The 28 books that stopped my worrying, sent me travelling, and shaped who I am today

It’s a long, long journey out of the trap of anxiety and not believing in yourself. When you’re used to hiding away, making yourself smaller, and never speaking up, a bold change is needed for things to be different.

When I was living at home, I didn’t have the motivation nor the opportunities to leap out of my comfort zone and I feared what people might say if I were suddenly not shy. I had to go travelling to test drive a more confident version of myself. And when I had experienced what it felt like to not hide in the corner, I decided to move abroad and keep challenging myself.

Even when you have shed the most unwelcome and crippling parts of anxiety, the kind that stops you from going out and experiencing the world like everyone else, sometimes it can still suck. A niggling feeling threatens to take you back to where you were before. The world can feel too much and you just want to get back into bed. At those times, it can feel as if you haven’t progressed at all.

While this doesn’t happen to me so much these days, it’s more likely when I visit home and I’m surrounded by the people who knew what I was like growing up. Then I can revert back to my young-and-painfully-shy setting and my achievements in work and life seem utterly implausible to everyone in the room.

But I’ve grown so much and I know that these are momentary blips. My confidence bounces back. I go back to my job and jump into my habitual I’m confident and got my shit together persona. I remember that I don’t have to be shy and nervous and that it’s much easier and less stressful if I’m not.

I wasn’t sure I’d get here, but it happened – with the help of a whole lot of brilliant books, a few people who really left a mark on my life, and a bit of professional intervention. Of those things, there are some I can’t share with you, but I can definitely share books. Here are those that come to mind first.



1. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

This is the book I reread to…  Learn by heart how to approach life with more resilience than I thought possible.

2. The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

To make sure I keep reading and talking about books.

3. Gratitude – Oliver Sacks

To remember life is “an enormous privilege and adventure”.

4. Walden – Henry David Thoreau

To spend more time in nature and living simply.

5. Deep Work – Cal Newport

To learn how to really focus.

6. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

To think about the true value of a sunset.

7. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

To decide how I want to be spending the time I have.

8. The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

To fiercely defend my creative time at the crack of dawn.

9. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

To never forget how lucky I am.

10. Philosophy for Life: And Other Dangerous Situations – Jules Evans

The first book I ever wrote about on Tolstoy Therapy.
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Fiction and verse


11. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

To offer dreams of coffee, whisky, mountains and libraries.

12. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

To imagine life and love, war and peace.

13. “Ulysses” (poem) – Lord Alfred Tennyson

To be strong when I think of the past.

14. The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

To imagine escaping abroad.

15. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

To think about what’s enough.

16. King Lear – William Shakespeare

To contemplate how small a place we occupy in the world.

17. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières

To love.

18. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling

To think back to some of my first role models in fiction.

19. The Odyssey – Homer

To learn how humans have kept going since the beginning.

20. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

To persevere.

21. The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende

To realise that quiet can mean power.

22. The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

To create a garden in my mind.

23. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

To remember that spring is the best season “for plans and proposals”.

24. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

To never forget my family and where I came from.

25. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

To just set off.

26. Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín

To be conscious of the repercussions of changing myself.

27. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

To marvel at a mind filled with poetry, language, and facts.

28. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

To seek refuge in bookshops.

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Love books, feeling a little lost right now, and looking for some comfort and guidance forwards? I made The Sanctuary exactly for this.

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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