If you’ve been following this blog recently, you’ll know that these last few weeks have been rough for Hobgoblin and me. I’m not going to write about that now, but I do want to write about how my stress levels and moods affect and are affected by my subjects here — my riding and my reading.

I’m struck by the way riding my bike is one of the best ways to improve my mood, but it’s also often the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling badly. I haven’t ridden much over the last couple weeks, a couple times, maybe, but I’d planned on riding much more; part of this is because of things happening in my life and part of it has been the weather. But the longer I go on without riding much, the harder it gets to get back on the bike. I start to feel as though I’ve screwed up all my training, I’ve lost my momentum, I’ve ruined my racing season, and so what’s the point? I get listless and lazy and I just don’t feel like riding.

But riding is exactly what I need — there’s really nothing better than a good long ride or even a good long walk to make me feel so, so much better. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an adult about what makes me happy, it’s that some kind of outdoor exercise (I don’t like the word “exercise” as it sounds no fun at all, but I’m not thinking of a word I like better) will make all the difference.

So, this afternoon I finally got on my bike; I didn’t want to ride, feeling that laziness coming over me, but the day was just too beautiful to stay indoors. After last week’s epic storm, the weather is finally improving — it was 70 degrees today, without a cloud in the sky.

I set out thinking I’d take it easy, kind of ease into riding again, loosen my muscles up a bit, but mostly just enjoy the day. But my muscles seem to have a mind of their own, because the first hill I came to, I found myself accelerating up it. And I did that on the second hill and the one after that and pretty much every hill until I got home 1 1/2 hours later. Sometimes my body dictates what it will do, and my mind has absolutely no say in it, and today my body insisted that I would work hard. I guess I needed it. Truthfully, I’m not sure I could have ridden slowly if I had tried.

And, no surprise, I felt much, much better during and after the ride than I did before I left. I hear of people talking about being addicted to exercise, and I’ve never quite known what that was like, but perhaps this is what they mean?

Unfortunately, my reading lately has not helped me as much as today’s riding did. I’m feeling a tiny bit restless with Wives and Daughters. I think this is fully my fault and not the book’s. It gets my interest for a chapter, and then it will shift to a different set of characters, and I’ll feel boredom creeping up. I’m noticing interesting things about it — there’s a post on it I’ve been meaning to do for a while — but what I want is pure enjoyment, and I’m not finding it. I’m liking A Sentimental Murder, but I have trouble paying attention to the details at times.

Last night, in an effort to find a new book that would get me out of this slump, I picked up Alberto Manguel’s A Reading Diary, which I felt sure I would like because I often enjoy that sort of book and because I liked his History of Reading so much. But after reading a few pages, I felt nothing but intense loathing. The idea of the book is to combine Manguel’s re-reading of old favorites with observations on his personal experiences. Usually I like this sort of thing, but last night I just couldn’t figure out why I should care. So the book is going back on the shelf for a time I am more likely to appreciate it, and maybe I’ll give another book a try this evening. Or maybe I’ll just stick with Gaskell.

I’m sorry to say it, but I’m finding that books generally don’t help me cope with hard times. I wish I were the kind of reader who could easily lose herself in a book and forget the world, but I don’t think I am. It’s too hard for me to shake my usual awareness of what’s going on around me. I’m happiest reading when things are calm and I don’t have to work to forget my worries. To get myself out of dwelling obsessively in my mind, I need to be doing something active, something physical.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Reading

12 responses to “Moods

  1. I completely understant the biking/not biking thing. When I have a regular exercise routine I’m happy to do it, i don’t even think about it and I feel good. But when the routine gets disrupted for some reason it throws everything out of whack and the longer I am away from the routine, the harder it is to start it up again. But it sounds like you had a good ride which means you will be more likely to do it again soon and then it will become routine again and all will be well.

    As for the reading, in times where I can’t concentrate and nothing seems appealing, I find a book that’s all plot and action, one that I don’t have to pay close attention to but makes me want to know what happens next. Hang in there, your mood will be on an upswing again soon.


  2. Dorothy, I’m very sorry that you and Hobgoblin are going through this difficult experience. I hope it helps some to know how many of your regular readers are thinking of you.


