How Reading Has Helped My Mental Health (And Can Help Yours)

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Do you know the ways that reading is good for your mental health?

Lifestyle Wellness

As someone who has struggled with mental health, I know how hard it can be to find skills and habits that make life a little bit easier. One thing that helps to make the gray days a little brighter is reading.

Whether it’s the smell of a new book, the cozy feel of a local bookshop, or the characters we get to fall in love with, there are so many reasons why even thinking of reading can make the anxious thoughts start to drift away. 

As a kid, I would read every single night before bed. I truly feel like it was the adventures of Junie B. Jones and Katniss Everdeen that helped me survive days of schoolwork, stress, and loneliness. 

Reading has been proven to help mental health in many different cases. Here’s what science has to say:

1. Reading Fiction Helps To Create Empathy

Reading, especially reading fiction, has been proven to help create more empathy and understanding in people. This finding makes a lot of sense, considering many fictional works deal with the psychology behind relationships and the choices people make. Mental Health First Aid explains that empathy helps to improve mental health by allowing you to better understand stressful situations and therefore be better equipped to respond when in one. 

Stick figure heart holding book
IMAGE VIA THE WRITER

2. Reading Improves Our Mental Flexibility

Mental flexibility is a person’s capacity to change their course of action in accordance with the changing demands of a situation. Let me put it this way: You pull up to your favorite bookstore to buy the newest release in your favorite book series. It is 7:30 am, so you did not expect a long line, but the line is out the door and down the street! You could wait in line, but you have work in 30 minutes. You could buy the book online, but then you would have to avoid spoilers on social media for a while. What will you do!?

Your ability to adapt to this situation that was different than you expected is your mental flexibility. According to the University of Liverpool, reading poetry allowed participants of a study to increase mental flexibility. Poetry can make your life easier? Count me in.

Person sitting cross-legged while holding a book on a blanket
IMAGE VIA SERENITY WATERS

3. Reading Increases Creativity

There are many reasons that reading increases creativity: the level of focus needed, the ability to pull from others’ work, the break it creates to prevent burnout, the way it exercises your brain, etc. Reading is amazing for the brain! But why is creativity important in mental health? According to Diversus Health, being creative allows us to release toxic mindsets, feel more relaxed, and have an increased sense of joy and optimism. Amazing, right?

4. Reading Can Improve Brain Connectivity

Sometimes having a mental illness can feel like your brain is kind of messed up. What if I told you that your brain function could be improved by just reading a good book? Researchers at Emory University found that reading a novel can help increase brain connectivity. By having better brain function, people are better able to exercise compassion, focus, visualize, and deal with complex situations!

A brain hovering over an open book
IMAGE VIA MEDICAL DAILY

5. Reading Can Help Reduce Stress

Ah stress, that inevitable little thing that makes us all a bit more irritable. Reading has been proven to lower stress and even ease the tension in your muscles! The University of Sussex did a study in 2009 that found that reading can help reduce stress by up to 68%. The activity scored higher in reducing stress than taking a walk or even drinking a cup of tea! If you’re not a bookworm yet, it sounds like you might wanna become one. 

6. Reading Can Provide Escapism 

If you have lived on Earth within the past few years, you’ll know that life these days can sometimes be a bit depressing. So, unless we have some cool astronaut readers, I think this one applies to everyone. No matter what you’re escaping from, sometimes it’s just more fun to live in someone else’s world. By reading, especially with genres such as fantasy, we are able to leave our troubles behind and go somewhere else for a change. 

A person leaning against a grassy hill with a book
IMAGE VIA OUTSIDE MAGAZINE

7. Reading Can Alleviate Loneliness

With the ability to meet new characters, reading is often found to help alleviate loneliness. This can be further explained by its ability to provide the makings of a collective identity and dynamics of a social group. Additionally, the variety of characters allows people to form a connection with the fictional people they relate to.

Reading has a multitude of great benefits on mental health. So, next time someone tells you to stop reading so much, you can tell them that even science says that reading is good for you—and you can’t argue with science.

For more bookish ways to conquer mental health, click here.

FEATURED IMAGE VIA NDLA