Read to de-stress

How can reading fantasy romance affect your stress level?  First of all, let’s talk about stress.

Year after year, researchers have found that a strong link exists between stress and overall health.  It can indeed make you sick and has even been linked to fatal diseases.  Survey after survey can be found to validate these findings.  A simple Google search will provide you with this information.  Commonly reported characteristics of feeling stress are that one feels: irritable or angry; fatigue; lack of interest, motivation, or energy; headaches; upset stomachs; a change in appetite; a change in sex drive; insomnia.

Some of the physical signs of stress are that it: shrinks your brain; fuels cancer in animal studies; increases the risk of chronic disease; affects your heart. (According to this Huffington Post article)

That’s not a pretty picture to paint in an American society where stress seems a very real part of life.

So while stress can make you ill, can reading actually change health and/or improve a reader’s mind and mental attitudes?  The answer is quite frankly YES.

Numerous studies have been conducted on how reading affects the brain and body. The University of Minnesota found that there is correlational evidence showing that students who read more, have higher achievement.

The University of Sussex’s found that after volunteers were subjected to tests and exercises in order to increase their heart rate, out of all the traditional methods of relaxation used to decrease stress, reading worked best.  It reduced stress levels by 68 percent. That study goes on to say that just six minutes per day can reduce stress levels by more than two-thirds.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo found that reading can increase a person’s empathy toward others, thus improving social connections to others.  This study specifically targeted these positive results due to reading fiction, where as non-fiction didn’t show the same drastic effect.

An Oxford University study found that reading books is the only out-of-school activity for sixteen-year-olds that seemingly connected their ability to get managerial/professional jobs later in life. 

Researchers from the Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging found that reading modes create a significant shift in brain activity patterns on MRI scans. Casual reading activates pleasure centers, while critical reading increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the executive functions heavily involved in attending to tasks like reading.

Now that I’ve offered demonstrated proof on the positive relationship between stress and reading, I want to share my personal experiences with you and talk about why I read fantasy books and that such reading decreases my stress levels. 

I’m a pretty driven person, so I like things to go smoothly.  Usually they do, but when I’m standing in the mud, it can seem impossible to wipe the crud off my shoes.  Ever been there?  When I’m feeling it, I make myself take a break for a while.  I realize at those times, that I need to breathe in the better things in life for a little while.  There are many ways to escape the small tortures of the daily grind, including exercise, meditation, the great outdoors and nature, or finding that favorite creative outlet.  To me though, one stands out above all others.  I am an avid reader as well as an author, so one of the most enjoyable stress relievers for me, is to fall into a great fantasy novel.  When I write fantasy, I feel totally connected to the world my characters live in. In my newest novel, Tolomay’s World and The Pool of Light, the clean world which is the future of the earth and a ‘garden of Eden’ of sorts, seems as real and refreshing as walking through woods and fields would feel on my bare feet.

Why do I prefer to read fantasy over many other genres?  Because a well written fantasy book effortlessly takes me into another realm; one I cannot otherwise experience.  There, I get to ride in the cars, planes and ships alongside the main characters.  I can swim and fly using means I haven’t thought of before.  I will hunt evil, slay dragons, fall in love with the perfect mate, and save the day… and I’m fast.  I can save the world in a matter of hours with my face tucked in pages.  I can read another’s mind, move objects through time and space, and discover creatures I never thought existed.  In a fantasy read, strange becomes the norm.  In short, I can experience what is not possible to experience in the real world and nearly as fully as if it were.  To me, reading is as much a true escape as writing is.  Each turn of the page finds me deeper in a new and unfamiliar world; one of action and adventure and excitement.  I am able to meet others who will certainly have as much, if not more, stress in their lives.  How will they deal with it?  Will they crumble under the pressure, or solve what seems an impossible problem?  Will they handle things the way I would, or will they react in a way I’ll view as shocking?

Reading offers not only fantasy, romance, and the ability to time travel to other worlds; it also helps me to refocus my thoughts on something other than the stress I’m knee deep in.  When I slip that bookmark back toward the inner spine to keep my place and return to my regular life, I am somehow refreshed.  Life’s problems seem a bit less worrisome and solutions seem closer at hand.

I view a great fantasy read as the windshield wipers of my life, swiftly brushing away the drops of rain that can cover my day, if I let them.

So the next time you are feeling weighed down, stressed out, and like you need a vacation, do something simple that has the potential to positively affect your life and your health. Take that much deserved vacation from your day; read and escape.

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Many thanks to Michael Lorde for this valuable article on the positive relationship between stress and reading. Make sure to pick up a copy of his latest book, Tolomay’s World and The Pool of Light, then hop on over and escape with a little something wicked – the Wicked Series.