DURBAN – People are finding it hard to read during the current Coronavirus pandemic, even when they have more time on their hands. According to psychologists, the answer to this lies in the link between reading and mental health.
“The lack of focus required for reading, according to psychologists, is a product of the brain’s fight-or-flight response that anxiety can trigger. The body no longer believes you’re safe, no matter how well you know that cognitively,” said Alyssa Williamson, a Texas-based psychotherapist specializing in trauma.
Psychologists have also found that the popularity of on-demand content on digital platforms and television has reduced the time people spend on reading. And as reading becomes difficult during a pandemic, the temptation to watch a film or series online increases.
Psychologist Shyam Bhat said: “The result can be a vicious cycle—people watch TV because they’re stressed, but they can get stressed from watching too much TV. Unfortunately, that kind of engagement increases stress in the long run especially if you do too much of it. Of course, entertainment in moderate amounts can help with anxiety, too.”
Bhat says it doesn’t have to be this way and encourages people to try and read as often as possible.
“Reading can be therapeutic because it engages your brain in a more active way. For instance, the practise of bibliotherapy, the use of books to improve one’s mental health. To achieve that, even during a time as stressful as a pandemic, it takes a little effort to consciously create a reading habit,” he said.
“It’s pretty hard to focus on the latest novel when you’re stressed out. Stresses at work or school, conflicts at home, or financial struggles can build up into larger anxieties that can paralyze thought and prevent people from doing basic tasks optimally. The pandemic can exacerbate this anxiety, as one is living the “new normal” of working from home, caring for one’s parents, and fretting about how social contact could result in infection. For some (but not all) people, anxiety can become a disorder that they should discuss with a doctor,” added Bhat.
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