How can reading promote good mental health?
Written By: Alison Ralph Date: 16.05.23
If you are an avid reader then there is good news for your mental state. Reading has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
In fact, research conducted by Dr David Lewis (a cognitive neuro psychologist) showed that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60%! That is 68% better than listening to music, 100% better than drinking tea and 300% better than going for a walk!
I hear you asking how? How can reading help to improve my mental state?
1. Reading is pleasurable
When we complete pleasurable activities it triggers neurons in our brain. This leads to the release of a chemical called dopamine which causes a feel-good sensation. When you choose a book you enjoy, this feel good sensation happens in the brain.
2. Reading can provide an escape from the 'real world'
If you have ever felt stressed or anxious, you will know that it takes over your thoughts, and often your physical self. If you get lost in a wonderful book then this can take you away from those thoughts or feelings, even if just for a short while.
Reading engages the imagination and stimulates creativity, which engages the brains prefrontal cortex. This is the area that houses the ‘anxiety brake’. As you feel calmer, the fear centre of the brain (amygdala) becomes less active and the rationalisation area of the brain (cortex) become more active. This shift in brain function can empower the ‘anxiety brake’ and leave you feeling calmer and more in control of anxious thinking.
3. Reading lowers your heart rate and relaxes you physically
Due to the fact that reading deactivates the amygdala, the body becomes calmer, reducing heart rate and easing muscle tension. Breathing automatically slows and everything becomes much calmer.
4. It encourages you to have empathy for others and yourself
This is a really important one! Often our relationship with others can cause us to feel stress or anxiety or we may not have a great relationship with ourselves and this can create negative feelings. Reading a book can introduce us to different scenarios and how people react to these. It can help us to see things from a different viewpoint and may even relate to us in many ways. Once we have built up empathy for the person in the book, it can begin to transfer into our ‘real’ life.
Reading can help you become smarter
You might be somebody who enjoys reading information books, or the book you are reading may just have a few new facts in it that you didn’t know before. This all contributes to you becoming smarter, and who doesn’t like the feeling of knowing stuff? It can help us to feel better about ourselves and raise self-esteem.
Reading for me...
I have to admit that I have never been an avid reader. However, when I got to university (I think), I decided to read he Harry Potter books and I was hooked. This was the beginning of enjoyment for reading for me. I think these books made me feel smarter and they gave me an escape from the stressful things around me. They also gave me something to talk to others about (many people were Harry Potter obsessed at the time and still are now!).
When I was travelling the world after university I was in New Zealand and was recommended a book by the locals. It was a fiction book but based on truth. I cannot remember the name of the book but it gave me a sense of connection to the place I was travelling around at the time. It also helped me to feel that I know something about the history of the area. I remember reading this at times when I felt home sick or lonely and it really helped me escape form the outside world.
One of the latest books I read was Spare By Prince Harry. Now I am not somebody who is particularly into the royal family but I really wanted to read this and feel like I had heard his side of the story. I also think that as a therapist I am genuinely interested in people’s lives (you might say that I am a little bit nosey). I could not put this book down! It was extremely interesting and I felt real empathy towards him. Everyone deserves to tell their story!
I am currently reading Roman Kemps autobiography which is interesting and focussed around mental health. I also read many different books by psychologists, hypnotherapists and counsellors as this helps me to develop as a therapist and find new ways of working with my clients. I guess this therefore makes me feel smarter!
It is clear to see why reading is one of the best ways to relieve stress and anxiety and help promote good mental health. I wonder if you reflected on the books you have recently read you could find ways that it has helped you in a positive way. As you can see, just a handful of books I have read over the years have really helped me in the moment and for many different reasons. Everyone is different of course and you may find that if you are stressed or anxious, it is difficult to read. Remember, you only need 6 minutes a day to make a difference!
If you are finding that you used to enjoy reading but are not interested in it anymore or just cannot focus due to stress or anxiety, it may be time to talk to somebody. Feel free to contact me to find out how we could work together.