Happy National Read A Book Day: How reading benefits your mental health and wellbeing
Every day, we are bombarded with things to consume. We wake up in the morning, turn off our alarm, check our notifications, flick through social media, listen to a podcast, read the news, and scroll some more. Before we know it, the working day has begun. For many of us, there is nothing quite like getting lost in a good book. Reading can transport us to another world, providing an escape from life’s everyday stresses, at least temporarily.
Reading a good book can be a wonderful way of escaping reality and entering an entirely new world full of magic and possibilities. We have been enjoying this hobby for centuries and whilst screen time might have diluted reading for some, it is still a pastime that is going strong. Reading is not only a lovely thing to enjoy, but it is also great for your health and wellbeing.
Reading is dreaming with open eyes: 8 mental health benefits of reading
Reading is pleasurable
When you start to read a really good book it is often hard to put it down, the story captivates you and time disappears as you become absorbed. When you reach the end, you feel sad because it is over and you are eager for the next book in the series. It is a magical feeling and choosing to read provides many benefits, due to the extent that you are enjoying the read.
Reading can reduce stress
Losing yourself in a good book has been shown to reduce your levels of stress. Reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60% by reducing your heart rate, easing muscle tension, and altering your state of mind. It has also been shown that reading is better at reducing stress than music, drinking a cup of tea, going for a walk, and playing video games.
Reading can provide an escape from the ‘real world’
Closely linked to reducing stress levels when you read is the ability to escape from the real world. You may often become immersed in that world and this can help you to forget your worries. Research has shown that escapism is more complex than reading for light-hearted entertainment. Escapism changed the way people interact with the world and others.
Reading helps you develop empathy for others
People who read fiction have been shown to improve their level of empathy. This is the ability for you to understand someone else’s beliefs, feelings and thoughts. Research has shown that people exposed to fiction predicted the results of an empathy task. They also positively correlated with social support, meaning their social skills improved.
Reading works your brain and prevents memory loss
A study showed that participating in cognitive activities, such as reading over your lifetime was shown to slow down memory loss. They also found that the rate of mental decline was reduced by 32% when people participated in reading and writing later on in life.
Reading groups help to treat mental health issues
Research shows that reading and then talking about what you have read could be beneficial to mental health and wellbeing. There is something called bibliotherapy and it has a profound effect on people suffering from depression. A study examined a two-week reading group programme for people diagnosed with depression. They reported a significant improvement in mental health. Participants reported improved concentration, better emotional understanding, and increased self-awareness.
Reading can improve sleep
Smartphones have become our regular bedtime companions. According to research, this could wreak havoc on your sleep. Research has found that using a smartphone just before bedtime is linked to shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. This is because the blue light emitted from the devices reduces the production of melatonin in the brain, a hormone that tells us when to sleep. Creating a bedtime ritual, such as reading a book, can promote better sleep. This occurs by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Reading boosts intelligence
Studies have shown that reading can increase your vocabulary and your intelligence. For those of you who are avid readers, you can be safe in the knowledge that your pastime is providing a wealth of benefits for your health and wellbeing. Through reading books, you can learn new things and experience different cultures. Research has shown cognitive differences between those who read a lot and those who read a little. Being exposed to more written information is linked with improved general knowledge and verbal skills.
The world belongs to those who read: 10 tips to help you read more books
1. Never be without a book
Make sure that you always have a book to hand wherever you are. It will make it easier to squeeze in some reading whenever you have a spare few minutes whether that is on the train, the bus, or waiting at the dentist. No matter how busy your schedule, try to squeeze in a spare few minutes in your day to read. If there is no room in your bag for a hardcover book, you can download a book onto your smartphone or reading device. Picking up a book can be so much more rewarding than checking your social media newsfeed.
2. Get into a regular habit
Make reading part of your daily routine by scheduling a regular time each morning or evening. Creating a routine each day will soon make reading become a habit. A great technique, if you are short on time, is to read in sprints. All you have to do is set a timer and read until the time is up. This is also a great tip if your mind tends to wander while you are reading, as it will help to keep you focused.
3. Prepare your reading list in advance
Always have a mental or physical list of books you want to read, whether it is a classic or a new release. Once you come to the end of a novel, do not let not having your next title lined up be the thing that holds you back and gets you out of your habit. Make sure that you have a trusted referral source that can recommend books so that your list is fresh and you are always excited for the next book.
4. Listen to audiobooks
Audiobooks are a good way to familiarise yourself with storytelling because it allows you to multitask. Swap your monthly music playlist for a good story. You can listen anywhere at any time, whether this may be in the car, at the gym, or cleaning the house. Of course, listening to an audiobook is not reading but it can help you get back into the habit of following a story. Why not try a book series by listening to the first title as an audiobook and then shifting to a physical book for the follow-up.
5. Join a book club
Make reading social. Joining a book club is a great way to get reading, meet new people, hear recommendations, and generally get into more contact with books. You can discuss with others what you enjoyed about the novel or how you could not stand the suspense. It will encourage you to read things that you would not normally and you never know, you may find a genre that you love but had always dismissed. A book club is also a great way of getting more out of a title. Hearing other people’s interpretations, whether you agree with them or not, will help you think more about your reading. This is useful for setting yourself a target of finishing the book.
6. Do not be afraid to give up on books you are not enjoying
Do not feel obliged to finish a book just because you started it. Reading can feel like a chore if you are just trying to get to the end of the story for the sake of it. Do not feel guilty for leaving a book unfinished if you are not enjoying it. Move on to the next book on your list. You never know, you may want to return to a forgotten book another time. Do not feel obliged to complete everything you have started. The more enjoyable your read, the quicker you will get through it.
7. Make your environment more reading friendly
It can be hard to concentrate on your book with the TV blaring in the background. Make your reading environment free from distractions. In the warmer months take your book outside and get some fresh air while you read. In the winter, read before bed to aid a better night’s sleep. It is not always possible to remove yourself from a noisy environment, especially if you are squeezing your reading time into family life. Try blocking out distractions in your surroundings by listening to non-lyrical music to focus your mind.
8. Give yourself a target
Deadlines can be the worst, but when you set a realistic target for yourself it will be rewarding when you reach it. If you have a busy schedule, set yourself a deadline to complete a book and it will reduce time spent procrastinating. Work out your average reading speed and set a realistic goal number of pages to read each day or week. If this is too stringent, instead set yourself a target number of books to read in a month or year. Working to a target will keep your reading on track. When you meet your target, do not forget to reward yourself.
9. Put the book down when it gets good
Are you the type of person who hates a cliffhanger at the end of a TV programme? Treat your book in the same way and put it down when you are hooked. This will leave you waiting for the next opportunity to continue reading because you can’t wait to find out what happens next.
10. Choose topics that you know you will enjoy
If you are not a regular reader, choose topics that interest you already. For example, if you enjoy a spy thriller film, try James Patterson. If history is your thing then pick up a Hilary Mantel book. Choose topics that have engrossed you before or themes from films that you love. Once you find an author whose work you enjoy, read their whole collection. This is a great way to add titles to your reading list.
Reading to the mind is what exercise is to the body: What should you be reading?
The short answer is, whatever you can get your hands on. There was a time when remote regions had to rely on librarians traversing the mountains to find the book someone wanted. Nowadays, just about everyone can access vast libraries contained in mobile phones and tablets. If you are pressed for time, devote a few minutes daily to a blog on a niche topic.
If you are looking for an escape, fantasy or historical fiction can transport you out of your surroundings and into another world. Do not read solely on a device, flip through print books, too. Studies have shown that people who read print books score higher on comprehension tests and remember more of what they read.
Books are the mirrors of the soul: Useful links
- The online reading community Goodreads features hundreds of book groups and clubs. You can register for free.
- The Rebel Book Club is one of the most popular non-fiction book clubs in the world, and features live physical and virtual events for members. Many newspapers and other organisations also offer virtual book clubs, such as The Guardian’s reading group.
- Five Books invites experts to recommend five books in their specialist area. This could open a new topic area for you and help you develop your own reading schedule/list.
- If you are constantly on the go, consider trying Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice. The company offers more than 30,000 titles that you can read as ebooks in parallel as you listen to them as audiobooks. Your progress is also tracked between the two formats.
Written by Lewis Bridges
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