Here's why experts say rereading your favourite novel could actually benefit your mental health

Melina Morry
·6-min read

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Re-reading your favourite books during COVID-19 can be a form of therapy (Image via Getty Images).
Re-reading your favourite books during COVID-19 can be a form of therapy (Image via Getty Images).

Picture that moment of crawling into bed after another long day of Zoom calls. You're tucked underneath your plump, feather duvet, completely exhausted and in no mood to stare at yet another screen. What do you do? Simple: Pick up your favourite novel.

Bibliophiles have been voraciously rereading books over and over again for years. However, it turns out, there’s more to it than just absorbing the thrill of a page-turning plot.

The first time you read a book, it’s almost like a puzzle. You’re concentrating on trying to put together the pieces, discovering the characters, and getting to know the story. However the second time you read it, it’s a completely different experience. Things are more comfortable. You know what’s going to happen; you know how it’s going to happen.

Dr. Shira Gabriel-Klaiman, a psychology professor at the University of Buffalo, has done research on the benefits of rereading your favourite books.

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“Rereading books can give us a sense of connection to the characters and social worlds that are within the books,” Gabriel-Klaiman said in an interview with Yahoo Canada. “For example, if you reread the 'Harry Potter' books you may, each time, feel connected to Harry and his friends and feel like you are a part of that magical world. Every time you read them, that connection gets strengthened. Rereading can make you feel less lonely and better about your life.”

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Whether it’s habitual or not, there’s comfort in repeating something enjoyable. Rereading your favourite books can have the same sort of mental stimulation as rewatching your favourite films or heading on vacation to similar spots. When you associate something or somewhere with positive memories, it’s easy to fall into effortless contentment.

It seems that rereading your favourite books and mental health go hand-in-hand. Whatever your worries are stemming from—a breakup, lockdown life, grief or depression—picking up a well-known novel could be just the remedy you’re looking for.

"Bibliotherapy" can have mental health benefits during stressful times (Image via Getty Images).
"Bibliotherapy" can have mental health benefits during stressful times (Image via Getty Images).

The unknown, especially in unprecedented times like we’re currently experiencing, can be extremely daunting. Knowing how something is going to end can bring you a sense of ease. Finding solace in the cappuccino-beige pages of your favourite novel can actually help soothe your stress, give you confidence, and allow you to connect with people. (Adios, anxiety.)

“People who are anxious about connecting with 'real'. relationship partners can do well with books,” says Gabriel-Klaiman. “There's no risk of being rejected by a book and, if you read it before, you will not have to worry about unpleasant surprises. People who are introverted tend to benefit from rereading as do people who want to be close to others but worry about rejection.”

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According to Gabriel-Klaiman, reading novels helps boost your mood and personal connections. 

 “Any book with a narrative in it gives us an opportunity to feel connected to others and can decrease our loneliness," she explains. 

The prose you pick, whether it’s a story you know or one you’re discovering for the first time, can have many different benefits on your mental state and wellbeing. Maybe you’re looking to escape or you want to see situations not unlike your own typed up on the page. Books offer the most genuine form of escapism compared to other art forms such as films, music, podcasts.

The predictability of your favourite book can help ease anxiety (Image via Getty Images).
The predictability of your favourite book can help ease anxiety (Image via Getty Images).

How many times have we watched "Friends" reruns or seen cult-classics like "Clueless" or "Legally Blonde"? If we watch our favourite movies time and time again, why shouldn’t we do the same with our books?

 Unlike the experience of watching something visually on your TV, computer or tablet screen, reading a book forces you to come up with the visuals on your own. It’s far more engaging and brings a healthy challenge to your brain. You work out your body, so why wouldn’t you do the same for your mind?

The therapeutic value of reading is unrivalled. According to an article published in Psychology Today by Dr. Keith Oatley, a leading expert in cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, “reading therapy” can aid in decreasing depressive symptoms. 

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Also, “reading fiction can increase reader empathy, social skills, and inter-personal understandings.” Literary fiction, which focuses on a character’s inner-thoughts and feelings, aids in a reader’s ability to understand other people’s beliefs and desires, even when they differ from their own.

If you’re looking for an extra dose of empathy, crack open a novel. Oatley explains that “fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.” 

When you’re deeply engaged with a character that you know and love, it’s only natural that you’d feel more empathetic towards them and their struggles. You understand the character's scenarios and how they navigate them, making it easier for you to take these lessons into your own life.

Subscription services for books can help tailor reading picks to your needs and likes (Image via Getty Images).
Subscription services for books can help tailor reading picks to your needs and likes (Image via Getty Images).

Reading Well in the U.K. has taken bibliotherapy to a whole new level. Through a prescription-based model, they recommend books that are catered to you and your specific needs. Books have the ability to transport you to another place—a different city, country, or even galaxy—away from your daily struggles. They can also offer you humour when you’re craving a good laugh or wisdom when you’re seeking outside knowledge.

Another rereading benefit? A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that as an avid reader, you could end up living a longer life. Compared with non-readers, bookworms had a 20 per cent reduction in risk of death over 12 years. If that’s not a reason to pick up a book, I don’t know what is. You know what they say, “A chapter a day…”

Ultimately, there are endless chapters of evidence to support the concept of novels being good for your mental health. So, browse your bookcase, brew yourself a cup of tea, sink into your sofa, and get reading.

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