Mental Health Benefits of Reading Books

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.

The year 2021 brought some really hard times for our family. The terror of Covid gripped us and snatched away my beloved father-in-law. Still not vaccinated we got exposed to the virus. That forced us to stay away from my 9-month-old. The turmoil was real.

Death brings grief in any situation. But, death in covid – it brings despair. It snatches away the final dignity from death. And the family members of the deceased are left utterly destitute. But, I am still not strong enough to recall the details of that nightmare. So let us keep that for another day. Today I want to share my coping method.

The days just after the mourning was tough for the family. And with a baby, oblivious of these problems having his demands – the situation was grave. Everyone in the family tried to cope up in their own way. And I found my solace in my best friends – the books. They helped me to gather myself, and face the situation bravely. They got me through, gave me hope, and take a break from it all. Recently when a friend lost her father I wanted to suggest the same but, before that decide to do more research about it.

Mental health and reading have a close connection. Storytelling, creative writing, and reading have long been recognized for their therapeutic potential. But what I did not know was that there exists a therapeutic approach that uses literature to support good mental health. It is called Bibliotherapy. It is an inexpensive, least intrusive intervention possible and easy to apply therapy modality. Moreover, it comes with a few (if any) side effects. Bibliotherapy can be applied to patients suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders; those struggling with trauma or addiction; or those going through grief, a divorce, or other relationship-related challenges.

But, therapy is something only a professional can suggest. Here we can discuss the general benefits reading has.

British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton once wrote, “Consolation from imaginary things is not an imaginary consolation.” People fighting depression, anxiety often finds themselves alienated. Books at those times help to lessen the feeling.

In this blog let me discuss how the lifelong habit of reading can have powerful benefits for mental health.

Reading relieves Stress

Reading books promote a sense of meditative calm. It invites one’s mind into the literary world and the varied characters, in turn, freeing the mind from the stressors that plague our daily life. This helps to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. In 2009, in the Journal of Teaching and Learning a group of researchers studied the effects of yoga, humour, and reading on the stress levels of students in demanding health science programs in the United States. The result surprisingly showed reading having the same positive effects as the others. In another study at Sussex University, reading for as little as 6 minutes was shown to reduce stress levels by 60 per cent. Becoming absorbed in a diverting story helps in two ways. Firstly it takes the mind off an anxiety loop. Secondly, it has been observed that while reading our breathing is regularized, which slows the heart rate and relaxes the blood vessels, resulting in better blood flow.

Positive effect on brain functionality

It is a known fact that reading helps people’s brains process information both visually and verbally more effectively. A study in 2013 found that reading books increased communication between parts of the brain and created long term changes in processing processes sensory information. Reading induces thought and effort to metabolize the narrations that lead to the creation of new neurons and an increase in neuronal connections.
Another 14-year study published in 2020 demonstrated reading can reduce the decline of age-related cognitive functioning like memory and attention.
Reading is even associated with a lower risk of dementia. The benefits of all this mental activity include keeping memory sharp and the learning capacity nimble. So if you want to avoid early onset of senility adopt reading.

Reading Increases Empathy and Encourages Understanding

Empathy can be described as the glue that holds society together. Being adept at navigating social situations is an innate feeling.
Fiction is essentially an exploration of the human experience. Thus reading fiction and novels often enables the readers to become better at actually understanding other people and what they’re up to. The readers start experiencing the world as another gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, profession or age. Thus putting oneself in their shoes and challenging one’s own biases, they tend to better understand and be empathetic of others — even those who are different from themselves. A study in 2006, Bookworms versus nerds, through various tests established a strong connection between reading fiction and better empathy. Another 2014 study showed that elementary school and high school students in Italy and the United Kingdom became more empathic toward immigrants and refugees, after reading Harry Potter. That is the power of books which we cannot ignore.

Enhanced mindfulness and concentration

Reading enables the mind in preserving its consciousness. It not only improves our concentration but also enhances our attention span, focus and improves our brain connectivity. Reading does to mind what exercise does to the body. As working out helps to flex the muscles, the brain similarly benefits from this habit.

Bedtime Reading for better sleep habits

The importance of sleep for overall good health is a well-known fact. It helps our bodies recharge and reset for the next day. But with our fast lifestyle, mobile addiction these days many of us complain about insomnia. Having a bedtime reading routine helps to get some good shut-eye. And book means a paperback – not an e-reader or tablet.
Instead of checking emails or scrolling social media before bed, and not exposing yourself to the blue LED light reading books helps us to fall asleep better. Also while reading, you’ll ideally be in a comfortable, stationary position which is also helpful.

So what are you thinking? Curl up into bed with a steaming cup of herbal tea and pick a book of your choice to get lost in the blissful world of imagination.

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This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter program 

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Kolkata is beckoning you. Read the A to Z chronicles of the mesmerising city of joy on my new book Tilottama at Glance. The book is now available in Amazon, Google Play and website of Ukiyoto.

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