When we’re facing jittery nerves, clammy palms and other symptoms of anxiety, some of us turn to reading. Why? Books involve the mind, distract us from our worries and can even calm us down.
Whether it’s a job interview, first date, exam or something more pressing that’s getting you down, why not see if a bit of bibliotherapy can help you out?
If great art and nature relax you, read this for general anxiety…
Find a book that’s really well-written and set aside some time to sit down, pour yourself a cup of tea and really appreciate what you’re reading.
Our Find Beauty and Meaning category has loads of great suggestions for this, including Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: a rich autobiographical tale of flying, encountering nomadic Arabs and miraculously surviving a crash in the Libyan Desert by the author of The Little Prince.
It really is a book about life itself, as well as our individual quests to find beauty and meaning around us. I read the book on my way to a job interview in London, and reading about Saint-Exupéry’s nerve-wracking adventures really put my own worries in perspective.
If you want to be distracted before a job interview, first date or stressful situation…
Look for books with active plots and a lot going on. The addictive Game of Thrones fantasy series by George R.R. Martin couldn’t be much better for this, and as you enter the world of Westeros you’ll find yourself absorbed in the fate of each character.
You could also try reading thrillers or crime novels, such as the bestselling The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, if you find such books distracting rather than distressing.
If you’d like the literary equivalent of a chamomile tea…
Now we’re talking. Try reading something short, sweet and super-relaxing. Start with William Wordsworth’s poem “My heart leaps up…”, or settle down with Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists or The Gift of Rain: two wonderful novels set in Asia and both nominated for The Booker Prize.
If you’d like an anxiety-reducing bedtime reading ritual…
Think about what books have helped you relax in the past, particularly before bedtime, and consider re-reading them or finding more by the same author. My own list of favourite novels to enjoy before bed (in the hour I try to put aside every night) includes Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, a huge novel of love, identity and friendship set on the Greek isle of Cephalonia, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, set in Paris and containing several unforgettable characters.
Also, try browsing through the selected poems of my favourite poet: Edward Thomas. In two years, Thomas wrote a lifetime’s worth of poetry before his tragic death in WWI, but he’s still so underrated. “Adlestrop” – about a train journey through the English countryside – is probably his most famous poem, but I can’t read “Home” enough. Here’s one of the stanzas, which is great to read at the end of a hard day:
The thrush on the oaktop in the lane
Sang his last song, or last but one;
And as he ended, on the elm
Another had just begun
His last; they knew no more than I
The day was done.
If you’d like more recommendations for bedtime, look no further than the LitTherapy Overcoming Insomnia category.
And remember, if The Chronicles of Narnia or the Harry Potter series worked wonders for you in an earlier stage of life, there’s no harm in reading it again (no matter how old you are). Remove all judgement and read what relaxes you.
Start here: Your fiction prescription for anxiety:
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Which books would you add? If you’d like to write about how your favourite novel has helped you here on LitTherapy, let us know!