When my son Alex was just a little tyke and we were busy running around one afternoon, he turned to me and said, “Just freelax, mom.””Freelax” — love that word! If we could all just “freelax,” things would be so much better and calmer, wouldn’t they?
Now, it turns out, there’s yet another reason for our readers to love us writers: The stories we create help them “freelax” — fundamentally enhancing their well-being. There’s plenty of research that proves that reading not only expands our view of the world, it also makes us emotionally more empathetic and can even boost our skill in decoding social cues. And now, there’s growing scientific evidence that reading reduces stress.
After a stressful day, in order to unwind, some people turn to music, some to a glass of wine or cup of tea. Others take a walk or chat with friends. But new research shows that just six minutes of pleasure reading will have a faster and more therapeutic effect on our body than any of these other stress-relieving methods. Amazing!
According to a study by the University of Sussex, volunteers experienced 68% lower stress levels after pleasure reading than they did after using more traditional relaxation methods. In fact, study participants only needed to read silently for about six minutes to achieve a slower heart rate and more relaxed muscles. In contrast, listening to music lowered stress levels by 61%, sipping a hot drink by 54% and taking a walk by 42%.
“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” noted Dr. David Lewis, the cognitive neuropsychologist who led the study. The reason is simple: pleasure reading stimulates our imaginations and allows us to enter an altered state of consciousness.
And there’s more good news: In a University of Liverpool study, while 50% of the participants said reading helped made them more empathetic, 27% said that reading inspired them to make positive changes in their lives, including: planning more travel, exploring new hobbies, and taking better care of their health and fitness. Another 17% of reported that reading helped them to remain calm during disagreements with others.
A University of Buffalo study on reading further probes the link between reading and empathy. In a study published in Psychological Science, participants who read chapters from Harry Potter books self-identified as wizards, while those who read from the Twilight series self-identified as vampires. Researchers concluded that the sense of “belonging” to fictional communities can provide the same satisfaction people get from real-life groups. “Books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment,” study author Dr. Shira Gabriel observed.
Our readers need us more than ever. Emboldened and encouraged, let’s all write on!