Reading is Therapeutic

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I’ve always found May to be a killer month of merging the family’s spring sports schedules, end-of-school-year events, wedding showers, and graduations with my normal work calendar and church commitments. I’m naturally task-oriented, which translates to adding more without taking anything away. I have a habit of working until late into the night to reduce the stress of keeping up with it all. Last week I did something counter-intuitive. I added more reading to my to-do list and experienced tangible ways that reading is therapeutic.

Most of us aren’t equipped to maintain a non-stop pace for long, and historically I hit the wall by the end of May. This year I could see it coming once again but stopped in my tracks and plotted a different approach.

In addition to the extra May items on last week’s schedule, I deliberately Pleasure reading1read two novels. It was a test. We all enjoy reading for its relaxing, quiet pleasure. I decided to take it a step further to identify if reading actually is therapeutic in practical, productive ways.

Yes, by adding the extra reading time I was up late into the night, but the distraction of being completely absorbed in a story was better stress relief than the sleep I missed. Each morning I found myself:

  • Physically more relaxed
  • Emotionally calmer, less overwhelmed by my day’s to-do list
  • Mentally sharper and recharged for work

Bible readingI also spent more than the usual time in the Bible this past week. In his sermon last Sunday my pastor encouraged us to read and meditate on Chapter 15 in John’s Gospel. There is depth in that chapter that is easy to overlook until I read it over and over each day. I won’t expound. What I found will be different than what you might discover through that exercise because the Holy Spirit is so wonderfully personal.

Replacing my late-night work habit with extra pleasure-reading time resulted in being more productive during the day. I accomplished the same amount of work in less time and had a more relaxing finish to each day.

Am I a slow learner? Have you already experienced positive results by increasing your reading time? If you are task-oriented like I am, how do you de-stress? What is your busiest month of the year? Will you try this experiment to see if you experience the same tangible results? Which kinds of books or genres are your favorites for pleasant distraction?

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33 Responses

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  1. Chris says:

    I am task orientated, love reading and always find myself going to bed far too late due to having to “just get this done”. So I was very interested in your blog today. I wasn’t clear if you read on top of your work and went to bed even later or read instead of doing those late night tasks?
    I have always found that I sleep better if I have read, even if only a little, before bed. Unfortunately, I always find that I feel worse for it in the morning. What with trying hard to get my story polished I haven’t had so much time for my reading. So in February I stopped editing and read a lot of similar category and genre books (for research as well as fun) and got through an amazing number. Interestingly, even though I went back to editing, I have continued at my feverish reading rate. I have read more books this year so far than I managed in the whole of each of the last 5 years or more!
    My real pleasure for unwinding though, is playing board games. Those are late evenings, but I usually feel ok the next morning.
    And my busiest month? December I would say, all the Christmas build up and present buying. Its also my birthday. month, which means more board gaming 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Chris, how well I know the “just get this done” habit. That describes the late day task I replaced with extra time for pleasure reading. I found that I woke up the next morning feeling like I’d been on a mini mental vacation and was sharper and more productive during the day.
      I haven’t tried board games for this purpose. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I like to read before I sleep. Trouble is, if I enjoy it too much, I read instead of sleep. And the next day–productivity plummets! Maybe I should set an alarm to go to sleep.

    I became a Sabbath-keeper and eliminated cleaning and shopping from my Sunday schedule. My house is no dirtier, my cupboards no emptier. That leisurely Sunday nap makes Monday a better day.

  3. I can’t go to sleep without reading. I’ve done this as long as I can remember.

    Walking in the evening is my best way to de-stress. I don’t always want to leave whatever task I’m working on, but it’s amazing once I walk outside and put one foot in front of the other how much better I feel.

    Thanks for reminding us to step away from tasks to refresh our minds and spirit. I’ll also be sure to check out John 15.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jackie, you’re inspiring me. I exercise on the treadmill first thing in the morning because it feels like so much effort at the end of the day. How far do you walk in the evening? Do you walk in all kinds of weather?
      I hope you are refreshed by the John 15 exercise. I found the result to be grounding.

  4. Michelle Ule says:

    Like the others, I read novels to fall asleep at night.

    It has to be a novel and on paper. Non-fiction spins my brain up too much and I try to avoid screen light after about 7 at night to help me sleep.

    It doesn’t always work, but it is the way I relax.

