Are Self-help Books Stressing You Out?

Posted 12/30/2015 | By HealthCorps

Consumers who buy self-help books are more sensitive to stress and also show higher depressive symptomatology according to a recent study published in the journal Neural Plasticity.

With sales of self-help books hitting $10 billion in profits in 2009, researchers at the University of Montreal decided to try to find out if the books actually had meaningful impact on their readers. Initial test results and data that examined self-help reading habits seemed to indicate that there was a difference in participants, in terms of personality, sense of control, and self-esteem. However, when the researchers dug a bit deeper, they found that there seemed to be little difference between those who read and those who do not read self-help books.

Researchers did find that consumers of certain self-help books tended to secrete higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, while consumers of another type of self-help books showed higher levels of depressive symptomatology, compared to non-readers.

The study

Researchers recruited 30 subjects. Half of them were consumers of self-help books. The researchers looked at specific measures:

• Stress reactivity, as measured by salivary cortisol levels
• Openness
• Self-discipline
• Extraversion
• Compassion
• Emotional stability
• Self-esteem
• Depressive symptoms

The self-help consumers were divided into two types of readers: those who prefer problem-focused books (ex. How Can I Forgive You?), and those who preferred growth-oriented books (ex. Stop Worrying, Start Living). The researchers found that consumers of problem focused self-help books typically had greater depressive symptoms compared to non-consumers, while those that read growth oriented self-help books had increased stress reactivity compared to non-consumers.

Which came first?

Researchers were still left to figure out if reading self-help books increases stress and depressive symptoms in those who choose to buy and read them, or are these consumers just more vulnerable to stress and depression? The researchers concluded that the symptoms exist first and lead to an interest in buying these types of books. The best predictor of buying these self-help books is having purchased one of these books in the last year. The research still raises doubts about how effective the books are in helping consumers who buy these books. If the books were so helpful, wouldn’t you just need one? (I suppose the same holds true for diet books, right?).

Recommendations from the study’s researchers

If you are interested in advice from books, seek books written by researchers or clinicians who offer content based on science and medicine. Check the authors of these books to see if they are affiliated with recognized universities or medical centers, well known health care facilities or research centers. A book should not replace a mental health professional, but if it is written by a well-regarded individual from the health or science community, it can give readers insight into sources of their stress or depression and encourage them to seek help. An educated consumer is more likely to seek help.

Source: Science Daily

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