5 ways reading boosts mental health

5 ways reading boosts mental health

In For the Love of Reading by Julia Malacoff

5 ways reading boosts mental health
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. The right amount of stress can help us grow and accomplish more than we ever imagined. When stress starts to pile up, that’s when it becomes a problem. Thankfully, taking care of our mental health is much more on the radar than it was years ago. And did you know that your reading habit — or developing one — could actually help lighten your mental load? Here are five ways that picking out your next read (or listen!) might just help you feel less stressed and healthier mentally.

1. Reading for fun may help you feel less stressed

The “for fun” part is key! One study found that college students who did recreational reading outside their studies experienced less psychological distress over the course of the school year. Whether you’re digging into a new novel or reading up on a hobby that interests you, setting aside some time to immerse yourself in a book you enjoy is likely to reduce your stress load.

2. Reading reduces stress better than other activities

Move over, hot cup of tea and meditation. A 2009 study done at the University of Sussex found that reading was 68% better at reducing stress than listening to music, and even more effective in comparison to other stress-busting techniques. In fact, reading outperformed all the other stress coping mechanisms the researchers evaluated. Pretty convincing stuff, right?

3. Self-help books may reduce anxiety

Dealing with anxiety can be really tricky. But researchers have found that self-help books may help people overcome that feeling of panic, and they’re a lot cheaper than therapy. That’s not to say self-help should replace seeing a therapist, but reading about how to deal with anxiety can move things in the right direction. So if you struggle with feeling on edge, take a deep breath and crack into one of the many titles aimed at helping you cut out some of the noise, like Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person.

4. Transporting yourself to another world gives your brain a break

Sometimes your brain needs a little vacation, too. A book is a perfect way to do that, according to science. You know that feeling when you’re so immersed in a book that the outside world seems to just fall away? Usually, it happens with a great story that’s totally different from your real life (think: a great fantasy like Outlander or a fun, aspirational novel like Crazy Rich Asians). That’s called narrative absorption, and research suggests it can help distract us from tough stuff going on in our lives. 

5. Reading may help you feel less down

If you ever needed a reason to give personal development books a try, here it is. In one research review, people who read as part of treatment for depression (an approach known as bibliotherapy) had fewer depressive symptoms. Again, that’s not to say books are a one-to-one replacement for therapy, but they can make a difference, and that’s what matters!

About the Author: Julia Malacoff

Julia is a freelance writer and editor who holds a BA in Art History from Wellesley College, and is also a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. Her work experience includes writing, reporting, and editing for top publications, including Shape, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, as well as leading brands like Nike, Aveeno, and Precision Nutrition. She lives in London with her husband and two cocker spaniels. An avid reader, you can find her devouring her book club's latest pick — or anything by Zadie Smith, Blake Crouch, and Jeffrey Eugenides.
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