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A Book Club for University Students – Does it help their stress levels?

The Winter Wellness Book Club is just about to begin here at the Brock Library. This is my own initiative and forms the basis for a research study I’m conducting to explore if and how recreational reading and an online community has a positive effect on perceived stress levels in university students.

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There are many studies linking recreational reading (particularly fiction) with positive psychological effects, including increased empathy, reduced stress and better sleep (see Billington, Josie. Reading and Mental Health. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG, 2019 among other publications). During the fall term, our book club read “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt, a short novel aimed at young adults. It’s a beautiful story about the passage of time, love, and the lengths people may go to live forever. It seemed an appropriate choice during the pandemic when time seemed to vary from moving at a snail’s pace to impossible speed (has this really been 2 years?!)

This term, i chose a nonfiction book that speaks to the benefits of physical activity on our brains. John Ratey’s Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain is written by a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is an amazing exploration of how movement provides defense again mood disorders, memory illnesses, stress, and much more. It’s an entertaining argument to keep moving! If you love to exercise, this book will reinforce the habit and if you don’t, this book may be enough to get you up and moving!

The idea for a wellness book club came to me during a workout at home (haha!) and I knew from the beginning that there were some things that would be certain:

A physical copy so the students could engage with the text, mark up things they felt were important and have the book to keep. A small group so that they could meet one another and share thoughts freely. I loved putting together little packages that they could enjoy, including things like colouring pages and pencil crayons, play dough, chocolate and relaxing tea. When I was a student, I loved receiving little packages from my mom and my hope was that the students would also feel cared for in a small way.

I hoped that the majority of students would be willing to participate in the research study, which consists of a pre- and post-survey with an optional interview at the end. At the same time, I wanted anyone interested to be able to participate.

There was substantially more interest in the book club during the winter term and in a later post I will go into what I felt was most effective in terms of marketing the club to students. At this point I’m eager to begin our virtual meetings after Reading Week! In meeting with the students to hand out the books, my sense is that they are excited for this Club and happy to connect with other students. My fitness instructor self sees the meetings as a great opportunity to build connections, create an inclusive atmosphere, and lift people up!

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