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Kicking back with a good book is one of the oldest entertainment forms there is. Yet today, people still love to lose themselves in a fictional world for a few hours. Reading hasn’t lost its touch. And the positive effects of reading haven’t gone unnoticed. For thousands of years, people have intuitively understood the therapeutic effects of reading on the mind and the body. There was even a term coined to define the concept. ‘Bibliotherapy’ is an approach that recognises the healing nature of the beloved book. So in honour of World Book Day, this 2nd March we're looking at how reading can improve your mental health.
Reading requires us to engage our brains in creative imagination. To formulate the words on the page to an image in the mind. To step into the shoes of the characters and create alternate settings we may have never seen before. Research shows that engaging this part of our creative brain can help us access positive emotions like joy and happiness. The studies by Stuckey and Nobel (2010)¹ also showed that experiencing these kinds of positive emotions can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Immersing yourself in a book provides a mental escape from any anxiety you might be experiencing. It can help to calm any mental chatter that is consuming your energy. The focus of your mental attention shifts from anxious thoughts to another narrative. Just 30 minutes of reading has been proven in the USA by research for the Journal of College Teaching and Learning (2009)² to reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rate. So next time you’re feeling a little tense, try sitting down with your favourite book for half an hour and see what happens.
Because reading requires constant attention, it helps to improve your ability to focus. Your sustained attention and active use of the brain will boost concentration levels. It helps to improve other functions like vocabulary, memory, and conversational skills too. It might sound like a small change, but these benefits can help your reading, writing and focus. These skills are key to succeeding at work or studies and can lead to greater life satisfaction.
It was James Baldwin the famous American author who said: “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” And since then, studies have echoed what Baldwin once thought. When we read, we actually project ourselves into the characters shoes. Which is exactly what we’re doing when we empathise with the people in our lives. Empathy can help to deepen connections with others. Connecting with others helps to improve happiness levels and increase life satisfaction.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, down or low, grab a good book and see if these mental health benefits work for you.
¹ Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497.
² Rizzolo, Denise & Zipp, Genevieve & Simpkins, Susan & Stiskal, Doreen. (2009). Stress Management Strategies For Students: The Immediate Effects Of Yoga, Humor, And Reading On Stress. Journal of College Teaching and Learning,. 6. 79-88. 10.19030/tlc.v6i8.1117.
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