Does reading help anxiety and mental health?

Reading can foster connection and empathy, while helping people with anxiety feel less isolated and more engaged.

Have you ever recognized yourself in a book you’re reading – whether in character or situation – and thought, “wow, I’m not the only one?”

It’s a powerful moment, and one that could be helpful in treating certain mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

Some mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, can make you feel more “in your head.” This could cause you to feel isolated, perhaps thinking you’re the only one feeling what you’re feeling.

This unique feeling of isolation can make it difficult to deal with conditions such as anxiety.

Isolation can also be a cause of anxiety and depression, like what many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reading books can benefit your mental health. When you read, you can re-create a sense of social engagement, including identifying with people and finding common ground with others.

For this reason, bibliotherapy, or book therapy, has emerged as a potentially powerful tool to help people with anxiety and depression.

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy uses reading, dissecting, and discussing books in a structured setting to improve mental health.

According to the findings of a research report 2021bibliotherapy can be beneficial to treat:

You don’t need to engage in formal bibliotherapy with a therapist to reap the benefits of reading a good mental health book. The simple act of reading for leisure can be helpful for self-care and your mental well-being.

Even in remote areas, reading and bibliotherapy are generally accessible with:

  • libraries
  • cheap or free books
  • digital books

Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression

Reading is good for your mental health, but it can be especially beneficial for symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A small study 2022 with Turkish high school students suggested that reading fiction may reduce anxiety symptoms by promoting awareness of others’ feelings and improving problem-solving skills.

Participants in the same study reported that reading also mediated symptoms of depression.

Reduces feelings of isolation

When you feel isolated, it can feel like your world has “shrunk” to a smaller size. Reading can give you a more holistic sense of your place in the larger world.

Another study 2022 from Japan looked at how reading fiction can help people struggling with hikikomori, a type of social withdrawal that is spreading around the world.

According to his findings, participants who read fictional accounts reported feeling less emotional stress and more empathy. However, the study failed to find a link between fiction and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety caused by isolation.

Participants in another small 2022 study of older people living in nursing homes reported that reading about the outside world helped them feel less separated from it.

Improves mood

Immersing yourself in a good book can be a great way to boost your mood and create feelings of hope.

A 2019 study of children aged 7 to 12 showed a relationship between bibliotherapy and increased feelings of hope. And according to the researchers, hope can be a positive predictor of mental health and well-being in children.

According to the small 2022 study above, older people living in nursing homes said that bibliotherapy made them more optimistic.

Help children cope with grief

Reading can help people cope with feelings of grief, especially children.

A small study 2021 with young children whose fathers committed suicide indicated that bibliotherapy had helped them:

  • feel less confused about their father’s death
  • realize they weren’t alone
  • engage in open communication with the adults in their lives

Reading can offer more than just a relaxing escape in your free time. Picking up a good book has many mental health benefits, especially for people with anxiety.

Research shows that bibliotherapy, or book therapy, may be able to reach people with anxiety in helpful ways.

Reading and discussing stories can:

  • help develop empathy
  • provide a connection to a larger community
  • increase feelings of hope and optimism for people of all ages

Especially if you already find reading enjoyable, reading and analyzing a book can feel less like a chore and more like a way to relax.

Consider contacting a doctor or therapist if anxiety symptoms are interfering with your daily life. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.

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