How reading can help you conquer chronic ilness FB

This is going to sound crazy, but I assure you it’s true. According to Psychology Today, 42% of college-educated Americans will never read another book for the rest of their lives after graduation.

This horrifies me on so many levels and it boggles my mind because I love to read. I can’t even imagine life without books.

There is nothing quite like the smell of a bookstore. Whenever I walk into a Barnes and Noble, I take a deep breath and smile. Libraries, too. It’s that strange and wonderful mishmash of people and paper and binding and glue. There is so much potential in that smell – potential knowledge and wisdom – but also the potential to heal.

The Secret Potential of Books:

Books are my secret weapon against illness.

I’ve written before that I learned to manage my Meniere’s disease symptoms, stumbling an inch forward at a time, through endless trial and error, which is true. But the original ideas were never random. The seeds were planted as I read countless books across a wide variety of genres. And every once in a while, at just the right moment, something would trigger that seed to grow into an idea that would help me.

These “Eureka!” moments have happened over and over in my quest to find ways to treat Meniere’s disease. They don’t always pan out into something useful, but sometimes they do. Sometimes the payoff is huge and unexpected.

Here are a few examples of ideas that were born out of books that had nothing to do with chronic illness:

Creativity exercises as a tool to mitigate brain fog:

When I first started writing daily idea lists, it didn’t occur to me that it might help my brain fog. The practice is the brainchild of one of my favorite authors, James Altucher. In his best-selling book, Choose Yourself, he explains that if you write down 10 ideas, every day, you will turn into an idea machine, and have creative solutions flowing out of you for every problem you may face.

As an entrepreneurial person, this appealed to my ego. But then again, who doesn’t want to have lots of ideas? I adopted the practice and quickly found that it helped my brain fog as well. Only then did it occur to me that other creativity exercises, like writing, might help as well. Today, I use writing as my first line of defense against brain fog.

Getting better sleep:

I have read a considerable amount about health, and as someone who has always had a difficult time sleeping, I am always looking for ways to improve my sleep. However, I didn’t realize just how much of an impact sleep could have on my wellbeing until I read Shawn Stevenson’s book, Sleep Smarter.

Shawn talks about the benefit of setting up a “sleep sanctuary” by improving your bedroom environment to optimize sleep. I immediately applied several of his teachings, such as setting the temperature lower and blocking all ambient light. It made a big impact, and my sleep started to improve.

But when my symptoms started to improve as well, I started thinking about all of the ways I may be able to get better sleep. It led to my idea for my tinnitus focused meditation and my discovery of binaural beats for sleep.

Fiction versus Non-fiction and the Research:

I personally love to read both fiction and non-fiction, often concurrently, and for different reasons.

I primarily read fiction for entertainment and escape. Meniere’s disease can make life so difficult, but a good book can take me away from it all. One day I get to immerse myself in a beautiful alien world, and the next, I am seeing through the eyes of a missionary in the Amazon. No movie or TV show can hold a candle to the raw power of the imagination.

I read non-fiction to learn and grow. A good non-fiction book can transfer a lifetime of ideas and experience directly into your brain. Think about it: someone took the time to collect ideas, research, and explore, and distill the concepts down into a form that you can absorb. It’s such a powerful tool.

But there are also other less tangible benefits of reading that help me manage my Meniere’s disease. Though it’s difficult to read when my symptoms are flaring up, reading does wonders for my brain fog. The mental and intellectually stimulating nature of reading has been shown to help keep your mind sharp and possibly even prevent Alzheimer’s.

Research has also shown that reading fiction, and narrative non-fiction, can improve brain connectivity and improve empathy as well.

In a 2013 study at Emory University, researchers found that reading creates a lasting increase in brain connectivity. In an interview with The Atlantic, Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study explains: “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist…We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

How to Develop a Reading Habit with a Chronic Illness:

So if you want to start reading more, here are a couple good strategies I’ve discovered over the years to create a strong reading habit that sticks:

If your symptoms are acting up, listen to an audio book instead:

If your symptoms are preventing you from reading, you still have options! You can listen to an audio book instead. With Overdrive, you can borrow audio books from the library, and with Audible by Amazon, you can stream and download audio books on demand. With this special promotion, you can get one month of an Audible Gold Membership for free and two free audio books. You can keep the audio books even if you cancel the membership, and not pay a dime.

Use Goodreads to keep track of your reading:

Goodreads is a social network for readers. It offers excellent book recommendations based on what you have already read and what you are interested in. But best of all, Goodreads makes it incredibly easy to keep track of the books you want to read as well as the books you have read. It’s a critical component of my reading habit.

Try to read at the same time every day:

Try to incorporate reading into your daily routine. But don’t try to read for hours and hours every day right off the bat. Aim for consistency. Start at the same time and read for a little while every day.

Use idea lists to remember what you’ve read:

Here’s another trick I picked up from author James Altucher. After you read a book, create a list of 10 things (from memory) that you learned from the book. It will help you remember what you read so you can start applying it to your life.

Pro tip – Take notes and highlight as you read. It will help you remember key pieces of information.

Books, Books, and More Books – Resources for Reading!

I wish you the best of luck with your new reading habit and I hope you get as much out of it as I have! Here are few resources and several of my favorite books for you to explore:

Kindle Unlimited: For $10 a month you can read an unlimited number of Amazon Kindle Books!

Scientific Speed Reading: People have mixed opinions on speed reading, and your symptoms may make this difficult, but last year I discovered this incredible technique by Author Tim Ferriss and was able to nearly double my reading speed. It felt like I had discovered a hidden super power and it only took about 20 minutes to learn.

A few of my favorite books:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: A hilarious collection of short stories and essays by New York Times best-selling author David Sedaris. Possibly the funniest book I have ever read.

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson: The incredible and mind bending story of 3 deep sea divers who discover a sunken German U-Boat 50 miles off the coast of New Jersey that’s not supposed to exist.

The Martian by Andy Weir: One of the best Sci-Fi books I’ve read all year. This book tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who gets stranded on Mars during a sand storm. A movie based on this book is coming out soon with Matt Daemon as the lead.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen: I don’t read a lot of literary fiction but this was one of the best books I’ve ever read. It follows 2 characters, one a mercenary, and the other a Christian missionary, as they interact with undiscovered tribes in the Amazon.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl: Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps and went on to detail his experience and ideas on the meaning of life. A powerful and inspirational book like no other!

  1. I just read your blog post after returning from a short bike ride to my library. I always go with a book or two in mind to borrow, but ended up with five (one for my preschool-aged daughter and the rest for me).

    One thing I find strange is that when I have a vertigo attack with visible spinning, my near-sight (reading distance) is not affected. That doesn’t mean I feel up to reading through (usually I’m vomiting).

    All the best with your new book.

    • Hey Cara, thats amazing that you can still read during a vertigo attack. Although I’m not sure I’ve ever tried. When I’m dizzy I find it hard to focus my eyes. Once I get pulled into what I’m reading I can usually do it, but often I listen to audiobooks instead. Thanks!

  2. I ordered your book Glen and hope that it will help me live through this horror of a disease. Doctors can do this and that, but the reality is that there is no cure and alto symptoms may subside after awhile, we have to struggle day by day.

    • Hi Linda, first off thank you! I really hope you enjoy it. I know there is no cure and how frustrating it is, but even despite the possibility of remission that some people seem to experience, my sincere hope is that you’ll be able learn some new and interesting ways to cope that you hadn’t considered before. I wish you the best Linda!

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