By Lisa Ahern
During the first lockdown, I, like everyone else, was faced with a colossal amount of freetime. Naturally, I found myself glued to my phone. It wasn’t long before my screen time jumped to obscene numbers, with some days even reaching the double digit hours. Luckily, it was at this moment that I rediscovered my love of reading. It allowed me to escape from constantly comparing myself to others, something only too familiar to those of us who spend time scrolling through social media on a daily basis. Just like the characters in the novels I read, my favourite influencers form a part of a fictional world, one where everything is perfect; their bodies, their lives, their stories. My mind had difficulty comprehending this. Being on social media for excessive amounts of time was clearly doing damage to my mental health, and reading helped me realise this, giving me the opportunity to disentangle myself from the internet and its toxicity.
Aside from providing such breathing room from social media, reading has also benefited my wellbeing in many other ways. Reading a book strengthens your knowledge more than you’d realise. As your mind constantly intakes new vocabulary, your communication and comprehension skills improve. Furthermore, many authors write in such a way that life lessons can be gleaned from their works. This means you can take inspiration from the trials and tribulations faced by the characters in order to better yourself in your day-to-day life. This insight can also improve your empathy levels, as by placing yourself in these character’s shoes you can also better understand similar situations faced by real people. To paraphrase a famous quote from A Song of Ice and Fire: “You only live one life and by reading, you live a thousand”. A book which afforded me such benefits is Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, giving me insight into the thoughts and experiences of a victim of domestic abuse. It was heartbreaking but also eye opening. It showed me how difficult it is to disentangle yourself from an abusive situation.
Like many other hobbies, reading also aids us in lowering our stress levels. In 2009, a group of U.S. researchers, writing in the Journal of College Teaching and Learning, released a study on the effects of reading on the stress levels of students. This study showed that as little as thirty minutes of reading aided in lowering the students’ psychological distress just as effectively as yoga. It also showed that the students’ blood pressure and heart rate benefited from reading, suggesting that it can play a role in maintaining physical health along with mental health.
Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Well there’s good news on that front too, as reading a book before bed can help maintain a healthy sleeping pattern. Reading allows the mind to ease, facilitating your brain’s winding down as soon as your head hits the pillow. In contrast, looking at the blue light of your phone gives your mind a much more difficult time trying to sleep. With this solid night’s rest behind you you’ll be ready to take on the next day without that overwhelming sense of tiredness brought about by a six hour Netflix binge until four in the morning.
Finally, reading can be treated as a workout for your brain. When you read your mind must be fully concentrated and you have to have patience. This is in sharp contrast to the likes of TikTok which can overstimulate your brain and reinforce one’s need for instant gratification. The practice of patience and the honing of concentration skills associated with reading can assist students in exams and classes, allowing them to intake more information without getting distracted easily. The more focus you have the better you will succeed in life, and reading can aid you hugely in this department.
Next time you’re tempted to pick up your phone in order to wander on Pinterest and TikTok and feel a pang of jealousy for the perfect lives on display, maybe you could try picking up a book. After all, reading never hurt anyone, did it?