With the fall semester revealing a new set of anxieties that seem entirely foreign to us after our three month summer sabbatical, the last thing a college student is going to want to do for fun is pick up a book and read. In the midst of preparing for exams, or trying to find the perfect balance between school, work, sleep and a social life, cracking open a novel and reading simply for the pleasure of it would certainly be an anomaly on a typical college student’s to-do list.
What if I told you that reading can help to ease the stress that that comes with every new semester? According to The Independent, an online newspaper, reading has significant benefits when it comes to improving mental health and relieving stress. In the article “Reading improves relationships and reduces depression symptoms,” author Katie Guest examines all of the non-academic benefits of using your free time to read. Guest presents a study by The Reading Agency, a charity whose mission it is to encourage more people to read. Benefits discovered in the study include increased empathy, better relationships with others, reduced symptoms of depression, increased self-esteem, reduced stress and anxiety, and a deeper understanding of other cultures.
While examining the results of the study, researchers found that “the most consistent outcomes reported were the ability to learn about the self and others, learning about diverse human populations and other cultures and learning about other periods of history. Responders who read more frequently were also reported to have an enhanced ability to understand people’s class, ethnicity, culture and political perspectives.”
Psychology Today examines how the ability to remove yourself from your own world and enter the world of another can be beneficial in areas other than academia. In a separate study called “Short- and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain” recently published in the academic journal Brain Connectivity, show that “reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination.”
And still, many college graduates will never touch a book after graduation, even though reading has been proven to significantly relieve the stress that is sure to accompany graduates long after they change out of their cap and gown. These benefits can be attributed to the improved theory of mind that comes with suspension of disbelief. According to Psychology Today, theory of mind, or the ability to attribute mental states to both oneself and others, helps the readers to understand that others have “beliefs, desires, and intentions that are completely different from one’s own.”
Neuroscientist Gregory S. Burns explains that “the neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist.” Taking 15-20 minutes out of your day improves embodied cognition, the ability for the mind to think it’s doing something it’s not, which can take your mind off of final exams, roommate drama or many of the other problems that present themselves to college students.
When life as a student seems to be too overwhelming, prescribe yourself a getaway by reading and gaining new perspectives by walking in someone else’s shoes. Pick up a book. Suspend your stress, if only for 20 minutes a day.