How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive book summary of the book How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry, is like a short user manual for your mental health. The author, a practicing psychotherapist, equips us with a curated powerful arsenal. Storage of arms that allow us to defend ourselves from the chaos trying to corrupt our thinking – and well-being. The book offers a simple set of instructions for everyone who wants to maintain mental balance.

The Core Idea:

How to escape a life where you lurch from crisis to crisis? There is no defined path. No single “right” way to reach a calmer state of being. Yet, there are a few things we can perform that will help us handle complex situations while keeping our sanity. The four core concepts introduced in this book – based on neuroscience and psychology – act as strategies for untangling complexity. Helping us understand ourselves on a deeper level and operate with a clear head.

Reason To Read:

Become more aware of your feelings. Stop yourself from automatically entering a state of insanity. This book is short, but comes with deep thought-provoking exercises that will help you know yourself better. Realize what makes you feel uneasy and what can help you react better when your impulses try to push you in negative directions.


  • Practicing self-observation will help you uncover hidden feelings that are sabotaging you.
  • Our feelings are never wrong. They just are. Being interested in how you respond when you have negative feelings will help you respond better.
  • An uncommon way to handle stress is by introducing good stress – exercising and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities.

5 Key Lessons from How to Stay Sane:

Lesson #1: The Power of Self-Observation

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And what better life to examine than ours, right?

Self-observation is the first technique introduced in the book that aims to pull you out of the rut. Escape gloomy moods and destructing behavior patterns.

It’s a practice that involves – metaphorically speaking – taking an outside view of your actions and feelings in order to make the needed corrections in what you’ll do next.

The practice of self-observation gives you the needed space to assess your emotions and invite logic to the party. All of this, so you can make wiser decisions instead of allowing your feelings to crush your enthusiasm.

Self-observation can be mistaken for self-obsession. That you become absorbed by your uniqueness and forget about the rest of the world. However, that’s not the case.

As the author writes, “it is a tool that enables us to become less self-absorbed, because it teaches us not to be taken over by obsessive thoughts and feelings.”

All of this leads to the following question: How to practice self-observation?

The first part is to acknowledge what you feel now. Stop for a moment when there is a negative feeling trying to direct you towards self-sabotaging your life and re-directing yourself to a better state of mind.

This means that if you just lost your job, you don’t say “I am sad.” Rather, you say, “I feel sad”.

In the second case, you acknowledge your feelings and prevent them from taking total control of you. It’s not your full self that it’s sad. You are just experiencing this emotion.

The questions introduced in the book that can guide us whenever we feel doubtful about our next action are:

What am I feeling now?
What am I thinking now?
What am I doing at this moment?
How am I breathing?

Once we have the answer to these four, Philippa Perry offers this as a next step:

What do I want for myself in this new moment?

Do you want to stay sad for a while, or do you want to re-direct yourself to a different mood?

This whole exercise is called the Grounding Exercise. It gives us the needed space to stop, recognize how we feel, and then turn our attention to something else that is more productive and will make us feel better.

Simply put, self-observation provides us with the opportunity to decipher ourselves in the current moment and make a conscious decision to move to a better place.

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