    Owing to a variety of things, I spent last weekend completely sluggish–reading novels and watching movies. It was very restful, and I was raring to get back to work Monday afternoon!

    • My husband was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and having horrible nightmares. I mildly suggested that perhaps a wee bit of harmless fiction might be the better option, and poof, away went the dreams.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Michelle, I agree that late-night reading has to be on paper for the same reasons. My eyes are quick to tell me if I overdo screen light.
      Would you like to make “sluggish” weekends a habit? If only, right?

  5. Such an enjoyable post, Mary. I confess, I don’t read at night, just before bed. I used to, but early in our marriage, I dealt with a bout of insomnia that lasted for five years. The doctors I spoke with encouraged me to do things to calm my mind. I found that when I read at night, I thought about the characters and the plot, I dreamed about the characters and what might be coming next. There were also other things keeping me awake, but insomnia broke my night time reading habit. 🙂
    *I confess, this month has been a stressful one, and I haven’t handled it well. In the past, when I felt stressed during the day, I would make time to read a novel and simply escape for awhile. I always came back to “real life” feeling more relaxed. Maybe I need to do more of that for what’s left of this month. 😉
    *I enjoy contemporary novels, romance or otherwise, for relaxing (and escaping into 🙂 ).

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, what a blessing that you can enjoy therapeutic reading escapes during the day since they don’t work for you at night. Maybe someday you’ll be able to go back to evening reading too.

  6. Great post, mary – and thank you for the insights into how you face life. I’m sure a lot of readers will see themselves reflected, and thus both inspired and encouraged.
    * I may be somewhat of an outlier in that I don’t get ‘stressed’, at least in the same way I see others manifest it. It may be because I’m a Zen Dude, or it may be that I simply lack imagination, but I never feel overwhelmed. There may be a lot to do in a short time, or a lot to do that never really ends, but I’ve found that I can simply keep going with minimal rest. You don’t need a robe, candles, and a place to sit in a lotus posture to meditate.
    * And yes, it does tend to drive the people around me kind of nuts. They think it’s pretense, or that I have been smoking something and won’t share (habits of which I strongly disapprove…both the use of cannabis, and not sharing).
    * That said, an imperviousness to stress does not inform protection against discouragement. In the face of an objective physical profile which is becoming a bit difficult (it doesn’t help when well-meaning people say they’ve expected this deterioration for a long time!), I read to find a paradigm against which I can measure my life, and to reinforce morale and meaning. I read to give myself a reason to go on.
    * Mainly I read nonfiction these days, because the need for a story arc and a ‘resolved’ ending in novels doesn’t track with current experience. My life’s a train wreck, with loose ends everywhere. I have to make sense of the debris field while I can, and use what isn’t yet ruined to help me move forward.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Andrew, it sounds like you’ve been listening to the wrong internal voices. A dose of inspirational narrative nonfiction or memoirs may be the right prescription for you right now, where you can see yourself in those being written about who overcame extreme adversity. Maybe it’s a matter of reading the right kind of book for you right now. Something like Unbroken might track with your experience and encourage you to see how God is honored through your resilient strength and faith. That which matters most.

  7. Lara Hosselton says:

    I start my day reading the one year devotional by Larry Stockstill. It’s the easiest and most practical way for me to read the Bible. (online version) If I find a passage that speaks to me I continue reading in my own Bible.
    Typically, I am a random, binge reader because once I start a book I HAVE TO FINISH. Yesterday I began and finished the YA by Virginia Bergin, H2O. It wasn’t exactly a distressing event. Now I need to read something light-hearted before moving on to her sequel.
    I also find reading at night stimulates my brain too much so I avoid doing so unless it’s the Bible, but even then I’ll catch myself searching for scriptures needed for my next WIP. (feeling guilty about that one)
    *I’d say that reading is more of an escape for me than a de-stresser. I love feeling that I’ve “become one” with the MC. Sometimes it’s hard to come back to reality and other times, like yesterday, I can’t wait.

  8. 1) No, you aren’t a slow learner, you just detoured a little.
    2) I love to read, to take a mini-vacation from the world and hop into a different adventure.
    3) Busiest month of the year? December! Wait, November is crazy…okay, can we go with the least busy? August.
    4) Genres? Hmmm, how about the least favourite, Amish romance. Followed by YA spec fiction. As for distraction, it depends on my mood.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Yup, we task-oriented people can veer toward “the work must get done first” mode, which can get out of control. May tends to be when I’m most susceptible to it, followed by December.
      For pleasant distraction, it looks like you need to have books handy is all sorts of genres so you always have one to fit your mood. Nice.

