In times of uncertainty, it’s important to indulge in simple pleasures that bring joy: taking walks, talking to loved ones, gardening, playing a musical instrument, baking—whatever it is that can help relieve your mind of worries. Reading, specifically—an activity you can do from the comfort of your couch—has proven benefits for mental health. (And we’re not talking about reading the news, but one of those riveting novels that you can’t put down.)
- Reading can make us more empathetic. When we read, we spend hours learning about different people, different lives, different places. “We’re able to put ourselves in the character’s shoes,” says Myke. “We learn about their thoughts and feelings. We begin to think of them as real. This expands our imagination and our ability to understand others, which improves our capacity to be empathetic.”
- Reading can reduce anxiety. Reading promotes mindfulness, or the ability to live in the moment. It pulls our attention away from unwanted or worrying thoughts and helps to focus on the present. “Reading is an activity I frequently suggest to patients,” says Myke. “It requires your full attention. By immersing yourself in a book, you are fully participating in the here and now.”
- Reading can divert our attention from social media. “Social media can cause a lot of stress,” says Myke. “We often compare ourselves to other people, which can take a toll on our self-esteem.” Putting down your phone and picking up a book can prevent negative thoughts that come with comparison.
- Reading can bring joy. Whatever genre you love most—whether mystery, historical fiction or fantasy—make it a point to read a little bit of a favorite book every day. “I encourage my patients to participate in at least one pleasant activity daily to start building a tally of positive things that make life worth living,” says Myke. “If you take small steps to incorporate happiness and joy into your life, it can have a long-lasting impact on your overall mood.”
- Reading can make us feel comforted. “Working at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, I see that patients find comfort in speaking to their peers who are admitted to the hospital for similar reasons,” Myke says. “It relieves stress and shows them that they are not alone in what they are going through.” Books offer a similar source of comfort: There are so many novels that discuss relatable problems and issues, providing readers assurance that others experience similar struggles.
- Reading can help us cope with difficult situations. “Reading is an excellent coping skill,” says Myke. “It can distract us from stressful situations. It also gives us time to return to our ‘wise mind,’ or the balance between our reasonable mind (based on logic) and our emotional mind (driven by emotions). When we’re in our ‘wise mind,’ we make decisions that will help us handle difficult issues more effectively.”