The therapy of reading – how to read during lockdown. This week we want to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week. We know that so many people are finding the long period of isolation difficult and that this may give rise to difficult feelings. Reading is a fantastic way for anyone of any age to escape the prison of their four walls and get away. We have invited Ella Berthoud to talk about bibliotherapy and how it can help anyone of any age to feel better. Words can take you places.
Bibliotherapy: How to read during lockdown
By Ella Berthoud, bibliotherapist
Anxiety, boredom, loneliness and frustration are perhaps at the top of the list of the ways that people struggle during lockdown. As a bibliotherapist, my job is to prescribe fiction to cure life’s ailments, and so I have been in demand in the last few weeks. Clients have come to me complaining about these ailments, but they also talk about restlessness, inability to concentrate on reading, and failure to stick with one book. Reading for just six minutes at a time can be as beneficial to the brain as one hour’s meditation*. Many is the client who has a teetering pile of books on their bedside table, intentions to read huge tomes like War and Peace, during this time of enforced isolation or even a collection of short stories that seem the perfect material for the flighty mind – but even with those, they find themselves failing. I am therefore going to talk here about a few ways to help with reading during lockdown, when it seems like an evanescent dream.
One method that I have found particularly helpful, is to develop a ‘reading nook’ somewhere in your house, apartment or garden if you have one. A reading nook can be anything from a hanging chair (like the one depicted here – my favourite place in the house!), a hammock, a corner of the sofa, or a turn in the stairs where there is room for some cushions or a beanbag. Ideally, you should have a shelf of your favourite books within reach, and a space to put your favourite drink. When you go to sit in your reading nook, you will be giving your brain and body a signal that you are about to spend time just reading for the next 20 minutes, half an hour, or longer. You are also giving a signal to the other people that you live with that they should not disturb you. Even if you live alone, the physical fact of going to the reading nook means that you will commit to reading there for a certain time. To really help this happen, though, you should also take the next step, which is to –
Turn off the wifi!
If possible, turn it off at the source. Disconnect your router for the period that you intend to read. If this seems too draconian, put all your tech items into aeroplane mode. Now no-one can disrupt this reading moment. No pings, no emails, no temptation to look at Instagram or twitter or to ‘doomscroll’ through the latest news. Sink into your book, and enjoy it to the full.
Do something while reading
For really fidgety people, sitting and reading can be very hard. A ‘fidget spinner’ can be useful, to play with while reading. Alternatively, listening to audiobooks while doing things that do not require too much of your brain, like hanging up the laundry,
ironing or gardening, can be a perfect way of staying on the move, while still ‘reading’ a book – you are reading with your ears rather than your eyes. I love to hula-hoop and read, it’s not difficult! Try it. A weighted hula hoop is much easier to get going than a light one, and once you get started, you will find you can keep going for hours. I like to hula- hoop and read every night for around half an hour.
People who find reading hard to sink into during this quarantine period might benefit from reading with other members of the household, especially children. Reading in company can be a lovely thing – declare a reading half hour or hour, turn off the wi-fi, and all sit in the same room – or outside in the garden – reading your separate books. If this seems unlikely to happen, read aloud with your child, your partner, relative or housemate. This can work brilliantly online too – reading over a video-call can be a lovely way to keep a friendship or relationship going. When you are far away from loved ones, sharing a story is a great way to keep up a conversation. And if you are lucky enough to live with someone or some people you can read with, sharing a short story, a fairy tale, or even a whole novel over a period of time, can be a lovely intimate way to spend time together, both the reading and the listening being a great act of generosity.
*quoted from Dr David Lewis of Mindlab International
For more tips and ideas on how to get more out of reading, see Ella’s book The Art of Mindful Reading: Embracing the Wisdom of Words, published 2019.
For suggestions on what books to read, see The Novel Cure: an A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. (2013) And for ideas about what kids and teenagers might read, see The Story Cure: How to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (2017).
For more tips on how to how to keep occupied during lockdown please see our blog: Stay at home with Doorstep Library