I am excited to reflect on my third motivation for reading: relaxation/escape/coping. Although, I don’t think any of those words adequately describes the peace that reading brings me. Before delving in to this week’s reflection, be sure to read parts one and two of this series, as well.
For as long as I can remember, I have experienced anxiety and cycles of depressive episodes. My mind constantly worries about everything and will not turn off. This then leads to exhaustion and the onset of depression to the point of being unable to get out of bed or do basic daily activities. Luckily, with therapy and years of honing coping skills, I have learned how to better deal with both of these disorders. I have even been able to successfully help others by becoming a therapist myself. So, I am living proof that things can get better.
One of the ways I cope with my anxiety and depression is reading. It is one of the things that allows me to focus and quiet my mind whenever I’m feeling anxious. The practice of intentionally bringing my thoughts back to the book at hand rather than going down the random rabbit hole of worry my brain tries to create helps me stay grounded in the moment with the story. I enjoy being absorbed in a good story, and it allows me to escape my thoughts or whatever situation I may be worrying about, even if only for a time. The distance created by this distraction very often helps me return to a stressful situation refreshed or with a different perspective.
Reading has also helped me cope with depression. When I get depressed, I typically don’t have the energy to do much. This often leads to thoughts of me being worthless, useless, or guilty for being lazy. These thoughts then further fuel and deepen my depression. I’ve found that reading is something I can do without the need to use up a great deal of energy. Finishing a few pages or a chapter gives me a sense of accomplishment that helps decrease my negative feelings toward myself and assists in stopping the negative spiral of becoming more and more depressed. It allows me an avenue to feel I am doing something worthwhile without overwhelming the small reserves of energy I have during a depressive state. As with the anxiety, the distraction of reading also helps me cope during times I’m feeling overwhelmingly sad because it sometimes provides at least a small break from the oppressive darkness. Additionally, it allows me an outlet to express some of the sadness that is often bottled up. For example, reading something sad may help me cry or get in touch with that emotion, which allows me to release some of it and feel a little better. So often, I feel a sense of apathy when depressed, and reading can assist in overcoming the apathy and help me feel again.
Does reading solve all of my problems? Definitely not. There are plenty of times when I am too anxious to control my mind enough to read or too depressed to be able to focus for even a couple of pages. There are also numerous situations where avoidance and distraction can do more harm than good in the long term. So, I’m not advocating that reading can cure mental illness or make someone, or myself, feel better all the time. It is one of many tools I use to relax and distract myself when things get to be too much. However, I do think it is one of the things I find most relaxing and most useful in many cases to help cope with my anxiety and depression. I have found that reading regularly when I’m not anxious or depressed also helps me prevent extreme cases of worry or depression because I am spending more time mindful of my reading rather than letting the negative thoughts consume my mind. Therefore, maintenance of my mental health is huge motivation for why I read consistently.
Do you use reading to relax, escape for a bit, or cope with depression or anxiety? Let me know in the comments.