Want to give your mental health a boost? Read a book.
September 2021 is Read a New Book Month and as if that isn’t exciting enough, today is Read A Book Day! For the bookworms amongst us, we don’t need a dedicated month or a day to pick up a new book. But some of us may struggle with reading, finding the time, motivation or the peace and quiet to read. But there are some very good reasons for getting down to the bookstore or picking up your reading device.
Scientific research carried out by Professor Philip Davis at Liverpool University found that our mental health and wellbeing can be significantly boosted by reading a work of fiction. In his book, Reading for Life (Oxford University Press ISBN: 9780198815983), Professor Davis sets out his findings on the process of reading. He used brain-imaging and other techniques to study the effects of reading on individuals. Researchers concluded that ‘challenging language’ with unusual words and phrases can send ‘rocket boosters’ to the brain and improve mental health, as reading promotes self-reflection and shifts the brain into a higher gear. The effects of reading classic works such as Shakespeare, Dickens and T.S. Eliot on our mental health is significant. The findings are so significant that they have prompted Welsh Medical Director Dr. David Fearley to comment that this is ‘the most significant development in mental healthcare in the past 10 years.’
Great literature ‘has the power to touch diverse people and illuminate what connects us’, while ‘helping with inner life, mental health and making us think ‘I never knew anyone but me felt that!’ (The Reader). But it has the power to do so much more.
Reading Reduces Stress: the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study found that 74% of over 4,000 people were so stressed they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. Reading fiction is proven to reduce stress. A study in 2001 found that recreational reading significantly reduced stress (Shelby L. Levine 2001). Levine found that recreational reading was associated with reduced psychological distress and buffered against the frustration of basic psychological needs which led to improved mental health. A 2009 study at the at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by almost 70% and is more effective than having a cup of tea or listening to music.
Improves our sense of connection and belonging: reading can help with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Researchers from the University of Buffalo found that readers identify with fictional characters and fictional groups. Readers feel connected to the characters, fulfilling a fundamental human need for belonging and social connection. A 2008 study by Keith Oatley found that reading fiction has the effect of improving empathy and further research by Kidd and Castano found that fiction helps people understand other people’s ‘desires and beliefs.’
Improves Sleep: getting a good night’s sleep can improve mental health significantly but sometimes a good night’s sleep is hard to come by. Stress builds up throughout the day, and then there’s tomorrow to worry about, making it difficult to fall asleep. But reading at bedtime can speed up the falling asleep process and just six minutes of reading can significantly reduce stress. Try putting down the gadgets, especially the blue LED screens and try reading a book for a better night’s sleep.
These are just a few of the researched benefits of fiction on our mental health, but there are so many more, such as aiding creativity and helping with depression and anxiety. So if you’re feeling the pressures of modern-day life, why not pick up a decent read, remember, just 6 minutes of reading can work wonders.