Why horoscopes are good for your mental health

You've had a bad day. In fact, it's been more than just a bad day — it's been a bad week. Or month. Or year. And now, more than ever, you're grateful for horoscope apps that deliver a sassy reading about what you might expect today, or for the internet and its ability to deliver astrology readings that promise, really, life is about to turn a corner and get better.

Between the news cycle and generally bad juju, we can't blame you if you reach for astrology just to get you through a bad patch. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll shows that nearly 30 percent of Americans today believe in astrology, but according to scholar and author Nicholas Campion, who wrote Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West, the number of folks who know their sun sign and check out horoscopes for everything from future job prospects to their romantic partner's sun sign is much higher (via The New Yorker).

Horoscopes give you a sense of knowing

"Often when people are stressed out or experiencing something negative, they want to better understand the 'why' behind it," Sari Chait, a clinical psychologist and wellness center owner, tells the Huffington Post. She thinks that astrology and tarot readings can provide "the framework for doing that, even if it is not empirically based." Connecticut College professor of psychology Stuart Vyse agrees. "When they don't have a sense of control, people will engage in activities that give them even a false sense of control. We call this the 'illusion of control'," he says (via WebMD).

Horoscopes don't also just deliver on the "why" — their upbeat tones also keep things light and happy. "Horoscopes tend to have a bias toward positive things... there isn't a lot of negative material in them," Vyse says. "That might be comforting to people. And because horoscopes are written for just about everyone who shares not only your birthday, but also your astrological sign, they still provide a measure of comfort because readers focus on the parts that are relevant to their own lives."

Horoscopes encourage positive thinking

Chait says the positivity has the added power of reminding its followers that negative feelings are temporary. "This is similar to several therapeutic approaches where the emphasis is on how to understand what you are feeling or experiencing in the context of today and trying to see how things may be different in the future, including how you can contribute to making that change," she says.

But mental health experts like Chait and scholars like Vyse warns against moving from a place where reading your horoscope makes you happy, to acting on the advice that the horoscope delivers. "To the extent that reading your horoscope gives a sense of order or meaning to your life, that would be a positive thing," he says. "The problem is there's no scientific basis to the horoscope, so I think acting on it is not a good thing."

Instead, psychologists like Chait encourage looking to engage in self-care activities, like getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as cutting back on activities like overdrinking, which could endanger your health instead.