I am at my calmest when I am sprawled across the sofa or tucked up in bed, a cup of tea (milk, no sugar please) on the table beside me and my head buried deep into my latest book of choice. For that period of time, whether it be ten minutes or two hours, my whole world stops. My only concern are the characters that live between the covers who take me into their world like one of their own. A calm sea in a world full of storms.
During her appearance on the Literary Friction podcast, the incredible novelist and essayist Zadie Smith said that she believes inside all of us is a ‘raging chaos’. Living in a world where being busy is synonymous with success and we are exposed to a plethora of differing views and opinions, it’s not hard to see how anxiety often creeps up on so many of us. I have first-hand experience of the feeling of having too much inside your head, obsessing over things that may never happen.
In 2016, straight after my A-Levels, I went off to University. By Christmas, I’d lost just over two stone and my confidence levels plummeted. I was not happy. I spent most of my time alone and any smidgen of confidence I had left was taken away by bullies who made me fear leaving my room. It was then, with little else to do apart from University work, I decided to find solace in books. I spent my time devouring countless novels, opinion pieces and Sunday Times columns. I was transported to a different world, with different people. I was on a journey to somewhere far, far away from my small room in York. For a few hours a day, I was not a product of my anxiety. It no longer defined who I was. Since then, I’ve read hundreds of memoirs, novels and essays.
Reading can help your mind to focus, to ground you and remind you what is real and what is simply in your head. Studies have shown that reading can increase empathy and help you to understand and share in the feelings of those around you, but it can also help you to understand your own feelings. To be kinder to yourself. I have noticed a significant increase in my empathy levels in the past few years. I never used to cry in response to a character’s feelings in a novel, or cry at a person’s situation on the TV but now, it’s like whatever they’re feeling, I am feeling too. This has helped me to understand that everyone struggles at times and that we are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves.
I used to spend most of my time aimlessly scrolling on Instagram or watching videos on Facebook but now I spend my time reading, absorbing the words of countless great writers. I now have the control of my thoughts that were once at the mercy of my anxiety. And if I start to feel anxious? I just go ahead and start a new chapter.
Words by Ali Langhorn.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.