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The science behind why reading is healing – 4 amazing reasons

The beauty of a good book! 

How many times have you felt the weight of the world lift off your shoulders as you lose yourself between its pages? 

There’s something so magical about reading. As you turn each page, it’s as if the world around you transforms, and for a few moments, you’re cradled in the embrace of words that resonate deep within. In this blog, we will talk about the science of why reading is healing. Buckle up! ?‍?

The science behind why reading is healing – may you keep your passion to keep reading

Remember when J.K. Rowling said, “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book”? She hit the nail on the head!

Books, throughout history, have been more than mere pastimes. 

From ancient scrolls to digital screens, they have served as escape routes from the reality of one’s circumstances. 

Think about Shakespeare’s era: the audience didn’t just attend plays for fun; it was a break from the challenges of daily life. 

And then came bibliotherapy, a practice rooted in the idea that reading can aid in emotional healing. 

The Greeks called libraries “the healing place for the soul.” 

Imagine that!

Cognitive and Emotional Benefits of Reading

  • Mental Stimulation 

When you exercise, you’re not only working on your physique but your mental health too. Similarly, reading flexes your brain muscles. It keeps you sharp, active, and alive.

  • Stress Reduction

Picture this: a hard day at work, endless traffic, and then you come home to a book that takes you on a journey through the misty mountains. Stress? What’s that?

  • Empathy Growth 

Every book is a new perspective, a fresh pair of eyes. Through characters, you live countless lives, understand diverse feelings, and grow in empathy.

  • Vocabulary and Knowledge Expansion

Every book you read introduces you to new words, ideas, and cultures. You’re not just entertained; you’re enlightened.

  • Mood Upliftment

Feeling blue? A chapter from your favorite book could be the sunshine on a cloudy day.

The Science Behind It

  • Brain Chemistry

Beyond the thrill of a story, the act of reading stimulates parts of the brain related to language, sensory perception, and visual processing. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a brain workout.

  • Reduction in Cortisol Levels

That feeling of relaxation while reading isn’t just in your head. Scientifically, reading is known to reduce cortisol, our primary stress hormone.

  • Improvement in Sleep

A bedtime story isn’t just for kids. Substituting screen time with book time before bed can significantly improve sleep quality.

Reading as a Tool for Mental Health

In an era of digital distractions and ever-looming stress, mental health is an essential topic. Beyond traditional therapeutic approaches, reading emerges as a powerful, under-discussed tool in promoting mental well-being. Let’s delve into its various facets.

Depression and Anxiety

The suffocating weight of depression and the jittery unease of anxiety are battles many face daily. In these moments, a book doesn’t just provide an escape but a safe space.

  • Understanding and Validation: Novels, especially those that revolve around characters grappling with similar issues, offer readers a sense of validation. Recognizing oneself in the narrative can lead to a feeling of being less alone in one’s struggles.
  • Distraction and Respite: At times, immersion in a different world, away from one’s immediate reality, can provide the necessary mental break to reduce anxiety’s grip or alleviate depressive episodes.

Trauma and PTSD

Dealing with trauma is an intricate process, often involving piecing together fragmented memories and emotions.

  • Narrative Exposure

Reading stories mirroring one’s traumatic experiences, in a controlled and safe environment, can act as a form of exposure therapy. This gradual exposure helps in processing the trauma.

  • Empowerment Through Story

Often, protagonists overcome insurmountable odds or confront their traumatic pasts. These narratives can be uplifting for trauma survivors, highlighting the potential for recovery and resilience.

Mindfulness and Presence

In a hyper-connected world, our minds are continually pulled in myriad directions. Reading fosters a unique form of mindfulness.

  • Anchoring to the Moment

Engaging with a text demands concentration, pulling readers into the present moment. This act of being “in the moment” with a book parallels meditation practices that advocate for being present.

  • Reduced Digital Fatigue

Taking a break from screens to engage with physical books can offer relief from the constant digital engagement, reducing associated strains and promoting mental relaxation.

Self-awareness and Personal Growth

Books, be it fiction or nonfiction, often hold up a mirror, enabling introspection and self-reflection.

  • Character Arcs as Lessons

Watching characters evolve, make mistakes, and grow provides readers a template or even cautionary tales for their personal journeys.

  • New Perspectives

Books introduce us to cultures, ideas, and philosophies beyond our immediate environment. This broadened horizon can shift and reshape personal perspectives, leading to mental growth and increased empathy.

Stress Reduction and Relaxation

Simply put, reading can be an immense source of relaxation.

  • Flow State

Becoming engrossed in a good book can induce a flow state, where one loses track of time and surroundings. This state has been linked to reduced stress and increased happiness.

  • Routine and Sleep

Incorporating reading into a nightly routine can signal the body to wind down, potentially aiding in better sleep.

In essence, while books might seem like simple tools of entertainment or education, their therapeutic potential is profound. They heal, comfort, enlighten, and connect, making them invaluable allies in our quest for mental well-being.

Personal Growth Through Reading

The pages of a book can be likened to doors; each one opened reveals not only the vast expanses of fictional or historical worlds but also the uncharted terrains within ourselves. Here’s how reading catalyzes personal growth:

Self-reflection

  • Mirrored Emotions and Traits

When readers identify or resonate with a character, it’s often a reflection of their own feelings or characteristics. This mirroring effect offers a chance for introspection. Perhaps we see our own impatience in a hasty character or our kindness in a benevolent hero. These revelations challenge us to either embrace or change certain aspects of ourselves.