  9. I’ve become a nonfiction reader as I’ve become more interested in the many facets of life-giving spirituality. It intrigues me and encourages my thought processes. It is part of my routine to read a few paragraphs or pages of a thought-provoking book before sleeping. Many historical books speak in novel ways. I feel like a gold miner panning for gold–the richness is there but you have to do the work to find it! I started doing that by intentional choice, part of a personal commitment to learning more. I love it. On the flip side, I start the day with my fav devotionals and bible reading. This, too, is wonderful.

  10. Carol Ashby says:

    I’m on the odd side like Andrew. When I was under stress at work, I destressed by doubling down and completing the work. Work finished = no stress. Procrastination is the worst (best?) stress generator I know. Start quickly, work focused, get it done, stress gone.
    *Now I’m retired, I set the deadlines, and that keeps me relatively stress free.
    *When I want to shift what I’m thinking about, the quickest way is to play the piano, especially praise and worship music. Reading the Bible had the same effect. John’s gospel is my favorite book.
    *Just the act of reading is relaxing as long as it isn’t today’s news. Fiction and nonfiction are about the same for pulling me out of the present moment. Right now, I’m reading a lot of Roman Empire history related to the author website I’m building. The books are mostly “popular academic,” written by Roman specialists for people who love history. It’s amazing how little has really changed in almost 2000 years, which should probably worry instead of relax me.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Carol, good point that in many situations doubling down to complete the work is the best stress reliever. We need to strike a balance and know when to plow through and when it’s ultimately more productive to take a break to refresh.

  11. I love contemporary and historical romance. I can read anytime day or night … doesn’t keep me from sleeping or anything. It takes me to a very happy place, like being at the theater. My only issues as of late with reading much is that I have an eye that will start to twitch a tiny bit. (I’m laughing, so go ahead 🙂 ) And sometimes both eyes will feel bruised. And I know it’s time to back off reading a bit. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve been reading three books at once here lately. Last night, I finished one. I’m down to two, thank goodness. I’m just reading those over again for educational purposes–Love’s Reckoning and Meant to be Mine. 😉

    • Lara Hosselton says:

      I’m laughing with you, Shelli, I know I’ve been reading too long when I need to take my glasses off to actually see the words. I’m near-sighted, which gives me the advantage of by-passing my reading lens, until I get a headache.😳

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Oh Shelli, you are not alone in the habit of reading several books at once. How can one not peek in and begin reading a new book as soon as it’s in your hands or device, even if you’re already into another one–or two–in mid-read. And yes, the double vision and twitchy eye is a dead giveaway that it’s time to close the book, for a while anyway.

    • Twitchy eye, eh?
      Signs of a well read pirate in disguise.
      I mean, has anyone seen you and Captain Hook in the same place???
      No??
      See, I knew it!

  12. I probably read too much. I read about five or six Middle Grade or Young Adult novels every week and one or two fiction or nonfiction books for grown-ups every month. The problem is, I tend to read when I should be doing other things, like writing. But reading helps my writing (I write for kids) and it can be therapeutic. When dealing with a tragedy in my life if I started to cry I’d pick up a novel and get involved in the plot, which stopped the tears.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Janet, your comment made me smile. You could justify reading so many MG and YA books every week as mixing your writing business with pleasure. But then, like you said, the writing is still waiting to be done. Would it help to impose a manuscript deadline on yourself?

      • Janet Ann Collins says:

        Thanks for the suggestion. Most of my writing lately has been articles, and I have deadlines for some of those, so I do get them done on time. But I’m playing around with some ideas for more children’ books. I’ll have to see what develops.

  13. Betts Baker says:

    Delightful post. For one period in my life, I had to stop reading fiction altogether. I couldn’t stop until I finished a book, no matter what my other responsibilities! Now it doesn’t matter so much, and I also have more self-control. I try to read lighter things at night so that I can sleep. I often take a brief nap in the afternoon, but many times, a good book is just as much of a rest.

  14. sighren says:

    Nice vvery nice