Depression is like a black cloud that obscures the lightness and joy in everyday life. The causes are individual and there are an infinite number of factors that contribute to depression. But since we are all human there are also many similarities in each depressive episode and many ways to feel better.
These 5 books will help you improve your psychology regardless of where you are on your journey to wellbeing.
- Feeling Good by David Burns MD
This is a classic self-help book, and the best thing about it is it’s written by a medical doctor! There is ample clinical evidence that this book helps change the negative thought patterns that always come with depression. This book is written by one of the father’s of Cognitive Behavrioal Therapy (CBT) and this book takes you through a ton of exercises to help you think in a more rational and realistic and less negative way. CBT is the most widely form of therapy practiced in the world today- rock solid proof of the efficacy of this approach.
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach PhD
This book address the spiritual side of mental suffering like depression. The author Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and a meditation master. She introduces us to the concept of Radical Acceptance.
Radical Acceptance means that we accept our reality unconditionally. This idea can seem confusing, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to better our situations. Rather it means accepting reality at the present moment and then acting calmly and mindfully to better ourselves.
Radical Acceptance is rooted in Buddhist philosophy as well as other Eastern spiritual traditions like Tai Chi and is starting to catch on in the west with therapies like ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy). Practicing meditation for 20 minutes a day for a mere six weeks has been shown to increase gray matter and helps strengthen our frontal cortex to make more rational decisions. Tara Brach has a lot of meditation techniques in this book which are priceless.
- Self Hate and Compassionby Theodore Rubin MD
A medical doctor and psychotherapist wrote this powerful and eye opening book. It’s about his personal struggles with self hatred and depression and the lessons he got from his journey to overcome it.
He dealt with self- hatred even when he was a successful therapist and doctor, showing that depression can happen to anyone.
Unfortunately, the 21st century is a breeding ground for self hatred. We compare ourselves to the best looking celebrities and the richest people on the planet and wonder why we don’t feel better about ourselves. Worse yet is that many of our parents taught us the habit of self hatred early in our lives. We may have gotten sub-conscious messages from our elders that our needs weren’t valid or we were just stupid children. These messages, however unconscious they may be, impact our lives to this day.
Unless you grew up with perfect parents in a utopian world then you will get some powerful ideas about how to build compassion and reduce self hatred from this book.
- The Ultramind Solution by Mark Hyman MD
Mark Hyman is a well know medical doctor who advocates that healthy living, being active, and a nutritious diet as prevention for most of the ills that plague our society like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression. Unlike the other books so far on this list, Mark Hyman takes us through the healing journey of depression with our body. He describes which specific foods to avoid, different supplements that are proven to lessen depression, and his own battles with the darkness of his demons.
Some of his recommendations are hard to implement like his strict eating habits and schedule. But this book is still valuable because he shows exactly how body imbalances and poor lifestyle can lead to depression.
- Brain Maker by David Perlmutter MD
This fascinating read takes us inside our second brains. Second brain? Yes, there is a lot of medical evidence that shows the health of our digestive tracts (also called our microbiome) have a direct impact on our brains and mind- thus the term second brain.
Many of our neurotransmitters are actually made in our digestive tracts and then are transported to the brain. David Perlmutter is a clinical neurologist as well as a registered dietician so his knowledge of brain health, gut health, and food is unsurpassed by anyone. He recommends things like fermented foods increase the number of ‘good’ bacteria in our guts, and prebiotic fiber (like bananas) to feed them.
The one thing I don’t like about this book is that he recommends cutting out out all carbohydrates like pasta and bread and instead getting most of our calories from healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and high quality meats as well as a lot of leafy greens (the increasingly popular Keto diet). We all know how hard it is to give up bread.
6. How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable….by Albert Ellis PhD
The author of this book Albert Ellis was the psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) in the late 1950’s. RET was the grandfather to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Although the titles of a lot his books are silly, Albert Ellis was a pioneer in the Western psychological movement towards working directly with thoughts and away from Freudian techniques.
