Curl Up With a Book and Read to Reduce Stress



Looking for ways to relieve stress? Some contemporary stress releases are Ken Follett, Daniel Silva, Walter Isaacson, Sue Grafton and J.K. Rowling or her alter ego Robert Galbraith. Some old tried and true ones are Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte or Fyodor Dostoevsky. Even some chick lit or vampire novels. Research shows someone can improve their concentration and reduce stress levels if they curl up with and read an engrossing book for at least 30 minutes of slow reading enjoyment.

With all the messages swimming in heads from 140 character Tweets, abbreviation-filled texts and other information bombarding brains, studies show that people who read books for pleasure for a solid stretch of at least half an hour can distress and wind down. Before televisions in bedrooms or playing video/computer game in evenings, people often read in bed as a way to unwind. As long as it is reading for pleasure, not the background material for a meeting or test tomorrow, reading slowly for an uninterrupted period is a proven, effective stress release.

Electronics and computer screens have changed our reading patterns from the left-to-right sequence reading books to a skimming and skipping pattern. People hunt for important words and information rather than reading in a linear fashion.

A 2006 study looked at the eye movements examining Web pages. It found they read in an “F” pattern; their eyes scan across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines before sliding down the left side of the page vertically toward the bottom.

Scientists say that scanning Web pages impairs the ability to read and comprehend deeply. Studies have shown that text punctuated with a lot of links is harder to comprehend for readers than plain text (like this article). Another study found that multimedia presentations combining words, sounds and videos result in lower comprehension than simply reading the information in plain text.

As a result, more academics are advocating a resurgence of absorbing reading also known as slow reading, as they call it. The benefits of reading have repeatedly been researched and documented. A study published in Science indicated that fiction helps readers understand other peoples’ beliefs and thought processes, which helps with building relationships. One study of elderly people published in the journal Neurology showed regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, such as reading, slowed memory loss rates for participants. Research published in Developmental Psychology almost 20 years ago showed first-grade reading ability is closely tied to academic achievements 10 years later in 11th grade.

Yet reading habits have declined in recent years. Only 76 percent of adults in the U.S. read at least one book in the past year, according to the Pew Research Center. That is down from 79 percent who read a book in 2011.

Slow reading backers are encouraging old-fashioned reading habits, before smartphones, scanning Web sites and Twitter or other social media lead to fractured attention spans. Many advocates admit they embraced the concept when they recognized that they could not concentrate and make it through a book anymore. So, curl up with Harry and Hermione, Gabriel Allon, Kinsey Millhone, the Bennett sisters or any other absorbing book characters to read and reduce stress in real life.

By Dyanne Weiss

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