Reading for Self-Care


I've spent several days now wondering about people who read for rest and self-care—how it would be lovely to unwind at the end of a hard day with a book or spend a Saturday tucked away between blankets and pages of captivating books, maybe with a face mask on and a glass of wine.

That's my idea of reading and rest, but when I picture it more realistically—when I ask people who read to rest or read for self-care what it really looks like—I envision mountains of laundry beside me that I've pushed aside for reading, dog hair on my couch because I didn't get around to vacuuming, or an editing deadline looming over my head that I could/should be working on. And that makes my stomach hurt. That picture doesn't seem restful to me; it makes my anxiety rise, and think, How could I possibly focus on a book when there's so much else to do?

Sure, I love the idea of me reading with a glass of wine in bed, but in my mind—if I'm truly honest with myself—I can only let myself unwind like that as a reward to what I've accomplished that day.

And this is a monumentally not-okay problem.

There's been a lot of talk in the media about what self-care really means, and I agree wholeheartedly that it is not about what bath bombs, face masks, and skin care products you buy. Sometimes it's about doing things you don't want to do that will ultimately improve your quality of life. But even when you strip away the face masks (pun intended), self-care is about giving yourself grace, reminding yourself to breathe, and finding ways to soften and refresh and recharge in the midst of our busy, chaotic lives.

It's like pulling off at a rest stop on your road trip, getting outside, and stretching your legs a little.

And as a Christian, the biggest form of self-care for me is biblical counseling, reading my Bible, being in my community where people know me and share my hope to live out the gospel. But there are other, smaller forms of self-care as well. Walking my dog with my husband is one of the most therapeutic parts of my day. Sitting outside on my front porch before the day begins—two hands around my coffee mug—is another. I'm also addicted to my Headspace app and firmly believe ten minutes of deep breathing a day could change a person's life.

But why not reading?

I've chewed on this a lot, and more questions seem to follow: What if i'm just not a person who reads to relax? Could I change how I relax? Why do some people relax differently than others? How do you know when you're reading for self-care or you're reading for escape? What's the "line" between reading to unwind and relax and neglecting other important parts of my life? And most importantly: How does shame play into this?

Once I started thinking about shame, everything shifted for me.

You see, I've learned over the years that many of my habits and some knee-jerk reactions I have are twisted by shame in one way or another. Most of the time, shame is so subtle, it sneaks into my life or my thoughts with barely any warning. It's a small voice that says, Really, you're going to do that when your house is a mess? Or, How can you call yourself a freelancer when you aren't hustling? What will people think if you cancel on plans to read, again? Wow, you're going to go read when Aaron made dinner and there's more to be done? You're a lousy wife.

Reading is not a viable option for me in those moments. Just as it's viewed as an antisocial and even rude activity to take part in when you're in public (hello, Rory Gilmore at Chilton getting in trouble for reading at the lunch table instead of talking), I view it as a luxury I can't afford when I have too many responsibilities on my plate. That's why I so often read in chunks: carving out a rare Saturday, the calm after the storm when I meet an editing deadline.

Since as long as I can remember, reading has been used more as a reward activity.

Once I get XYZ done, I can finally curl up with a good book, and won't that be scrumptious? (Okay, I'm currently reading Anne of Green Gables and the word scrumptious has been buzzing around in my head a lot lately.) But this isn't a sustainable relationship with reading. It also isn't very kind to myself.

The irony here is that I watch a lot of TV. It's a pretty deceptive game I play with myself: I tell myself I'll have it on in the background or I'll just watch one episode while I eat dinner, but what I deem as "relaxation" is actually just deep distraction. I still don't turn off my worrying brain when I watch TV; instead, I'm juggling the two. Reading is such an active, intentional act. I have to sit down, quiet my thoughts, and choose to focus on another story. It takes engagement. It takes a willingness to close out everything else.

While I'm not bashing TV at all (I do think movies and television can be used for self-care, and I take joy in a few shows I get to watch with Aaron), most of the time, I turn it on just to turn it on. I think, I don't have time for reading or can't allow myself to read right now with everything I need to do, and then I will literally trick myself into watching TV, thwarting my plan for productivity anyway.

I want to stop basing my relationship with reading off how productive I am on a day-to-day basis.

I want to build reading into my day and be able to pick up a book, giving myself permission to set aside other priorities to make reading a priority. And I want to do it without feeling guilt.

This is where I am right now. Do you read for self-care? Do you struggle with using it as a viable option for self-care? If so, what are some ways you've told shame and guilt to go take a hike?

Sorry for the novel, readers. I would so love this to be a dialogue. x