He was the first to assert that our thoughts help create our feelings, and therefore by developing healthier, realistic and more balanced thoughts we can feel better. He died in 2007 at the ripe age of 94. Despite being a sickly young boy and developing diabetes in his 50’s, Ellis worked 12 hour days into his 90’s-.
Albert Ellis’ life work was dedicated to teaching people that they could help change their moods and lives by changing their thought patterns. Although this may sound like absurdly simple information to us, this was a revolutionary idea in the mid 20th century.
The tone in all of his books help me take myself and my problems a little less seriously and with a little more humor.
7. Learned Optimismby Martin Seligman PhD
Martin Seligman was the psychologist who developed the learned helplessness theory of depression through his experiments with dogs using electric shocks. Seligman designed experiments where a dog would receive a shock from a platform it was standing on. There was another platform separated by a small gap that the dog could jump to so it wouldn’t get shocked anymore. All the dogs were smart enough to jump to the other platform to get away from the pain when they were zapped.
Seligman then continued with the same dogs, but he took half of them and used two electric platforms to test their responses. He placed a dog on the electric platform and then turned the current on. Predictably the dog would jump to the other platform, but that one would also shock the dog with small zaps. At this point the dogs didn’t know what to do, so they accepted their fate and stayed on the same platform getting shocked.
This experiment lead Seligman to create the Learned Helplessness theory. When the dogs tried to escape the pain of the shocks of the first platform they logically jumped to the next platform. But on that platform too they received uncomfortable shocks. At this point the dogs didn’t know what else to do, so they became completely desperate and laid down accepting their fate of being shocked. This same cycle is identical to learned helplessness in humans.
When I’m dealing with depression my view of myself and the world is already negative, so when I receive setbacks like a rejection from a job, a girl not calling me back, or feeling lonely I slip further into depression because it feels like my efforts to improve my life are worthless.
Seligman acknowledges the genetic and brain chemical imbalance factors of depression, but his therapy is about addressing our learned behavior that creates the helplessness cycle. His therapy is a CBT evidence based approach but focuses more on optimism than traditional CBT.
8. Teach Yourself Cbt! by Christine Wilding
I was a sophomore in college when I read this book. At the time I was really struggling with depression and OCD and developed a lot of social anxiety. Although I was in a fraternity I often isolated myself, and stayed in my apartment on the weekends.
One day I walked into my university bookstore and spotted this book. At the time I’d heard of CBT, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I bought this book and decided to work through two chapters each week. Within 2 months I had finished the book and could feel the impacts of the my new thinking habits.
I learned how to use evidence based thinking to see my problems objectively, which is a very useful skill that will make my life better (that I’m still practicing everyday).
9. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris MD.
CBT was a revolutionary therapy, but like any healing method it has its limits of effectiveness. Although CBT does people a lot, there wasn’t much emphasis placed on acceptance in the past. Acceptance is extremely important for any mental disorder, especially depression. If we’re at our job and start feeling depressed we can either accept this fact, and then take steps to deal like going for a walk or drinking coffee. Or we can get angry at ourselves for feeling depressed and then attack ourselves. With acceptance we can acknowledge the feeling of depression, and be mindful of it, but we don’t need to let the feelings control our lives.
Uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are part of the human condition. The emotions and sensations that cause us so much angst and anxiety aren’t going anywhere. But we can change our perspective with acceptance, then the ‘negative’ sensations and thoughts won’t feel as bad.
10. Spontaneous Happinessby Andrew Weil MD.
Andrew Weil is a well-known physician and advocate of natural living, diet and spirituality for health. Dr Weil struggled with depression throughout his life well into his 40’s. Now he says he rarely experiences depression.
People are known to generally get happier as they age. Apparently the new perspective that we gain through years of hardship make life easier and more peaceful to navigate- this books has the lessons he used to get over his depressive mindset.
So there are 10 books that will help you beat your depression. All of these books are written by Medical Doctors, researchers, and PhD’s so we know the authors at least have some idea what they’re talking about.
I know there are dozens and dozens of other helpful and positive books that help with depression.. What are some of your favorites?!