It is National Read a Book Day this week and although it is always good to have a national day to highlight and celebrate the value of certain things, reading really is something we should all be doing every day.
Reading has been used as a therapeutic tool since ancient times. Just the act of opening the cover, finding your place or starting that first sentence can provide an escape from the stressors of your daily life, and be a form of mindfulness, a way of centring yourself and focusing on something other than your anxiety. Research from the Cognitive Neuropsychology Department of Sussex University, has shown that reading can reduce your stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. They found that even as little as six minutes of reading can not only reduce the symptoms of stress, but will also lower your heart rate and ease the tension in your muscles.
The study also showed that reading is more quickly effective in reducing stress than other common stress-busting methods such as listening to music or going for a walk. This is because reading requires a high degree of concentration, which shuts out the ‘noise’ of stress, anxiety and repetitive thoughts. What’s more what you are reading can take you into other worlds and provide a pure form of escape, which allows you to reset your mind from stress mode.
It actually doesn’t matter whether you are reading a novel or a biography, a guidebook, a practical manual, or even a short article in a newspaper or magazine as long as what you are reading is engrossing and you are interested enough to lose yourself in it. Although you are physically relaxed while reading, it is not a passive activity. You have to actively engage your imagination and empathy in order to make sense of the words on the page and enter the worlds conjured by them. This is in turn creates a space in your mind to think and relax in.
How to maximise the benefits of reading
- Set aside 10-30 minutes to read every day in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Never feel intimidated by the reading lists of others. This is a relaxation exercise not an intellectual challenge. Your chosen book doesn’t have to be literature or even on the bestseller list.
- Start with a subject you enjoy – such as a recipe book or the biography of a sports personality you have always admired – and allow your reading list to be guided by your interests and fan out from a central point of enjoyment.
- The modern world is so busy and hyper-connected, but while you are reading it is just you connecting to the imagination of the writer and from there into your own inner world and imagination. Reflect on how you feel as you read — what sensations do you feel in your body? Do any ideas about your own life come to you?
- Take a minute or two to tune back in after you have finished your daily read. What did you enjoy in the passage you read? Who or what do you identify with? Has this given you any insight into others, or yourself? And did you manage to let go of some of your stress in the process?
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety it could help to talk to a trained therapist or counsellor. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] and our team of receptionists will be able to help you find you the right therapist for you.