It has been approximately one year since we all first heard about COVID-19, and since then tens of millions have become infected, over one million people have died, and countless others have become sick. We are living in a time of great fear and anxiety, caused not only by the disease itself, but also the economic, psychological, and emotional impacts of quarantines, lockdowns, and economic shutdowns. While there is new hope with the announcement of promising vaccines, the experts are indicating a rough winter season ahead.
Over the past several months, the one thing above all else that has helped me deal with the stress, anxiety, and fear of the pandemic has been reading fiction. I believe most people enjoy a good story, whether told through a book, movie, television show, or even orally. However, there is something particularly magical when one reads a good work of fiction. When I become immersed in a good book, it is almost as if a movie is playing in my mind, and I do not even realize I am reading words on a page. I can enter a meditative state where the worries of the outside world evaporate for a time. With the heightened emotional state we are all experiencing, reading fiction and its benefits are just as, if not more, important than ever for the following reasons.
Reading fiction provides a means of mental escape. In “normal” times, we all have stress from work, family, relationships, etc., and in normal times, there are many ways to allow the mind to escape such stress. Going to the bar for a few drinks after work, a night out dancing, playing in a softball league, meeting up with friends for a tabletop game, or just going to a friend’s home to watch the latest episode of your favorite television show are just some ways we escape the pressures of a typical day. Unfortunately, for many of us, the pandemic has stolen these simple pleasures due to various guidelines, regulations, lockdowns, and primarily out of our own fear of getting sick or getting our loved ones sick. Yet more than ever, we require these means of escape. Thankfully, the availability of books has not been affected by the pandemic, especially with the ability to order them online or merely download them in ebook format. Reading a good book can allow your mind to escape just as easily as the social activities you once enjoyed, and if you get into a particularly good story, you may find your mind distracted for hours. With a virtually endless supply of good books, there is a virtually endless supply of means for your mind to escape.
A good piece of fiction can ignite your imagination. An author must have imagination for a book to be worth reading, and imagination is often contagious. So many people have lost their jobs. Others have had their hours cut. Some just have more time because they are working from home. Whatever your situation, we all seem to have more time at home with less to do. Now is a great time to begin that project you always wanted to complete–maybe building your own furniture, starting a new business, or getting wrapped up in a new hobby. It can be hard to get started on these types of endeavors, but often it is simply a little imagination that can be the spark. Reading about a beautiful piece of art could inspire you to try painting. Reading about a rags to riches protagonist may prompt you to start your own business. It all begins with a little imagination, and there is nothing wrong with borrowing some that imagination from the author of a good book.
Lastly, reading fiction can provide hope, which is something we all desperately need in hard times. One of the pillars of a good book is its theme or themes. Themes such as good versus evil, love, redemption, coming of age, and courage and perseverance provide a larger framework for the characters and plot of a story. Long after you read a story and may have forgotten some of the characters and plot points, the themes are what stick with you. It is because these themes inspire hope. When you read about good triumphing over evil, you have hope that you can triumph in the face of hardship. When you read about true love, you have hope that one day you will find that special someone in your life. Many are struggling now because of the hardships created by the pandemic. Suicide rates have increased, substance abuse is more prevalent, and many are trapped at home with abusive family members. I am not saying that hope from a good book will cure these ills, but it can provide a small bit of comfort in difficult times. A little hope could be the difference in keeping your sanity while we await the end of this pandemic.
Reading fiction has helped me greatly in maintaining my mental health during this pandemic. I hope it can help you as well, and maybe you will find a new hobby in reading alone.