One of my most popular posts here on Book Riot is about how anxiety can be helped by reading books. It comforts me that so many people who struggle with anxiety agree with my premise that books help me with my mental illness because I don’t have to wait very long for the story to unfold. The worst thing for anxious people is an unknown future and reading about a world where things are already decided for us is pretty great to soothe us.
I’ve been running into a brick wall lately though: my anxiety is so bad that it’s really hard to concentrate on the words before my eyes. I am unable to take part in the story like I used to, it’s like I am reading through a dirty windshield. I am changing large chunks of my life in the next few months (including moving abroad and quitting my current day job) so that’s probably why I can’t sit still and concentrate – I could use some escapism though. I don’t know if other anxiety sufferers go through this, but here are some of the things that have worked for me.
1) Don’t take your Goodreads reading challenge too seriously
I set myself a big goal this year: reading 40 books (well, at least it’s big for me!) and I’ve been two books behind schedule since April which has irritated me to no end. I actually started getting anxious about not achieving my goal which has seriously affected my ability to enjoy books. Why am I taking so long to read this book? This book is so long, why is this book so long? I don’t want my anxiety to make reading into some kind of competition where I am not even paying attention to the story just so I can reach some goal I set for myself! So I am not taking my reading challenge as seriously as I used to any more. (Bonus: This Book Riot video explains why you don’t need to read 100 books this year.)
2) Read in comfortable clothes
One of my biggest frustrations with websites that give advice on how to deal with mental health is that exercise is the number one tip. That’s great if your anxiety or depression is mild, but for me exercise can make things worse because of my physical symptoms: shortness of breath and chest pains. This is why wearing loose clothing (and no bra for the people who wear them!) makes me feel a lot safer and this is one of my strategies for binge reading when I am anxious: put on baggy pajamas.
3) Give yourself a break if you don’t like a book
I started reading Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God a couple of weeks ago and became extremely frustrated with myself when I just couldn’t get into it. It’s like there’s a smokescreen between the book and I, and I really can’t get into it. I am pretty disappointed because I really enjoyed Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and was looking forward to reading this book. But forcing myself to keep going only made me more anxious so I put it down and decided to read something else – and it worked! Sometimes great expectations of a book can get in the way.
4) Change the context around you
It seems too simple to be effective but I promise it is: sometimes our minds need to see a different landscape, our bodies need to sit somewhere different. Maybe you could try audiobooks while going for a walk (or a run) or maybe you could read in the living room instead of your room for a change. Mix it up and I guarantee you your mind will feel a little better.
How about you? Do you have any tips for anxious readers?