In disproportionate levels, however, anxiety can progress into a medical disorder which manifests as excessive fear, apprehension, nervousness, and worry — affecting day-to-day life.
An anxiety is a normal emotion that is part of the body’s response to stress. It often manifests in the feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physiological effects such as changes in blood pressure. In disproportionate levels, however, anxiety can progress into a medical disorder which manifests as excessive fear, apprehension, nervousness, and worry — affecting day-to-day life. And according to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the global prevalence of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic rose to 21%.
There are different potential reasons for this increase, such as job loss, workplace or school closures, and restrictions over gatherings. Grief may have played a significant role in anxiety spikes as well. In an article called ‘Grief – A Healthy Emotional Response to Loss’, writer Anika Bhasin discussed how sudden, traumatic losses can lead to a lost sense of control as well; without certainty over the future, anxiety is likely to emerge alongside feelings of shock, sadness, anger, and guilt. The limited opportunities for mental health check-ups have led many people to educate themselves on managing anxiety at home. Bibliotherapy — the practice of reading books for mental health — is one solution that is probably as old as storytelling itself.
How Reading Can Manage Anxiety
In our fast-paced world, anxiety and stress issues are extremely pervasive. As bestselling author Max Lucado writes in his book Anxious for Nothing, “the news about our anxiety is enough to make us anxious.” We hear stories about people seriously struggling with anxiety, who find it especially hard to overcome their worries.
So how can reading help? For one, reading keeps your brain healthy. Unlike film or television, reading requires more active engagement from the brain. Different regions work together to build a new world inside our heads, and this brain workout improves memory, concentration, and mood. The habit of reading books regularly also combats conditions like dementia.
Another benefit of reading is that fiction often allows us to escape our reality. Readers turn to books to process anxieties and fears. When we read, we connect with characters who face similar obstacles and represent shared feelings; their experiences show us how normal our emotions are, and we feel less isolated in the process.
Surprisingly, many people find comfort in post-apocalyptic fiction — which is set in worlds affected by global catastrophes — as they recreate the atmosphere of an irrevocably-changed world, but also remind us of the human capacity to rebound, adapt, and thrive.
Stories have long been used to impart deep insights to us about living, and remain powerful vehicles for morals, lessons, and wisdom. In psychology, stories offer a universal type of therapy because it can work across ages, cultures, and mental illnesses. Although books alone cannot treat anxiety, they can definitely help in the process of recovery.
Giving Bibliotherapy a Try
Bibliotherapy — the practice of reading books for mental health — is one solution that is probably as old as storytelling itself.
Researchers from the United Arab Emirates University found that there are three categories of books that work well for therapeutic reading. Classical repertoire focuses on creative works like novels, poetry, and fiction to improve patient conditions through the process of identification. Then, there are also psychological works, which are more clinical; these provide more information about specific disorders and aim to assist readers.
The third category is self-help. These books augments tips for cognitive development, and offer precise methodologies or inspiration to treat mental health disorders. Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, for example, teaches readers about the benefits of ‘forest medicine’. By spending more time around trees, humans can reduce stress, boost their immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
Through these three categories, bibliotherapy offers a respite from anxiety. However, it’s important to note that they are only effective if the patient enjoys reading. Patients who are unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, or have limited intellectual ability and attention span would likely benefit more from other types of therapy.
Composed by: “Lena Peterson is a freelance writer and researcher. As a mental health advocate she augments topics on psychology and wellness, as she believes these are important for each person’s overall well-being.”