Taking care of our minds can be tricky at the best of times, and this year seems more challenging than most with so many restrictions in place, but can we seek comfort from our bookshelf?
As an avid bookworm, I know that losing yourself in a good book can feel like a magical process, but the influence it has on your mind, according to experts, is equally remarkable. Literature and healing have gone hand in hand since ancient Greece when libraries were thought to hold restorative powers. We have also used books as a rehabilitation method. During and after the World Wars, a technique called 'bibliotherapy' played a part in helping soldiers deal with forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Findings by the University of Sussex show that if you want to calm down and de-stress, reading a newspaper or a book works better and faster than listening to music, going for a walk, or sitting with a cuppa. Even finding a spot to read a poem can help to slow your heartbeat and as a result, lower your stress levels. But what is it about turning the page of a novel that makes us feel so at peace?
A Fiction Prescription
Many of us can probably relate to the feeling of calm or being happy when lost in a book, and if reading has always been a big part of your life like mine, it should make sense that it should be a part of your self-care routine too.
Bibliotherapy isn't just the act of reading; it's also about the dialogue and your reflections to the text that can lead to a whole new insight. Through literature and discussion, we can reach a kind of self-understanding which can lead to healing and resolution. This explains why I enjoy book club, and without realising it, it has been a kind of therapy during these troubling times. If not just for the group's consistency, and still being able to meet, even via Zoom, to chat and put the world to rights. We discuss all sorts and quite often go off on tangents that can be very insightful.
Books have always been used in part to help us understand each other – think of Anne Frank's diary for example, where we get an actual perspective of what it was like to be a Jew in hiding from the Germans. Books are also a powerful tool in helping us to understand ourselves better. They can help to increase your self-esteem, encourage self-compassion and even boost our morale. It's also a way to discover new insights, which often come into focus or awareness during the reading process. Simply put, it can help you to develop yourself, and to deal with things that can't always be changed. Plus, it's a self-empowering tool that you can use throughout your life.
We should also consider the popularity of book clubs at this point. Meeting in a group can add to the healing as there's a vast potential to discuss things with other like-minded people. For example, I meet with the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre book club, as we all have a shared love of all thing's theatre. But there are reflexology book clubs too, or the PursuitHQ book club where we read books for entrepreneurs like me who want to make an impact, live a life that brings us joy and start a business that fulfils and sustains us. Whatever your interests, I'm sure there's a book club out there for you to join in 2021.
If you're not sure what book is right for you, start by writing a list of all the areas in your life where you are looking for clarification, focus or healing. For example, if you struggle with putting your needs first, explore books covering this topic. There's a great book called Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet the world's expectations and trust the deep voice inside us. You might also like to set yourself a loose goal like 'I want to use books to explore ways to overcome my divorce, low mood, or panic attacks'.
Once you've hit on the right poetry collection, self-help book or novel, the rest is simple. You might also want to try some journalling alongside your reading to document your thoughts and feelings – reflecting is a powerful part of the experience and the journey of discovery.
Revitalise your reading list
Everyone's reading tastes and needs are individual. But there are a few universal books that can tap into our minds and make us feel connected and understood. If you are looking for ideas, here are a few to jot down for your 2021 wish list:
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Our current book club read for January; I've enjoyed this beautifully written, poignant, unique novel about regret, hope and forgiveness - and a library that houses second chances! Matt Haig's protagonist finds herself suspended in a library, halfway between life and death, where she has a chance to see the unlived lives and make things right.
Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton
A novel about friendships, childhood bonds and the duty we have to the environment around us; protagonist Cadie must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the Forrest she loves. Essentially, Waiting for the Night Song is a love song to the natural beauty around us, a call to fight for what we believe in, and a reminder that the truth will always rise.
The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell
Nell Frizzell candidly talks about her own panic years, opening up the conversation about having children and how paralysing decision making can be. An urgent, candid call for a discussion about the years between adolescence and menopause where every decision a woman makes has a ticking clock in the background. Raw, hilarious and beguilingly honest, Nell Frizzell's account of her panic years is both an arm around the shoulder and a campaign to start a conversation.
“Wherever I am, if I’ve got that book with me, I’ve got a place I can go and be happy” – J.K Rowling