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Reading Out Loud for Anxiety Relief

April 5, 2020 George Abitante

How often do you read out loud to someone? If you have kids, it may be an everyday activity, but for many reading is a solitary activity. As I've lived through these surreal weeks, I've begun to question whether reading out loud might provide value that reading to oneself doesn't quite deliver.

In some ways, I feel like I've come to terms with the new status quo for my daily life, and in other ways, it still feels as impossible and unreal as when social distancing started. Living with uncertainty can be a significant challenge for anyone, but this can be further exacerbated when you face daily anxiety as well. Now more than ever, coping skills that can be easily implemented on a daily basis are crucial for handling anxiety in a positive, sustainable manner. 

At the start of the quarantine, I began considering what methods I might use to maintain my mental health during this time. I knew that exercise would play a role, and that has certainly had a positive impact. I knew that communicating with family and friends would play a role, and, paradoxically, I find myself more connected than I was before all of this began.

These likely sound a bit mundane -- these are very common methods for cultivating mental health in our daily lives, and the benefits I've experienced from them have not been surprising. What has surprised me, however, is my experience with an activity I rarely engaged in before: reading out loud. 

Reading Out Loud Helps My Anxiety

I began this practice of reading out loud when I wanted to send something comforting and engaging to a friend of mine on a daily basis. I decided I would send a short audio clip (around five minutes) of me reading one of his favorite books. I thought this might be a good way to give him something relaxing to listen to and would be a good way of conveying my compassion and support.

What I didn't realize, however, was just how beneficial this practice would be for my own mental wellbeing. As I read this book for my friend, I found my mind became calmer almost immediately after I began, and I started to look forward to making these recordings because of how much better I felt. My emotional state improved as I read, and I noticed my mind engaging with the words to the exclusion of everything else. 

Why Reading Out Loud Works for Me

I believe this practice has been therapeutic for several reasons. First, when I read, my focus is not on myself, but on comforting my friend. This outward focus really helps me to pull away from the daily concerns I feel for myself, and to, instead, engage with someone else's mental state. That kind of compassion-oriented thinking really refreshes my mind and lets me calm down in a way I rarely do when I just focus on myself.

Second, I find that reading out loud to provide comfort to someone else ends up producing comforting sounds for myself as well. When I read for my friend, my voice becomes a means of conveying tranquility and caring, and although it is produced for my friend, I can't help but feel that caring tone for myself as well. It becomes, in a way, a form of positive self-talk and self-soothing that I don't always find when I'm trying to help myself.

Third, reading out loud requires me to focus carefully on each word I read so that I pronounce it correctly and have the appropriate tone for each sentence. The attention required to do this is actually quite significant, and I find this forces me to engage with the words without thinking about anything else. If I let myself be distracted, the reading falls apart, so my mind remains focused on the words. 

This may sound like a simple step, but I really have found the practice of reading out loud to be profoundly meaningful. It may be equally effective to just read out loud to yourself, but for me, there is something special about reading for the purpose of sharing with someone else. Please try in whatever way matches your interests, and comment below to share what your experience with reading out loud for anxiety is like.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, April 5). Reading Out Loud for Anxiety Relief, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/4/reading-out-loud-for-anxiety-relief



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

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