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The Health Benefits of Reading and Writing

Sadie Holloway is a writer and artist who uses the power of journaling to bring more peace, serenity, and joy into her life.

Reading for pleasure and writing in a journal can have a positive impact on your health and well-being. Learn more about what researchers have discovered about the benefits of reading and writing.

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According to many researchers, and known by book-lovers the world over, reading is good for your health. Here are some of the amazing health benefits of reading for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure lowers stress and reduces depression. According to a 2015 survey of people who read for pleasure, as opposed to reading for school or work purposes, the respondents reported fewer feelings of stress compared to non-readers. People who read for pleasure found the relaxing effects of enjoying a good book were greater than if they watched television, flipped through social media feeds, or read other types of reading material, such as newspapers or textbooks.

Reading alters how we experience pain. One of the most promising things researchers discovered about the health benefits of reading was that reading for pleasure can help ease more than just emotional pain and stress, it can also help ease physical pain. Participants in an experimental reading group for people living with chronic pain found that becoming absorbed in a good piece of writing decreased awareness of their chronic pain issues. The more engrossing the text reading materials, the less aware participants were of their pain symptoms.

If you think that you have to read stacks and stacks of books to get the positive health benefits listed above, a Canadian study found that people who read just one book a year were 28% more likely than non-readers to report having good to excellent health. Reading for as little as 30 minutes per week has been linked to greater life satisfaction and connectedness.

Reading promotes empathy. Reading fiction, particularly character-driven fiction, helps us to imagine the world through the eyes of another being. Not only is reading fiction a relaxing way to unwind and let go of the outside world for a while, studies have show that getting wrapped up in a compelling narrative can actually help boost your social consciousness and foster positive personality traits such as compassion and empathy.

“Experience-taking can be a powerful way to change our behavior and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways,” says Lisa Libby, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of the study.1

Immersing yourself in the story of a person or group of people that you don't normally identify with can help increase empathy and awareness. Well-told stories have the potential to break down barriers, challenge racial, cultural or gender stereotypes, and increase our capacity to relate to others who we may have once perceived as different from ourselves. When we can picture ourselves acting and behaving in a certain way, we can actually transform how we act and behave in the real world.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

— Joseph Addison

Did you know that writing in a journal can help improve your health? According to a research study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 2, engaging in expressive writing, such as the kind of writing you might do in a journal or diary can result in positive health benefits such as:

  • Fewer stress-related visits to your doctor
  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Improved lung function and reduced blood pressure
  • Greater feelings of psychological well-being
  • Increased feelings of hope and optimism
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Writing in a journal may enrich your life, but writing can also make you richer, according to researchers. Here a five ways that writing in a journal can be good for you and your wallet!

  • Reduced absenteeism from work: If your boss considers you a strong team player who shows up to get the job done, you’ll likely do well on your next performance review.
  • Quicker re-employment after job loss: Sudden job loss can be distressing, but writing may help boost your emotional resiliency so that you can get back on your feet sooner.
  • Improved memory and problem-solving skills: Writing in a journal can help you sharpen your problem-solving skills, a trait most savvy employers are looking for.
  • Stronger academic performance: Students who write on a regular basis can improve their grade point averages: Strong grades can lead to good educational opportunities and higher paying jobs.
  • Stronger language skills: Writing helps boost your vocabulary and language mastery while reading can make you a more empathetic person.

Suggestions to help enhance your journal writing experience

There is no right way or wrong way to use a journal but here are some things that might enhance your journal practice and make the experience more richer, more meaningful, and safe.

Be honest. Write as if you will be keeping the journal private. You may choose to share some parts of it, or even all of it, but start with the intention that what you are writing is for you and you alone.

The choice is yours. Use your journal because you want to, not because you think you have to.

Protect your journal---in the same way that you wouldn’t hand out your social media passwords, find a safe place to keep your journal. If there is any concern at all that your journal could be found by someone else, consider using made-up nicknames or initials for any people you write about in your journal. The great thing about an old-fashioned journal, is that as long as you physically protect it, no one can hack into it. As long as you protect it, it will be far safer and more private that anything you ever say, do, or read on the internet.

Put distractions on hold. One of the reasons I like writing in a notebook versus on a computer is that I can’t double click the side of my notebook and check my Facebook feed. I don’t get push notifications from Netflix. When I am immersed in my journal nobody can interrupt my writing session by texting me a picture of their lunch.

Give yourself permission to just go with the flow. Whining, ranting, raving---that’s allowed. Dumb jokes, stupid ideas, really bad puns---who else but your journal is going to listen to your nonsense, so just have at it. Meandering all over the place with no direction, hey---at least you are moving!

Keep yourself safe. If what you’re writing about isn’t working or is making you feel scared, stressed, and unsafe, then stop writing. Take a break, go for a walk, cry, visit a friend. Your journal doesnt’t have legs. It will be right where you left it when you get back.

Footnotes:

1. Losing Yourself in a Fictional Character Can Affect Your Real Life, Press Release, The Ohio State University, Research and Innovation Communications

2. Baikie, Karen A., and Kay Wilhelm. Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing | BJPsych Advances. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

© 2016 Sadie Holloway