Lack of reading for pleasure, practicing self-care deteriorates the self


Julia Herlyn '23

Reading for a few minutes a day can have numerous benefits, improving upon your mental wellbeing in addition to your physical health.

As a wide-eyed, energetic fourth grader who was always eager to learn and grow, reading—to me—was one of, if not my favorite pastime. I recall dedicating December break of 2014 to the joy of reading—at the time, I was immersed in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan—and I spent my glorious days off by sinking into the comfort of my bed from morning to night with “The Sea of Monsters,” followed by “The Titan’s Curse,” and eventually, “The Battle of the Labyrinth,” constantly yearning to consume more and more texts. 

I consider my love of reading—which stemmed from immersing myself within fantasy worlds and enlightening myself through nonfictional works—to be a fundamental aspect of my personal identity. Literature shaped my values, enriched my creativity and broadened my worldview, providing me with both moral and historical lessons. As a child who was so wholeheartedly committed to exploring this interest, I would have been shocked to discover how this passion has waned over the course of just seven years. Regrettably, my love of reading diminished as a result of added stress and responsibilities, not only affecting my own understanding of who I am myself, but also negatively impacting my mental health.

During elementary school, I was an aficionado of Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, discovering my love for Greek mythology through these books.

Naturally, as I have gotten older, my responsibilities have shifted. As a 9 year old, a matter of utmost importance was the latest episode of Good Luck Charlie. But now, as a 16 year old midway through my junior year of high school, I focus on AP classes, academic summer programs and the upcoming SAT. I consciously value academics over some of my personal pleasures, such as reading as a hobby, because I feel that prioritizing my classwork is more important now. I viewed this particular sacrifice as relatively innocent—why would losing a few minutes of reading affect me, anyway? However, I now recognize that by completely eliminating my time spent with this personal indulgence, I have been doing a disservice to my mental and emotional state.

According to Step Up For Mental Health, studies indicate that reading as little as six minutes per day can decrease stress and enhance mental acuity. HuffPost cites that reading can improve one’s quality of sleep. And, lastly, notes a variety of evidence demonstrating the positive physical and psychological effects of reading on one’s welfare in a holistic sense, such as strengthening brain networks, increasing one’s ability to empathize, preventing age-related cognitive decline and alleviating symptoms of depression like feelings of isolation and estrangement.

During my sophomore year, my English teacher insisted that we spent the first 10 minutes of class reading a book for pleasure. While 10 minutes may not seem very noteworthy, as the year progressed, I began to rediscover my love for reading—always itching for an extra minute to finish the page and then another minute to finish the next page. Overall, I can attest that my emotional wellbeing was better then. While this may be principally due to my current circumstances—such as my increased workload and responsibilities relative to last year—I do believe that by dedicating a sliver of a day to myself, my mood was enhanced.

It’s easy to ignore practicing self-care, especially when the surrounding noise of homework, standardized testing, extracurriculars, pandemics, current events, friendship drama, talk of the future and more is so piercing, overwhelming and absolutely consuming. For me, self-care means devoting a few minutes of my day—whether it is 10 minutes or upwards of an hour—to reading for pleasure. While I may not have the time to cocoon myself in blankets and read for hours in bed nowadays, the fourth grader who was so eager to read still remains within me, hoping for an extra minute or two (or three) to finish the page I’m on.