We all know stress is bad for us. There are lots of ways to reduce stress, from massage to yoga to walking the dog, but one of the most effective and easy ways to reduce stress is to take advantage of the written word by reading or writing.
Benefits of reading and writing for stress
Both reading and writing have been proven to effectively reduce stress levels.
Few pleasures in life can compare to a book that draws you in so deeply that you forget there’s a world outside your book. Studies have actually shown that not only is reading fun – it’s good for you. Reading reduces tension, lowers blood pressure, and can reduce stress by up to 68%. Additionally, reading lowers stress faster than other methods of stress relief, like a walk or a cup of tea.
Writing, too, has significant benefits when it comes to stress. Journaling about traumatic or stressful events has been shown to seriously lower stress levels. It’s unclear exactly why this is the case. Writing may help process thoughts and emotions, or it may indirectly make it easier to talk about traumatic events with other people. Whatever the reason, studies have shown time and again that writing down what’s bothering you can make it easier to handle.
Reading and writing both have some other benefits, too. Both are very cost effective. Writing requires nothing but a computer or a notepad and pencil, and books can often be found at the library or on sale or used for just a few dollars. Even reading fiction books can yield surprising amounts of knowledge, and becoming a better writer can improve office communication skills, possibly even making you a better employee.
Additional benefits of reading and writing include:
- Mental stimulation, which can prevent or delay dementia later on
- Expanded vocabulary
- Better understanding of language and grammar
- Improved memory
- Better analytical thinking skills
- Improved concentration
- Better emotional understanding of others
These benefits hold true no matter what you read.
Any book that makes you feel better is good for you. If you enjoy cooking, read a cookbook. If you like TV shows about magic or the unexplained, pick up a fantasy novel. When you’re wishing for a European vacation that’s months away, look for a travel book to savor while you wait. Self-help books can also be useful, since many have tips and strategies to make your life easier.
Additionally, the right books can make you better at your job while also relieving stress. For instance, you may learn a lot from books about owning your own business, selecting the right employees, or understanding why customers think the way they do.
The bottom line when reading, especially when you’re reading to relieve stress, is that it should be fun and entertaining.
Journaling for stress relief
Journaling has been the most studied as a form of stress relief, but other types of writing may help, too.
A stress-relief journal’s purpose is to give you a place to let go of the things that cause you stress. It can be a physical journal or notebook, or it can be a computer document or private online journal. At first, it may feel like a stress-relief journal makes you feel a little worse, but stick with it. Studies suggest that it’s not unusual for these types of journals to cause worse feelings at first, followed by much better feelings and later, clarity.
Also consider keeping a gratitude journal. When done sincerely and honestly, a gratitude journal can lead to better sleep, happier moods, and fewer symptoms from illnesses. These journals can be separate, or you can keep one journal and record both the things that stress you and the things you’re grateful for. Creative writing can also be beneficial. Many people find poetry, in particular, to be cathartic during times of stress.
Another idea when you’re writing to relieve stress is to write on a loose piece of paper, whether it’s a list of stresses, a poem, a few paragraphs, or whatever else you manage to scribble down. Then rip it up, symbolically destroying the things that have been causing you difficulties.
How to get started
It’s easy to start reading or writing.
Writing, especially, is easy to start. A word document, an online journal (companies like Livejournal let you keep a free, private journal), a fancy leather-bound journal, or even a pad of lined paper from the drugstore will all give you a place to pour out your soul. If you find yourself enjoying writing and want to delve into it more deeply, check your local libraries for writers’ groups or look into creative writing courses at nearby colleges.
Reading is easy, too. The simplest, most cost-effective way to take up reading is, of course, to peruse your local library. The library has the added bonus of librarians, who are always ready with suggestions if you’re having a hard time finding your next book. If you prefer to own the books you read but don’t have the money for brand-new novels, look for used book stores, check libraries for book sales, watch for garage sales, pay for an online book subscription service like Scribd, or find online stores like Alibris.
When you’re itching to read but don’t have a clue what to read, ask a friend, librarian, or bookstore employee. Also, some big book stores often give out a list of books you might enjoy based on purchases after you buy a new book, while websites often display books that others have purchased after buying a certain novel. Social media groups like Book Riot give tons of book recommendations, usually grouped into themes like steampunk or characters with a disability. Websites like GoodReads can help you find recommendations and reviews from other readers.
Our reading recommendations
Here are a few reading suggestions from us when you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed:
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. This is a collection of Strayed’s online advice columns from The Rumpus. Not only is it entertaining, but it provides a good dose of common sense and encouragement when life gets rough.
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. In this book, Brown explores what it means to be vulnerable and why we find it so difficult, but also what we can gain from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. This one is a very inspiring read.
- Yes Please by Amy Poeler. Rolling Stone describes this book as a “nonlinear hopscotch across Poeler’s life and career,” and that just about sums it up. It’s honest, entertaining, and full of life lessons.
Do you enjoy reading or writing when you’re stressed out?
Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr