On Sunday mornings, my husband gets up with the kids. He makes breakfast and prods them along as they get ready for church. Me? I stay in bed and read. For me, reading is the ultimate act of self-care, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Sunday mornings are my favorite little pocket of time in any mundane week.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I still own my (now-battered) childhood copies of the Ramona and Little House series, and I’ve read them aloud to my kids. When I finished listening to the audiobook The Dearly Beloved recently, I had to rewind to listen to the epilogue once more, a lump in my throat as the remaining characters said goodbye to one who had died. I felt their pain at losing a beloved friend. I felt like I’d lost one myself.
Reading fiction is one of my favorite and simplest forms of self-care. Self-care has been romanticized and idealized into something that is a far cry from what we need. Bubble baths and pedicures have their place, but they aren’t long-term solutions for what ails us. What we really need is to parent ourselves, to find solutions to our burnout that can go the distance with us when life is tough.
Reading is one of those long-term solutions; stick with me.
Benefits of Reading Fiction
Courtney Seiter enumerates the benefits of reading fiction in this article, which I recap below. We all know that children’s brains are stimulated when a caregiver reads to them; they develop their vocabulary and are more likely to enjoy reading when they are older. But what about the benefits for adults? How is reading self-care?
- The development of empathy. One study showed that participants who read literary fiction had a stronger ability to empathize with another’s pain than participants who read other types of fiction, nonfiction, or nothing at all. In a divided world, improving our ability to empathize with another person is no small feat.
- Stressbusting. We all face stress—sometimes after a really hard day and sometimes through a long, difficult season (like living through a worldwide pandemic, for example). When we’re stressed, we need ways to care for ourselves. And sometimes we need to check out for a while. There are a lot of ways to disengage from our stress. Reading fiction is, arguably, one of the healthiest ways for us to disengage for a time.
- Regular readers sleep better. Sleep is critical to our long-term health and well-being; good sleep habits are a vital part of any self-care practice. Since reading helps us to disengage from our stress, that might be one reason readers sleep better. If it’s the last thing you do before you fall asleep, it distances your mind from the worries of the day. Additionally, we know that screen time before bed can interfere with falling asleep and sleeping soundly through the night. If you’re reading instead of staring at a disruptive blue light right before bed, you might sleep better.
- Reading makes us happier. One study from the UK showed that 76% of adults surveyed said that reading improves their life and makes them happier. I heartily agree!
How to Read More
Perhaps I don’t need to sell you that reading is self-care. You, too, are a lifelong lover of books and reading. You’d love nothing better than to spend a lazy Sunday morning cozied up in bed with a good book. BUT.
Life is busy. You’re busy. Your people need things—from you. Reading often gets shoved to the back burner.
I get it. I’ve had seasons—years of my life—when I read very little. But I’ve found a few tricks to prioritize reading, and I find that I really am happier when I have a good book nearby. (Especially when reading that good book saves me from mindless scrolling on my phone.)
I find that the more I read, the more I want to read, and the more likely I am to have a solid page-turner queued up. Here are my best tips for reading more:
- Download the Kindle app on your phone. For many of us, our go-to when we’re waiting—at the doctor’s office or in the car pickup lane at our kids’ school—is to scroll on our phone. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to have a good book on my Kindle, so that I’ve always got something engaging at my fingertips.
- Get a metropolitan library card. I live in a small town and the selection at my local library is smaller than I’d like. One of the biggest shifts in my reading life occurred several years ago, when I found out that I could get a library card to the metropolitan library for free, just by being a resident of my state. (I live in Ohio. Check your nearest metropolitan library to see if they offer the same.) I can access all the metropolitan library’s digital resources using the Overdrive app. Libby is another popular library app.
- Audiobooks allow you to multitask. For a long time, I didn’t get into audiobooks because they were so expensive. However, once I got my Big City library card, I realized I could borrow tons of audiobooks! I used to love listening to podcasts, but I’ve replaced almost all my listening time with audiobooks. I can listen while I drive, make dinner, or fold laundry.
- Cut back on screen time. One of the best ways to increase your reading time is to cut back on screen time. If you watch TV every night before bed, start small by choosing one night a week to read instead of watching TV.
- Keep a TBR list on your phone. Sometimes the hang-up with reading more is figuring out what to read. You can keep a “To Be Read” (TBR) list on your phone, in a notebook, on Goodreads, or even on a wish list in your library app or on Amazon. That way, when you finish one book, you have several options for which you can pick up next. (Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy is my go-to source for book recommendations.)
Reading Is Self-Care
Reading is self-care because it allows us to feel happier and escape our stressful reality for a time, all while sleeping better and growing in empathy. It is low-cost, widely available, and—unlike some outlets for escapism—doesn’t come with unhealthy side effects. Share your favorite recent read in the comments below!
Katie Pozzuoli is a writer helping women adopt sustainable practices of self-care to thrive. She has spent most of her adult life figuring out – with a lot of trial and error – how to be healthy in every area of her life. (And, as a constant work in progress, she’s still figuring it out!). Katie makes her home in Southeastern Ohio with her husband, three children, and their rescue pup. You can find her online, where she’s usually chatting self-care, but would love to take a break to talk books and reading.