Self-help books for 2022

Reboot your life with these 5 new self-help books

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The Stylist team puts the biggest new wellbeing books to the test to see if they really could change your life. 

The past two years haven’t been the best time for self-realisation and growth, but as we gear up for the beginning of 2022, now’s a good time to take stock and think about what small practical changes we can make to improve our lives and our mental wellbeing. Especially as January is traditionally the month when some of the best titles on self-improvement arrive in bookstores. With this in mind, we decided to roadtest some of the most intriguing self-help books that are set to publish in the new year and asked members of the Stylist team to read them and find out if they really are any good. 

The books cover banishing toxic positivity (the need to make the best of everything when, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with sitting with uncomfortable emotions); sorting out your relationship with money; understanding how our brains actually work; embracing the power of naps; and tackling the truth about our WFH lives – essentially the things that could make an instant impact on the biggest areas of our lives (mental and physical wellbeing, money and work). After all, figure out these fundamental foundations in our lives and the rest should follow… 

  • Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith

    Self-help books for 2022: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith
    Self-help books for 2022: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith

    Roadtested by Meena Alexander, features editor

    Why did you want to try it out?
    If there’s one trait I covet above all else, it’s resilience; feeling mentally well-equipped to tackle whatever life may throw my way, or at least weather it without crumbling into a pile of dust (I’m looking at you, lockdown three). So the tagline of this book instantly appealed: everyday tools for life’s ups and downs. It promised practicality rather than the wishy-washy musings that often pass for advice in self-help books. And thankfully, it kept its promise.

    What’s in the book?
    This book is very useful, the kind of thing I want to press into the hands of friends and family, particularly those feeling mentally drained by the past two years. In it, Dr Julie Smith shares insights and life skills most therapists charge hundreds for; strategies for dealing with everything from stress and burnout to grief and the singular anxieties brought on by social media.

    I appreciated how the book’s layout takes into account that readers may not be in the frame of mind to trawl through dense text: at the end of each chapter, a box of bullet points picks out the main takeaways. There are also exercises to help you unpick particular problems, from space for ‘pros and cons’ lists to tough questions for mulling over (‘If no one knew how you spent your time, how would you spend it?’).

    Useful things you learned?
    I dipped into it depending on my mood: one day I was feeling low and lacking in energy, so I turned to the ‘Motivation’ chapter. In a section headed ‘How do you make yourself do something when you don’t feel like it?’ Smith succinctly breaks down why, on a neurological level, we resist making the effort to do something new: forming fresh neural pathways is simply not energy efficient, it’s exhausting.

    It’s nuggets like these that almost help more than the advice – there are reasonable explanations for my feelings; I’m not ‘lazy’ or ‘bad’ – just human. But then she suggests ways to incorporate mini rewards, hits of dopamine to balance out the effort, that make daunting tasks more manageable for our brains and thus for us. Suddenly, tiny things I hadn’t thought of – like listening to a favourite song after I complete a task – make me race through my to-do list.

    Conclusion…
    If you’re someone, like me, who responds well to hard facts and practical tips, this book is a goldmine. I truly treat it like a handbook now – when I feel an unpleasant feeling brewing or come up against a tricky moment at work or in my relationships, my first thought is to wonder what Smith might suggest. It’s not a replacement for IRL therapy, but it’s pretty damn close (out 6 January).

    Shop Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith (Penguin) at Bookshop, £14.99

  • Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real In A World Obsessed With Being Happy by Whitney Goodman

    Self-help books for 2022: Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman
    Self-help books for 2022: Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman

    Roadtested by Holly Bullock, features assistant

    Why did you want to try it out?
    I must admit that I don’t usually go for self-help books. I’m slightly baffled by talk of manifesting and the law of attraction – but that’s exactly why this oxymoronic title intrigued me. It promised to be a sort of anti-self-help self-help book and (spoiler) it didn’t let me down.

