Therapist

Does reading books help with anxiety

It can reduce stress.

“Reading can even relax your body by lowering your heart rate and easing the tension in your muscles. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%.”

It provides us with a healthy escape.

Reading takes us out of our world (and minds) and into another world inside the pages of a book. “With a film or TV show, you’re given the visuals whereas with a novel you’re inventing them yourself, so it’s actually much more of a powerful event, because you’re involved…”

It can make us more understanding.

Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction “improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” Another study “drew a strong connection between reading fiction and better performance on widely used empathy and social acumen tests.” We’re all better off when when understand what others are experiencing.

It gives us an opportunity to identify with others in similar circumstances.

When we read about others with similar experiences, we can feel less alone. This is especially good for youth facing challenges. “…there are now more and more young adult novels which can help teenagers by addressing head-on the issues they may be dealing with in their day-to-day lives, from bullying to drugs to transgender issues and social exclusion….”

More on the Subject

Literature as a Lens to Understand Trauma (NAMI)

“Reading for Stress Relief” (University of Minnesota)

“Can Reading Books Improve Your Mental Health?” (Psychology Today, May 2019)

“How Reading Fiction Increases Empathy and Encourages Understanding” (Discover)

“Can Reading Really Improve Your Mental Health” (BBC, May 2019)

“Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function” (Psychology Today, January 2014)

“Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” (Scientific American, October 2013)

Reading can foster connection and empathy, while helping people with anxiety feel less isolated and more engaged.

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Have you ever recognized yourself in a book you are reading — whether in a character or situation — and thought, “wow, I’m not the only one?”

It is a powerful moment, and one that might be helpful in treating some mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.

Some mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, might make you feel more “in your head.” This might cause you to feel isolated, perhaps believing that you’re the only one who feels like you do.

This unique feeling of isolation can make treating conditions like anxiety more complicated.

Isolation may also be a cause of anxiety and depression, like what many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can reading help anxiety? 

Reading books can be beneficial for your mental health. When you read, you can recreate a feeling of social engagement, including identifying with people and finding common ground with others.

Because of this, bibliotherapy, or book therapy, emerged as a potentially powerful tool for helping people with anxiety and depression.

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy uses reading, dissecting, and discussing books in a structured setting to improve mental health.

According to findings from a 2021 research review, bibliotherapy may be beneficial for treating:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • burnout

The mental health benefits of reading a good book 

You don’t have to engage in formal bibliotherapy with a therapist to reap the mental health benefits of reading a good book. Simply reading for leisure can be helpful for self-care and your mental wellness.

Even in remote areas, reading and bibliotherapy are generally accessible with:

  • libraries
  • low cost or free books
  • digital books

Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression

Reading is good for your mental health, but it may be especially beneficial for symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A small 2022 study with Turkish high school students suggested that reading fiction might reduce symptoms of anxiety by promoting awareness of other people’s feelings and improving problem-solving skills.

Participants in the same study reported that reading also mediated symptoms of depression.

Lessens feelings of isolation

When you feel isolated, it might seem like your world “shrank” down to a smaller size. Reading can give you a more holistic sense of your place in the larger world.

Another 2022 study from Japan looked at how reading fiction might help people experiencing hikikomori, a type of social withdrawal spreading across the globe.

According to its findings, participants who read fictional narratives reported feeling less emotional stress and more empathy. However, the study failed to find a connection between fiction and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety caused by isolation.

Participants in a different small 2022 study with older adults living in nursing homes reported that reading about what was going on in the outside world helped them feel less separate from it.

Boosts mood

Diving into a good book can be a great way to boost your mood and build hopeful feelings.

A 2019 study with kids between the ages of 7 and 12 showed a relationship between bibliotherapy and increased feelings of hope. And according to researchers, hope can be a positive predictor of mental health and wellness in children.

Older adults living in nursing homes reported that bibliotherapy lead to feeling more optimistic, according to the small 2022 study above.

Helps children cope with grief

Reading may help people cope with feelings of grief, especially children.

A small 2021 study with young children whose fathers died by suicide indicated that bibliotherapy helped them:

  • feel less confused about their fathers’ deaths
  • realize that they were not alone
  • engage in open communication with the adults in their lives

Let’s recap

Reading can provide more than just a relaxing escape in your leisure time. There are many mental health benefits to picking up a good book, especially for people living with anxiety.

