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8 books to read during burnout when you feel exhausted

Relaxing after burnout with a book
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It feels like we’re in an era of burnout. In the last decade, the world has only become more stressful with the rise of social media and the amplification of our “always-on” culture. And with Covid in the mix too, it’s been a recipe for sheer exhaustion.

I had a bad burnout back in 2018, just before leaving my full-time job to never go back (you can read about this in my book, Mountain Song). I made a lot of positive changes back then, including a conscious effort to cultivate environments that support me and allow me to just be me, as a woman with autism spectrum disorder.

Unexpectedly if you follow this blog, books have been a big part of my recovery from burnout – and a way to prevent it from returning. Books have helped me through anxiety, trauma, accepting myself as a woman with autism, and so much more. I knew they had some wisdom to share with me now.

While recovering from burnout, I’ve been choosing books that let me retreat into worlds that intrigue me, reduce my stress levels, and show me windows of opportunity in my own life.

I’ve also made my reading time as sacred as possible. There’s nowhere else I’ve needed to be, all I’ve had to do is grab a blanket and a cup of tea and immerse myself in words.

Here are my suggestions of the best books for burnout that can help to guide you towards peace, balance, and energy on the other side. If you’re facing burnout at the moment, I hope they can help you too.

8 books that helped me recover from burnout

1. Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life by Tara Henley

I loved this book (and shared more thoughts here). Tara Henley, a Canadian journalist, navigates her own burnout in a society that can feel like a surefire recipe for anxiety and exhaustion.

In this memoir, Tara shares the story of her time off from the frantic newsroom to look for different ways of living. In Lean Out, she explores the worlds of self-sufficiency, homesteading, and financial independence and retiring early (FIRE) among other options for a slower, simpler way of life.

More books like Lean Out:

2. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

It’s not just you: the world we live in is exhausting and anxiety-inducing, and lately it’s felt like it’s only getting more so. Notes on a Nervous Planet is Matt Haig’s exploration of how modern life feeds our anxiety – and how to live a better, calmer life that prevents burnout and anxiety.

“We often find ourselves wishing for more hours in the day, but that wouldn’t help anything. The problem, clearly, isn’t that we have a shortage of time. It’s more that we have an overload of everything else.”

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

More books like Notes on a Nervous Planet:

3. Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Sometimes when you’re recovering from burnout, a wholesome and magical book is just what you need. Think about some of your favourite childhood or feel-good books, or start with Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, a delightful slice-of-life book about the power of friendship.

Sentaro’s life hasn’t gone to plan. His dream of becoming a writer has long been forgotten, and now he has a criminal record, drinks too much, and spends day after day in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste. But when Tokue, an elderly woman with a troubled past, comes into his life, everything changes for both of them.

More books like Sweet Bean Paste:

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Sometimes during burnout you just want to escape for a while – and a binge-worthy book is a great place to start. You can read my list of the best books to binge-read here, but one of my go-to author suggestions is Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the perfect book to immerse yourself in during a laid-back, hygge weekend. It’s about an ageing and reclusive Hollywood movie icon who’s finally ready to tell the story of her glamorous and scandalous life: a story that has a lot more to it than anyone could’ve expected.

More books like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo:

  • Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid: In this bestselling new novel for 2022, a tennis star legend supposedly past her prime at thirty-seven, is brought back to the tennis court for one more grand slam. 

5. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer is one of my most treasured books, about a single summer in bloom by the Appalachian Mountains. As new life and the sensuality of nature blossom, we’re swept into three different yet interconnected lives in the Appalachian mountains.

Deanna is a local girl turned biologist turned forest ranger, living reclusively in a cabin in the woods. Lusa is a city girl turned entomologist turned farmer’s wife. And Garnett is a grumpy old man, fed up with neighbour Nannie Rawley, everyone else’s favourite eccentric old woman and organic apple farmer.

Each time I re-read this book, especially when I’m feeling burned out and in need of an escape, I remember how much I love all of these characters.

Book_Prodigal Summer

6. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA

This isn’t just a groundbreaking book about burnout, but also a book about why women experience burnout differently than men. Emily Nagoski, author of the bestselling Come As You Are, provides a simple, research-based plan to help you minimize stress, manage emotions when you’re already operating at 110%, and live a more joyful life in an often sexist world.

More books like Burnout:

  • When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté. In this illuminating book, Gabor Maté shows us that emotion and psychological stress aren’t just temporary problems, but also play a powerful role in the onset of chronic illness.

7. Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine

Just flicking through the pages of Closer to the Ground is enough to soothe my nerves and calm me down. It’s a deeply personal story of a father learning to share his love of nature with his children, not through stories or pictures, but directly and palpably in their wild surroundings.

Through each of the seasons in the Pacific North West, they forage, cook and eat from the woods and sea. When I first read the book, I looked forward to returning to the book’s beautiful pages every evening and letting the slow and quiet way of life soothe me before bed.

More books like Closer to the Ground:

8. Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living by Rhonda Hetzel

During burnout, I loved settling down in the evenings to spend an hour reading Down to Earth. Rhonda Hetzel writes like the Australian friend you wished you had, offering neighbourly guidance on how to encourage your carrot seeds to germinate, save cash on groceries, knit your own dishcloths, and brew ginger beer.

While taking some time off from work, I’ve been exploring how I can steer my life further in this direction. I loved growing my own vegetables last summer, and already have pots of carrots, radishes, peas, spinach, and kale emerging from the soil on our balcony here in Copenhagen.

Down to Earth has been a wonderful treasure trove of ideas to accompany my urban vegetable garden and help me to slow down, focus mindfully on small projects and tasks around the house, and disconnect from online life.

“Simple living is not about buying a lifestyle, it’s about building a life – using what you already have.”

Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living by Rhonda Hetzel

More books like Down to Earth:

  • Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver – If you love Barbara Kingsolver’s fiction, give her non-fiction a go with this collection of essays. The book charts her decision to move from Arizona to the Appalachians in pursuit of fertile earth and local, seasonal food – much of it fresh from her own garden. She navigates the line between environmental call to action and celebration of simpler living wonderfully.

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