  3. I hope things start getting better for you and the Hobgoblin. Maybe some nicer weather will help! Walking isn’t terribly difficult, but I try and do it every day. If I don’t I feel completely out of whack. I rarely go a day without walking as I think I would become so lazy I wouldn’t want to start up again. So I suppose I overcompensate the other way! As for stressful times and reading. I tend to choose books, like Stefanie, that are for pure entertainment–that I might not really care too much about (as I also sometimes associate a book with bad times, and I would hate to read something really good only to ruin it by associating it with the bad time–weird, but what can I say). It seems that at times like these it is sort of nice to do things that don’t require too much thought. And I think exercise–like walking or cycling is a great way to get rid of that excess energy and use your mind in a different sort of way. In any case, I hope things start looking up soon!


  4. I have a similar problem — when I’m agitated or my mind is obsessing over something — I can’t read. It’s probably because I’m already an intense brooder on normal days, and so I need physical activity to shut out the mental noises when things overwhelms me. In school I used to swim, jog, or hike. Those days, after a period of intense study, we would go off for a 5 kilometres run. Nothing clears the head better than a good run.

    There is a simplicity in physical activities — it brings you back in touch with your body and breath — when life threatens to sweep us away it can be grounding. And of course there’s endorphin rush. Sometimes the body knows what it needs and it takes over. Our body can be smarter than we are on what we need. Sometimes we just have to listen.

    How do you feel right now? If you feel it’s hard to read right now, maybe your body is recommending more physical tasks, less mental labour.

    Take care.


  5. I’m about to get back into running again and yes, I’m not looking forward to it. I’ll have to set the alarm (something I don’t normally need to do) to ensure I wake up early enough, and even then it’s no sure thing.

    I do find it pretty easy to get into books during stressful times though. I’ve never looked at exercise quite the same way. We each have our release valves.

    The weather is so perfect right now–hopefully your life will take that upswing just when you need it most. 🙂


  6. I’m exactly the same way about exercise, even something I enjoy, like walking. On the other hand, I have no idea how I’d survive hard times without books to escape into.


  7. I have the opposite experience of reading at difficult times – I use it as a retreat and always have – but I can understand how others feel differently. At the same time I think I would go crazy without walking everyday, getting into that physical pounding rhythm and beating things out – I walk 2 and a half miles to work, and 2 and a half miles back everyday and I use that time to sooth my frayed edges too.

    I hope that both you and Hobgoblin feel better soon. Perhaps this will cheer you up: he was featured in the Guardian’s In the Blogs column today. I don’t know if you have access to that over there?


  8. This just really makes sense. I know that I have a really hard time focusing for long periods of time on my reading when I’m the least bit anxious. Maybe that’s exactly when I need to hit the treadmill. And maybe I’m not actually ADD but having a normal response to life. That is a very reassuring thought, thank you.


  9. I do think that bike ride was truly the best thing to do for yourself right now. You sound like someone who needs the good feelings that come with being physical. And so I hope you and the Hob get lots of nice weather days in the weeks to come, and a lot of riding in. The great thing about books is that they don’t really go anywhere. As for things to read at a time like this, I’m afraid I resort to cookbooks and magazines that inform me what the 50 best cosmetic bargains of the year are.


  10. My husband would agree with you absolutely – physical exercise (or entertainment if you need another word) is his best way of lifting himself. I don’t think it matters much what you do, so long as you know how to soothe yourself. I agree with Bloglily – the books will always sit patiently on the shelf. And love and every good wish to you and the Hobgoblin. Everything changes.


  11. I could have sworn I wrote a comment responding to you all, but I guess I didn’t?? Thanks, at any rate, for your thoughts about reading and exercise, and for your encouragement; this weekend has been good for me, with the beautiful weather and the hike and bike rides I’ve had. Now if only my grading were finished! It’s fascinating to me the different way people deal with their anxiety, and the different meanings reading has for people. One of my problems, I think, is that I don’t have a habit of reading light, plotty, fun things that would help me get through a reading slump. I think I need that.


  12. So glad to hear that the bike rides and hikes this weekend have helped. I am not very good about exercise and struggle to maintain a schedule. The hardest part is when something disrupts that schedule and then it takes me forever to get back with it. And, in times of stress my exercise is the one thing that suffers the most. All I want to do is read and yes it’s probably going to be a lot of light reading.


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