Research shows that bibliotherapy, or book therapy, may be able to reach people with anxiety in helpful ways.

Reading and discussing stories can:

  • help foster empathy
  • provide a connection to a bigger community
  • increase feelings of hope and optimism for people of all ages

Particularly if you already find reading enjoyable, reading and analyzing a book may seem less like a task and more like a way to relax.

Consider reaching out to a doctor or therapist if symptoms of anxiety interfere with your daily life. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.

If you are one of the 40 million people in the United States suffering from anxiety, you know how utterly crushing it can feel, and how hard it can be to deal with every day. If you happen to be a book-lover struggling with the most common mental illness in the country, however, I have some good news for you: reading can help you cope with anxiety.

Anxiety, normally a common and healthy reaction to stress, can be helpful in under certain circumstances, but for some people, it can easily go from beneficial to overwhelming and damaging in a moment. For those who suffer from an anxiety disorder, it can feel like an extreme high-level stress brought on by situational circumstances, suffocating pressure that becomes a constant hum in the background to everyday life, or even a crippling physical reaction that can feel like a heart attack. No matter how it manifests, it becomes a powerful negative influence over day-to-day living, and coping with the symptoms can be a serious challenge.

Despite the fact that it’s highly treatable, only about a third of people seek treatment for anxiety disorder. That leaves a large part of the population — approximately 26.6 million people — suffering. Although it’s often stigmatized and ignored, mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated accordingly, and lovingly. If you think you are struggling with anxiety disorder, you should speak to your health care providers about your options. Your health, your body, and your mind matter, and you have a right to take care of it.

If you suffer from anxiety disorder, the tunnel of mental illness can feel long, dark, and unending, but there are things you can do to feel better. Luckily for book nerds, books is one of the best treatments.

Here’s how reading can help you cope with anxiety, because honestly, what problem can’t books solve?

1

Reading lowers your heart rate and relaxes you physically.

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Anxiety may be a mental disorder, but it has physical symptoms and triggers, including high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Enter reading, which studies have shown to lower your heart rate and ease muscle tension quickly and effectively. The best part? It doesn’t matter what you read, so if thrillers are your thing, don’t worry, you can enjoy the suspense and relax at the same time.

2

It lets you escape reality for a little while.

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While you can’t hide from your problems, especially when it comes to mental health, taking a break from them can do you a world of good. Anxiety can be constant and overwhelming, and it has the effect of coloring every experience you have.

When you read, however, you can escape your own experiences and live someone else’s. Getting lost in a story is doing just that: losing yourself, your troubles, and your anxieties, if only for an hour. Sometimes, that hour is all you need to get through the day.

3

It can rewire your brain to be more compassionate towards people, including yourself.

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For many people, shame and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Despite the fact that 18% of American adults suffer from the disorder, those who do are often hard on themselves in the same way many people with mental illness are self-critical and unempathetic to their own plights.

It isn’t always easy to find compassion for yourself, but according to studies, reading can increase empathy, a skill that allows people to understand and share the feelings of other people. That skill, however, doesn’t just help the people around you. It can change the way you see yourself and your own experiences, too, if you are able to step outside of them and see things from a new perspective.

Luckily, reading helps you do just that, too.

4

It can give you perspective and help ground you.

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Reading about other people’s experiences, whether they are relatable and close to your own or completely outside of anything you’ve lived through, is one of easiest ways to try walking in someone else’s shoes. By looking through someone else’s eyes in stories, you can gain a perspective you couldn’t otherwise find in your everyday life.

According to bibliotherapy, the shift in thinking can also shift the quality of your life. It can help you work through your own problems by working through someone else’s, and in doing so, alleviate stress and anxiety in a powerfully palpable way.

5

It reduces stress levels by easing tensions and changing your state of mind.

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Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress, but for people who suffer from a disorder, it can quickly go from being a helpful tool to a crippling illness. Keeping stress at bay, or reducing it, can help reduce anxiety and its extreme reactions at bay.

What’s one of the best ways to relax? Reading, of course. Studies have shown that just six minutes of reading can help reduce stress levels by up to 60 percent. That’s 68% better than listening to music, 100% better than drinking tea, and 300% better than going for a walk.

Reading isn’t a cure to anxiety, but it can help you feel better while doing something you already love. Coping isn’t simple, but at least with a book, it can be a little bit easier.

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