Reading to Minimize Stress

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my personal efforts to minimize the stress that often accompanies caregiving. That particular one focused on exercise. I noted that I have been involved with exercise for many years, most of that in connection with my thrice-weekly visits to the Y. After Kate’s diagnosis, I added walking around our neighborhood the other four days of the week. More recently, I have increased my walking to seven days a week. Even more recently, I have increased the length of my walk from an around 2 ½ miles to 3 miles. Another way in which I have dealt with stress is reading.

My life with reading could be described as having lots of ups and downs. In elementary school I was an avid reader of The Hardy Boys series and the orange-bound biographies of Americans of note. Most of my reading after that was devoted to the assigned reading in connection with my class work. After graduate school, I found myself immersed in the books and articles that related directly to my early career as a professor of sociology and social psychology. Later on, when I started my own market and opinion research company, I was involved in a good bit of travel. I tended to read while in airports or on the plane. Much of that reading involved newspapers and periodicals.

When I retired to spend more time with Kate, I decided to incorporate reading for pleasure as an essential part of my life. I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the things I had been reading before, but most of my reading was related to my professional interests. I’ve always had diverse interests in my personal reading choices. Now I had the chance to pursue a richer variety of topics than I had done before.

Kate had experienced sleeping problems prior to her diagnosis. She was a former English teacher and librarian and had been a reader since childhood. It was only natural that she would think of reading when she woke up at night. She decided the easy way to do that was to listen to audio books. I gave her an iPod, and she signed up for a subscription with Audible for two books a month. Gradually, she started listening when she went to bed each night. She kept that up for years until her Alzheimer’s made it too difficult, and the Trazadone she was taking provided her with a good night’s sleep.

I took my cue from her. I took out the same subscription with Audible and continue to the present. I realize that the audio format is not for everyone, but it works for me. I was also influenced by a problem with my eyes. I have a severe dry eye condition and find reading, especially in print form, to be difficult. For a while I used a Kindle. That worked pretty well. Then I switched to the iPad, but I prefer audiobooks. I discovered that I like having someone read to me. Listening can be very powerful. That is especially true for books that involve a narrator’s telling the story. For that reason, I find books like The Reader to be an especially good in audio format.

Since I didn’t have a sleep problem, I was able to choose what I thought was the best time for reading (listening). That was when I am at the Y or walking. In addition, I continue to read on my iPad. The books I read on the iPad are those that I may want to refer to later. I listen to books about 8-10 hours a week and read on the iPad somewhat less than that. That means I don’t read a lot, but it does add up over time. Since Kate’s diagnosis 7 ½ hears ago, I’ve listened to more than 150 books. In addition, I have read 60-70 on my iPad, over thirty of those by caregivers or people with dementia. I like having those on the iPad. It is much easier to go back to specific parts of a book that way than with the audio version.

As for what I read, my books represent a wide assortment of topics, but they are heavily oriented toward non-fiction. Periodically, I try to correct this imbalance. I have read more than a dozen of Donna Leon’s books. She is my favorite light fiction writer. I have also read quite a few of Daniel Silva’s and Louise Penny’s books.  Two works of fiction that I have particularly enjoyed are Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto.

Among the works on non-fiction I have read and enjoyed during the past year or two are The Inheritance, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Alone, two biographies by Walter Isaacson (Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs), Why Buddhism is True, The Great Quake, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, Sisters in Law, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts

I have found that reading helps to keep my mind on a variety of things that are well beyond my daily routine. Books are a great source of entertainment, education, and stimulation. In addition, I never run out of new material. It wouldn’t work as my sole method for addressing stress, but it plays an important part in my overall strategy.

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