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Review of "How We Break" by Vincent Deary - prioritize self-care for a better outcome in all aspects of life.

and the rest will follow Review of “How We Break” by Vincent Deary – prioritize self-care for a better outcome in all aspects of life.


It is refreshing to come across a psychology book that is targeted towards the general public and does not have a specific agenda to motivate readers to reach certain goals or work harder. With the advancements in society and technology in the last century, self-actualization has become more attainable for a larger population. While this may be seen as a positive development, the process of self-actualizing is challenging and can lead to setting high standards that we may struggle to meet. Whether we are aware of it or not, our unrealized potential can linger and motivate us to keep striving until we become overwhelmed.

This book is the second installment in a planned trilogy and a continuation of Deary’s 2015 publication, “How We Are.” As a health psychologist, Deary delivers a crucial message: our capacity to handle life’s unpredictable challenges is limited. The idea of allostatic load, or the toll of chronic stress, is frequently discussed. In chapter four, we are introduced to Anne, a single mother who struggles to care for her son and father while also working as a probation officer (Anne’s case is a composite of patients Deary has treated in a fatigue clinic). She prioritizes everyone else’s needs above her own, leading to a gradual decline in her ability to function until she eventually experiences chronic fatigue. Through psychotherapy, Anne learns to recognize the consequences of taking on too much for too long, to the point where even minor obstacles can push her over the edge.

One of the book’s strengths is how Deary incorporates different perspectives from psychology, philosophy, and religion. This leads to more than just discussing abstract ideas, but also provides valuable insights on what it means to be human in today’s world, considering biological, societal, and economic factors. In chapter eight, we are introduced to Fred, a freelance editor in his early 30s who constantly feels tired due to his anxiety and panic attacks. The book illustrates how his anxiety, worsened by the Covid-19 lockdown, limited his world to his own home, making him a prisoner of his own mind. Gradually, he begins the process of reclaiming his life, one step at a time.

The various chapters work as stand-alone essays and discuss very different questions. How do stories and narratives shape us? What is the difference between useful and destructive thinking? How do dysfunctional psychological processes like anxiety or anorexia come to possess us? What does it mean to have a healthy relationship with yourself? The resulting insights apply whether we have a diagnosable mental health condition or not.

For those who haven’t encountered the harsh realities of life yet or tend to stay in their comfort zones, How We Break may not resonate as much. However, living in this way can also lead to its own set of psychological issues. As humans, we are actually strengthened by facing stress and challenges, a concept known as anti-fragility. Unfortunately, modern society has made it easier for us to shield ourselves from difficult situations, and we are just beginning to understand the potential impact this may have on the mental well-being of younger generations. Instead, this book is intended for those who have faced excessive challenges at a young age, or for extended periods of time, and may have high levels of competence but struggle with low self-esteem.

The third part of the trilogy will be titled How We Mend. In the interim, this novel provides a cathartic reflection on the challenges of life. While the idea of self-care is often used and may not always be helpful on social media, Deary presents a convincing case for the importance of self-compassion. He guides us towards a more compassionate perspective on our struggles and offers practical tips for managing life’s highs and lows with more poise and balance.

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Source: theguardian.com