Over the past couple of decades, reading in America has declined. Between 2003 and 2016, the amount of time the average American spent on reading for personal interest dropped from 0.36 hours to 0.29 hours daily. Although television and the Internet distract Americans from books, many have reported that they are unable to leisure read due to their hectic schedules.
This year, COVID-19 has created a wide spectrum of challenges. However, the global pandemic has also drastically changed everyday routines, allowing millions to enjoy more personal downtime. Being the perfect time to pick up a good book, this is a habit that should be maintained after COVID-19 is no longer a concern — especially among those aiming to support their neurological and mental health.
Want to Better Support Your Mental Health? Pick Up a Book
As Joseph Addison said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
During times of high-stress, reading has been shown to provide immense benefits. When you get into a book you enjoy, you become distracted from your daily stressors, which has a direct impact on your body and mind. One study at the University of Sussex found that reading may reduce stress by up to 68 percent.
Books can help give you meaning and relevance. As you relate to characters’ achievements and struggles, reading supports and encourages your own personal growth and reduces feelings of anxiety. The term for this, bibliotherapy, was first coined in 1916, derived from the Greek words for therapy and books.
This effect was reported in a study at Emory University, as novel reading was shown to enhance connectivity in the brain. The neural changes observed suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the leading character.
In summary, just some of the core benefits of reading include but are not limited to:
- The ability to strengthen your brain — MRI scans have shown that reading involves complex neural circuits. The more you read, the stronger and more sophisticated these networks become.
- Increased empathy — Long-term fiction readers tend to showcase a better theory of mind, which is necessary in order to understand the intentions, beliefs, desires, and perspectives of those that are different from your own.
- Support neurological health — Not only will reading help build your vocabulary and improve mental health, but it also supports cognitive function. Reading can help your mind stay engaged as you grow older, helping you potentially prevent conditions such as dementia.
- Reduce stress — Research has shown that 30 minutes of reading can help lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of psychological distress. In turn, many also experience improved sleep quality.
- May aid symptoms of depression — A 2013 study found that when patients with mild depression read, they experienced improvements in their symptoms when compared to those in the control group.
What Should You Be Reading?
There’s no black and white answer here. When it comes to what you should be reading, the answer is — whatever you enjoy. However, the key is to not just read online. Invest in a good print book and find somewhere relaxing to read it. Studies have shown that people who read print books tend to score high on comprehension tests than those who read the same material in digital form.
If you are struggling with your mental health, self-help books can be highly beneficial. Here is a list of 20 mental health books that could potentially change your life. If you prefer something a bit lighter, opt for a fiction novel, or focus your attention on poetry. The goal here is to pick something that interests you and brings value to your life.
In addition, please refer to the following resources to better support your mental well-being: