BY ALISON CHURCH
Although most of us are probably aware of the benefits of reading, how often do we actually keep these benefits in mind? It’s easy to forget how much power a book has over how you feel. A common routine I had when I was younger was to read before bed every night. As time moved forward and life got busier, I no longer read to ease my mind. I had forgotten the emotions I felt as I read through the words of authors who told stories of people I saw parts of myself in. I had forgotten the ability I had to escape time and the pressures of my life, and instead give life to the silent words forever mirroring the author’s thoughts. So many associate reading with some laborious, miserable activity. Why has our craving for the company of fictional characters and worlds faded? The benefits of reading are powerful and should always be kept in mind and treated with the same high priority that we assign to other things on our to-do lists. Otherwise, the worlds these books create will exist beyond our reach, and only invite us to enter if we have the patience to sit down and listen to them.
Reading is especially beneficial if at any time a person needs to step outside of the loudness of their thoughts that remind them of the stress, dullness, and chaos awaiting for them in the near future. A 2009 study discovered that “reading for just 30 minutes has similar stress-reducing effects to doing 30 minutes of yoga.” Other studies show that, “bibliotherapy,” or reading as a form of therapy proves effective in adolescents, children, and adults; and some mental health professionals encourage “those in therapy and those who are waiting for therapy to read for the therapeutic benefits of imaginative literature,” according to an article by bibliotherapy.org. For those including myself who have neglected the routine of reading for far too long, the books gathering dust on our shelves have been patiently waiting. As stated by verywellmind.com, “When dealing with personal issues…it can be difficult to make sense of what is happening in your mind and body…Bibliotherapy aims to bridge this gap by using literature to help you improve your life by providing information, support, and guidance…It’s crucial that the book or story relates directly to the client’s difficulty so that they identify with the protagonist in the novel.”
Not only is reading a great way to relax, destress, and enjoy life outside of reality for a bit, but it can also increase your empathy according to a study published in 2013 reported by mentalfloss.com: “People who consume literary fiction have an easier time sensing and relating to emotions in other people…Great literature forces readers to step outside themselves and empathize with the characters they’re reading about.” If you have an addiction to your phone or computer, reading is also an effective way to distract from that and to take time away from activities that only numb your brain (like scrolling through instagram or twitter for hours). Books can also stimulate creativity as you visualize colorful and vivid images of yourself in another reality.
The magic of these stories is that no matter how much time passes, they will always be there waiting for us to come back and step from our world into theirs; they will always make sure that our minds have a place to safely escape to whenever we need.