I love books. I love losing myself in the pages. I love the smell of old ink and paper. And I love spending hours curled up with my dog and reading fantastical adventures.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: reading is more than a personal pleasure. It’s one of the best ways to keep your mental health in great shape.
Whether you read daily, weekly, or monthly, a good book can give you all of the following benefits.
1. Reading Reduces Stress
At the end of a busy day, I tend to feel frazzled and short-tempered. I’d rather not talk to anyone until after I’ve had some time to relax with a book for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
As it turns out, this is a fairly good strategy.
According to a study conducted at the University of Sussex, reading reduces stress by as much as 68%. In fact, reading works more quickly and more effectively than other relaxation methods, including drinking a cup of tea, listening to music, or playing video games.
To enjoy the most relaxation benefits, you only need to read silently for a minimum of 6 minutes. During that time, your heart rate and muscle tension will drop dramatically.
2. Reading Alleviates Symptoms of Depression
Every so often I have a bad day. Sometimes I feel as though someone has thrown a wet towel over my soul and I have to walk around feeling claustrophobic and weighed down.
On my sad days, I know I can always find comfort and sunshine in my favorite books. Fictional characters offer the best advice, and I can cling to the hope that my story hasn’t come to an end yet. Everything will work out eventually; I just haven’t defeated my life’s evil villain.
And I’m not the only one who uses books for comfort.
More and more experts are recommending bibliotherapy (book therapy) to patients suffering from depression and anxiety. The right books can reach out to individuals going through tough times, and the right stories remind us that we’re not alone in our pain.
When combined with writing therapy, bibliotherapy can lead to catharsis and release emotional tension.
3. Reading Enhances Empathy
I’m very much an introvert, and I struggle with social anxiety on occasion. As a result, I have a hard time communicating with others, and many view me as shy, aloof, quiet, or distant. Though I desperately try to connect with people, I spend a lot of time on my own.
However, reading has helped me make great strides toward understanding others and seeing from an outsider’s perspective. The more I read, the more I learn about human behavior and how to interact with the world around me. Better still, good books make for great conversation starters, so I have something solid to talk about with friends and family.
According to psychologists, reading literary fiction activates parts of the brain that process relationships between characters. It allows us to understand what fictional people are feeling and thinking so we can make better sense of why people do what they do. And these psychological processes, in turn, help us decipher real relationships and interactions.
4. Reading Improves Brain Connectivity
While I love to pick up an easy read and breeze through it from cover to cover, I also appreciate the in-depth novels that require me to think a little deeper and ponder life situations that I’ve never experienced.
When I read challenging books, I can see the gears in my brain whirling and spinning. I don’t just feel smarter; I am smarter.
In fact, researchers have found that reading enhances brain connectivity. Studies show that reading triggers the neurons in the left temporal cortex (the area of the brain associated with language comprehension) and the central sulcus (associated with movement and sensation).
Though researchers didn’t state any conclusions from the study, many experts speculate that reading reconfigures the brain for several days, and it could have a profound impact on brain development.
Give Yourself More Time to Read
I understand that life can get busy at times. Some days I wonder whether I’ll ever plow through my workload or squeeze in time for myself. But whenever I can snatch a few minutes to read, even if I can only manage a few pages, I feel better for doing so.
If you want to improve your mental health, don’t wait to pick up a good book. A few minutes a day can work wonders for your mood, your brain function, and your happiness levels.