Self care is a trendy term that is fuzzy in definition, partly because taking care of yourself has so many facets.
This list covers a wide range of self care practices in the areas of physical, relational, organizational, and general life management.
I leaned towards the books with general principles that would apply to most people. If you face known health concerns or specific personal challenges then research the experts who have experience in that area.
My top four picks for best self care books are Margins, Boundaries, Why We Sleep and The Lazy Genius Way.
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Sleep, Diet and Exercise
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
Why We Sleep is a critical work for every human.
Walker explains the studies behind much of what we know about sleep and builds on that understanding with the latest findings, including his own two decades of research.
From circadian rhythms to melatonin and caffeine, REM sleep, dreams and sleep disorders, Walker offers a fascinating and engaging window into the world of sleep and dreams.
Together with diet and exercise, sleep comprises a critical piece of our overall health, but one that is often overlooked and neglected.
Highly recommended for everyone.
Food Rules by Michael Pollan
If you’re confused by all the contradictions in nutritional advice and are looking for some bite-sized (haha) nuggets of wisdom, this book is for you.
It’s blessedly short, practical and devoid of the plethora of citations that prove it’s points. The author assures us that the rules are built on sound scientific research, though to actually access sources you need to read his other book, In Defense of Food.
Everything boils down to seven words: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Each phrase is also the name of one section of the book which heads up the 64 rules. The rules expand the wisdom of avoiding processed foods, eating in moderation and majoring on plants in your diet.
If you’re at a starting point of wanting to transition out of the standard American diet, Pollan will point the way to healthier eating.
The Whole 30 by Melissa Hartwig Urban and Dallas Hartwig
What makes The Whole 30 plan revolutionary? Basically, it’s the contrast to what a normal diet looks like.
The whole 30 is a food plan to eat differently for 30 days. A lot of the success comes from restricting food that does harm to our bodies, such as sugar. Other foods are restricted as well, such as dairy and grains.
In place of the restricted food, the focus is on healthy fats, meats, fruits and vegetables.
It’s hard, but it’s not hard.
One of the often quoted phrases from the book is that it’s not hard. “Losing a parent is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Drinking your coffee black is. not. hard.” It’s important to keep it in perspective.
On the other hand, it’s hard to break habits associated with food. Food choices, preparation and consumption is pervasive, touching every area of our lives. Changing those habits is not easy, even if it’s only for 30 days.
Spark by John J. Ratey
A compelling look at exercise and it’s benefits.
Spark is full of engaging stories of innovative people who have discovered and reaped the benefits of exercise. This includes students, the elderly, those suffering from anxiety, depression and addiction.
If you’re looking for motivation to become more active, this book will give you the spark you need.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Born to Run reads like a novel.
Christopher McDougall is a writer and ultra marathoner who found himself in the middle of a runner’s drama.
While researching the secrets of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who can run hundreds of miles without rest, he stumbles onto some discoveries about health and life.
How transferable are these principles to the average American couch potato? Good question. But you will certainly be entertained by this fascinating tale along the way.
Money, Time and Life Management
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Out of all the financial gurus out there, why listen to Dave Ramsey? What sets Dave apart is his understanding of human nature and the emotional roadblocks that keep people from make good financial decisions.
Part of his signature advice is the “debt snowball”. Arranging your debts from smallest to largest doesn’t necessarily make sense, except, you need the encouragement of seeing progress, of seeing a debt paid off . . . “sometimes motivation is more important than math”. This encouragement keeps you on track to meet your financial goals.
Another thing that sabotages a good plan is an emergency expense. Planning for emergencies is a bedrock principle for success financially, according to Dave.
He suggests two ways to do this. First is a small emergency fund. Later, a larger fund is created in preparation for a financial tidal wave.
It takes an intensity and focus to succeed financially. Dave calls it “gazelle intensity”.
The book oozes with stories of people who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve financial freedom. These serve as an inspiration and encouragement to those in the trenches.
Margin by Richard Swenson
“Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Today we use margin just to get by. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload. Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God’s purpose.”– from Amazon
When we live without margin, we live on the edge. We live on the brink of breakdown because of the overload.
Swenson argues that we need that cushion of unclaimed resources as a buffer for times of crisis. We need margin in our lives in the areas of emotional energy, physical energy, finances and time. Using the maximum of every resource increases our stress and pain. Leaving some unused margin in our resources reduces our stress and pain and allows us to rest.
The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
In easy to digest, bite sized pieces, Kendra Adachi lays out the rationale and outline for living life as a Lazy Genius. “Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t and Get Stuff Done, ” according to the subtitle.
Kendra gives you a framework for making your life work for you. Heavy on insight and low on guilt. Feeling like a failure doesn’t help. Getting clear on what’s important is a critical first step. She calls it naming what matters.
Paradigm shift is overused, but that describes it. Call it creating a new mindset, seeing things differently or approaching life management without the guilt.
I’m calling it an important self care book because naming what matters and doing what’s most important will reduce stress, even if what matters most is taking care of others.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
In the avalanche of self-help books, Atomic Habits stands out from the pack. James Clear communicates clearly about habits, routines and systems making profound observations about the science of transformation.
There’s several reasons why Atomic Habits is such a great book. First of all, is the depth of understanding of how habits work in our lives and how powerful they are for life change.
Another reason is the power of habits to increase focus and productivity in our lives.
The third reason is that it’s a ground breaking book from a thought leader that challenges the status quo.
On his website, James Clear lists his top 100 recommended books, many in the areas of personal development and life change.
If you’re looking for more books on practical, everyday change take a look at my post Books like Atomic Habits
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The 5 Love Languages is a perennial best seller.
Gary Chapman discovered five main ways people express love and how to understand which way communicates best to individuals.
Understanding these concepts and using them well improves all the important relationships in our lives.
What are the five different ways that humans communicate love?
- Acts of service
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
In the quest for healthy relationships it’s important to understand and set good boundaries.
How can we say “no” to people who need us? How can we take time off to rest and refresh when people need us? Where does my life stop and someone else’s begins?
What is the difference between healthy interdependence and unhealthy co-dependence?
Cloud and Townsend explain what boundaries are and how to set good ones.
Gratitude and Decluttering
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Kondo’s little book has gotten a lot of buzz, for good reason.
She attacks the problem of decluttering with her signature question when faced with whether to keep or not. “Does it spark joy?”
Kondo attacks common myths, such as do a little every day. Simple, profound principles to help you get your living space in order.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Every person in the world knows pain and heartache. And every person can number their blessings.
Ann Voskamp challenges us to be intentional about looking for and expressing gratitude. Even though I read it years ago, it colors my thinking to this day.
I understand that her poetic prose doesn’t appeal to everyone. Grammar Geeks beware. But the message is universal and important.
Even though self care is a fuzzy concept, I believe it’s important, however we understand it.
Interested in more books along these lines? Read my article on The Best Books on Life Management