The Spa Spy blog

4 life-changing books to add to your reading list

I've always been a bit of a self-help book fan, even when, back in the 1980s, they were mostly written by Americans with enormous hair who loved putting exclamation marks after every sentence. Today's self-help books are far more readable, mainly because mental illness is less taboo, so proper writers and comedians with personal experience are able to share their experiences.

I am a big fan of people like Ruby Wax (who did an MA in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, but had to quit being a therapist because her clients knew she was a comedian), TED Talk queen Brene Brown, happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin and author Matt Haig, the latter two reviewed below. Having worked in the care industry, I am also a big believer in 'self care' -- it's not selfish, it's fundamental to mental health and wellbeing. It's inspiring to see beautiful books that would make perfect gifts for friends and family members who might be going through a hard time. Here are four of our favourite words of wisdom this year. 

Notes on a Nervous Planet - Matt Haig

£12.99, Cannon Gate 

Notes on a Nervous Planet - Matt Haig

Matt Haig writes simply, honestly and, most importantly, humorously about huge things - we have pressed copies of Reasons to Stay Alive into the hands of anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. This is one for the overwhelmed. Why is life stressing us out? Haig takes a bracing look at our relationship with the world, technology and ourselves and offers hope by showing us how to ‘unplug’ and reconnect to our humanity; make changes where we can and manage our anxiety where we can’t; to be open-minded and open-hearted – and still remain friends with our smartphones.

Quote this: “Happiness is not good for the economy. We are encouraged, continually, to be a little bit dissatisfied with ourselves.”

Top fact: A supermarket is the most common place to have a panic attack.

Top Tip: “Do not compare yourself to other people.”

Read it … on a digital detox.

The Four Tendencies - Gretchen Rubin

£9.99, Two Roads Books
The Four Tendencies - Gretchen Rubin

What’s holding you back in life, in relationships, from losing weight, living your dreams? You, of course. But why? To explain why we act, or don’t act and why some of us need deadlines while others kick against them, Gretchen Rubin outlines four personality types: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel. Rubin (Upholder) is famed in Oprah and TED talk circles as author of The Happiness Project. To find out where you fall, read the outlined traits rather than taking the slightly annoying quiz (said the Rebel). Useful for taking a good, honest look at yourself and making the most of what you have.

Quote this: “Insight about our Tendency allows us to create the situations in which we’ll thrive.”

Top Fact: 41 percent of American’s surveyed by Rubin were Obligers. The smallest group were Rebels.

Top Tip: Obligers make great workers and partners, but don’t exploit them … they may suddenly rebel.

Read it… on a health retreat, so you can stick to your new lifestyle

And Breathe - Rebecca Dennis

£14.99, Orion Books 

And Breathe - Rebecca Dennis

I was a little sceptical about this book as it’s about breathing - and we all do it, right? But a few pages in, I began to breathe consciously, deeply into my diaphragm as instructed, and felt powerfully calm and grounded. The practise of deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, which soothes and deactivates our ‘fight or flight’ mode. This seemingly ordinary thing we do can be used intentionally to help with insomnia, anxiety, trauma, addiction, self-esteem, asthma and even IBS. There are various breathing exercises throughout to help you connect with, accept and manage emotions during difficult times, from a tricky meeting to sudden trauma. Keep it handy.

Quote this: “Breath is our medicine, a powerful tool that we all too often take for granted.”

Top Fact: We inhale and exhale around 20,000 times a day.

Top Tip: Emotion is energy-in-motion. It’s not good or bad. Rather than engaging with it, breathe deeply into it, and by becoming the observer, you will be able to detach from it.

Read it… on a much-needed solo spa day.

Self-care for the Real World - Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips

£16.99, Penguin 

Self-care for the Real World - Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips

Filled with ideas and advice on how to practice self-care, this is like having a wise and wonderful friend to hand – read and try something in it every day. Meditations, yoga and breathing exercises are interspersed with healthy recipes and wise words. It’s written by two sisters – yoga teacher Nadia and chef Katia, both walking adverts for their own healthy philosophy. It’s endorsed by the likes of Kate Moss and Reese Witherspoon (but don’t let that put you off!). We think it would make a lovely gift for a friend who has been going through a tough time – it may even be a life-saver.

Quote this: “Putting care and love into yourself will allow you to be more open to receiving love from others, and you will find you have more to give. It’s like a circle and it starts with you.”

Top fact: In 40 days you can break a negative habit, in 90 days you can establish a new habit, in 120 days you will ingrain that new habit, in 1,000 days you will master the new habit.

Top tip: Massage is a necessity, not a luxury.

Read it… when spa-ing with your best friend: share the love.