I know what you’re thinking: you really don’t need another good excuse for adding more books to those already over-stacked shelves of yours. But let’s just imagine you did — the fact that reading is good for your mental health is definitely an excuse worthy of a trip to your favorite indie. And there are even facts (the scientifically proven kind) to back it up.
Since before I even learned to read myself, the habit has been essential to my own mental health and overall well-being. From the bedtime story routine that my mother shared with me, to the books I picked up on my own later in life — to inspire, to entertain, and to guide me through a handful of especially challenging times, reading has always been my go-to for de-stressing, gaining perspective, and learning a thing or two I’d never known before. And the health benefits of reading don’t stop there; I’ve put together a whole list of them for you below.
Looking for a great excuse to read even more than you already do? Then explore these nine ways reading is good for your mental health — and then give the bookworm in you a little pat on the back (and maybe an impromptu trip to your favorite bookstore — doctor’s orders.)
1. Reading Cultivates Empathy — And Might Even Improve Your Social Skills
I know I’m not the only person who sometimes feels just as deeply for fictional characters as I do the real people who surround me in my own life. The good news is, this is not only normal, it might even be beneficial for your health and relationships. We all know as readers that books allow us to experience life from the vantage point of someone else — and that shifting worldview won’t just impact us in our on-the-page world; reading can also help increase empathy in our real-world relationships too. As Atticus Finch said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Books let us do just that.
2. The Stories Of Others Can Help Put Your Own Life Into Perspective
I don’t want to dive too deeply into a hierarchy of suffering here, because that’s never good for anyone. But there’s no denying that once you’ve taken that time to “climb inside of [someone else’s] skin” — so to speak — chances are your own struggles might not seem so terrible (or at least, so isolating) after all. Just knowing that someone has walked through the same, or similar, fire that you have, and survived, will not only help you feel less alone, it also might inspire you to think about your own challenges in a new way.
3. Reading For Pleasure Lowers Stress And Promotes Relaxation
If you’re currently reading, say, a bar exam text prep book or, I don’t know, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the benefit of lowered stress and increased relaxation is probably going to be lost on you (unless you really love law and/or Roman history.) But in general, developing a regular reading routine (say, before bedtime) has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels, stabilize your heart rate, and help you relax. They call them beach reads for a reason, folks.
4. Books Allow You To Escape Into Other Worlds
We’ve all been there — there are some days when you just have to throw in the towel and check out of your life for a bit. And losing yourself in a book is a safe, easy, effective, and inexpensive way to take a mental vacation (without all the stress of airline travel.) Plus, unlike vacationing in the real world, your literary travels aren’t limited by time, geography, space, or even physics. You can go anywhere, anytime.
5. Books Invite You To Think — And Problem-Solve — More Creatively
If you’ve read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, then you already know exactly what I’m talking about here — and if you haven’t, definitely check it out. Book-inspired problem-solving isn’t limited to the For Dummies book series. No matter what you might be going through in your life, you’ll be able to find a book, or even several, featuring characters who have experienced something similar — and their hard-won lessons can help you think differently or approach a problem in a way that hadn’t occurred to you before.
6. Reading Improves Your Memory And Can Reduce Your Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease
There have been plenty of studies on the connection between reading and memory — and as it turns out, not only does reading exercise muscles that will help improve your memory in your day-to-day life now, it will also form neural circuits that could help prevent age-related memory-loss and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life. Think of reading as Pilates for your brain.
7. Books Also Increase Your Intelligence (Duh.)
This one might sound like a no-brainer (ha) but it shouldn’t be underestimated. Not only has reading been shown to increase intelligence — because, obvi, you’re learning all sorts of fun and interesting things — studies have also shown that reading increases your learning capacity as well. This means, the more you read, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more your brain utilizes muscles that increase your ability to learn more. Phew. That’s a lot of learning.
8. Reading Can Help You Fall Asleep — And Sleep Better
As much as we love our devices, we’ve all heard that whatever blue light of death they’re constantly emitting is all kinds of terrible for us — especially right before we’re trying to catch some zzz’s. But plenty of studies have shown that establishing a regular bedtime routine is great for helping you fall asleep faster, and sleep both longer and better; and including a book into that between-the-sheets habit is even better. The book doesn’t have to be boring for this to work either, I promise.
9. Reading Might Help You In Other Areas Of Your Life, Too
It’s probably not surprising that the benefits of reading: less stress, improved sleep, better memory, increased intelligence and empathy, and a more well-rounded perspective, will also benefit other areas of your life — personal and professional relationships, work and school, your awareness of global issues and your concern for the world around you, and more. But in case you need some proof, a 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that folks who read regularly actually are much more likely to be actively engaged in their communities, both civically and culturally. Which, let’s be honest, we really need right now.