, and dangerous, it’s also important to know where you’re getting your news from, and when to turn the news off. (That time being well before the overwhelming hopelessness sets in.) Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War, and Death uses specific case studies of reported news to explain why certain things are reported, with what frequency and language, and how production costs and profit factor into those decisions. It’s important to be just as mindful about consuming the media as you are about defending it.
6‘How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook’ by Lee Crutchley
One form of self-care that I personally love is journaling — I just find that the physical act of getting my thoughts and feelings out of my mind and onto a sheet of paper to be hugely cathartic. Author and illustrator Lee Crutchley’s workbook, How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad) invites you to explore whatever it is you’re going through via a series of creative prompts that are supportive, surprising, and hopeful.
7‘All About Love: New Visions’ by bell hooks
Exploring both global — cultural, political — relationships, and those that are the most intimate in our lives, activist and author bell hooks dives into the ways we express (or don’t) love on large and small scales. In All About Love: New Visions, she explains how our notions of love don’t always serve us well, and can often be both sexist and racist, asserting that by rethinking our ideas about love and self-love, we’ll better be able to address the pervasive lovelessness of our personal relationships, our local communities, and the larger world.
8‘Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy’ by Acharya Shunya
If you’re unfamiliar with Ayurvedic living, then Acharya Shunya’s Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy is the perfect place to start. Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems, and blends both science and spirituality in its practices for self-care and healthy living. Shunya makes Ayurvedic ideas and practices completely accessible, even for someone who has never explored Ayurveda before, covering the basics of morning and evening self-care, daily reflections, skin care, cooking and healthy recipes, beauty rituals, and tons more. This is the ultimate guidebook for optimizing your self-care habits.
9‘Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living’ by Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön is one of my go-to authors when I really need to take a moment of pause from the world and reconnect with myself. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living should be required reading for everyone right now, encouraging readers to start in whatever messy, imperfect, frustrated, angry, painful place you might be, and move towards a space of compassion — both personally and globally — from there. Chödrön uses 59 traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditations as her starting point, inviting you to sit with each one in your own time, allowing them to guide you on your journey of self-care.
10‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing’ by Marie Kondō
Self-care doesn’t have to be all about sitting in contemplative silence with yourself. Sometimes a little self-care can be as simple as cleaning up the space around you — be it home, office, or even that one corner of your closet that you can never seem to get a handle on. Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondō will revolutionize the way you think about organizing your space by focusing on keeping the things that give you joy and discarding all the other clutter (think Emily Gilmore in the Netflix Revival.)
11‘52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy’ by Moorea Seal
Another book that encourages you to write your way to self-care, Moorea Seal’s beautifully bound, hardcover journal invites you to list your way to happiness. 52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy will help you reset your energy and attitude by focusing on the happiness already present in your life. The journal offers 52 listing prompts — one for every week of the year — that are perfect for taking time for self-care and reflection each week.