Habits = Your Health
Lifestyle habits are a cornerstone of health. I tell people all the time--you can do therapy until the end of time, but if you don't optimize your lifestyle habits it may be impossible to have the mental and physical health you truly want. Check out some of my favorite, most life-changing titles on lifestyle habits below.
"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become." This is one of James Clear's most highly cited quotes, and for good reason. It essentially sums up what therapy is all about--the process of consciously choosing the person we want to be and the life we want to live. Only, it's a lot more difficult than it sounds, isn't it? That's because our nervous system wiring and the patterns we've developed in relationships, habits, or in our day-to-day life tend to keep us in the same place, doing the same things, rather than creating change. Change is HARD. That's why I have a job and James Clear has an international bestseller! All of that said, change is also very possible for people who are committed to making it happen. This is perhaps one of my favorite books on the list because of its power and simplicity; its ability to make the untouchable actually attainable; its clear way of identifying why it's so hard for us to make the simplest of changes, and also how we can start making those changes immediately when using the right approach. Please do yourself a favor and check this one out. I dare you to read it and not become a better person.
Would you believe me if I told you it's possible to change the structure and function of your brain, your emotional ups and downs, immune function and physical health, and the way your DNA expresses itself in just 5 minutes per day? Welcome to mindfulness. As current clients have likely heard me say, progress in therapy--true change--typically hinges on a person's ability to engage in mindfulness. If you're unfamiliar, mindfulness (and meditation--which is a structured practice under the mindfulness umbrella) is simply the practice of noticing what you're noticing. In a hierarchy of therapy goals, being aware of our patterns--whether we're talking relationships, health habits, impulses, responses, etc.--is the essential first step in creating enough time and space to intervene on them. For many of my clients who have very limited ability to engage with the world in significant ways, mindfulness is a tool that requires no physical ability and yet has profound impact on overall health. Endless lives have been transformed simply by adopting a practice of mindfulness; I have seen it personally many, many times myself. I want you to know that it's available to you as well.
I like this book a lot. It's a clear and poignant summary that covers much of what this entire book list teaches. Essentially, it focuses on how human beings function optimally--both physically and mentally--when we simply make an effort to return to the life practices that shape our biology in a positive direction. In session, I'm constantly finding myself encouraging clients to "go back to basics" whenever they feel off. Together, we work to cultivate the practice of asking, am I prioritizing sleep? Am I moving? Am I feeding my body the nutrients it needs? Am I managing sources of stress? These questions always sound basic. Ya, ya, Katie. We know. And at the same time, when we DO go back to basics whenever we are feeling dysregulated, the results can be profound.
It's hard to overstate how much power exercise has to shift anxiety, depression, trauma, and their underlying mechanisms... so much so that I wrote my dissertation on it. During the general course of therapy, it's hard to explain all the reasons why exercise--at any level--is essential for enhancing nervous system health. In short, exercise actually grows and strengthens tissues in the brain; it improves sleep; it enhances hormone balance and function; it changes day-to-day and long-term anxiety; it enhances gut health; it builds self-esteem; it optimizes energy and metabolism; it out-performs antidepressant medications; it works to shift your body out of states of trauma...and it does so much MORE. Needless to say, this book will help you grow an understanding of why movement is so healing, and where to start even if exercise seems like something that's not manageable for you.
The Circadian Code
The circadian rhythm--our biological clock that regulates sleep--is so critical to health that it's been known to regulate some mental health conditions when it's consistently prioritized. In addition to sleep cycles, circadian rhythms are intimately related to metabolic health and weight, brain health and aging, hormonal health, and immune function, among others. Unfortunately, chronic and complex illness is practically synonymous with poor sleep; shaping sleep habits or treating insomnia almost always becomes a focus of therapy in my work. For anyone looking to optimize or improve their mental or physical health, the information in this book is an eye-opener (sleep pun?) that provides both information and inspiration for protecting the regularity of their sleep cycle. Without optimized sleep, true health may not be attainable.
This is Your Brain on Food
When it comes to brain and body health, nutrition is crucial--I always integrate nutrition changes into therapy because illness is often fueled by gut issues that are most directly addressed by shifting what we eat. For example, many ingredients like colors, preservatives, or taste-enhancers in processed (aka packaged) foods are known to impair brain functioning--so much so that many of them are banned in Europe and other countries. Not to mention, the foods we eat are meant to provide the building blocks for making all the neurotransmitters that shape our mood. What happens when our bodies don't get enough nutrients from clean, natural foods? Yikes. Despite plentiful research showing that diet has a profound impact on mental health, Nutritional Psychiatry became a recognized field only recently. Thanks to this book by THE pioneer, Dr. Uma Naidoo, there is now a guide that makes it easy to integrate brain-healthy eating into your life.
Similar to Atomic Habits, this book can profoundly change some of the factors keeping you "stuck." I've noticed that even when my clients have an intention of change and a direction to go in, they get overwhelmed by how BIG they believe the next steps must be. If you find yourself getting caught in space between who you've been and who you want to be, this book can help you get out of your own way and start moving in the directions that bring you fulfillment.
Why We Sleep
Ya, ya, sleep is important. We all know. Or DO we? Until I learned about the mechanisms of sleep from a biological and psychological perspective, I can honestly say that I hadn't the FAINTEST idea about how powerful sleep is in terms of health. That's why I recommend this easily-consumable book by expert Matthew Walker. It discusses how sleep impacts learning, memory, focus, attention, mood regulation, appetite, weight, stress and hormones, gut function, performance, brain health, and so much more. As you might now be able to guess, sleep is truly one of the most potent forms of medicine that human beings have access to. And yet unfortunately, as many of you reading this know firsthand, sleep is the first thing to "go" when we experience stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma. This is because sleep quality is mostly dictated by behavioral and psychological factors that require awareness, intention, and effort in order to be shifted. While poor sleep can create a lot of suffering, resources like this book (which will blow your mind) and the gold standard treatment CBTi (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia) are extremely effective in regaining good sleep. If you or someone you know experiences chronic or complex health issues and they struggle with sleep, this book is a must read.