Book Review: Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I’m nervous on behalf of the planet.

Copy of 'Notes on a Nervous Planet' held in front of a cushion with an illustration of a bee on it.
Bees sometimes make people nervous but they’re beautiful.

I was stressed out.

Opening line, Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig
  • Published: January 8th 2019 by HarperAvenue (first published July 5th 2018)
  • Author: Matt Haig
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre(s): Non-fiction, mental health, self-help
  • Pages: 310
  • Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My review

The first thing I’m going to say about this book is that I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I had it up there on the same level as Reason’s to Stay Alive, but this book, although it deals with similar subjects, is for the most part concerned with different things. This book is primarily discussing how modern day life is contributing to the nervousness of the people who inhabit this planet.

This includes things like: social media, work/life balance, health, and habits. Matt explores all of these and more, relating them to society at large, as well as his own life and mental health. The style of this book is very much the same as Reasons, so it’s an easy and quick read, with digestible information and the choice to flit between different parts quite easily.

The reason I didn’t enjoy this one as much as because I feel like in my own life I’ve already figured some of these issues out already. The advice that Matt gives had me nodding my head, rather than feeling a sense of enlightenment that I could change my life. Having said that, it is worth reading for the way the facts, information, and insights are laid out and put together into a sort of case file of nervous life. It’s alright knowing these things from experience, but actually reading about them in a coherent and considered way really helps. We all know that social media can be unhealthy, we all know that we need to get more sleep, and that modern life is altering the way we live and think. But taking a moment to stop and think about the impact of these aspects of life, and have them in print and on paper (as opposed to a screen) in front of you is something we should all take the time to do.

A lot of the information that Matt presents affirmed my opinions about social media, the news, and other anxiety-inducing things. For example:

“…it is ironic that reading the news about how things are making us anxious and depressed actually can make us anxious, and that tells us as much as the headlines themselves.”

Chapter ‘News from a Nervous Planet’, page 10.

I’m often in the position of having someone start talking to me about the news in a way that assumes I’m as up to date as they are. I’m faced with an out of context nugget of information, and have to tell them that ‘I haven’t seen the news today, so I’m not sure what’s going on’. And then they’ll explain it to me, and I’ll nod like I’m interested. I’m a bit numb to news, these days, and only find out about it through the above process, or my mum being my perfectly filtered news feed. She knows what I’m likely to be interested in, and I’ll get a page out of a newspaper waiting for me at home, or she’ll tell me about a story or interview she saw during the Breakfast news, and I’ll be genuinely narked with myself for missing it. But overall, I don’t keep up with the news.

“If you find the news severely exacerbates your state of mind, the thing to do is SWITCH IT OFF.”

Chapter ‘Where does anxiety end and news begin?’, page 33.

As you’ll know, I’ve been diving into the heart of science and astrophysics recently, and I’ve never been more interested and aware of our place in the universe. I read the majority of this book on the tram to work, and one night I came home and saw live footage from inside parliament: the arguing, shouting, and general ridiculousness of politics. I know it’s all happening for a reason, and it’s just where we are right now. But I looked at it and said, “We weren’t made for this. We are creatures on a planet in the universe. We are so tiny, on this little blue dot of a planet, and we don’t exist to be wasting our short time on this sort of thing.” Try stepping outside of it for a moment and get a different perspective.

Similar to this is what Matt writes about work. Getting to know myself as a person, as a human, and knowing what my mental health is like and what it needs is the reason why I don’t have a 9-5 job. I don’t care that I make less money because of it. I’ve known people who have hailed working all hours as the pinnacle of existence, and a mark of someone worth knowing. I’ve known people who never stop talking about work, not because they think it’s good conversation, but because they think it makes them somehow above everyone else. But again, step outside of it for a moment. I’ve said this before I’m sure, but I’ve been in the position where I had multiple jobs, and seemed to working all the time, and I ended up in hospital as a result, because I had no time to properly look after myself, physically or mentally. I was just caught up in the cycle, without the chance to really escape it. When life gets like that, see life and yourself for what it is, and realise that there’s a lot more to it than something that makes you stressed and anxious.

“Employers are taking people’s weekends. Employment is becoming a dehumanising process, as if humans existed to serve work, rather than work to serve humans.”

Chapter ‘Ways the world is changing that aren’t entirely good’, page 45.

As you can tell, this book made me think a lot. It made me think deeper about the stuff that I already knew, and gave me more insights that I’m thankful for. I’ll dip in and out of this some more, because it covers so much more than the sections I’ve highlighted here. Although I wasn’t as engaged or enthused while reading it, it doesn’t mean this book isn’t absolutely relevant and worth picking up. It#s more to do with the fact that it discusses all these anxiety-inducing aspects of modern life, that you inevitably have to lend your mind to while reading. But Matt makes it so you can read it in easy-to-swallow chunks, rather than being overwhelmed.

Go and pick it up. And revel in the pure and simple delight of reading ink on paper, rather than pixels on a screen.

Link to the book on Goodreads: Notes on a Nervous Planet

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