The Benefits of Reading for Mental Health
Reading provides a host of benefits for mental health and wellbeing. In today’s fast-paced digital world, picking up a book can be a welcome respite and source of relaxation. Regular reading habits can lower stress, improve mood, enhance empathy and emotional intelligence, stimulate the brain, and more. Even just 30 minutes of daily reading time can make a difference.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Many studies show the positive effects of reading on reducing stress and anxiety levels. Getting immersed in a book provides an escape from everyday worries, inducing relaxation. One 2009 study published in the Journal of Research in Reading found reading for just 6 minutes helped reduce stress levels by up to 68% (1).
Reading, especially literary fiction, enhances mood and makes people feel good. A major reason is that reading transports people out of their current emotional state into the world of the book. Research in 2013 revealed subjects who read an uplifting short story experienced improved mood over subjects who read non-fiction (2).
Reading literary fiction improves empathy and ability to understand other people’s emotions. A 2013 study had participants read either literary or genre fiction. Those who read literary fiction self-reported higher empathy levels compared to those reading genre fiction (3). Enhanced empathy leads to improved social and communication skills.
Expands Mind and Knowledge
Reading non-fiction books in fields like science, history, or biography leads to a growth of knowledge. Even reading fiction exposes people to new worlds, cultures, philosophies, and ways of thinking. A University of Sussex study showed reading fiction improves connectivity in the brain’s left temporal cortex, linked to creativity (4).
Enhances Focus and Concentration
In an age of near-constant digital distractions, reading strengthens attention, focus, and concentration. Print books engage the brain’s focused reading processes in ways online media cannot match. Setting aside phone notifications to read encourages greater focus and absorption.
Sources of Inspiration and Creativity
The written word sparks creativity and imagination in ways visual media does not. Scientists found that reading evokes greater visualization and imagery in the brain compared to watching movies (5). Books inspire new ideas, solutions, and inventions. Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” (6).
Improves Wellbeing and Relationships
The benefits of reading extend beyond mental health to improve overall wellbeing. A 2016 study in Social Science Medicine showed people who read books for 30 minutes a day had a significant “survival advantage” and lived almost two years longer than non-readers (7). Reading also enhances relationships by making people more understanding, interesting conversationalists.
Some great books to get started reading for better mental health include:
- Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Reading reduces stress, elevates mood, sharpens the mind, and brings a host of additional mental health and wellness benefits. Cultivating a daily reading habit fuels a healthy, fulfilled life. Turn off devices, pick up a great book, and unwind into a good read.