Reading a book of fiction is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
We all deserve a break daily where we can curl up with a book on the sofa and dive into a story. Reading is not only pleasant but it can also have a positive effect on your health.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK discovered that ‘bibliotherapy’ (the use of books as therapy) lowers mild to moderate depression, panic, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
The explanation may be that reading fiction makes you slip into the shoes of a character and live temporarily in their world. This takes you away from your struggles and gives you a sense of relief. We know that ‘rumination’ has a negative effect on the mind, thus, reading fiction can decrease rumination and help you feel more grounded in the ‘now’.
Another explanation by Samuel Crothers (the man who coined the word ‘bibliotherapy’) is that when you read fiction, you identify with the character’s struggles. The way the character deals with their own feelings and struggles can serve as a role model. If the character in the book finds a solution to their internal conflict, you might believe you can do it too.
Rachel Kelly, author of ‘Black Rainbow. How words healed me: my journey through depression’ is using bibliotherapy to help prisoners get in touch with their feelings. The author recounts the time when she was hospitalised for depression. The only thing that helped her then was her mother reading her excerpts from books and poetry.
‘I clung to particular lines and phrases as if they were carefully constructed life rafts. A particular favourite was an excerpt from Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”. I repeated this to myself in the style of a mantra or prayer. As I began to recover, I grew to rely more and more on the healing power of consoling poetry and prose.’, Rachel says.
The power of words made her refocus her attention from her illness and onto the story.
Reading fiction can have great effects on your mental health. If you suffer from anxiety or depression reading fiction can give you temporary relief. Plus, taking some distance from your mental health issue can even help you recover.
Marlena Bontas is a freelance writer with a passion for health, technology and mental wellness. She has an MA in Psychology from the University of Helsinki and is currently travelling. Write her on Twitter at @MarlenaEeva.