For me, health optimization is related to stress management. When I’m stressed, I get sick – a cold that won’t go away, an upset stomach, sore muscles.
Corporate Career Stress
In the year or so right before I left my corporate career, I was besieged by tingling nerves and numbness in my hands and feet that would come and go. Because it was clearly nerve-related, I had my spine looked at, an MRI done, as well as a full check-up. I had been diagnosed with a heart murmur as a child so I had a full EKG work up on my heart. Nothing definitive, thankfully, but I was clearly not 100%.
When I left the corporate grind (yes, entrepreneurship is stressful but it’s a good stress), my unpredictable symptoms left and haven’t come back in 10 years.
Personal and professional development books to the rescue
Needless to say, the first thing I do when I feel any kind of illness coming on is look at my stress management. Being a natural worrier and an overactive planner, I have had to teach myself to be calmer and to proactively focus on relaxation. I read a LOT of personal and professional development books, and there is often at least one nugget you can take away from each book.
While it’s hard to cull it down to my all-time favorites, here are the 10 books (and one blog!) I think have been most helpful to stress management in particular.
Top 10 books helpful to stress management
1 – The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
This book was a game changer for me because I came to it at a time when I was in the peak of my corporate career, two young kids, and trying to find a productivity book to help me get through everything. The notion of managing energy, not time, was so helpful. The real-life examples were fun and instructive. When I better manage my energy, I better my stress (and I do get more done).
2 – Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise by Pam Young and Peggy Jones
More traditionally in the time management genre, this book, written by sisters focusing on optimizing their household management, has a throwback mission but a timeless message. I still use part of their system (though they organized it on cards, and I use Excel).
Young and Jones advocated assigning regular tasks to specific days of the week (e.g., baking on Thursday) and if you missed it, you skip it — you don’t push things onto another day. Try that approach for regular items on your to-do list – you’ll be much more disciplined about honoring tasks on the day they pop up on your card (or Excel or calendar). The set-it-and-forget-it approach frees up mind space and helps me be more relaxed about my to-do list.
Miedaner is my favorite coach in the life coaching category. This book covers some time management, money management, decluttering, and other ways of improving your life.
It’s a practical book and unlike some personal development books, this one doesn’t push into doing more – just being more complete in whatever you’re doing currently. I have reread this book several times and always find a new insight.
4 – Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman
Seligman is the founder of the Positive Psychology movement and a University of Pennsylvania professor. I’ve read several of his books and have enjoyed all. I pick Flourish because it’s the breeziest read (some of his other work is more text book style, though still accessible).
One of my favorite takeaways from Seligman is how to proactively be more optimistic. Seligman warns against taking negative situations as permanent, personal or pervasive – permanent meaning it will last forever, personal meaning it only happens to you, and pervasive meaning that this bad feeling applies to everything else in your life. When I’m feeling stressed about something, I stop to think if I’m treating it as permanent, personal or pervasive, and it’s often enough to break out of a negative loop.
Fine is a business coach, but I found his coaching models to be useful for navigating personal situations and the day-to-day.
Fine advocates the GROW model – i.e., identify the Goal, get Real about what the current situation is, identify Obstacles you’re facing and Options you have, and select the Way forward. It’s a simple structure but gives nearly every problem an accessible framework. When problems appear solvable, stress becomes easier to manage.
6 – The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
Keller’s one-thing approach is to ask, “What is the One Thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” That’s a powerful question to help prioritize your day-to-day and long-term. It helps cut out extraneous work, and that relieves a lot of stress.
7 – The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander
Maybe it’s because I’m a musician (as is Benjamin Zander) but I loved the musical anecdotes alongside the coaching insights and the inspirational message of The Art of Possibility.
The book offers various recommendations on how to approach life and relate to others in a way that is focused on open-mindedness, positivity, and potential. Expansive thinking, and this book encourages that, helps with stress management.
8 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This book is long and it’s not always easy to read, though the examples are fascinating. Kahneman is a psychologist and a Nobel Prize recipient in economics for his contribution to behavioral economics. Thinking, Fast and Slow will change the way you think about thinking.
You may become aware of your thinking process for the first time, or you may be more discerning and deliberate once you read about the biases, shortcuts, and mental missteps we tend to make. It’s not about stress management at all, but because this book caused me to slow down and reassess my thinking, I do think of it as a stress management tool.
9 – Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Yes, it was Dr. Joe Dispenza who finally pushed me over the edge into a meditation habit, but this book by Kabat-Zinn was what first introduced me to the concept of meditation many years earlier.
It’s a lyrically written, relaxing book in the way it’s written, even apart from the insightful content. The book unfolds like a meditation. Reading a few pages will probably lighten your stress right then.
For proactive and practical tips on taming stressful situations, Greene’s book is my favorite resource. Greene works with executives competitive athletes, and top performing artists (he teaches at Juilliard School of Music). The anecdotes are inspiring, and the techniques are helpful. If I know I’m going into a stressful period – push time on a project, big speaking event – I’ll pull up Greene’s book.
Bonus: Blog that will help with stress management
Step Up Your Game Now by Renita Kalhorn
While not a book, this blog by Kalhorn, a mental toughness coach (she works with Navy SEAL candidates!), is my go-to ongoing resource.
Concise, thought-provoking, and always useful, I get new posts delivered by email, so I have new insights to ponder or techniques to try every week or so. Recently, Kalhorn covered how we need to use more of the other F-word (forgiveness).
I love a lot of personal development books but these are particularly helpful with stress management. What is your favorite stress management resource?