Where Science and Faith Converge
Reflections

Reading As a Stress Reliever

By Kenneth R. Samples - September 23, 2014
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For the last 35 years of my life I have made it my goal to try to read at least three hours a day. It’s an ambitious objective, and there have certainly been many days that I haven’t achieved it. But overall I’ve been successful in pursuing this intellectual discipline. I even got in trouble with my wife for bringing books on our honeymoon.

Malcolm Gladwell’s provocative book Outliers: The Story of Success makes the claim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. So, because I desire to be a skilled Christian thinker, most of my reading has focused on theology, philosophy, and history. For me, reading fuels the life of the mind like nothing else.

Reading, of course, provides many benefits; I’ve documented some of them on Reflections (see here and here). But one interesting thing I’ve noticed about reading is that it relaxes me. When I’m nervous or stressed, reading tends to calm me down. I feel at home in the world of books; and as I focus my mind on the book’s content, the stress melts away.

So, I was quite intrigued when I discovered that science backs up my personal observation. A new study from the University of Sussex revealed that reading does in fact reduce stress. A post on Lumosity’s Google+ page summed up the findings:

…Reading reduced stress better and more quickly than other methods like listening to music, drinking tea, or going for a walk. Researchers believe that the concentration you give a good book helps distract you, reducing heart rate and muscle tension caused by stress.1

An article in The Telegraph reported that reading even for just a few minutes reduces stress at a better rate than other well-known stress relievers:

Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent, said cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started. Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, having a cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent.2

As bearers of the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), only human beings read; animals do not enjoy this privilege. As “People of the Book,” Christians recognize that reading the greatest of the great books—the Bible—provides benefits to the whole person, body and soul. In fact, Christians throughout the centuries have derived countless benefits from reading Scripture. Now science informs us that reading in general simultaneously informs and calms the mind.

May I extend a challenge to you? In light of its benefits, it would seem wise to make reading a daily priority. Would you consider committing even one hour a day to reading? It will change your life for the better.

Endnotes
  1. Lumosity’s Google+ page, shared July 30, 2014, https://plus.google.com/+lumosity/posts/ajtBjMsaEsM.
  2. “Reading ‘Can Help Reduce Stress,’” Telegraph, posted March 30, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html.

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