Xanax is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States and is used to treat people with anxiety and panic disorders.  Xanax affects the brain and central nervous system.  It boosts a chemical in the brain called gama-aminobutyric acid or GABA which slows down nerve cell activity in the brain.  Because Xanax is a central nervous system depressant, some of the common side effects are slurred speech, loss of coordination and disorientation.  The drug is up to 20 times more potent than Valium.  So why would you want to use a drug that is highly addictive and harmful to you and your body?  What if you could handle your anxiety without ingesting something that is damaging to you?  There is a solution.

Everyone knows that reading makes you smarter. It fills the brain with knowledge, builds a better memory, improves writing skills, and increases vocabulary, but to learn that reading can also reduce our stress levels is even more exciting!  It has been a proven fact that reading can help reduce anxiety and stress.  Many of us take this simple act for granted, because we have so much reading in our daily lives in our work and personal lives, like the newspaper, traffic signs, emails, and bills. But how often do we read for our own enjoyment and pleasure?

Proven Study of Reading Reducing Stress

Dr. David Lewis, who conducted a 2009 study at the University of Sussex, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”  “This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.  It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.  This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

After carrying out his research on a group of volunteers, Dr. Lewis found that reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68% and slowing down their heart rate while listening to music reduced stress levels by 61% and having a cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54%, and taking a walk by 42%.  Playing video games brought down their heart rate and stress by 21%.

You can also find a recent publication entitled The Novel Cure by bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin proposes a comprehensive guide to the best books for certain ailments like anxiety, depression and insomnia to name a few.  They recommend The Thirty-Nine Steps, a man on the run thriller by John Buchan for anxiety; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle for depression; and for insomnia, The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe.  This form of treatment is catching on by other bibliotherapists and just a few years ago this official collection of recommended books was used by general practitioners for treating stress and anxiety in their patients.

Reading may not only be a wonderful escape from the stress of everyday life, but it has proven to be healthy for you.  Basically, by opening a book, you allow yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from your daily stress and worries of how you are going to pay your bills, how to make your boss happy, or even how to handle your children, your husband and your home life.  Reading actively engages the mind and requires our full attention.  When full attention is given to whatever it is we are reading, our mind cannot think about those things that are causing us stress.  It works almost like taking a mini vacation of the mind and can even relax your body by lowering your heart rate and easing the tension in your muscles.  So next time you are stressed out, instead of reaching for a pill which supposedly reduces your anxiety, or reaching for that bottle of wine, try picking up a book or magazine, an e-book or Kindle, and just relax to your favorite genre whether it is a romantic paperback, gardening magazine, or even a cookbook. Set aside 30 minutes to read every day in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted and let yourself drift away.

For avid readers this is bonus news but to those who don’t read often enough or dislike reading, it might be time to think again. Reading is an excellent stress management activity that is good for your overall health!