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Reading has the power to transform our mental health, so here’s how to get back into books (from someone who made it their mission to become a bookworm)

It’s safe to say the past year has taken a heavy toll on our mental health. Even as we ease out of lockdown, we’re still not feeling quite ‘right’ (that’s called languishing, BTW), but there is one easy thing that could help: reading.

Reading is a transformative mental health tool. One study found that reading for just six minutes a day can help reduce your stress levels by lowering your heart rate, easing muscle tension and altering your state of mind. The study also found that reading is more calming than going for a walk, listening to music or drinking a cup of tea.

More recently, a 2020 Oxford University study concluded that “challenging language” sent “rocket boosters” to our brain that could positively impact our mental health. Professor Philip Davis, author of Reading for Life, told The Times that literature “frees emotions and imagination” and can help to make someone feel “more alive”.

Reading is so beneficial for your mental health that the NHS even introduced a reading scheme back in 2008 that saw certain books prescribed to people facing mental health issues.

Yet, as much as we try (and make it one of our new year’s resolutions each year) it’s easy to fall off the reading wagon, especially in the digital age we live in. From being bombarded by content from streaming services, to constant group chats and the endless social media scrolls we often find ourselves in, it’s easy to pass up reading for the allure and ease of our digital devices.

Which is why making reading a priority is the key to picking it back up again. Last year I made it a goal to read 20 books and by the end of the year I’d read 23. This year I wanted to read 25, instead I’m averaging a book a week and have just finished number 18 (Have You Seen Me? by Kate White – a suspense novel so good I read it in just two sittings). As well as reaping the mental health benefits, I’ve found that reading is the perfect alternative for when you feel you’ve exhausted your streaming service options (anyone else spend half an hour just trying to find something to watch? It’s draining). With this in mind, here are some tips for how to get back into reading.

Download the Kindle app on your phone

As much as I love holding and reading a physical book (it’s the perfect way to reduce screen time), living in a small London flat simply means I do not have enough space for all the books I want to read. With libraries still shuttered, downloading the Kindle app on your phone is a great way to read more books (especially as lots of great books are available for just 99p). Having these books on my phone means, instead of instinctively going for one of the social media apps, I’ve been more likely to tap on the Kindle app and start reading.

Make reading a priority

If you want to become a more avid reader, you are going to have to make reading a priority. This means instead of spending 45 minutes per day mindlessly scrolling on TikTok (something we are very guilty of), use this time to read instead. Actively choosing to read is the best way to make it become a habit. It can help to set some realistic goals too. Start out with trying to read a book a month and gently increase it from there (or keep it as is, up to you!).

Find a reading time that suits you

While reading before bed is a proven stress-reducer (and can help you to sleep better), it’s not a time that suits everyone. You need to fit reading around your schedule, whether that means fitting in a cheeky 20 minutes into your lunch break, setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier to start the day with a relaxing read or even taking your book with you to the gym to read while you’re on the cross trainer – make it work for you.

Test out different genres

If you’re a rom-com fanatic (guilty as charged), you love a good thriller or you long to get lost in a fantasy world, sometimes it’s great to diversify your reading habits. Booktok (TikTok’s bibliophile community) is a great place to get recommendations for genres you wouldn’t normally delve into. I’m quietly obsessed with @bettysbooklist who gives recommendations for books in such a fun way. It’s also worth noting that if you aren’t enjoying a book, you don’t have to finish it! Why waste time on a book you’re not enjoying when there are so many other brilliant options out there?

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Put on an audiobook during your commute or daily walk

A recent study found that audiobooks can increase the enjoyment of reading, so it could be a great gateway option for those looking to increase their reading levels. Audiobooks are the ultimate reading tool for the time poor. Simply pop it on when you’re out for a walk, commuting to work, running errands, doing chores or when you’re at home or cooking dinner.

Join a book club

Book clubs are one of the best ways to get into reading because you are more or less told what book to read each month and, when it comes to discussing it, you generally do so over wine and cheese – what’s better than that? If none of your friends are book fans, and there’s no local club you can join, there are plenty of welcoming Instagram book clubs that we love. Why not try The Hyphen—Book Club (@thehyphenbookclub) run by writer and podcaster Emma Gannon? Or Between Two Books (@betweentwobooks) run by Florence Welch (yes, as in Florence + the Machine Florence)? If you’re a non-fiction fan, you should look to Rebel Book Club (@rebelbookclub) for insightful reads.

However you go about it, getting back into reading can do wonders for your mental health – and you’ll start feeling the benefits straight away. Scroll down to see our favourite new books for 2021.

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