The benefits of reading for wellbeing | Encouraging more men to read

Man sitting down, reading book in park

Article by Alex Fisher – Bricklayer and author of the Seadogs and Criminals series

With life being so busy, on top of trying to process the events of the last 18 months, it might be a struggle to switch off.

Our minds are hardwired into a constant stream of incessant thought, with the majority of it being wasteful; it may seem an impossibility to quieten the mind and relax, but I rely on an effective way out of this rut. The answer lies within the covers – and not those covers! Although that might help to quieten the mind too. What I am talking about is the covers of books and the pages that lie between them. Studies have shown that throughout the pandemic and lockdowns, many took up books and started to find joy in reading again; in escaping the trials and tribulations of the day by slipping into the minds and stories of characters and plots. I could bombard you with statistics to impress you and show you how much reading has increased, but instead I shall discuss the benefits reading has to mental wellbeing, which, I’m sure, is more important today than ever before.

It will come as no surprise to learn that reading has an astonishing effect on the mind and body. As I said, it aids in an escape from the issues and stresses of the day as your mind focuses on other things and is exercised properly. Perhaps there is another word that works as well as escaping – recuperation. Stress management. Reading will help to reduce the high acidity of stress, will calm the mind by giving it something to focus on and play with – for, just as the body has a gym, the mind has books – so that by the time you close the book or turn off the kindle, I find I am able to handle the day better and in a much calmer way. Suddenly the problems don’t seem so overwhelming. The brain has had a chance to breathe through the imagination. It needs challenges, yes, but it also needs rest and recuperation, just as the body does. Don’t worry if you don’t have much of an imagination, everyone works in different ways, but the more you use it the stronger and sharper it will be.

Soon, with enough practice, you’ll be able to slip out and away from that rush hour tube ride, that busy morning, that ringing phone, and find yourself standing beside the protagonist following the story just as much as they are. Suddenly you’ll find yourself at a roaring party of the 1920s wondering who this strange man Jay Gatsby is, or aboard the Hispaniola sailing to find a hidden treasure under the watchful gaze of Long John Silver. Who knows, you might even find yourself next to Victor Frankenstein as he experiments with galvanism upon his creature, not entirely convinced he’s thought this all through properly. Wherever you find yourself, your mental wellbeing will benefit greatly in more ways than one. The world can wait, it will always be there, ready for you, but I believe we must make sure we are ready for it. Put ourselves first and make sure that our wellbeing is at the forefront of priorities, for if our candle is guttering out, how can it light another’s wick? We must preserve our flame first before we can share the light further.

Due to the rise in suicides, depression and anxiety, I believe more men could benefit greatly from a bit more reading. Men’s mental wellbeing is a fickle subject as traditionally men do not speak their mind and are taught to “man-up” when expressing feelings, leading them to bottle up emotions and cage the energy within, causing harmful damage to the mind and body and effecting families, work and the world surrounding. With reading, this could change. It’s hard to find the time and place, I know, but the effects are overwhelmingly positive. If it seems too big a task, start small. Find a book that interests you and aim to read 5 pages a day, then 10 pages; just to ease you into a new routine. The mind can get distracted, it will lose attention, but the more it adjusts to this new reading routine, it will learn that this book is interesting and will want to know what happens. Hopefully the story would have gripped you by then and you could finish the book. It’s a grand accomplishment to finish one, so try two. See how you get on. Engage with reading, enjoy it, and the world may seem a calmer and friendlier place to live in.

Seadogs & Criminals (books 1 and 2) by Alex Fisher are available to buy online now and in all good bookshops as ebooks and paperbacks (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alex-Fisher/e/B09C8Z73X8)

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