We hear a lot about how exercise is good for our mental health, but when concentrating on the topic of reading and mental health we tend to think of self-help books and books that teach us coping mechanisms. However, science has shown that it doesn’t matter what you read, and that in fact, reading fiction may be a great way to improve your mental health from day to day.
We’re definitely not suggesting treating clinical depression with The Hunger Games. If there is anyone out there who is feeling terribly depressed, anxious or even suicidal then please make an appointment with your doctor, or start by talking to a friend. But if you are just looking for ways to improve your general wellbeing, then ending each day with a chapter or two is a great place to start.
Readers stay sharp, and it’s not just about learning stuff through non-fiction, reading fiction is one of the best brain exercises you can do and here’s why:
Reading Helps You De-Stress
Reading fiction allows you to step out of your own world and explore someone else’s. It’s relaxing, and it’s the perfect escape. When you’re feeling particularly stressed, getting lost in a book is a great antidote.
Reading Helps You Sleep
Experts suggest that having a strong night time routine is a great cure for insomnia and including reading in that routine could be especially good for you. The meditative qualities of reading are relaxing and including a couple of chapters in your bedtime routine could be just what you need.
Reading Improves Focus
We live in a world of 200 word status updates and 60 second videos, and in that busy world flashing by in seconds it can be hard to retain focus. By reading and becoming engrossed we relearn that focus and our minds become calmer by default.
Reading Keeps Your Brain Agile
In a recent study it was shown that fostering the habit of reading as a child and reading until old age, greatly slows down memory decline. Those who read had a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline, while those who don’t engage in any mental activity decline at a massive 48 percent faster.
Even When it Comes to Alzheimer’s and Dementia
And it’s not just general brain training either, reading can even ward off serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s. A study has shown that avid readers, that is those who becoming engrossed in a book for at least an hour a day (newspapers and magazines don’t have the same effect), forces our brains to forge new pathways, and keeps our memory fine tuned.
Reading Helps to Build Empathy
A lack of empathy and understanding of how other people feel beneath the surface can make us feel disconnected and lonely, but reading and fiction in particular allows us to “Get into someone’s skin and walk around a while” (to paraphrase one of my favourite literary quotes). This in turn can enhance our personal relationships and improve our all round wellbeing.
Reading is Safe
Depression and anxiety can throw up some terrible out of control feelings, but reading allows us to experience a range of different emotions, such as grief, loss, and even happiness, at a detached level. While the book sucks us in and we feel all the joy and pain, we’re actually lying safely in our beds.
Reading Combats Loneliness
While there is no real substitute for human company, modern life is isolating. They say you’re never alone with a book, and reading, whether that be fiction or non-fiction, magazines or newspapers, fills the time, allows us to communicate with the characters or subject, and allows us to learn to be comfortable with being alone.
Reading is a Conversation Starter
And it’s not just about learning to be alone, reading fiction gives us something to talk about with other people. Book people love talking about books and it can be a great way to start a conversation with an actual real person too!
As we get older it becomes harder to build new relationships, but seeing a person reading something you love is like seeing a book recommend a person. Say hi, who knows where it might end!
It Gives us the Words to Understand our Feelings
Never underestimate the power of language. There’s not much worse than feeling absolutely terrible and being unable to articulate how we feel to others. Reading improves language and the power of the spoken word will be the key to getting help!
In fact, studies have shown that our stress levels decrease by about 68% when we’re engrossed in a good book! Even if you think you don’t have time to read, a chapter or two on the train or before bed can make all the difference to your general well-being, as well as being a fun and engaging hobby.