    What’s in the book?
    Goodman starts off by explaining the concept of ‘toxic positivity’ – an antidote to ‘good vibes only’ rhetoric which encourages us to sit with our problems instead of dismissing them. After a brief introduction, she gets straight into her manifesto, using Pinterest-style motivational quotes (which Goodman deems examples of toxic positivity) as springboards for chapters on everything from supporting others to complaining productively. She tells us where we might be going wrong, and gives us examples of what you could say instead of ‘toxic’ responses. It might sound a bit script-y, but I have a feeling I’ll be referring back.

    Useful things you learned?
    The most important takeaway (that Goodman consistently hammers home) is that you don’t have to put a positive spin on bad news. She explains that if someone comes to you with grief, sadness or disappointment, it’s best not to start with a “but…” or an “at least it’s not…”, but to validate their feelings instead. Although societal pressure to be happy is real – do you ever hear new parents not say: “I just want my child to be happy”? – Goodman thinks that’s damaging, and that we should be ready to embrace every emotion. Finally, and this one really hit me at my core, stop adding “lol” to the end of messages that are meant seriously in order to play them down.

    Conclusion…
    If you’re a manifesting-and-inspirational-quotes type, this book may leave you questioning things. By the end, though, you’ll probably appreciate Goodman’s ‘radically honest’ approach. Goodman made me feel seen. It wasn’t always a comfortable read – I could literally tick off all of the emotion-dismissing habits that have wiggled their way into my conversations – but I really felt like I came away with a new perspective. This book will make you want to bin your gratitude journal in the best possible way (out 27 January).

    Shop Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real In A World Obsessed With Being Happy by Whitney Goodman (Orion) at Bookshop, £14.99

  • Financial Wellness And How To Find It by Melanie Eusebe

    Self-help books for 2022: Financial Wellness And How To Find It by Melanie Eusebe
    Self-help books for 2022: Financial Wellness And How To Find It by Melanie Eusebe

    Roadtested by Miranda Larbi, editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club

    Why did you want to try it out?
    I’ve always been a pretty good saver. My grandma started my ISA – with which I just bought my first flat – in 50p pieces when I was born, and from day dot, my dad drilled into me that money was to be saved or spent on special offer items rather than anything expensive. My mum, on the other hand, spends with wild abandon. I’ve got a bit of both traits: I’ve saved hard and most of my clothes have holes but I’ve been known to spend £8 on a single slice of cashew cheeze at vegan markets.

    Money is difficult, no matter how much you save, earn or spend. I’d never heard of the term ‘financial wellness’ until I started reading this book but it immediately made sense. Overall wellness isn’t about how far you run or how wholesome your diet is; it’s about how at peace you are with the decisions you make about your wellbeing. We all know those people who look like the picture of health but are deeply troubled, the same as we know women who earn ridiculously high sums and who are still in debt.

    What’s in the book?
    It’s a practical guide to understanding your own financial landscape. It’s pretty self-help/gal boss/yasss queen! in parts which can be slightly jarring, but it’s worth pushing through because there are some seriously wise nuggets of advice. Each chapter leads up to a task and explains why and what you’ll get out of it. The first is definitely the worst: making a spreadsheet of all your income and outgoings. No one wants to see that they spend £200 a month at the M&S by their office when they know all that gets bought is bags of nuts, disgusting hot shot juices and microwavable pots of oats. But the moment you see it all laid bare, you can act.

    Useful things you learned?
    There were three main things: making a financial inventory because if you don’t know, you can’t change anything; analysing your attitude towards money: are you a spendthrift or nervous saver? And finally, working out how much each hour of your day is worth, financially.

    Conclusion…
    It’s made me a lot more aware of how I spend, what my goals are and how I feel about money. Conversely, it’s actually made me relax about forking out for stuff I really want but stopped the frivolous spending (out 19 January).

    Shop Financial Wellness And How To Find It by Melanie Eusebe (Orion) at Bookshop, £12.99

  • Saved By The Siesta by Brice Faraut and translated by Eric Rosencrantz

    Self-help books for 2022: Saved By The Siesta by Brice Faraut
    Self-help books for 2022: Saved By The Siesta by Brice Faraut

    Roadtested by Chloe Gray, senior writer

    Why did you want to try it out?
    I consider myself somewhat of a recreational sleep expert. That’s mainly due to the fact that I can not function on a bad night’s sleep, and also because I’m an extremely sensitive snoozer. I’ve spent my life trying to combat that combination, reading up on anything sleep-related to avoid frequent tired days.

