Reading for mental health

Julia Croston, Managing Editor

Reading, when added to an already strenuous college curriculum, may not seem worthwhile enough for student attention, but there are several benefits that reading has on mental health. Spinnaker spoke with associate English professor Dr. Lieberman to discuss the benefits and impact of reading. 

“One of the reasons that reading is so good for your mental health, is that it’s one of the few places where you really get to focus and kind of be in one place and experience what’s called flow,” Dr. Lieberman explained. 

According to Dr. Lieberman, flow occurs when you are so into the story that you do not mind “trading minutes of your life to experience someone else’s life.” Flow also generates the desire to keep reading despite feeling annoyed by interruptions from the outside world and the need to sleep. 

“This is probably controversial, but if you’re reading and you don’t experience flow and it starts to feel like work, then let it go and pick up something else.” 

 Photo by Blaz Photo. Courtesy of Unsplash.

Without flow, reading can turn into something stressful and not meditative, preventing mental health benefits. It is difficult to maintain a love for reading in this mindset and a busy world.

To get back into it, Dr. Lieberman recommends reading something you know you will enjoy. Reading outside of the academic curriculum does not require you to read “the great American novel.” Different times in your life or moods can make it difficult to read something more literary or books that deal with heavier topics. 

“When you get to choose what you’re reading, it can be deeply nourishing, because it lets you take a break from sort of the stresses and the speed and the constant divided attention of our every day lives,” she said. 

Dr. Lieberman emphasized the importance of not shaming different mediums of reading, including audio and ebooks. Listening to a book is just as valid as reading a physical book because it is the experience of the reader that matters the most. Genre does not matter either, as long as you are able to get into the story.

“I’d say that reading is as important as eating your greens is in your diet. It’s not the only thing that you want to do to entertain yourself in your down time, but there are definite benefits for making it a part of your life,” shared Dr. Lieberman. 

 Photo by Artis Kančs. Courtesy of Unsplash.

Benefitting mental health, reading contributes to a “significantly lower incidence of depression and anxiety.” Reading provides a break from the typical routine and the stresses of life. However, similar to eating greens, reading should still be practiced in moderation to avoid over exhaustion. 

Also, reading has benefits to increase the empathy of the reader. Dr. Lieberman suggests reading is not the perfect algorithm to become empathetic but has the power to make a difference in mindset. 

The power of reading extends beyond mental health to be transformative. Reading, according to Dr. Lieberman, can make you a better writer, and writing can make you read differently. As another example, Dr. Lieberman referenced the transformative effect of reading in oppressive state institutions. 

“When reading is prohibited, it becomes this really transformational thing that the people who are prohibited from reading really want.”

 Photo by Alfons Morales. Courtesy of Unsplash.

Dr. Lieberman alluded to Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and Richard Wright’s “The Library Card” as examples of the power reading has when explored and prohibited. Reading works like these invite the reader to put themselves in the shoes of someone who views reading as precious, ultimately generating empathy and recognition for the power of language. 

In addition, dystopian fiction often incorporates censorship and bans on books, revealing the power of the knowledge gained through reading. Outside of literature, this occurs frequently in the present. Authority is held by who sets the curriculum in the education system. 

Dr. Lieberman explained the culture war aspect of reading, especially with banned books. Advocates for certain books to be banned view the language as a “moral corrupting influence.” This reveals how language holds power in society, and banned books often gain popularity by readers rejecting censorship. 


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