Stress can manifest itself in many ways. When you’re under stress, you feel emotionally- and physically-overdrawn, weak, and out of control. What’s more, it can feel mentally and physically impossible to escape the cycle of anxiety that stress traps you in. When you sense yourself getting ensnared in a vicious, self-propagating cycle of stress, how can you free yourself from it? Especially when free time feels more and more like an antique luxury and less and less like a natural, healthy part of everyday life? Read.
What Reading Does
These days, it’s easy to get lost in Netflix and social media, and easy to forget why we read, and why humans have evolved to so passionately use written communication. But we shouldn’t be so quick to abandon our bookshelves: television, music, and movies are no replacement for the immersive act of reading. Reading—whether books, magazines, articles, or newspapers—activates pathways in our brains that allow us to absorb and comprehend information in meaningful, significant ways.
Reading is relaxing, enjoyable, and solitary. It gives us a choice to be alone not only with our own thoughts but with someone else’s. A study from Mindlab indicates that reading, even for a few minutes can reduce stress levels by 68%. Neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis says “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” Read more here. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html)
According to Maryanne Wolf, “when you read, you have more time to think. Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight. By and large, with oral language—when you watch a film or listen to a tape—you don’t press pause.” Wolf is the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
Reading can even improve the way our brains work. Reading longer works, like novels, can improve brain function and enhance brain connectivity, according to a study published in Brain Connectivity. The study’s researchers determined that by reading a novel, participants were able to improve mental function and increase their empathy for others. Being able to empathize with other people allows us to manage our own stress levels better. (More here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function)
In the study, participants indicated that they “[loved] being exposed to ideas and being able to experience so many times, places, and events,” and one individual said “I look at it as a mind stimulant, and it is relaxing.” Others expressed the pleasure of living vicariously through a character and having another “life of the mind.”
Professor Gregory S. Berns, who was the study’s lead author, said “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person.” He added, “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”
It turns out that readers had better connectivity in key brain areas the following morning: areas correlated with language comprehension, sensations and movement. Being better equipped to deal with an onslaught of stimuli and becoming more compassionate are incredibly important tools to possess in order to combat stress.
It’s hard to imagine any better way to escape and cope with the stresses in life than by immersing yourself intelligently in other worlds and ideas. After all, we only have so much time to use our minds. Why limit the ways in which we use them? We should do everything we can to expand our forms of thought.
All it takes is a few minutes a day. Immerse yourself in a book. Instead of turning on the TV at the end of the day and being faced with a wall of personalities and unintelligible information and bad news, curl up with something different. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll wake up the next day feeling alert, capable, and refreshed. You’ll look at life in the world in subtly different ways.
Some Great Things to Read
Don’t want to comb through bestseller lists? Not sure where to start? Try out some of these websites. They’re full of meaningful, thoughtful articles. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, over-stressed, and over-worked, this is a good place to start. Lose yourself in some fascinating information.
Brain Pickings (https://www.brainpickings.org/)
Packed with all kinds of carefully-researched articles on literature, life, psychology, and more, Brain Pickings is a website that aggregates and carefully curates content that makes you think.
Longreads is another aggregating / curating site; all their content comes from journals and online magazines, and takes a while to read. The articles on Longreads are highly-immersive and incredibly fascinating. They feature all kinds of nonfiction, essays, and more.
Don’t Only Read Online
The act of reading a physical book can’t really be replaced! Head to your local library. Libraries are incredibly relaxing places. There are few distractions. You could go to a coffee shop, but why not head out and find a book instead?
Just go to WorldCat (https://www.worldcat.org/libraries) and find your local library. Many libraries are open late on weekdays, and feature comfortable sitting areas, new magazine subscriptions, newspapers and periodicals, and—of course—books!