Reading, Your Brain, and Mental Health

It’s Guest Blogger time again!

This time it’s from @NLOAnxiety on Twitter. I think this post is incredibly important and really opens up discussion over the importance of reading and the connection with Anxiety.


Reading, Your Brain, and Mental Health


People are in a constant search for the newest and best of everything. What is the latest treatment for anxiety? What is the best way to feel calm? How can the latest technological innovations lead to a newfound sense of peace and tranquility?

Surely, there is great benefit that comes with pushing forward and looking for modern solutions to old problems, but there is a catch. When people are so focused on the future, there is a tendency to lose track of the past.

Then, you begin to ignore the tried and true solutions that have worked for so many over the course of not days, not years, not decades, but millennia. Such is the case with reading.

Reading is not glamorous. It is not fashionable. It is not pushing the limits of technology or advancement. In a lot of ways, it’s boring.

Despite its shortcomings, reading is a fantastic exercise for the mind that produces and strengthens the characteristics you are looking to build.

However, not all reading is equal. Reading a biographical account of a noteworthy historical figure written by a respected author is quite different than scanning your favorite checkout line headlines.

Reading a classic novel bursting with tension about characters consumed by unclear motivations varies greatly from clicking through an article about celebrities who look differently than they did 30 years ago.

To benefit from reading, you have to be reading quality material that is of interest to you. So, how exactly does reading help anxiety and mental health overall?


Gaining Information


Where do you get your information? Where do you get your news? What sources do you consult for pivotal periods of history?

There is a tremendous amount of information available in the world, which means there is even more misinformation surrounding you. Seeking out and reading valid and reliable sources will make you a better-informed citizen who is able to form opinions and make choices based on accurate data.

If you base all of your political information of what your neighbor tells you or what you read on a conspiracy website, you might be missing some facts. The truth will serve to diminish stigmas and prejudice others suffer.


Witnessing Communication


People with anxiety often struggle to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and opinions effectively to others. They just do not know how to begin.

Books are a great source of communication. By reading and noting the interactions between characters, you will construct a basis of communication that you can apply to your relationships.

Does the protagonist falter due to being too aggressive or too passive? Were their opportunities missed, or would the results have been better had they slowed down?

Great writers create characters who interact in realistic ways that you can use as a case study. You can find solutions to your problems based on their problem-solving skills.


Building Empathy


Therapists use empathy every day to gain a better understanding of who their clients are and what they endure, but an accurate sense of empathy can benefit anyone. Reading a story puts you in the shoes of the narrator, and chances are good that person is completely different from you.

This gives you a window into the psyche and thought process of another person. This experience can be easily translated to real life to provide a new perspective of the people you come in contact with on a daily basis. If you understand them, you can get along with them.


Reframing Perspective


Taken a step further, building empathy for characters in a book can reframe the perspective you hold for yourself. Too often people get locked into one way of thinking and one way of feeling, and this becomes extraordinarily restrictive.

People who have fluid ideas and demonstrate an amount of flexibility tend to be happier and more accommodating. Being able to see yourself objectively can lead to better decision-making, and it all starts from reading a book.


Boosting Self-Help


Fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and poetry all have a way of indirectly improving your mental health. If you are looking for something more direct, try anxiety self-help strategies from the self-help section.

This type of book covers most topics available, from ways to lower your depression, measures to boost your relaxation, and ways to learn a foreign language in no time at all. If anxiety is your enemy, pick up a self-help workbook on the subject and begin working your way through the pages. As you read and explore the experiential tasks, you can accomplish your goal.


Practicing Attention


Attention and concentration are skills that need constant practice to maintain and improve. If you do not challenge your mind, your skills will diminish to the point that nothing will keep your interest.

In a time where technology is constant and rapid, a book is slow, methodical, and trying, but it is completely worth the energy. Reading forces your brain to tap into areas that are underutilized with today’s innovations.

These areas are still important, though. A strong mind will provide for you well into older adulthood.


Applying Distraction


At the end of the day, sometimes you need an escape pod from your life. Reading can be the way you jettison away from the monotony of your life into a great adventure or romance as you jump inside your favorite literary figures to see the world through their eyes.

Your world will be waiting for you when you return, but you will face this world with new energy and a sense of rejuvenation.

Though the above benefits will vary wildly, they share a common theme: stress-relief. This is the central benefit of reading. If you find yourself in a stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety-provoking situation, take out your favorite book and start turning the pages.

It is true that e-readers, tablets, and phones will make reading more convenient, but do not underestimate the gratification that comes with turning to a new chapter or dog-earing the page you complete.

Accomplishment comes in all forms. One of the best accomplishments you can have is reading a book. If you do, your world will be a better, more accurate, and more rewarding place.



Eric Patterson, LPC is a professional counselor in western Pennsylvania working for the last 10 years to help children, teens and adults achieve their goals and live happier lives. You can find more of his writing on NewLifeOutlook.




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