Our top five self-help books to read over the Christmas holidays

By Geoff Harris

This year has been challenging to say the least.

Even before the pandemic locked us down, there was a lot of anxiety around and things to worry about – climate change, the impact of Brexit on the economy, the US election – but the isolation and uncertainty generated by Covid 19 has been particularly difficult. Fortunately, there has been an explosion in online resources to help people with mental health challenges, and some great books too. Here are some of our favourite books to check out over Christmas.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Phillipa Perry

This is a very helpful and constructive guide to developing a more constructive and mutually respectful relationship with your children, whatever their age. Perry emphasises the importance of hearing and validating your kids’ feelings, rather than trying to deny them (a particular trap if you feel guilty in later life about your shortcomings as a parent). At its heart the book is about using our past experiences to get a better understanding of ourselves and how we relate to our kids. There are lots of practical tools for helping to heal these key relationships in our life, and the book is beautifully written.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert wrote the best-seller Eat Pray Love, which may be a plus or a negative, depending on your point of view. Keep an open mind, however, as this is another well-written and inspiring book that can help if you are suffering from any kind of creative block – or generally finding it hard to make any big life change. Key lessons include the importance of developing new habits and working on self-discipline, and breaking big tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. Gilbert also emphasises the importance of building a supportive community of people who can help you achieve your goals, and facing fear and anxiety head on – a big issue during these uncertain times. Some inspiring real-life case studies will help you when your motivation flags, too.

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein

How do you deal with fear and uncertainty? There are lot of books on this subject (including the classic ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers) but what I like about this book is the emphasis on letting go of the often-paralysing and terrifying need to control everything. How you define the universe can be problematic, so Bernstein focuses on love and the power of the collective unconscious. "Carl Jung said, Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside, awakes,” she says. “When we look outside for our faith, we got lost in the dreams of who we think we should be, what we think we need, and when we think we need it. But when we turn inward, we surrender to the one and only truth, which is love. When we surrender to love, we can experience our darkest moment as the greatest catalyst for transformation."

Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times by Philip Goldberg

If you are interested in developing a meditation practice but tend to beat yourself up for not being able to keep to a regular routine, this book can help you clarify your goals. Goldberg emphasises the importance of building an inner sanctuary to help cope with tough times, discussing the benefits of deep meditation, cognitive reframing and working on what he calls “spiritual time management.” The emphasis is on practical steps and fitting meditation into your daily routine, helping you to hone your attention and practice spiritual self-care while staying very firmly rooted in your everyday life – with all the challenges this entails.

The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work From Home by Laura Vandekam

Even if the various vaccines restore us to some kind of normality next year (which probably won’t be a straightforward path), working from home is here to stay. For many employees it seemed like a great way to avoid the grind of the daily commute and the annoyances of colleagues, but it can also be isolating and stressful – particularly if your ‘home office’ is the dining room table and you have young kids to contend with. In this very practical book, Vandekam emphasises the importance of working out what needs to be done and then assigning a time to do it – and staying flexible in your concept of a working day. Some days you might need to work later, for example, while other days you can finish earlier, and this is fine. She also talks a lot about understanding your energy levels and dividing your work accordingly – a lot of us have a surge of energy and motivation in the morning, which tends to dissipate after lunch. Vandekam has a young family herself, so she knows what she is talking about.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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