Date Posted: 14/05/2018 | Category:
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we’re exploring the many positive benefits that reading has on our minds. We’ve always known there are few activities as engaging for the brain as curling up with a good book, but ongoing research shows just how important this immersive pastime really is.
According to leading mental health charity MIND, one in four of us will suffer with a mental health problem at some point in our life, with the most common being anxiety, depression and OCD. These potentially debilitating conditions all have one thing in common – they’re often fuelled by ruminating thoughts, and trying to control these can feel like a losing battle. One key way to get these thoughts in check is to re-direct your focus outwardly; in effect, distract the mind and interrupt the negative thoughts before they begin to spiral.
This is where reading comes in.
When we pick up a book and scan the page, our minds become fully engaged on the story at hand. Our brains light up and come alive with imagery, turning on our senses and causing us to form detailed images in our mind without even trying. While our minds are absorbed, all other thoughts begin to quieten, the level of stress hormones in our bodies decrease, our muscles relax and our heart rate slows. While at first our minds may begin to wander, with a little practise it becomes easier to shift our attention back to the words on the page.
Studies have shown that reading fiction can physically alter the structure of our brains too, causing us to become more empathetic, enhance our emotional intelligence, increase our self esteem, reduce symptoms of depression, boost our imagination and memory capacity and improve our well-being. This productive pastime has even been shown to slow the rate at which our brains decline, which is especially important in preventing cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia in later life.
Sleep problems can be particularly prevalent amongst those struggling with their mental health, so reading before bed can be of particular benefit. Just 6 minutes of focused reading can reduce stress levels by more than two thirds. Not only can stories offer us hope, escapism and decrease feelings of isolation, reading of those who have overcome great adversity can make readers feel less alone too.
With all of this mounting evidence, the NHS has even introduced a “Reading Well: Books on Prescription” scheme, with GPs now actively prescribing books for those suffering from common mental health conditions in an attempt to help patients self-regulate and challenge their emotions. While it’s true that national attention to mental health has never been higher, many GPs are still notoriously undertrained when it comes to psychological conditions. For many sufferers, the opportunity to take action and help themselves could be a huge step forward.
So what are you waiting for?
Why not get a head start and explore the Spiderwize bookshop to find out how our authors used writing as a way of coping with adversity in their own lives. From the courageous tale of battling internal monsters in Vienna Randall’s I Am Braver Than, to author Sophie Rose Peters’ gripping account of how she used creativity to help manage a lifelong struggle with Bipolar. You’re certain to find something that inspires!