In a recent blog, we discussed how leisure activities may benefit people living with Parkinson’s, citing studies that showed relaxing activities lead to decreased stress levels and lowered heart rates. This week, The New Yorker published an article on an alternative, and unexpected, form of therapy: reading. Bibliotherapy — a term first used in the early 20th century and defined as encouraging reading for a therapeutic effect — has been suggested to improve mental health, relationships with others and one’s overall sense of well-being.
Books open doors to distant cities, countries or even alternate universes, allowing an escape from the stresses of daily life which could help the reader cope with everything from grieving the loss of a loved one to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. For those living with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, reading can be a chance to momentarily forget about persistent tremor, difficulties walking or perhaps the uncertainty of what’s ahead.
The article suggests reading could even be compared to a form of meditation — another type of complementary therapy often practiced by members of the Parkinson’s community:
Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”
While diving into your favorite novel may not counter the symptoms experienced in Parkinson’s, it could provide a way to leave them behind, even for just a couple of hours. And in the fast-paced, busy world of 2015, those quiet moments alone can sometimes be far and few between.
“In a secular age, I suspect reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks” the article notes. “Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.”
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or simply crave snippets of time to yourself, consider stopping by your local library and you may find yourself leaving your day-to-day concerns at the door.