  • Moral and Ethical Dilemmas

Stories often place characters in complex situations, making them question morality and ethics. As readers, we’re invited to ponder these same questions, reassessing our stance and evolving our own moral compass.

Learning from Experiences

  • Broadened Horizons

Books transport us to different cultures, eras, and situations. This broad perspective helps cultivate empathy, as we learn about people’s lives, struggles, and joys from all over the world.

  • Avoiding Pitfalls

A character’s missteps serve as cautionary tales. By analyzing the consequences of their choices, readers can discern the paths to avoid in their own lives, benefiting from fictional hindsight.

  • Celebrating Successes

Likewise, witnessing characters achieve their goals or overcome adversities reinforces the belief that with determination, we too can conquer our challenges.

Motivation and Inspiration

  • Embodying Character Strengths

Stories filled with characters who showcase perseverance, resilience, or integrity can inspire readers to adopt and cultivate these qualities in their own lives. Think of how many have been inspired by characters like Atticus Finch’s unwavering moral strength or Frodo Baggins’s determination.

  • Inspirational Narratives

Biographies and memoirs of real people overcoming real odds can serve as powerful motivational tools. Knowing someone has faced immense challenges and emerged victorious can ignite a belief in our own potential.

  • Conceptual Catalysts

Beyond characters and narratives, sometimes the central theme or concept of a book can be uplifting. Philosophical works, self-help books, or even speculative fiction can introduce readers to ideas that reshape their worldview, instilling a newfound zest for life.

In closing, books are more than mere conglomerations of words. They are mentors, guides, and friends. Every chapter turned and every story concluded leaves an indelible mark on our psyche, shaping, molding, and propelling us towards our best selves. Reading, in essence, is a journey both outward into the universe of tales and inward into the cosmos of our soul.

Bibliotherapy and Professional Use:


The art of healing has been intertwined with storytelling for millennia. 

From the oral tales of ancient shamans to the vast expanse of literature available today, stories have been a solace for the weary, a beacon for the lost, and a voice for the silenced. 

Modern society, with its increasing understanding of mental health, has seen the emergence of Bibliotherapy: a therapeutic approach that uses literature to support and heal.

Certified Bibliotherapists: The Bookish Physicians

  • What They Do

Much like a counselor or therapist listens to your concerns and provides guidance, a bibliotherapist assesses your emotional landscape and suggests literature that resonates with your current state. This is more than just a book recommendation; it’s a prescription tailored to your psyche.

  • Training and Skills

Bibliotherapists are often individuals with backgrounds in psychology, literature, or both. Their training involves understanding the human psyche, diverse literary works, and the intersection where literature can bring about emotional and cognitive shifts.

  • The Therapeutic Process

Sessions with a bibliotherapist might involve discussing your life challenges, goals, and past reading experiences. Based on this, they curate a list of books — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or even graphic novels — that align with your healing or growth journey.

Reading Lists: The Healing Power of Stories

  • Facing Grief

For those confronting loss, books that tackle grief — like Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” or Max Porter’s “Grief is the Thing with Feathers” — can offer solace and understanding, reminding readers they’re not alone in their pain.

  • Seeking Purpose

For souls questioning their place in the cosmos, philosophical or introspective works, such as Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” or Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” can provide guidance and ignite purpose.

  • In Need of Joy

Sometimes, in the gray mundanity of life, one yearns for joy. Heartwarming tales like “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion or “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery can uplift spirits and sprinkle sunshine on gloomy days.

  • Battling Mental Health Challenges

Stories, like Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” or Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive,” candidly depict struggles with mental health, offering readers validation and hope.

Bibliotherapy is a testament to the healing power of stories. 

Books bridge the gaps between souls, whispering, “You’re not alone; here’s a tale, a balm, a guide.” 

In this ever-evolving dance of life, with its highs and lows, literature emerges as a steadfast partner, leading, supporting, and healing. 

So, the next time your soul feels a tad weary, remember there might just be a book, prescribed by a keen-eyed bibliotherapist, waiting to mend and uplift.

Tips for Incorporating Reading into Daily Life:

  • Setting Aside Time

Like meditation, setting a dedicated reading hour can transform your day, offering solace and refreshment.

  • Creating a Comfortable Reading Nook

Invest in creating a sanctuary with plush chairs, soft lighting, and maybe even a plant. It’ll be your go-to place for some “me time.”

  • Joining a Book Club

Share, discuss, debate. A book club is a community that bonds over literature, offering diverse interpretations and enriching your reading experience.

  • Setting Goals or Challenges

Push your boundaries. Dive into genres you haven’t explored. Challenge yourself to read more diversely.

Books have an unparalleled power. They don’t merely entertain; they heal, nurture, and transform. Embracing literature in all its glory is a step toward self-care, a journey inward and outward simultaneously.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Which book has left an indelible mark on your soul? How has reading transformed your life? 

Dive deep into your memories, share your stories, and let’s revel in the shared magic of books. 

And for those yet to embark on this literary pilgrimage, here’s a list to kickstart your journey. Dive in! ?❤️