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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.