Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Perspective: Why Reading Keeps Me Sane

There has been a lot of interest in how books can be used to help people struggling with mental illness with projects like Books on Prescription. I'm not sure about 'self-help books', but reading can be hugely therapeutic and is largely what prevents me from being in a near-constant depressed state.

I can be an anxious person and the past few weeks have been trying, to say the least. While considering how best to ensure that I didn't get bogged down with recent worries, it occurred to me just how important reading is to my general sense of well-being. Looking back, this has always been the case. During summer holidays, when the onset of six weeks without much to focus on made me feel unsteady, I would immerse myself in books. I would literally read myself well again.

There is something incredibly comforting about losing yourself in unique worlds. Sometimes it's the story that allows me the escape I'm looking for, sometimes it's what the author is saying that makes me feel less alone. Regardless, there is something organic about reading a book, that other forms of entertainment just don't provide.

At times when I have suffered with more severe bouts of anxiety, it has been the pages of a book which have helped direct my thoughts onto something constructive. Reading is active, engaging, and extremely rewarding.

While considering this, I realised just how bad I've felt at times in my life when I've watched a lot of television instead of reading.

We don't have a television in our house now. It's just not something we feel we need. If someone had told me this would be the case several years ago, I probably wouldn't have believed them, as beholden to television as I was then.

Now I love the freedom. If I have a spare ten minutes I open a book, rather than channel hop.

Image Credit
That's not to say I don't enjoy a few TV shows (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Masterchef, Have I Got News For You), but choosing to watch these means I don't waste away in front of the television screen.

I've caught a couple of episodes of Charlie Brooker's How TV Ruined Your Life recently: the aspiration and romance episodes. His discerning eye and trademark cynical humour shed light on the many negative ways television has impacted the way we live.

Television is terribly passive. It masquerades as entertainment, as company for the lonely, but it only offers 'canned mutilated laughter' as Bukowski put it. It's hollow and vacuous and discourages independent thought. by feeding us the same stereotypes and accepted news reporting.

We live only one life, for better or worse, but reading gives us eyes into a multitude of other lives. It expands our horizons and makes you believe, albeit temporarily, that anything is possible.

So you can keep your TV sets. I'm getting back to my books.


  1. I agree so much with your opinions on TV. I wish I had the same willpower, and in fact I struggle with the same issues towards Facebook. There are certain things I need from Facebook, like keeping in touch with family and friends in other countries and as a communication center for my own international blog, but I too often find myself passively scrolling down the news feed for way too long, wasting time I could be using for better stuff, like reading, watching a film (not a passive exercise for me) for review or an article or even writing.

    1. Eli, I nearly wrote about websites and social media, which I fail at shutting off from. In part, it's because I'm at a computer all day at work, but really I'm a bit of an internet junky, and some of the time I save not watching TV is taken up online. Also, watching a film is definitely not the same at TV, and not passive if it's a good film!

  2. MasterChef is therapeutic for sure!


Back to top!