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Relieve Winter Stress and Anxiety – Make Time for Reading Every Day

Fearing for the state of your mental health on dark winter days spent indoors? Thankfully, there is a simple and scientifically proven way to relieve stress and anxiety in any season. In recent years, reliable research facilities have proven what bookworms have always known – reading for pleasure every day helps us relax and supports mental health.

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Reading brings benefits in just six minutes

Both children and adults often report feeling better following time spent immersed in a favorite story. This type of anecdotal evidence has existed as long as words have been printed. But now we have documentation to support the fact that reading really does relieve stress.

A 2009 study at the University of Sussex discovered that reading can indeed reduce stress by an impressive 68%. Reading reportedly reduced the stress induced as part of this experiment more efficiently than other popular stress relievers like listening to music, walking or sipping tea.

One outcome of the study is particularly worth noting. Silent reading for only six minutes was found to slow heart rate and reduce muscle tension. Great news for those of us with busy lives.

Can’t settle into an easy chair and spend the entire afternoon reading? Not to worry. A brief reading session with morning coffee, a chapter covered during lunch at work, a few minutes spent with an inspirational or captivating tale before falling asleep at night, can be of significant benefit.

More than escape from reality – reading relieves stress by inspiring creativity

There is no doubt that good writing provides a distraction from the problems we face. We may become caught up in the dilemma of a story character but we needn’t worry about solving the problems, if the work is fiction.

The altered state of consciousness reached when caught up in a fascinating report or an intriguing mystery story disconnects us from current difficulties, interrupts the stress response from which we may be suffering, allowing us to relax.   

And research also supports the concept that reading stimulates the creative process. Creativity further helps relieve anxiety and stress, contributing to overall health.

Book or Kindle – which is best?

Digital screens, preferred by some, offer certain benefits. But many find that when it comes to stress relief, printed books seem best. Picking up a real book, separates the activity from work responsibilities which, for many of us, involve staring at a screen for hours.

The pleasant tactile experience of holding a book in one’s hands, appreciating its artistry if the cover is well made, feeling the sense of progress as pages are turned, can be most satisfying.

It has also been determined reading an actual book as opposed to a digital version increases comprehension. A 2014 study led by Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway, and Jean-Luc Velay at Aix-Marseille University in France found that 25 subjects who read a short mystery story in print, retained and comprehended more than another 25 who read the story on a Kindle.

Whichever medium you choose for reading and however much time you can spare for this pastime, remember that the most important goal, especially if you need to relieve stress, is to read on a daily basis.

In addition to triggering the relaxation response, reading helps us deal with stress by:

  • Deepening our empathy for others
  • Heightening our concentration
  • Enhancing comprehension
  • Improving our listening skills

In other words, reading can help us to better understand, learn from, get along with, those people in our lives who sometimes bring us stress. Yes, reading a book can not only make us feel better, it might even bring us closer to world peace.  

Many of us have instinctively understood the power of getting lost in the pages of a good book since childhood. If you’ve always been a skeptic who thinks books don’t hold a candle to television shows, video games, other activities designed to help us disconnect and relax, perhaps you should browse a local bookshop or website, pick a title that sounds intriguing, and give reading a try.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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