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 are reading — whether in a character or situation — and thought, “wow, I’m not the only one?”
It is a powerful moment, and one that might be helpful in treating some mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
Some mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, might make you feel more “in your head.” This might cause you to feel isolated, perhaps believing that you’re the only one who feels like you do.
This unique feeling of isolation can make treating conditions like anxiety more complicated.
Isolation may also be a cause of anxiety and depression, like what many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reading books can be beneficial for your mental health. When you read, you can recreate a feeling of social engagement, including identifying with people and finding common ground with others.
Because of this, bibliotherapy, or book therapy, emerged as a potentially powerful tool for helping people with anxiety and depression.
Bibliotherapy uses reading, dissecting, and discussing books in a structured setting to improve mental health.
According to findings from a
You don’t have to engage in formal bibliotherapy with a therapist to reap the mental health benefits of reading a good book. Simply reading for leisure can be helpful for self-care and your mental wellness.
Even in remote areas, reading and bibliotherapy are generally accessible with:
- low cost or free books
- digital books
Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
Reading is good for your mental health, but it may be especially beneficial for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Participants in the same study reported that reading also mediated symptoms of depression.
Lessens feelings of isolation
When you feel isolated, it might seem like your world “shrank” down to a smaller size. Reading can give you a more holistic sense of your place in the larger world.
According to its findings, participants who read fictional narratives reported feeling less emotional stress and more empathy. However, the study failed to find a connection between fiction and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety caused by isolation.
Participants in a different small 2022 study with older adults living in nursing homes reported that reading about what was going on in the outside world helped them feel less separate from it.
Diving into a good book can be a great way to boost your mood and build hopeful feelings.
A 2019 study with kids between the ages of 7 and 12 showed a relationship between bibliotherapy and increased feelings of hope. And according to researchers, hope can be a positive predictor of mental health and wellness in children.
Older adults living in nursing homes reported that bibliotherapy lead to feeling more optimistic, according to the small 2022 study above.
Helps children cope with grief
Reading may help people cope with feelings of grief, especially children.
- feel less confused about their fathers’ deaths
- realize that they were not alone
- engage in open communication with the adults in their lives
Reading can provide more than just a relaxing escape in your leisure time. There are many mental health benefits to picking up a good book, especially for people living 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 foster empathy
- provide a connection to a bigger community
- increase feelings of hope and optimism for people of all ages
Particularly if you already find reading enjoyable, reading and analyzing a book may seem less like a task and more like a way to relax.
Consider reaching out to a doctor or therapist if symptoms of anxiety interfere with your daily life. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.