Reading. Books. Where to start…at the beginning of the story perhaps? Books have always been a massive part of my life. My dad was a big reader and my mum even more so…I don’t ever remember a time she didn’t have one or 3 books on the go! I have so many book memories ranging from early childhood, right up to now. Beautiful memories of my father reading to me, books that got me through breakups, friendships, teenage angst. Books that have been a companion at 2am during the lonely breastfeeds and sleepless nights with my children.

Making memories with my children, reading to them, looking at the pictures and listening to my 4-year-old “reading” to his 2-year-old brother in the morning (he narrates the bits he can remember). Reading has helped me through being bullied, boredom ( I was an only child), understanding my body (will never forget the look on my dad’s face when age 10/11 I used my Christmas book vouchers to buy “The Usborne Facts Of Life” ?), teenage years (do you remember Judy Bloom’s “Forever”), happy times, grief and so much more. My son’s primary school head teacher, at the reception introduction, told us the best thing we can do for our kids over the summer is share and talk about books. It teaches children empathy and makes them think about the world around them. The books don’t even have to have words in it! For children, there are books like Nick Sharratt’s “You Choose” with minimal words where children make choices about what they would wear or where they could go. Another is Story Path by Kate Baker & Madalena Matoso – one of our favourite books. It’s like a picture maze of a story that you make up as you go along,and the children choose characters and storylines. 

But what is this magic effect that reading can have on us? How does it relieve stress and make us feel better? Can it really help our mental health?

Books are amazing and there’s a lot of positive studies to say that reading and bibliotherapy (using books as therapy) can relieve mild – moderate depression and anxiety, however it’s important to mention that it’s not always a cure-all and shouldn’t take place of medicine, so please consult your GP or other health professionals for advice.

I’m quite an emotional person and not always particularly rational. As an almost 40-year-old, I’m still learning to take a step back and admire friends that keep cool calm heads without unintentionally blurting things out. Reading gives me the space to do this. If I’m feeling upset or worried, I can pick up a good book read for a bit and then the problem doesn’t seem as huge. I often say things without thinking and am also fantastic at procrastinating. After numerous self-help books (some of which were very useful), I recently read the fictional book “Meeting Mungo Thunk” by Keith A. Pearson. It was life changing. Also,hilarious. But I wasn’t expecting life changing – just thought the storyline sounded interesting “Adam Maxwell isn’t a bad man – he’s just a man who doesn’t stop and think….”. without giving the plot away, after I read it, I realised how much I was like the main character and it made me want to stop procrastinating and go and do stuff and achieve things. That’s the power of books. You can see things in them that reflect your life or open your mind to new ideas. It’s also relaxing to take a step back from all the technology we’re inundated with and switch off from social media. Reading is a wonderful form of escapism. In a second, you can be on a desert island, in a city, on a boat, in space…all at the touch of a book. As a mum of 2 young boys, it’s not always easy to find the time to read and as I have mild dyslexia, I sometimes need to read and re-read a page 3 times over but it’s blimmin’ well worth it.Apparently we should aim for 30 min a day – but honestly even if I can squeeze in just 15min I’m happy!

According to this article on the BBC website, reading can improve confidence, self-esteem, help us sleep (though if it’s a good book you might be up all night to finish it ?) and reduce feelings of loneliness:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/why-is-reading-good-for-me/zmbtwty

And another article from in The Stylist mentions poetry being used in therapy:

The Stylist – This is the wonderful impact that reading can have on your mental health

Poetry is perfect for so many situations – some of my best comfort reads are poetry. Feeling hormonal, a bit crap and slummy-mummyish?  “Phenomenal Woman” – Maya Angelou:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48985/phenomenal-woman

If I’m having a bad day then Spike Milligan’s “Have A Nice Day” always makes me laugh and cheers me up:

https://allpoetry.com/Have-A-Nice-day

Kids going nuts and driving me mad? Or just generally feeling a bit lost? No probs – then it’s “If” – by Rudyard Kipling:

If by Rudyard Kipling

The best bit is – it doesn’t matter what you read. If I’m totally honest, I don’t “get” reading Shakespeare – I’d rather just go and see it and even then, probably wouldn’t understand half the words and I’ve not read many classic literature books. It doesn’t matter whether its Jane Austen or Jilly Cooper. 50 Shades of Grey or The Picture of Dorian Grey (the first one I read, the latter I got bored part way through and gave up). Charles Dickens or…well you get the idea – the main thing is to just enjoy or get something out of what you’re reading. Reading doesn’t suddenly make a problem disappear, but it helps us look at things from another perspective or make us realise that we aren’t the only ones going through it. It’s so beneficial that The Reading Well programme has been set up by The Reading Agency. According to their website it’s a scheme to help you “use reading to understand and manage your health and wellbeing”. You can ask your GP or other health professional for a Reading Well Books on Prescription leaflet and books should be available from your library:

The Reading Agency – Reading Well Books on Prescription Leaflet

For more information please visit their website:

https://reading-well.org.uk/

Another great thing about books is that you can read themalmost anywhere…In a park, on the train or bus, at home, waiting rooms, in bed, I’ve even been known to get a book out while waiting in shop queues! Got the kids with you? Then maybe not quite as relaxing but have a kids’ book handy in your bag. Books are brilliant for a bit of quiet time. Even my bonkers and very lively 2 year old will occasionally sit still to flick through a book. Occasionally he lobs them at me, but he does have his favourite stories already.

Happy reading!