by Audrey Wint

Scroll through Instagram.

Scroll through Facebook.

Scroll through Newsfeed. 

Scroll* Scroll* Scroll*

Sound familiar? 

During this pandemic many people, including myself, have found themselves scrolling through news and social media feeds endlessly. It’s no secret that screen time among individuals has increased BIG TIME. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! I know a lot of people who have seen their ‘Screentime Weekly Report’ pop up and find their eyes instantly rolling into the back of their head. This can cause many overwhelming feelings due to do the steady flow of information that our brains are constantly processing during this intense time. 

I purpose that we shift from being Scrollmasters (a term I’ve coined for an individual who scrolls mindlessly on their phone) to a Bookworm. Below I will share 5 reasons why it will benefit you to flip through the pages of a book versus scrolling on your phone in your free time. This article isn’t meant to magnify all of the reason why you should stop scrolling or to get off of your phone, but rather to offer an alternative method that may help you shift your perspective and increase positive mental health. After all, May is Mental Health Month!

1. Reading promotes empathy and has the ability to make us more empathetic individuals – Reading allows for individuals to make a personal connection with an author or characters within a book. This connection and ability to relate improves empathy, or the ability to share and understand the same feelings as others. Increased empathy and understanding improves relationships and self-awareness. As humans, we are social creatures and being quarantined can make people feel lonely, but reading can provide a sense of connection as well as strengthen the mirror neurons that are needed for empathy to ensure strong human connections and understanding in the future. 

2. Reading promotes creativity and relaxation – Have you ever heard of reading before bed to help you fall asleep? It’s not because reading is boring, but it’s because reading actually possesses meditative qualities. When you’re reading you are focusing all of your attention on a single task which is proven to enhance relaxation. “In a study conducted by the University of Sussex, individuals who had read for merely six minutes exhibited slower heart rates, less muscle tension, and reduced stress levels” Dr. David Lewis, the neuroscientist who conducted the study, reported that reading, “is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” It turns out getting lost in a good book truly is the ultimate form of relaxation!” (Kaczmarek, 2016).  

3. Reading promotes mental flexibility – Mental flexibility refers to how we engage with our thoughts and our ability to focus. “In one study, people were asked to rate texts on the basis of their “poeticness” and how much they had to rethink meaning while reading. When reading more complex texts, brain scans showed increased activity in key areas of the brain as well as heightened literary awareness” (Flax, 2019). This study revealed that the greater mental flexibility an individual has the more likely an individual is to seek out new solutions compared to being led by habits. 

4. Reading promotes healthy brain function by enhancing brain connectivity – Your brain is a muscle and the more you train it the stronger it will be. Have you ever finished scrolling through your phone and felt brain dead? That’s because your brain is just constantly scanning and making quick and brief connections. This is the brain equivalent of you going outside and doing sprints. However, when you read a novel your brain connectivity is actually building endurance because of the ability of the brain to transport the reader into the story for a longer period of time and strengthening the attention span. This enhanced connectivity then carries on like muscles memory so that you can carry these same connections into the real world. 

5. Reading acts as an exercise to tackle anxiety and depression – According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness. One type of holistic therapy that has been used to tackle this issue has been bibliotherapy, or the treatment of using books, as a therapeutic method. Because reading promotes empathy, creativity, relaxation, mental flexibility, and enhances brain connectivity jumping into a good book can help regulate feelings of anxiety and depression. (However, depending on your situation, please reach out to a loved one or seek professional assistance: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help).

What your favorite books and what are you currently reading?

There are so many amazing books to explore and I’ve even shared a few of my recent favorites below that promote positive mental health. I hope this article encourages you to open a book and take a mindful adventure wherever you call home during this time.  

Recommended Reading list & Amazon links:

References

Flax, M. (2019, October 2). 5 Benefits of reading as little as 20 pages per day. Retrieved from https://www.sacap.edu.za/blog/applied-psychology/benefits-of-reading/

Kaczmarek, S. (2016, August 18). Reading is good for your mental health. Retrieved from https://readingpartners.org/blog/four-compelling-reasons-shut-off-screen-       open-good-book/

Mental Illness.

Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., & Pye, B. E. (2013). Short- and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain connectivity3(6), 590–600. https://doi.org/10.1089/brain.2013.0166