How to Stay Sane, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


There is no simple set of instructions that can guarantee sanity, but if you want to overcome emotional difficulties and become happier, psychotherapist Philippa Perry argues that there are four cornerstones to sanity you can influence to bring about change.

By developing your self-observation skills, examining how you relate to others, breaking out of your comfort zone and exploring new ways of defining yourself, she demonstrates that it is possible to become a little less tortured and a little more fulfilled.

This book is at once a brilliant explanation of our minds and a profoundly useful guide to facing up to the many challenges life throws our way.

One in the new series of books from The School of Life, launched May 2012: How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric How to Worry Less About Money by John Armstrong How to Change the World by John-Paul Flintoff How to Thrive in the Digital Age by Tom Chatfield How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 144 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular philosophy
  • ISBN: 9781447202301



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A nice little self-help book, which does not look or feel like one, because it is wonderfully relaxed and ... somehow light. One could end up picking up a few good ideas that help to think more and, yes, perhaps even stay sane.

Review by

How To Stay Sane is a bare-bones self-help book, trimmed to the essentials, with useful exercises to incorporate into your daily life. The basic message is simple: mental health is just like physical health. It must be maintained with proper exercise and nourishment. Neglected, our minds become ill, just as our bodies do.<br/><br/>The book is written by a psychotherapist; she’s created a manual so that people can be their own therapist. <br/><br/>Ms. Perry sets out four basic elements that should be included in a mental maintenance regimen: self-observation, relationship, stress, and story. The first is just basic honest introspection: what am I feeling and thinking right now, without applying value judgments about whether it’s good or bad to feel that way. <br/><br/>It’s been widely reported that relationships are vital to mental health. I really liked Ms. Perry’s recommendation for how to keep relationships healthy. The Daily Temperature Reading (developed by Virginia Satir), involves five topics: appreciations (what I like about you or the relationship); new information (something new I’m feeling or doing); questions, complaints and recommendations for change (without provoking an argument!); and wishes, hopes, and dreams. This process could be adapted to any relationship, and done on a less regular basis. <br/><br/>The third category is stress. Ms. Perry says that we need to balance stress—too much is obviously bad for us, but too little is also bad. To be mentally healthy we need to always be stretching ourselves—learning something new, pushing beyond our comfort level, both mentally and physically. <br/>She suggests drawing concentric circles, and in the innermost circle writing activities that you are comfortable with: watching TV, walking the dog around the block, visiting with your friends. Then in the next circle write things that are a little challenging: speaking to strangers at a cocktail party, hiking for a few miles. Then in the next circle out write things that you are afraid of doing: speaking in front of a large crowd, running a marathon. Her suggestion is that you slowly expand your inner circle. Challenge yourself to widen your circle of comfort. <br/><br/>She mentions research into the effect of intelligence and education on longevity, done with nuns because their lifestyles were so consistent (the thinking is more educated people will keep stimulating their minds throughout their lives). The study showed that the more educated women lived longer and were mentally healthy longer. After death, some of their brains were autopsied, and surprisingly, some of the healthy women who had shown no signs of Alzheimer’s had significant brain damage from the disease, while those who had become senile from the disease in life showed much less damage to the brain. The lesson is obvious: mental stimulation helps keep the brain healthy. There is a plasticity to the brain throughout life and if it is exercised it can make new connections that bypass injury.<br/><br/>The last category is about the stories we tell ourselves. To stay sane we need to learn to “re-write the narratives that define us, making new meanings and imagining different endings.” We need to be watchful of the belief systems by which we live our lives. <br/><br/>Many of the exercises are variations on breathing/visualizations that I’ve seen elsewhere. But one that was new to me sounds like a fascinating project: a “Genogram” is a genealogy chart that describes each relative with five adjectives, and each person is linked to all the others with varying line-shapes that express their emotional relationships with each other. This can help you understand the emotional and behavioral influences you were programmed with as a young child without realizing it. Ms. Perry thinks that this is “the most comprehensive tool to aid self-awareness that exists,” giving you as much insight as you could get from a good therapist. And to beware, because it can bring up some strong emotions. I’m going to be with some of my family this summer, and I’m thinking this could be a fascinating project to bring with me.<br/>

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