December can be a stressful month with visiting relatives, baking, travel plans and preparing for New Year’s Eve festivities.
When it comes to stress relief strategies, reading might not come to mind, but research shows that recreational reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels, according to arts.gov.
University of Sussex conducted a study in 2009 where individuals who had read for six minutes exhibited slower heart rates, less muscle tension, and reduced stress levels.
The neuroscientist who conducted the study, Dr. David Lewis, reported reading is more than merely a distraction.
“It’s an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and causes you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness,” Lewis said.
Relaxation as a result of reading is greater than drinking a cup of tea or plugging into some music and research has show intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, can slow memory decline and our ability to think as we age, whenever the activities are practiced throughout our lifetime.
Reading books, especially fiction, engages both the mind and imagination and according to readingpartners.org, any activity that possesses meditative qualities in which the brain is fully focused on a single task is proven to reduce stress and enhance relaxation.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, reading takes us out of our world (and minds) and into another world inside the pages of a book. With a film or TV show, you’re given the visuals whereas with a novel you’re inventing them yourself, so it’s actually much more of a powerful event, because you’re involved.
Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction “improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.”
In 2006, Keith Oatley, a novelist and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, and his colleagues published a study that drew a strong connection between reading fiction and better performance on widely used empathy and social acumen tests.
Reading gives us an opportunity to identify with others in similar circumstances and when we read about others with similar experiences, we can feel less alone.
Many take the simple act of reading for granted with so much required reading in our daily lives: traffic signs, emails, bills, social media and more, but reading for pleasure and getting lost in a good book is a win-win situation.
The book you choose doesn’t have to be on a best-seller list, but the important thing is that the subject matter has captured your interest and will provide a space for your mind to relax.
According to takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/reading-stress-relief, simply opening a book and allowing yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from your daily stressors, is a wonderful and healthy escape from the stress of everyday life.