Pandemic Relief: Reading for Pleasure and Mental Health

Add reading good books to your pandemic toolkit.

Posted Sep 16, 2020

Pixabay Public Domain
Source: Pixabay Public Domain

Everyone’s life has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic. We have lost the structure of our days. We have lost many of the social connections that we as human beings need. We have lost our sense of security.

There are concrete steps that we can take to reduce these negative effects on our mental health.  

These include:

Setting a regular worry time period. Schedule 15 minutes a day for worrying about the virus. After this worry time is over, if such thoughts occur at any other time of the day, let them pass through your mind without giving them attention. Remind yourself that tomorrow you will have the scheduled time devoted to any worries you may have.

Finding ways to experience pleasure every day. For example, listen to your favorite music. Also, play music that sets your feet tapping so you dance around in your living room.  It is important to keep the pleasure centers of your brain stimulated.

There is one additional tool that is not usually thought of as a method to improve our mental health during this pandemic:

Reading novels and memoirs. As part of our social nature, we are fascinated by other people. We usually satisfy this need as we interact with others daily and are in contact with their various ways of thinking and behaving. The pandemic has deprived us of most of these interactions.

True, books cannot provide us with the physical nearness to others that is an important regulator of our physiology. But, at this pandemic time, reading good books that draw us in can provide a different kind of "social engagement" with people.

Memoirs provide us the opportunity to let others tell us directly about their world and about themselves. The authors invite us to share in the most important and meaningful events and interactions of their lives.

Fiction expands our limited social world into the world of the novel. The book's characters are new people for us to meet. We vicariously enter their environment. We witness closely their relationships, their deepest feelings, their challenges, and the solutions they find.  

With any novel, each of us is essentially reading a different book. We collaborate with the author by experiencing the story through the lens of our own personality and history. In other words, we are actively engaging with the people and situations as we read. In this way, reading also provides more necessary "exercise" for our minds than when we passively watch TV.

So continue watching those television shows that provide some entertainment. But also consider moving past that inertia we are all feeling and getting the mental health benefits — not to speak of the pleasure — that comes from reading a good book.