The Therapeutic Value of Reading

The Therapeutic(ˌTHerəˈpyo͞odik) Value of Reading

Books can help calm and transport you from pandemic stress. But many of us are finding it harder to read now. Here’s how—and why—to get back to it.

By Elizabeth Bernstein

This past year, I’ve found myself returning again and again to a line of poetry by Emily Dickinson(ˈdikənsən): “There is no frigate(ˈfriɡit) like a book.”

Like many people, I’ve needed the therapeutic effects of reading more than ever this year. As neuroscientists(ˈn(y)o͝orōˌsīəntəst) and psychologists (and your high school English teacher) will tell you: Books are good for the brain. And their benefits are particularly vital(ˈvīdl) now. Books expand our world, providing(prəˈvīdiNG) an escape and offering novelty(ˈnävəltē), surprise and excitement, which boost dopamine(ˈdōpəˌmēn). They broaden(ˈbrôdn) our perspective and help us empathize(ˈempəˌTHīz) with others. And they can improve our social life, giving us something to connect over.

Books can also distract us and help reduce our mental chatter(ˈCHadər). When we hit that glorious(ˈɡlôrēəs) “flow state” of reading where we’re fully immersed in a book, our brain’s default mode network likely calms down, says Jud Brewer(ˈbro͞oər), a psychiatrist(sīˈkīətrəst) who directs research at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. That’s a network of brain regions that is active when we are not doing anything else and that can get absorbed(əbˈzôrbd) in worrying and rumination(ˌro͞oməˈnāSH(ə)n).