Reading for healingAccording to some studies, reading literature or a work of fiction helps emotional and mental well-being.
As an avid reader, immersing myself in books—particularly fiction and memoirs—energises me and makes me happy. Reading adds more value to my psychological, emotional, and mental well-being.
Through my love of reading, I knew the power of ‘bibliotherapy’—using books (also self-help books in this case) as a form of therapy to help people deal with different emotions, such as depression, negativity, stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Bibliotherapy is more than psychological counsellors recommending books to their patients; it is also about picking books to heal ourselves. Therapists use it as a tool to cure patients; we use it as a ‘home remedy’ to cure us on our own.
Reading during the pandemic
Books solved many of my problems and raised my spirits throughout the Covid pandemic. When the world was ravaged by suffering, books became a temporary refuge from the harsh realities of life, death, and fear of getting the virus. The safe space at the corner of the interior world—accompanied by beautiful surrounding, trees, birds, and nature’s grandeur outside—was far better than other pleasures. The magic of literature connected me with the characters and their lives, making me forget the worries that lingered outside.
For me, reading didn’t involve just turning the pages. Sometimes, I would stop reading and stare out the window. I would pluck the petals of flowers to decorate the pages and take pictures of the books to capture the moment. Somedays, I would go past the room to find a place to read under a tree and spend the whole day reading. It kept me from distractions from mobile phones, humans, and other work.
Moreover, books have helped me become more empathetic toward people. I learned to feel for the ones who lost their lives to the pandemic and suffered because of it. I think novelist Barbara Kingsolver says it best, “Literature sucks you into another psyche.” As backed up by research, people who read fiction tend to better understand other people’s lives.
Helps in personal growth
According to studies, reading literature or fiction improves cognitive skills, reduces stress, improves critical thinking, helps in self-care, and adds years to our lives. My reading habit has also enabled my personal growth and self-discovery. It refreshes my mind whenever I learn something new. Finishing a book provides me with a sense of accomplishment.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir ‘Eat, Pray, Love’—is one of the many books I have read. The plot unfolds a painful divorce, depression, and failed relationships Gilbert faced. She then decides to distance herself from the things that ail her. She embarks on a journey, involves herself in meditation and prayers, and finds out what she wants in life. While reading it, I found myself deeply connected to her, and it later inspired me to listen to my heart, forgive myself, and follow my dreams, even in the face of difficult circumstances.
When I think back on the love between the father-daughter duo Atticus Finch and Jean Lousie Finch in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, it comforts me because I can relate that with the memories of my younger self and my deceased father.
Similarly, when I feel low, I know I can always turn the pages of ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank. The book works as a balm to my soul. When I’m busy all day and don’t have time to read books, I feel like something is missing. Then just a page from this book saves my sanity. Her powerful words and hopes during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the second world war remind me of the power of resilience and hope. The last diary entry in this book (August 1, 1944) keeps me interested. Maybe because my birthday falls on August 1, I have a strong connection to this book. It is these personal connections that make a particular book special for us.
Even talking about books bring me a peace of mind. This connected me with like-minded people at What the Book Club—a Pokhara-based book club which promotes reading culture through monthly book discussions. In the book discussions, I would explore and discuss my perspectives, thoughts, feelings, and emotions stirred up by books. This form of expression with like-minded people makes me feel as if my feelings are acknowledged and shared.
I now have a very busy schedule and don’t always have time to read fiction. But the fact that my job requires reading is a lifesaver for someone who cannot go a day without reading.