Our Reading Lives

How Bookstores Help Calm My Anxiety

Michelle Regalado is a New York-based digital writer and editor. When she’s not reading books or writing about all things pop culture, you can probably find her drinking iced coffee and hanging out with her dog, Lola. Follow her on Twitter: @mar8289.

My shoulders relax. My head lifts. I breathe a deep sigh of relief. That’s how I feel when I open the door to a bookstore. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Nothing calms me down more immediately or lifts my spirits faster than entering a store crammed floor to ceiling with novels—novels that I love, novels that I have yet to read, and best of all, new and old novels that I’ve never even heard of.

For many of us readers, walking into a bookstore—even an ordinary corporate one that looks like any of dozens of branches across the country—is like a drug. Your adrenaline begins to kick in as you scan rows and rows of neatly lined books, and whatever you were stressing about a minute ago starts melting away (at least for the time being). It’s an addictive feeling, as evidenced by the paperbacks and hardcovers that fill my shelves, spill onto my desk and nightstand, and take up way more room than is probably acceptable in my home.

I am happy to sacrifice the space in exchange for the sense of calm a bookstore provides me with though. Like everyone else, I spend most of the time getting caught up in the daily stresses of adulthood work, relationships, family, laundry (seriously, why is there always more laundry to do?). But put me in a bookstore, and suddenly, my anxious mind throws out all the other stuff and zeroes in on one thought: Which book—or if I’m honest, books—are coming home with me?

We all make dozens of minor decisions every single day, from what time we leave for work to whether or not to answer that phone call. But not many of these choices feel like a complete pleasure to make. Maybe deciding between two different kinds of desserts. Or figuring out what to do outdoors on a sunny day off. For me, one of those I’ll-gladly-make-a-choice moments comes when I’m standing in the middle of a crowded bookstore with a historical fiction novel in one hand, a funny memoir in another, and my eyes trained on a third possibility on the shelf in front of me.

Has this addiction become disruptive from time to time? I’ll admit I once (temporarily) got separated from a group of travel buddies and missed half a sightseeing tour in a new city after spotting a small, charming storefront with an all-too-tempting novel display in the window. Plus, I, a typically chronically early arriver, have been known to lose all sense of punctuality while wandering up and down the aisles of a well-stocked bookstore.

Still, I figure as far as vices go, it’s not a terrible one to have. In fact, it’s probably the healthiest one I could ask for—at least for my mind. As for the ongoing space issue of my house and the quickly growing stacks of novels taking over various corners…well, I’m sure I can find a shelf, cabinet or counter that has yet to be filled.