I don’t know about you, but I’m heading into the new year feeling at least a little less anxious than I was last year, but it’s not quite enough. My mental health still isn’t at prime production and it’s affecting my health. I’m stress eating and gaining the weight I fought to lose. I’m not working out. A lot of that is because I’m surrounded by ice and ice sucks for working out. I’m sitting here going, “I can’t keep doing this. I’ve got to move on. I’ve got to be more productive.”
One thing I noticed is that when the shit was really hitting the fan, I wasn’t reading, or if I was, it was copious amounts of non-fiction. How To Do Everything Better by Anyone Who’s An Expert of Anything. I was looking for my big solution for my emotional health. Reading is a self-care technique that can work, but it’s not something I found listed in many of my self-help books.
However, when I’m reading to help with anxiety, I don’t do that by reading for solutions. I read fiction, searching for relaxation and camaraderie. I’m looking to relate to someone else in a far-off landscape doing something I’ve never done before.
Should I Read Non-Fiction While Feeling Anxious?
Yes. There are definitely things that we learn through nonfiction that we don’t get in fiction. At least, not directly. And there were definitely some extremely helpful books that I read through the pandemic, books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I read books on business management, project management, and a crap-ton of books on marketing. Why marketing? Because, as much as I hate to be the salesperson, I need to make money at this author thing. I’ve discovered that this really is my calling. I’d much rather be doing this than any other thing on the face of the planet – except for helping kids become young, functioning adults. So, I need to figure out how to relate to people more and do this sales thing on my own terms.
While that’s great, though, it wasn’t getting me the interaction time I needed. I ended up feeling brutally alone. So… the trick for me was to read non-fiction on a timer when I’m feeling anxious.
Everyone’s time limit is going to be different, but the trick is to figure out when “enough” is enough for you. For me, it’s an hour. Any more than that and I’m falling down rabbit holes and researching a ton of things that can sometimes lead to watching Netflix instead of reading, gardening, sewing, crafting, crocheting, or doing any of the other things that give me pleasure.
Should I Read Fiction While Feeling Stressed?
Yes. However, I also suffer from depression, so I need to be careful about the types of fiction I fuel my soul with. I’m not saying I can’t read dark stories. As a matter of fact, I tend to be the person who benefits from reading the darker stuff. I think the reason is because I’m relating to these characters and in that dark fiction, while they’re facing these horrific situations, they’re finding ways through those.
The fiction I have to be careful of are the stories with flat or non-dynamic characters. Not all stories need wildly dynamic characters – people who grow through their story – and this is something I’ve definitely learned by studying what other authors have done. There are times when I need to sit down and just read a bunch of cozy mysteries, all of which have very rounded characters who don’t change through the book. They’re typically the same person at the end as they were at the beginning. And that’s a thing I sometimes need. But not when I’m feeling depressed.
For me, however, when I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I need to read a story with a character who is going through a ton of just… crap. I need them to grow and shape their character while they’re learning to overcome whatever obstacles they’re going through because that helps me as I’m struggling with my own stuff.
What Should You Read?
You need to figure that out. This is my story. When I’m feeling in the depths of despair, I will typically turn to Netflix, but I pull myself out of my funk better if I pick up a book instead. I might start out with a great self-help book that gives me a viable solution or hack to implement into my daily routine, but after an hour, it’s back to dark fantasy or science fiction for me.
Tell me in the comments or via email what works for you.