Improving our mental health through reading
Reading provides mental health benefits such as giving us a break from screens and feeling less isolated through connecting with characters.
As a full-time working professional in behavioral health, mother and wife, Central Region Vice President Megan Steen says getting lost in a great book is one of her favorite ways to unwind after a long day. While fiction is often her preferred genre for before bed reading, Steen says she also looks to non-fiction to further her development, learn more about a public figure, and make her laugh.
Steen says reading is beneficial for our mental health, which in turn supports our physical well-being as well. When we read about others with shared or similar experiences, it can help us to feel less isolated and alone. Reading can also help us to learn about and empathize with those whose life experiences may be very different than our own, building empathy and greater social awareness. While leaning into an activity that brings me joy and allows me to decompress from my day is reason enough for me to continue doing it, Steen says, research has also shown that reading regularly reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and can fight depressive symptoms.
While reading is a seemingly solitary hobby, it can also elevate our social health. According to Steen, connecting with characters and humans through reading can transcend outside of the actual reading experience as well – into live (or virtual) opportunities for human connection via book clubs, forums, or festivals. Every year, Steen says she sets a personal reading challenge for herself as a way to hold herself accountable. Discussion with a friend about this reading challenge led to a connection with a group of inspiring women. In the group, we share our most recent reads along with our thoughts and opinions. Reading has connected Steen, not only to many fabulous books, but fabulous people as well, she says.
Reading also allows a sometimes-rare opportunity to completely disconnect from a screen or device, which can benefit our brains. Reading provides a completely different experience for our brains than receiving images through a TV show or movie – forcing us instead to invent them ourselves.
"Even on days where I may be too tired to read for more than a few chapters or minutes, reading to disconnect and clear my thoughts before sleep is one of my favorite ways to end the day," Steen says.
Here’s to better brain health through reading!