I don’t think it’s any secret that reading is commonly portrayed as an ideal activity to do if you just need to chill out for a while. To me, and I think for many of us readers, it’s more than just that though – books are an integral part of my self-care “routine”, and something that I actively miss if I notice that I’ve gone a few days without.
In the past year or so, I’ve become very invested in self-care; usually placing it above pretty much anything else. I always used to think that every hour of the day not spent doing extra revision was going to mean I’d miss something essential and do worse on an exam, and would often feel guilty for not doing so. As soon as I realised that work without relaxation is not the way forward, however, self-care was brought to the forefront of my mind and my priorities.
Books provide the relaxation that contrasts the pace of daily life. One of my other greatest passions is mindfulness meditation and to me, reading is the physical embodiment of the mental state of clarity that comes with this. When I am reading, I am rooted firmly in the present (unless I’m reading historical fiction, ha!) – all I think of is the words on the page. While it doesn’t necessarily function in the same way as mindfulness in that you’re not focusing on what is happening directly in your own present surroundings, more often than not when reading your mind will be focused on one thing in particular – the words on the page – and that’s incredibly powerful.
That now being said, here are some thoughts on why I value reading so much as a method of self-care:
1) It is designated time away from the internet
One thing that I have noticed recently is that there is usually a correlation between me feeling anxious or stressed, and not reading fiction. When I read, I switch off my internet connection so that I can immerse myself in the full experience – no notifications, no urge to scroll, nothing. I forget I have a phone, or that they exist at all, when I’m reading. In this day and age (I am sounding middle-aged far before my time here) there is the constant buzz of technology, and in a less-deep sense this kind of ruins the illusion of say, an epic fantasy novel, but in a deeper sense is incredibly detrimental to finding a state of contentedness, even for an hour or so.
Reading is a way of disconnecting myself from the virtual world, while simultaneously connecting to what I am most passionate about. For me, that is pretty much one of the definitions of self-care, and I value it immensely.
2) Commitment is rewarding and productive
Every reader knows the immense satisfaction that comes with turning the final page of a book, looking at it, and thinking yeah, I read that. While I can’t stress enough that productivity is not necessarily a compulsory component of self-care (and in some senses can be viewed as the opposite), I find that for me, days where I am productive through something non-academic are days that I really feel that I’ve progressed in the things that are important to me.
It’s empowering to realise that you have committed to reading a book – it’s not an easy thing to do, and that’s a heck of a lot of words you have right in front of you every time you start a new one! This commitment makes me feel accomplished, but not in a negative, you-must-work-all-day sense. It’s more of an affirmation that you are willing to put in the effort for your own sense of peace and happiness.
3) It sparks creativity
It’s times when I’m in a reading or blogging slump that I wonder where I ever got any of my even remotely creative ideas from. When you stare at that blank page waiting for words to appear, or when you stare at that page full of words waiting to be read, it can feel like a daunting task. But when I sit down and take the time to read, I can almost immediately feel that whisper of creativity come back, and finding inspiration is an absolutely integral part of self-care, for me. When I read about a new fantasy land, my imagination soars, and I remember why I fell in love with reading in the first place. My process of self-care would not be complete without opening a book and getting lost in a new land.
Coming to the end of this post, I realise it has been less of a discussion and more of something of a love letter to books. That’s okay. In fact – that’s great. I never feel like I can quite put into words how much I need the peace of truly devoting time to myself by opening a book to permeate into my life. Without books – well, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this post, because this blog wouldn’t exist!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the relation between books and self-care. Do you consider reading as a part of your self-care “routine” or is it something that you do anyway without particularly labelling the benefits? Let me know, and have a wonderful day!