Can reading improve health and reduce stress?

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By: Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

We’re all stressed. Of course, we are! Life is super complicated, and we’re all looking for ways to deal. But for those living with HIV, who are already going through stressful situations like nobody’s business, managing stress is even more important.

Studies show that chronic stress, traumatic events, and depression can all lead to an increased viral load and decreased CD4 counts, which can mean a faster HIV disease progression. We know that sounds scary, especially with the state of the world right now, but don’t panic! 😱 There are lots of ways to reduce stress while getting some quality “me-time” in as well.

We’re going to focus on just one today that’s often overlooked…

Getting down in between the covers

Yep – we’re talking about books. 📕📗📘📙What were you thinking?!  😜😝 A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. Which makes sense! When you pick up a book, you’re forcing yourself to slow down. It’s almost like taking a nap and dreaming with your eyes open. 😴😌 And it works better and faster than other relaxation methods like drinking tea ☕️ or listening to music 🎶. It’s a fantastic escape from your daily life.


Your HIV positive journey: recommended reading

We want to start this off by saying there are no wrong answers here. The book you choose doesn’t have to be educational or popular or endorsed by Oprah. It doesn’t have to be challenging. It just has to be enjoyable for you. In fact, it’s a lot like sex – done in private and often in bed.

With that in mind, here are a couple of general tips:

  • Reading only reduces stress if you pick something you’ll enjoy: Reading the news might make you feel angry, or without hope; and social media can have the same effect. Consider choosing a novel that will let you step into a different world 🌎. It can have its own challenges and drama, but the important thing is that you are creating some distance from the stresses of your daily life.
  • You don’t have to choose from the best-seller list: Is it interesting to you? Did the blurb make you giggle? 🤣 Do you like the cover art? Perfect! Those are all plenty of good reasons to pick up a book.
  • See how you feel: As you are reading, take a second to reflect on how you feel. 🤔 Is your stress better? Do you feel more at ease? If not, grab a different book! Try to be in the moment, and really find that relaxation. You deserve a break, and reading is a great way to remind ourselves of that. ❤️
  • Just starting to get into reading? Start by reading a magazine instead – catch up on celebrity gossip, read about new recipes, or drool over the latest fashions – whatever appeals to you!

So! You should now have all the tools you need to pick a book (or mag) that’s right for you.


Of course, some of us want some actual suggestions. Head here for a fantastic list of heart-warming novels that will take your mind off the world for a while.

And if you are looking to be inspired by fellow HIV survivors, how about reading about their stories?

Share your reading journey!

If all of this has inspired you to pick up a book, why not join others on the same journey? 🤝 Download Positive Peers, a private app that allows you to connect 24/7 to other young people living with HIV.

You’ll be able to talk to people with similar experiences and concerns, providing encouragement, comfort, and advice. It's a safe place for to learn about your diagnosis, rock your treatment, and dream about your future 👏 (and, if you like, discuss books!).

Download the app today.

If reading is not your thing.

We just wanted to point out a couple other ways to reduce stress if reading isn’t your thing.

For starters, check out our blog on cuddling, 🤗 and all the health benefits that come with it. Then, maybe spend some time crafting a Self-Love Playlist! We’ve got some suggestions for songs to get you started for that, too.

We have a bunch of other recommendations for stress relief, from buying your first sex toy 🍆 to our top 7 mental health podcasts.