Read your way to Wellness
In an era where people often read in segments of 140 characters, we may fail to realize the losses we experience by not diving into longer forms of reading.
Social media, video games, and video watching all have benefits when we use them in moderation. However, prioritizing reading over other leisure activities has a few advantages for your wellness.
Empathize and build better relationships
Theory of Mind is a uniquely human skill to understand that others hold fundamental beliefs that are different from your own. Theory of mind is a component of developing empathy, which is the ability to sense others’ emotions and imagine what they might be feeling. It was discovered that strong Theory of Mind aids in building and maintaining social relationships.1 As we learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, we begin to have more compassion for the struggles they are facing and welcome the vulnerability needed to craft deep emotional connections.
Reading literary fiction improves one’s ability to express Theory of Mind2 and long-term fiction readers tend to have Theory of Mind and empathetic performance better developed.3 Literary fiction includes stories that feature the inner portrayals of characters’ feelings and thoughts, allowing you to dive deep into the minds of those individuals. Reading fictional stories about people different from ourselves can increase our capacity for empathy by immersing us in their lives, so we may learn within a risk-free environment.4
A recent study suggested that empathy is only built during reading when one is emotionally transported into the story, referring to when you become “lost in the book” and are so absorbed that you may lose track of time and events going on around you.5 This means if you’re not captivated by the book, you won’t get the same benefits. Allow yourself to switch up the fiction you’re reading if the book is feeling dull; trekking through might not be worth it.
Developing insight on yourself
Through engaging with the characters’ internal processes, we learn to reflect on problems in our lives that mirror those of the characters.
The process of reading through a story arc can be cathartic. Having emotional responses to the character’s pain can reflect the need we have to face our own pain.6 Navigating the plot offers readers an opportunity to learn from the mistakes and successes of the characters, and resolutions help readers develop hope for similar situations within their own lives.6 When we weep for them, we are weeping for ourselves.
If you are looking to gain the most insight, reading novels which cause you to face alternative narratives of your own experience is most appropriate, rather than simply choosing what you are most comfortable with reading.
Often when people are looking for ways to fall asleep quickly, they assume the problem occurs once they’re wrapped up in their blankets tossing and turning. However, crafting the perfect bedtime routine is a large contributor to your ability to fall asleep effortlessly and influences the quality of your shut-eye.
Creating a consistent routine is crucial for signaling to your body and mind that bedtime is approaching, which will help you feel sleepy. You can do this by winding down for at least 30 minutes with a calming activity such as, you guessed it, reading.7
In addition, avoiding light from screens before bed (ideally an hour, but whatever you can manage is a great start) is essential. Light from these devices can suppress your body’s natural production of melatonin, which is a hormone that promotes sleep. Using your cellphone after the lights are out is correlated with longer times to fall asleep, more sleep disturbance, higher insomnia, later wake-up time, and increased fatigue during the day.8
Summing up, if you want to sleep better, you might want to try laying down your phone and picking up a book.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to lower your stress levels, it could be time to flip through a few pages of a book. A study at the University of Sussex found that after reading a book for only six minutes, participant stress levels decreased by an average of 68%.9
It’s important to note that reading one last email or catching up on the latest news articles before bed won’t offer the same benefits, especially if it’s on a device. Reading this type of content will signal to your brain to wake up by introducing thoughts of tasks you need to do and new stressors instead of helping you wind down.
Looking to read more?
Don’t be afraid to read multiple books at the same time. One of the barriers to reading for many folks is not enjoying what they are reading enough to want to pick it up again. This leads to procrastination, and eventually stopping all together. By reading multiple books at the same time, it’s easier to give yourself permission to quit a book you’re not enjoying and there is a higher chance you will be reading at least one book you find very engaging.
If you’re just starting out, challenge yourself to simply read one page before bed. It often only takes reading one page to pull you in for more. Even if it doesn’t pull you in, you have successfully completed your goal for the day and you can go to bed feeling accomplished.
It has been shown that those who actively participate in book clubs read on average 2 hours more per week.10 Luckily for you, the Student Wellness Centre will be launching its second session of its very own book club, Wellness (Book) Worms.
Wellness Worms is a health and wellness book club where you can participate in weekly discussion posts and monthly book club meetings to engage in insightful conversations. The reading schedule has been structured to be manageable for students. You can find information about this session and the book we will be reading on the program page.
By: Summer Clarke