Reading Is The Best Form Of Self-Care Around And Here’s Why

Writer Adele Miner shares how there's more than just words to be found inside a book

Think back to the last time you got lost in a good book. Maybe you sank into the sofa for a solid hour after a stressful day in work, or maybe you soaked up some rare Irish sunshine in your back garden in between nap time. Whatever the scenario or setting, ask yourself, how did it make you feel? Better, I would imagine.

Bibliotherapy is a practise that’s been around for centuries. Dating back to the ancient Greeks, above one library entrance in Thebes reads the phrase “healing place for the soul.” A novel (get it?!) approach to healing oneself, bibliotherapy is the “use of books for therapeutic purposesoutlines the HSE. A recognised form of therapy, it’s an act that I’ve been partaking in for much of my life, even if I wasn’t always aware of the benefit it was serving me. 

 

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For a long time, I didn’t see myself deserving of the title ‘bookworm’. I’m a slow reader, I don’t devour stacks of books a year like many others. Instead, I take my time with reading, I mull over every word and internalise every feeling being conveyed. But being a book lover isn’t about the number of books you have listed as read on your Goodreads account, it’s about the relationship and experiences you have with reading, and my 25 years on this planet are filled with bookish memories. Books taught me how to tell the time and tie my shoelaces.

I have vivid memories of receiving my first library card and the rush of excitement that went through my little body as the librarian handed it over the counter to me. I found refuge in between the pages of Jacqueline Wilson’s books, and felt my heart soar with pride each time a trip into town meant I could pick up a new read to add to my bookshelf. I’ve visited bookshops big and small all around the world in each and every city and town I’ve been to, because for me, passing by a bookshop and not popping in for a browse, even when I know I can’t buy anything, feels almost sacrilegious.

 

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My long-standing romance with reading did come to a halt at one point in my life though. When the Leaving Cert followed by an English degree made reading a necessity rather than a joy, I lost my mojo for a time, unsure if it would come back. And then along came the Panny D. With my degree just behind me, and a full-time job which gave me the resources to spend money on all of the books I wanted, the pandemic hit and I quickly found myself reaching for my culture crutch to navigate me through it. 

As if the book Gods had aligned, when many people’s attention spans were shot, mine was, strangely, at its peak. The constant worry and anxiety a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic brings had me craving an escape, and with there being no chance of me hopping on a plane and flying off to a land free of COVID, the only thing that seemed logical for me to do was to take my imagination elsewhere. My body may have been firmly set in Ireland for the last year, but my mind has been to many places, from the sleepy suburbs of Maine in My Dark Vanessa to the war-torn terrain of Afghanistan in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

 

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I lived for opening up whatever book was on my bedside each evening when I closed down my laptop after work in the height of lockdowns, ready to be transported and become someone else if just for an hour or two. Aside from walking, I seldom exercise. I don’t go to therapy, I don’t practice mindfulness nor do I treat myself to things like getting my nails done. But, I don’t need any of those things, because I have my books. Just being in the presence of books brings me a sense of calm like no other, smelling that earthy book smell (which is called ‘Bibliosmia’, by the way) sends a rush of serotonin to my brain that no amount of self-care rituals could compare to. As we see restrictions ease and we move towards a way of living we’re much more used to, I hope to keep reading as part of my daily routine as much as possible. Although the looming return of normal life may mean that I won’t have to clutch onto my culture crutch quite as hard, I know that books will be there for me in the years that span ahead, offering me something to lean on whenever I might need them.

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