This week is mental health awareness week – a campaign that aims to raise awareness of how important good mental wellbeing is for us all. With this year’s theme of “kindness” in mind, I thought I’d share some bookish recommendations and chat about why (for me at least) reading is a great support for my mental health. Of course, it’s not a quick fix or a speedy solution, but I hope it helps in some small way.
So, here are 10 reasons why your frazzled mind might love a good book…
- A reminder that you’re not alone
In the times that I’ve struggled with my mental health, it’s been a very lonely feeling. While no substitute for a big hug or a long chat with friends, I find that immersing myself into a new story full of interesting characters (who might be experiencing similar thoughts and emotions!) can really help me to feel less isolated.
I’d recommend The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – a story about overcoming immense adversity, told in a raw and non-sensationalised way.
- A way to de-stress
When I get stressed, the same niggling thoughts seem to poke my brain cells endlessly for hours. At the end of the day, to-do lists and never-going-to-have-time-to-do lists swirl around in my head. If I say, “I’m switching off now” and pick up a book (with or without a glass of wine), it’s a signal to myself that the day is done and everything can wait.
For a stress-quashing read that takes your mind off things, I’d recommend a gripping page turner like Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
- A change of scene
Right now, you might be (like me) staring at the same four walls. While that’s great for noticing previously unnoticed cobwebs, it would be nice to see something new! While we can’t travel as such, we can escape into our books.
If you’re wishing to journey far away, while staying on your sofa, try The Island by Victoria Hislop.
- Some time away from your phone
Screens have become an ever present companion in my life. I’m almost forgetting what my family looked like in a pre-pixelated era. Sometimes screen time can be not only a challenge for the eyes, but also the soul. If you’ve fallen foul of the mindless TikTok stream or Instagram comparison trap, you’re not alone! Endlessly consuming other people’s lives (that have been filtered to perfection) is known to be bad for our self-esteem and general sense of happiness.
Reading is perhaps a more mindful activity. You can control what you’re consuming – you can select the book you want to read and put it down easily if it’s not satisfying you. When you end a book that is the end, whereas there is no end to an Instagram hole.
- Time to relaxing
Have you ever tried sending an email, texting, working out and reading all at the same time? No? That’s because it’s physically impossible. Reading requires you to sit down with your feet up…maybe that’s why it’s my favourite hobby.
Physical relaxation, calm moments and self-care are important for our mental health too.
- A sense of achievement
I recently wrote about why I love reading. One reason is the sense of achievement I get from finishing a book. That might be silly, but it’s true for me! Setting goals that are achievable and then achieving them feels pretty good – it’s nice to have a little win now and again.
A speedy read that I 100% recommend is The Wife by Meg Wolitzer.
- Getting to sleep
When your mental health isn’t at its best, sleep is often the first thing to be affected and one of the most important things we need to feel better. For some people, reading before bed doesn’t help at all, but for others it can be a great addition to a night-time routine. Apparently just 6 minutes of reading before bed and see can help ease you into sleep (if you’ve ever fallen asleep trying to finish a Jane Austen novel, you’ll attest to this).
- Loneliness (book clubs, online or virtually)
The mental health charity Mind says that “feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely”. Sometimes, connecting with people who share an interest can be a nice way to spend social time and – in a socially isolated world – online book clubs are a great way to reach out.
I wrote a post about the best book clubs to follow online. These online communities are the perfect space to meet new friends, try new books and create conversations with like minded people.
- If you can’t concentrate…
As much as I love to snuggle up with a book, there are times when concentrating on the page in front of me is near impossible. In times like that, I quite like reading short poems that hold my attention or a short story that I know won’t take me too long. It can also be really helpful to write down all the thoughts that keep interrupting you, emptying them out onto paper.
Here are my top 3 short stories to read when you can’t concentrate.
- Books about mental health
Books that acknowledge or explore mental health issues can help to increase awareness, encourage dialogue, reduce stigma and develop real understanding.”Book Trust.
There are loads of books out there that explore mental wellbeing in a really impactful, sensitive and insightful way. A lot of comfort can be found in the words of brilliant authors and writers, from every walk of life.
This week, Waterstones have put ‘a range of books including guides, personal stories, practical aids and unashamedly feel-good reading to help and support people to understand and look after their mental health’.