Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by ThoughtsStained
Hi, friends. Today’s post is just some musings related to reading and mental health. For me, I’ve found that there is a distinct relationship between the two. I wanted to explore that a bit and see if anyone else experiences the same. Plus, if anyone has any advice on how to get over the “I want to read but can’t make myself sit down to do so” mentality that has become my personality. 😅
So, let’s discuss!
My Reading Habits
So, no one is surprised that I like to read. I mean, I’m a book blogger and a writer. It kinda comes with the territory. No idea how I initially got into either hobby, either (reading or writing). But I remember growing up and reading all of the time. I’d read during class breaks, sometimes even sneaking in pages during class or during recess. I always had the maximum number of books allowed checked out at my library growing up. My evenings were spent reading, every night. The usual culprit for me getting in trouble was my Mom catching me up past my bedtime because I was still reading my book.
That all changed once I got into college.
Suddenly, I had a lot of things vying for my attention. Reading for fun was a luxury I didn’t have anymore. Eventually, I did get back into it. And though I don’t read anywhere near the amount I used to growing up, I still read more than anyone else I know IRL.
Now, my mental health journey is a whole ‘nother beast. Though I wasn’t officially diagnosed with my trio of disorders (Anxiety, Depression and OSFED) until the past few years, I’ve had all of them for as long as I could remember. Growing up as a goodie-two-shoes, people-pleasing perfectionist makes it unsurprising that anxiety has been a constant companion. Depression I’ve dealt with for a long time, especially related to ingrained fatphobia and body image.
I take medication for depression and used to go to therapy (until I couldn’t afford it). I have good days and bad days, like we all do. But right now, on average, I’d say my mental health is…not great.
Reading and Mental Health
So: how does my relationship with reading tie into my mental health? Well, I’ve found it to be a direct correlation between positive and negative reactions. When I am actively reading, I am immediately happier. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes during my lunch break. When I read consistently (i.e., am not in a reading slump), I am happier. I look forward to opportunities to read and, often, once I sit down to do so, I struggle to stop.
On the flip side, I feel a lot of guilt when I’m not reading. Part of that is tied to being a book blogger and a writer, and how reading has become more of an obligation than a hobby, like it used to. Yet I think, unconsciously, I know I’m happier when I read.
So, why has it become so hard to get myself to do it? And why am I happier in the first place?
I’m honestly not sure. Amber @ The Literary Phoenix actually wrote a really interesting discussion on this the other day, discussing bibliotherapy. It’s a term I’d never heard before, yet I think might have some merit? (I want to look more into it.) Am I happier because reading was so foundational to me, that my endorphins are positively tied to it? Or perhaps because it takes me back to “simpler times” unconsciously that allows me to relax in ways I can’t anymore, in other facets of my life?
Couldn’t tell you, one way or the other. All I know is that I’m happier when I’m reading, yet I struggle to sit down to do so. Make it make sense. 🤷♀️
This was a very brief discussion today, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Do you have a relationship (positive or negative) between reading and mental health? Any insights on why you think someone might gain endorphins from reading (especially a reader like me, who reads a lot of challenging and complex and heartbreaking books)? Do you think bibliotherapy is a thing? Do you have any advice on how to swap my brain from not wanting to read to doing so?
Lots of questions I’d love to hear your thoughts on in the comments. Regardless, thanks for checking out this post, where I wrote some variation of the word “read” more times than I think ever before. 😅
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I usually connect reading with entertainment and escapism, even if the book I’m escaping into tackles difficult subjects. And I think that’s why I often find so much joy in it. I don’t think it’s reading itself that’s making me happy, but rather the experience itself, if that makes sense.
And if you’re finding those feelings in other hobbies I think it’s okay to step away from reading for as long as you need. For me, taking a step back from reading and allowing myself to do other things (even if it hurts blogging content) can be the healthier choice.
On a negative note, I find that I sometimes escape *too* far into books. I’m a big homebody who loves staying home and not going out… which isn’t great for socializing and exploring the world, things that can boost my mental health.
Thank you for sharing your perspectives, Mint! It was really lovely to read. And I feel you on that “negative note” you wrote at the end. Though most of my hobbies are homebody-inducing naturally, sometimes I find myself holed up for too long and that’s definitely not helping my mental health at all. So I connect with that, in particular!
Lay @ bookshelfsoliloquies says
This is such an interesting discussion! I definitely notice a correlation between my mental health and reading and the books I gravitate towards reflect my mental state pretty well. Basically, if I’m rereading The Martian (especially more than once a month) I’m not doing well lol. I find that reading slumps often come up for me in depressive episodes…but that getting myself back into a reading routine helps my mood. It’s a frustrating cycle to always have to claw myself out of reading slumps every few months.
Reading the right books definitely gives me endorphins! And honestly, getting to vanish into a compelling world and care about other people’s problems is a welcome distraction a lot of the time. But as I’ve gotten older (I say this as if I’m old, I’m about to be 24 haha), I also notice that my mood is much more easily influenced by books. I often find myself very stressed out my fictional conflict, so sometimes I just can’t handle reading a book that’ll add even more stress to my plate than I already have from my daily life! Not sure if anyone else feels this way or if that’s just me.
Oooh, I love that you have a book that sounds like it’s your comfort book when things are rough. I don’t have one of those, so that was really cool to me you have that silent indicator for yourself! But I definitely connect with that frustrating cycle, too. I am very much not a fan.
I’m a huge reader, too, and have been since childhood. For me, I only don’t read when I’m *really* not okay – it’s a huge tell-tale sign. Otherwise reading is my go-to comfort, my favourite hobby, all of it. I suppose all I can suggest is managing the ‘what’ of the reading, having options for different moods?