    The most common suggestion for feeling better after a poor night’s rest is to take a nap. But even a dribble of sunlight or noise from outside my window stops me from drifting off. In deep need, I turned to the book Saved By The Siesta, written by sleep expert and neuroscientist Brice Faraut.

    What’s in the book?
    The book delves into our sleep crisis and Faraut’s solution lies in the nap: an easy way to close our sleep debt but something often seen as lazy or pointless in the western world. The book is jam-packed with studies that support his theory: for example, a 2004 study by the University of Genoa that found an absence of napping before a shift led to police officers being 38% more likely to cause traffic accidents. Or the Japanese study that found a 20-minute nap gives more pleasure than exposure to bright sunlight, dubbing it the ‘inner smile’.

    Useful things you learned?
    Faraut offers some really applicable tips for getting the most from your nap without the grogginess. For example, early morning risers will have greater ‘sleep pressure’ in the early afternoon and therefore a 30-minute nap will send them into a longer phase of deep sleep – the restorative wave of sleeping. For night owls who get up later, the same nap length at the same time of day will be richer in REM – the memory and cognition phase.

    Conclusion…
    For those who haven’t done much digging into the importance of sleep, it’s a fascinating reminder that we all have free medicine at our fingertips. But truthfully, I still can’t nap; I lay there impatiently wondering when it will happen and just give up. I’m taking hope from the 1977 study Faraut referenced, showing habitual nappers drift off in around 14 minutes while it takes new nappers double that time, that one day I’ll drift off when my head hits the pillow. Until then, my tired days remain (out 13 January).

    Shop Saved By The Siesta by Brice Faraut and translated by Eric Rosencrantz (Scribe) at Bookshop, £14.99

  • Out Of Office by Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel

    Self-help books for 2022: Out Of Office by Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel
    Self-help books for 2022: Out Of Office by Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel

    Roadtested by Susan Riley, commercial editorial director

    Why did you want to try it out?
    Out of office is where I’ve been for nearly two years, and I don’t think I’m working from home right. I’m working to exactly the same rhythms and structures that I did in the office (except without any exercise or socialisation) and I know there’s a better, more liberating way. Remote working is a skill and I need to hone it.

    What’s in the book?
    The two authors – who live and work together – explore the potential of liberating ourselves from the confines of office work via four categories: flexibility, culture, technology and community, before rounding off with two chapters that speak directly to bosses and workers. The first section has you nodding away at all the challenges posed by hybrid working, but then it gets pretty theoretical, digging into work culture mistakes of the past and what we need to avoid if we’re going to finally get it right.

    Useful things you learned?
    It makes you realise how entrenched we are in productivity culture and how tech – while initially designed to clear space in our lives – only seeds more productivity. To counter this, the book implores us to self-audit: to work out how much time we spend on the crux of our jobs, and being honest about the amount we spend ‘LARPing’ (live action role playing) and doing more performative tasks. This is really useful. As is assessing which parts of your role are rigid and which can flex more to your needs (only 20% of meetings are important FYI and if they involve more than five people it should be an announcement).

    Most reassuringly, we’re told it’s not our job to set personal WFH boundaries but the responsibility of employers to set supportive ‘guardrails’ in place. Which I think we all need to hear, and start asking for.

    Conclusion…
    I wanted way more remote working tips from people who do it well. But this is no WFH handbook. Flexible working is basically the springboard to address the bigger issue that society has ignored for so long: that we need to reconfigure the place of work in our lives. To achieve this, the book tells us: “there is arduous, endlessly challenging work ahead” that we cannot do alone, which my frazzled pandemic brain found rather overwhelming.

    Despite the lack of practical takeaways, this is great for making you think about the life you want to live and cultivate outside of your laptops. I know I certainly have work to do here (out 13 January).

    Shop Out Of Office by Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel (Scribe) at Bookshop, £14.99

Images: courtesy of publishers

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown