Reading is an immersive activity that is useful in many ways. Readers enjoy stories, absorb information, and broaden their horizons. For many, it's also productive by stimulating their creativity and encouraging them to write. One of the lesser-known benefits of reading is its utility in enhancing mental health.
Since childhood, we have been impressed upon to read as much as possible. Apart from textbooks, books read for pleasure are an enjoyable pastime. From creative fiction, poetry, and drama to nonfiction and self-help, there's an enormous range available for reading. Books make us laugh and cry; they can scare and inspire, too.
Reading about 20 pages a day has been shown to provide several advantages, yet most of us struggle to reach that mark. As people consume videos, shows, movies, podcasts, and so on, digital seems to be replacing the physical book as a form of entertainment.
The result is a slow and steady decline in cognitive and behavioral aspects of our mental abilities. How does reading contribute to improving our mental health? What are the benefits of the printed word?
Reading is a great exercise for mental fitness as it causes the brain to process the text at different levels: to recall from memory for meaning of words, visualize and set context for what is being mentioned, draw conclusions, and store away for future use. Increased vocabulary, memory for facts, improved judgment of situations, and better problem-solving skills have been demonstrated in those who are regular readers.
As an activity that sparks the nervous system to make new connections, reading slows down age-related dementia and keeps functional memory working at capacity.
Reading and Mental Health
1. Empathizing with those around us is becoming an increasingly difficult skill to master. Research has shown that reading fiction is one of the easiest ways to develop the trait of empathy, which is vital for our mental health. With that, we can better manage our emotional experiences and cut down negative responses like anger and jealousy.
2. Stress is a part of our daily life, and the modern world is a source of various stressors. Long-term stress is detrimental to physical and mental health. One of the easiest ways to soothe frayed nerves is to curl up with a favorite book. We might emerge with the positive energy to overcome our challenges.
3. Sleep is crucial for our well-being, but rarely do we get it enough. On a daily basis, bedtime reading helps in relaxing your mind and making you fall asleep. Research has shown better memory in those who read before sleeping fitfully for 6 to 7 hours a day.
4. Mental illnesses make people feel helpless as they are unable to find solutions on their own. However, counseling and guided reading can enhance mental agility by activating certain areas of the brain, thus improving their problem-solving skills.
5. Fiction opens the imaginative abilities in readers as they make connections with the characters in the story. Therefore, reading fiction helps alleviate loneliness and social isolation in those suffering from depression. Anxiety disorders can be overcome by reading autobiographies and inspirational tales.
6. Reading is one of the best ways to minimize cognitive decline related to aging. In elderly individuals, the brain's connections are made and unmade as they continue with the habit of reading. It is also shown to improve functional decision-making.
7. Information is a prized possession in the present era. Knowing about the latest developments in several fields is possible through extensive reading. This makes us well informed and improves our critical thinking skills. Besides, the flow of new information keeps our memory in top condition.
8. Mindfulness practice has several mental health benefits as it allows individuals to let go of their anxieties and worries to focus on the present moment. However, many struggle with mindfulness through meditation. For such individuals, reading can be an effective alternative.
Reading as Mental Health Therapy
Reading is also prescribed by therapists as part of a technique called bibliotherapy. It involves getting immersed in a book tailored for the necessary purpose: inspiring confidence, improving mood, enhancing empathy, and so on. Mental health professionals suggest titles that patients can read. Then, they analyze and discuss with the therapist or in a group. Thus, their journey with the book is also an inner tranformation of their pattern of thinking. It is a great low-cost, easily available mental health therapeutic technique that can be used well with other techniques.
We have always known that books are our great companions. Whether it is for the pure joy of an adventure or the moving tale of success against adversity, reading enables us to learn from other people's experiences. Along the way, it improves our mental capabilities and helps achieve good health.
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