I love that suggestion! I have definitely found that romance reads help me get out of a depressive slump sometimes, which can be really helpful.
Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight says
This is a wonderful topic! So I think that for me personally, when I am feeling crappy mentally, I have less motivation to read, which leads to guilt, and it’s a vicious cycle. But when I am feeling okay, I can read (and be happier while reading!) which then leads to feeling better, and so on. But it is HARD, especially with blogging, to get the gumption to do it when feeling bad mentally. I often force myself, then worry it feels forced, and again the cycle continues hah. I think it is likely because one of the indicators of a mental health slip is not enjoying things you normally do, you know? So I think that is likely why it is hard to find that motivation, even when it’s something we enjoy.
Incidentally, I feel you on the therapist thing. I feel like the push for people to get help for mental health issues is there, but in practice, it is nearly impossible to GET said help. I am always here if you want to talk, too! ♥♥
Oh yes, I connect well with this vicious cycle! I am so sorry you deal with something similar, especially with that cycle AND dealing with trouble of finding good mental health support.
Thank you for this comment, Shannon. Truly.
Beth W says
I had a similar experience of having to switch from reading for fun to reading for classes (I majored in English, which was a LOT of reading) and it brought some resentment to reading. It took me a long time to work through that resentment enough to enjoy the act of reading again. I think part of the joy is escapism. When I’m imagining somewhere else, focused on someone else’s (fictional, or not) experience, I’m not thinking about the dumpster fire of now…so I’m automatically distracted from things that would otherwise cause anxiety. And sometimes a book makes me feel smarter- like if it rewards the reader for paying attention with little callbacks, then I feel like I’ve gained a point of pride. So in that way, it’s a small boost to my self esteem. But my danger point with books is that if I get too immersed in a book, I tend to take on the characteristics of the MC for a short period.
I also majored in English, so I feel this hard. And I agree how it can be escapism, make you feel smarter when you catch things like that (my favorite feeling!) *and* I can totally see how taking on characteristics of a character can pop in!
I was formally diagnosed with depression last year but had also been dealing with it for far longer than that… Reading always takes a massive hit for me when I’m moderate/severe (amongst many MANY other things). I’ve found audiobooks are useful for easing me back into reading as I can listen whilst doing something else to occupy myself (crosswords, puzzles, colouring books). The combination helps “distract” me from the negative thoughts and feelings.
Another thing I’ve found invaluable for easing me back into sitting and “just” reading are web comics. Obviously, they’re not as wordy as books but the reading of the text with “reading” what the images are telling me help re-train my brain to focus and immerse myself in a story.
I’m so sorry you deal with depression too, Nicci! I definitely connect with your comment very much.
And that is a good suggestion! I always thought getting into something like comics or webtoons might be fun!
Michael J. Miller says
I’ve had a tab with this post open on my computer for MONTHS. I wanted to mindfully consider reading’s therapeutic role in my life before I replied. Welllllllllllll my Analytical Part loves to overthink things and then my Part which Holds My Anxiety was all, “It’s too long! We should’ve commented ages ago! We can’t now!” And then here we are, almost half a year later, and I’m finally liking and replying to the post XD. But I think about it all the time! And it’s a very helpful one for me to meditate on.
I absolutely agree with you! Reading plays the same role in my life. One of the things I get from reading comic books alongside my novels and nonfiction reading is they are shorter. So when I’m really struggling to find a reading groove, I turn to comics as they (depending on how much writing the author uses in the story) take me 10-15 minutes to read one. They don’t feel like a time commitment as I can read them from “beginning” to “end” (even if it’s “To Be Continued…”) in ten minutes. So my comics really help me get my reading fix when a novel feels like too much.
As to the therapeutic side of reading? I’ve a diagnosed anxiety disorder, too, and my therapist once remarked she was surprised I wasn’t a therapist, as people with anxiety as high as mine often look to something like therapy as a way to redirect their brain. Worrying about and caring for others helps keep the ol’ anxiety from freaking out about itself. So what I’ve learned is, for me, my anxiety is redirected by the way I analyze and deconstruct what I read or watch. It’s hard for me to watch or read something without seeing connections, playing with symbolism, and pondering deeper meanings. Just this weekend, I saw the horror movie ‘Smile’ (:8) and I came home to write about a connection I saw between it and ‘Doctor Who.’ As I was watching it (and getting super anxious!) my brain went off and played with the Doctor to diffuse that anxiety.
My brain’s done that for as long as I can remember and I love that part of myself! I couldn’t write or teach the way I do if I didn’t do this. So that’s one part of how reading is therapeutic for me, it gives my brain another arena to play in as opposed to letting my anxiety or depression brood on my own life. Sometimes this backfires! I’m reading ‘It Ends With Us’ now and having had some dear friends who were in abusive relationships in the past, it rings a little too true for my comfort. I can only read a few pages at a time. But by and large reading – and everything I find in those books – is not just a break from life but a playground that relaxes the parts holding my anxiety or feeling depressed.
Anyway, this comment was a LONG time coming but thank you for a post which gave me so much to think about! I’ve many journal entries exploring all this led me to consider :D.
Ah, and you see my, “let’s take over a month to respond to comments, because that’s just where our bandwidth is at,” so I feel you on that FOR SURE for sure. But you are so sweet for your comment and I am just so awed that such a post led to such amazing thoughts and reflection!! 😍
Thank you so much for sharing about how your anxiety redirects itself. Honestly, that is fascinating! And I love that reading, as a result, has become super therapeutic for you in that way (at least, usually; I can understanding reading triggering things that don’t go as well).
Thank you for your patience on a long time-coming comment response!