5 Proven Ways Reading Can Improve Your Mental Health

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With the GOP rolling out what they're trying to call a "healthcare" plan, folks across the spectrum may have to kiss mental healthcare goodbye. This potential loss looming over head has people making plans for how to protect and heal themselves without therapy or meds. There are no clear answers for where people can go for support that will work for everyone —but one low-cost place people can certainly start ("start" being the key word here) is with books.

Though books are more accessible than say, uninsured medication, not all books are low-cost — a quick trip to the bookstore can prove that. However, what makes books worthwhile is that:

  • You can get them for free at your local library.
  • You can use re-use them, again and again.
  • You have a gigantic variety of stories, genres, and styles to choose from.

Whether you're struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or are somewhere else on the spectrum, there is a book for you. People have had to cope and survive without mental healthcare for generations now and books have long-since been one among many art forms that have provided comfort and support.

Reading is certainly not a cure-all for people's mental health concerns but it can improve overall mental health and provide a safe outlet where so many dangerous ones exist. Below are just five proven ways that reading can help improve mental health, though there are many more.

1It Makes You More Empathetic

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Surprise, surprise, books can actually make you a more empathetic, which by extension, will improve relationships in your life. This is possible because in literary fiction especially readers are challenged to analyze a character's actions and motivations and to read emotional cues. People often forget to do this in real life, but avid readers are more likely to think about where someone is coming from. That is, after all, the premise of Bustle's new American Woman Book Club.

2It Helps You Fall Asleep

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Too many people get into bed and go straight for their phone, tablet, or computer — all, of which have lights and colors that make it harder for your body to transition from being active and awake to being relaxed and sleepy. Books, in print form, on the other hand, have been proven to help people fall asleep faster. So toss the tech and pick up a book instead.

3It Can Help You Escape From The World

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There are a lot of ways to get away from reality — some healthier than others. Books are a relatively safe way to temporarily avoid existence on a planet that can sometimes be a terrible, terrifying place. It's a simple fact, of course, that books can be a form of escapism, but ultimately, it's unique to every person as to where healthy escape begins and avoidance begins.

4It Makes You Smarter—Which Is Always Good

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Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich, in a paper entitled What Reading Does For The Mind, explain in a nutshell that reading makes you smarter. Reading not only helps you obtain knowledge but also helps you maintain it as you get older. You may not always consciously know you're getting new information, but it's there.

5It Can Help You Process Past Experiences And Gain New Perspective

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If TV shows, movies, and songs all have the power to make people feel and to remind them of old times, why would books be any different? A researcher at American University explored this topic and found that like the other mediums mentioned above books can be therapeutic by providing people insight into things they may be going through or have gone through before. Say, for example, that you're still trying to process a terrible relationship. A book about a terrible relationship might be far enough outside of your own personal bubble to give you the answers or closure you've been looking for.