Benefits of reading for our mental wellbeing as fiction sales rise during the pandemic

Marie Claire Dorking
·3-min read
Fiction sales have risen in the last year with experts saying people have 'rediscovered a love of reading'. (Getty Images)
Fiction sales have risen in the last year with experts saying people have 'rediscovered a love of reading'. (Getty Images)

Fiction sales rose by 16% last year as people "rediscovered their love of reading" amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Figures from the Publishers Association showed the overall value of UK publisher sales of books, journals and rights sales both at home and abroad rose by 2% to £6.4bn.

Titles such as The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell were cited as popular choices as fiction sales saw growth of 16% to £688m.

The stats are the latest to suggest there was a reading boom in 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions left many leisure activities closed and people forced to spend more time at home.

Commenting on the figures, Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: "It's clear that many people rediscovered their love of reading last year and that publishers were able to deliver the entertaining and thought-provoking books that so many of us needed."

Read more: ‘I am terrified’: Meet the people who preferred life in lockdown

In further proof that people have been turning back to books, Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury said it was on course for bigger than expected profits after a surge in reading that had provided a "ray of sunshine" over the past year.

Watch: How to re-energise your reading regime. 

Reading for mental wellbeing

As well as helping to keep lockdown boredom at bay, reading has also proved beneficial for our mental health, as many of us struggled to deal with the effects of the pandemic," explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

"Not only does it provide us with a break from our everyday lives but it’s also an opportunity for learning - and expanding our minds - which can significantly benefit our mental and emotional wellbeing."

But it's the chance of escapism that has really proved beneficial during the difficulties of the last year. 

"Books have long been an escape, a moment to press pause, and a way we can transport ourselves into the world of our imagination," explains Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience

"Psychologically too, they may offer an exploration of our thoughts as we connect with characters and their behaviours, as well as provide a cathartic means of expression as we travel with them through different lifetimes and experiences."

Read more: How to improve your sleep schedule as we return to early morning commutes

Many of us have turned to reading to escape the troubles of the pandemic. (Getty Images)
Many of us have turned to reading to escape the troubles of the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Dr Touroni agrees that one of the reasons we've found reading so beneficial recently is the fact that books offer us the sense of being transported elsewhere. 

"When our lives have been overhauled as they have been over the last year, it’s little wonder people have turned to reading as a means to cope," she says. 

As well as the opportunity to escape the four walls we've been staring at for the best part of a year, reading also provides a chance to connect, which has been so important in recent times.  

"In the isolation of the pandemic, a book which can create an intimate familiarity with the narrator can provide a sense of connection, as well as a starting point for real-life discussion as you ask, 'did you read…?"

Read more: What to do if the news cycle is taking a toll on your mental health

But helping to improve our wellbeing is not the only benefit. 

"Reading also is another means of keeping our brain active, reminding us we can still learn – and it improves our focus," Dr Tang adds. 

"Reading can improve vocabulary, encourage empathy, and provides a starting point for discussion of issues.

"What’s more, reading can often inspire you to write, and that’s a whole other opportunity for wellness!"

Watch: Parents don't stop reading their children a bedtime story until the age of 8.