READ MORE, STRESS LESS

PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY AND PICK UP A BOOK

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE| RELAX - WORDS: FELIC­ITY HAR­LEY

Step away from your phone peo­ple. I’ve got a wacky and revo­lu­tion­ary #self­care idea for you. Pick up a book. I know, right. A pa­per book, you say, not those an­cient things but I’d rather scroll mind­lessly through In­sta­gram for the 99th time to­day. Put your phone down now!

You see, I’ve been read­ing a lot lately mainly non-fic­tion and in­spi­ra­tional reads and I swear it’s help­ing lower my stress lev­els and switch off my mon­key mind es­pe­cially at night. I have been sur­pris­ingly over­whelmed by my new abil­ity to nod-off faster and sleep more soundly, which in turn makes me a lot calmer and less anx­ious through­out the day.

In fact, it’s a prac­tice that’s been rec­om­mended by ex­perts for yonks. It’s of­fi­cial name is bib­lio­ther­apy and it is used to treat ev­ery­thing from weight gain to stress, panic dis­or­ders and in­som­nia. One ex­pert Dr Suzy Green, who runs Syd­ney’s The

Pos­i­tiv­ity In­sti­tute, says the studies prove it. “Re­search tells us that read­ing can help us in a va­ri­ety of ways in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing greater men­tal flex­i­bil­ity and cre­ativ­ity by en­ter­tain­ing mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives and sit­ting with un­cer­tainty,” she says. “In fact bib­lio­ther­apy has been used for many years.

It can help nor­malise our feel­ings and re­sponses to the sit­u­a­tions we find our­selves in.”

I get it, find­ing time to read can be tough, es­pe­cially when you’re jug­gling work, a part­ner, kids, ex­er­cise, yoga, fold­ing laun­dry, mak­ing juices, hol­i­day plan­ning, In­sta­gram­ming and your Netflix to watch list (this is me btw). Well, af­ter see­ing the list of health ben­e­fits you might find more time to do it - from bet­ter sleep, to over­com­ing de­pres­sion and help­ing fight Alzheimer's, plus re­duc­ing stress and boost­ing re­lax­ation it’s safe to say that read­ing is an A-grade well­be­ing booster.

Ac­tu­ally, a study by the Uni­ver­sity of Sus­sex in the UK found that read­ing for only six min­utes can re­duce your stress lev­els by up to 68 per cent. You read that right, you can slash that stress in half in un­der 10 min­utes. Bingo.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” The places you’ll go al­right - read­ing has an un­canny power of tak­ing your mind off your wor­ries of to­day, from those sto­ries you’re con­coct­ing in your head about how your boss hates your re­cent pre­sen­ta­tion or whether your part­ner’s in­no­cent flirt­ing with his col­league is ac­tu­ally much more wor­ry­ing ... open a book and you’re mag­i­cally taken away from that present anx­i­ety-rid­dled mo­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to an­other UK study by the Uni­ver­sity of Liver­pool, read­ers are “21 per cent less likely to ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ings of de­pres­sion” and greater self-es­teem and can cope bet­ter with stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. Re­searcher Josie Billing­ton says of the study, “It’s im­por­tant to recog­nise the gains to be had from read­ing on our per­sonal health and well­be­ing.”

Yep, read­ing builds knowl­edge, ex­pands your mind, im­proves your con­ver­sa­tional skills (when a con­ver­sa­tion turns dull, just bring up a in­ter­est­ing book), of­fers wis­dom, broad­ens your per­spec­tive and, says Dr Green, in­creases em­pa­thy.

“Read­ing has also been shown to help us de­velop em­pa­thy par­tic­u­larly to those that aren’t like us - we gain a broader per­spec­tive on the is­sues that lead a per­son to be­have in par­tic­u­lar ways. It can also help us de­velop greater lev­els of self-com­pas­sion and lead to ef­fec­tive prob­lem solv­ing for our own real life chal­lenges - par­tic­u­larly when we can re­late to char­ac­ters - or the sit­u­a­tion they find them­selves in is one we’re cur­rently fac­ing.”

And what about read­ing on a screen? Does that count? “Some re­search sug­gests that we tend to scan more from an elec­tronic screen and hence are less likely to re­tain in­for­ma­tion,” adds Green, “whereas we are more likely to en­gage in-depth and con­cen­trated read­ing when read­ing from a pa­per­back which can en­hance our re­ten­tion of in­for­ma­tion.”

Now what I re­ally want to know is, what does a lead­ing well­ness ex­pert ac­tu­ally read?

“The last novel I read was Eleanor Oliphant is Per­fectly Fine - which I loved. It brought to light a se­ri­ous is­sue, be­ing lone­li­ness and men­tal ill­ness, and just how im­por­tant so­cial con­nec­tions and pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships are to our men­tal health.” And re­ally, at the end of the (stress­ful) day read­ing is cheaper than a shrink. – www.bodyand­soul.com.au

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