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6 Mental Health Benefits of Listening to Audiobooks

Slash stress, boost your mood, promote mindfulness, and more.

In recent years, audiobooks have skyrocketed in popularity, becoming a favorite pastime for many throughout the early pandemic. In fact, in 2020 alone, the audiobook industry saw a 12 percent hike over previous sales, making it the fastest-growing format in book publishing, according to Writers Digest. This is especially good news since listening to audiobooks comes with a wide range of mental health benefits. Read on to learn what you stand to gain by tuning in, according to mental health professionals.

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Audiobooks can lower your stress levels.

Young Asian man with hands behind head, relaxing on sofa and listening to music with headphones at home. Relaxed young man lying on sofa with music.
iStock / AsiaVision

If you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, audiobooks may offer a reprieve from distressing thoughts. Not only can they help to boost your mood in the moment, but they can also help disrupt the negative thinking patterns that may be dragging your mental health down.

In fact, reading for as little as six minutes has been shown to slash stress levels by more than two-thirds—and audiobooks have been found to have the same effects on the brain as hard-copy books.

"Audiobooks offer a form of escapism, allowing individuals to immerse themselves in captivating stories or informative content," explains Marissa Moore, MS, LPC, a therapist, licensed professional counselor, and mental health consultant writer at Mentalyc. "This diversion from daily stressors can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, leading to improved mental well-being."

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They can also enhance cognitive function.

A senior woman sitting with her eyes closed while listening to headphones

Audiobooks may also help to keep your cognition intact as you age, experts say.

"Listening to audiobooks engages the brain in a similar way as reading printed material, stimulating cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and comprehension," says Moore. "This mental exercise can help keep the mind sharp and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline."

Luke Allen, PhD, a licensed psychologist based in Oregon and Nevada, agrees that audiobooks offer a convenient and stress-free way to learn new topics and skills, which can help promote continuous cognitive growth and development.

"People also learn best when repeatedly exposed to the content they are trying to learn—so if you are listening to content related to your work, studies, or hobbies, it can be a good way to reinforce previous learning," he tells Best Life.

Audiobooks promote mindfulness and focus.

Older woman listening to music and meditating on the couch

In order to get the most out of your audiobook, you'll need to listen attentively to the story. Moore says that this heightened concentration can ultimately benefit your mental health.

"Audiobooks encourage active listening, which can promote mindfulness," she explains. "Engaging with the story or content requires focus and attention, aiding in mindfulness practices that help individuals stay present in the moment, reducing rumination and promoting mental clarity."

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They can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Shot of a young woman using a smartphone and headphones on the sofa at home

According to U.S. Census Bureau surveys (via PBS News), it is estimated that up to 60 percent of Americans feel lonely on a regular basis. While there's nothing better than connecting with others in person, listening to audiobooks may help offset the worst effects of loneliness.

"For individuals experiencing feelings of loneliness or isolation, audiobooks can serve as companions, offering comfort and solace through the voices and stories they present. The sense of connection to the narrator and characters can alleviate feelings of being alone," says Moore.

Saya Nagori, MD, an ophthalmologist and CEO of EyeFacts, adds that this can be especially beneficial for groups of people who may disproportionately experience feelings of isolation. "As somebody who specializes in ophthalmology and eyes, I can attest to how brilliant audiobooks can be for mental health, especially in the arena of people who are suffering from visual impairments," she tells Best Life.

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They foster emotional intelligence.

non coffee energy boosters

Moore says that many audiobooks can evoke strong emotional responses to the characters and experiences within. This can help promote empathy and emotional intelligence long after the story ends.

"This enhanced understanding of emotions can positively impact interpersonal relationships and self-awareness," which can in turn foster better mental health, she notes.

Allen agrees that audiobooks can help people better process their own emotions and better understand the viewpoints of others. "Listening to stories from diverse perspectives can encourage empathy and understanding, promoting a positive outlook on life and relationships," he tells Best Life.

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Audiobooks can improve sleep and relaxation.

woman sleeping with black headband around her ears, better sleep essentials
The Grommet

Finally, listening to calming audiobooks or guided relaxation content before bedtime can aid in falling asleep and improving sleep quality, says Moore. She adds that reducing insomnia and sleep disturbances can have a significant positive effect on mental health and overall well-being.

Allen adds that the benefits are especially notable when you compare listening to an audiobook to consuming other forms of media at night. While looking at bright screens on your phone or TV can interrupt your body's natural production of melatonin, listening to an audiobook has no such drawbacks.

However, Moore says that while listening to audiobooks can provide a range of mental health benefits, they should not replace other essential aspects of mental health care, such as professional therapy, self-care practices, and seeking support when needed.

"Incorporating audiobooks into a broader mental wellness routine can be a valuable addition, contributing to a healthier and more balanced mindset," she says.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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