Stressed? Read A Book!

Ever since I was a child I have loved getting wrapped up in a book and reading it for hours at a time. It didn’t have to be any specific kind of book, just as long as the story intrigued me and kept me occupied. Now that I am in college I find very little time to sit down and read a book unless it’s a textbook. I used to have all the time in the world to relax and read a book, but now that I need to relax, I can almost never find the time to do so. It’s all very frustrating.


When I do find the times to lay back and do nothing, I found out that I am not relaxing in the most effective way. There was a randomized control trial completed at the University of Sussex in 2009. By manipulating the subjects stress levels (tested by their muscle tension and heart rate), the scientists measured which tactic worked best to ease the individual into a relaxed state. The several relief methods evaluated were listening to music, drinking tea, playing video games, taking a walk, and reading. All methods had the ability to relieve some strain, but reading turned out to be the most efficient because it was both fast and effective.

All of the people in the sample used for the study had to go through a series of activities in order to increase their levels of muscle tension and heart rate. Not only did reading reduce stress levels after completing the exercises, but it reduced the individuals’ stress past what they started at prior to completing the exercises. Within six minutes of reading, both muscle tension and heart rate were decreased dramatically. Compared to the other techniques, reading dropped levels by 68%, listening to music was 61%, drinking tea was 54%, taking a walk was 42%, and playing video games was 21%. All of these methods are negatively correlated with stress levels, but the scientists cannot definitively prove that reading more will cause you to feel less stress. Additionally, it is hard to compare physical health directly with mental health, but that is all that the scientists are capable of measuring with today’s technology.


The scientists believe that the mechanism for reading’s strength in lessening anxiety is due to distraction. In my experience, reading has been able to do just that; divert my attention from what has been holding me down. I remember one instance during my senior year of high school when I was supposed to be hearing back from Penn State, and I couldn’t sleep or focus on anything except the fact that I might not get into my top school. My mom finally became fed up with my attitude and demanded I go occupy myself somehow. I explained to her that nothing could keep me engaged, and finally she suggested I re-read one of my favorite books. I took her advice, and miraculously I was hooked. In the science world, anecdotes are not something to use as evidence for a discovery because it could easily be a fluke. However, with the data from the randomized control trial and my personal experience, I highly recommend this method to take some of the weight off of your very tired shoulders.

College can be extremely difficult for all types of majors, and it’s smart to take some time for yourself to relax. Reading a book is a fun and effective way to do it. If you’re interested here is a link to the best reads of 2016. Or if you’re like me, you can just read Harry Potter for the 5th time in a row.

Source: Chiles, Andy. “Reading Can Help Reduce Stress, According to University of Sussex Research.” The Argus. IPSO, 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

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9 thoughts on “Stressed? Read A Book!

  1. Maura Katherine Maguire

    As someone who has always found solace in reading I can relate to this post. Ever since I was little cracking open a good book took me away from the stress of life. Reading a book allows you to escape reality and enter another world when you need it most. While we do a lot of reading in school I have always found it interesting that books that were assigned to me cause me stress, while books chosen by me alleviate my stress. Awesome post!

  2. Derek William Drotman

    Reading is definitely one of those activities that definitely reduces stress. When I am stressed I can never seem to get my mind off the topic that I can’t stop thinking about. Even something as simple and peaceful as taking a nap doesn’t relieve any stress. It was interesting to see that reading trumps drinking tea, taking a walk and listening to music. As much as I hate reading I do believe I need to change some of my habits and sit down and read a book when i am stressing over something minuscule. Overall I enjoyed reading this blog and amazed that you read Harry Potter 5 times!

  3. Charles Hart

    I really enjoy this topic and this was a very interesting read. The mechanism you provided is less anxiety is caused by distraction. However, you backed this up with anecdotal evidence. I do not think this is strong enough evidence to substantiate that hypothesis. You also mentioned that the scientists may not be able to determine if the hypothesis is true or not. I am not entirely sure this is true. If they were to due hundreds of studies that are randomized and overall well conducted, I think once the meta-analysis is done you will be able to see a clear hypothesis emerge. If a clear hypothesis does not emerge then I think it will be fair to say that a hypothesis may not be found. An interesting confounding variable that I think is possible is the type of book read. You mentioned Harry Potter. Is it possible that Harry Potter books, the genre of science fiction or fantasy, cause stress to decrease? I’d also love to see a meta-analysis done on this to determine whether or not its the type of book that lowers stress, that is, if it is found true that book reading is the cause of stress decrease at all.

  4. Mairead Donnard

    This was such an interesting post! Just like you, when I was younger I used to have all the time in the world to read a book. I loved reading books because it is truly like you are entering your own little world and you are able to leave the troubles in your actual life just for a little bit. Also, just like you, I have found it especially difficult to make time to read anything other than textbooks in college. This post reminded me to make time to read a book every once in a while to leave my stress behind. Even though many college students do not choose to spend their off time reading books, some spend this time watching television. I wondered if watching television is good for the mind too. Here is an article that you might find interesting:
    The article talks about the general advantages and disadvantages to watching television. The point that I found to be the most interesting was the advantage about how television can expand your mind. I typically only associate books with expanding my mind, but it makes sense the TV shows can have this same impact too.

  5. vek5025

    As someone who loves to read, I am happy to see positive benefits associated with reading. Reading definitely is a good distraction. I recently wrote a blog post which looked at whether being bored makes someone more creative. In two of the studies books were read before performing a creative task. I believe that says that reading makes you bored, but maybe it clears your mind opening it up to more creative thinking?

    I also found this research done which talked about reading to help alleviate depression.

  6. Daniele Patrice Loney

    This was an awesome post!
    Unfortunately for me, reading has always been sort of a hassle for me. My high school curriclulum was very literature heavy because I was taking AP english courses year after year, so I never had the time to do it by chance. I would be very interested to see if reading for different reasons (ex: school assignments, research vs. leisurely reading) would affect stress levels as well and whether they are reduced or not. Maybe this is something you could look further into if you still have a continues interest in understanding how reading affects stress levels. Great blog post overall, I loved the topic along with how you very clearly explained all of your points. Maybe i’ll pick up a book of my choice the next time i’m stressed out!

  7. Melissa Fraistat

    I completely relate with you about getting so distracted in a book that your anxiety ends up decreasing! I didn’t know that was normal, so that was interesting to learn. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to read for pleasure anymore, too, but when I am able to, it never fails to calm me down.

  8. Reetu Shah

    I am really excited to read this blog post. I get really stressed out and anxious very easily. I personally exercise to relieve my stress. I am probably going to try reading to ease my stress levels. Your post was well explained and you really backed up your hypothesis well. I was very intrigued to see how much reading helped people calm their nerves down. It is interesting, last year I went through a rough patch and my friend told me to watch movies. I couldn’t bear the idea of not getting homework done to watch a movie, but it actually helped me a lot. Like you said for the books, it was an escape. These stories that we get from movie and books let us into a different world and see through different eyes. Not only did I escape my reality, but I also learned another way of looking at my problems through the characters in the movie. I found an article on how movie really helped people in the Great Depression. It was an escape for people. It was an escape for their problems at home. It actually helped people psychologically and ideologically, by bringing hope to people at one of the lowest points in our history.

    Here is the article :

    It is definitely worth a read!

  9. Kayla Neiland

    Love this!! I’m sure we can all use a little help with stress especially with finals coming up. Personally I do worse on tests when I am stressed and apparently most people do too according to this article
    We just get too preoccupied with stress and forget about the important things to focus on. I have never been a huge reader but I will surely give it a try. Thanks!

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