How To

Tips for Reading When You’re Anxious

This is a guest post from Aimee Miles. Aimee is a newly-minted librarian, mother to two small children, and former grand champion goat showman. She has collected two citizenships, three different driver’s licenses, and approximately 300 dearly loved books. Sadly, she currently has zero goats.

Whether you have begun dealing with anxiety inspired by recent events, or you are a long time friend of anxiety, reading can offer both solace and further stress. Books can be controlled places where we give ourselves over to the safe hand of the author. They can also be places where we are asked to give up control of our emotions to someone outside ourselves who wants to manipulate our feelings in service to the story. I realize this is what authors do, work hard to create certain feelings in readers through words. But, sometimes I’m just not up for the extra stress that is giving an author control of my emotions. 

Here are my tricks for lowering my anxiety when reading:

Start with the Ending

I’m starting with a controversial choice. Sometimes reading chronologically can feel like setting your navigation app without actually knowing even vaguely the direction you’re going. For the record, I like to review my whole route before driving. And while reading, sometimes I need to just pin down the flapping endpoint of the book I’m reading just so I can relax and enjoy the story. Clearly spoilers are not a problem for me, and I think that reading a book to see how we get to the ending can be just as rewarding for some readers as seeing what happens is to others. If you read the endings before the end, and it helps you, then you DO that.


Read Nonfiction

This is a trick I’ve recently employed to read about the genocide of Native peoples in the Americas in Charles C. Mann’s 1491 and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. The topic is pretty harrowing, what with the destruction of entire civilizations and millions of deaths, but when I’m feeling too anxious to read a first-hand account of Native boarding schools, the distance that non-fiction provides with its big numbers allows me to read about tough events without engaging my anxiety. There are times, places, and emotional states for those stories, and it is important to humanize atrocities to fully realize what has happened. But, sometimes, I am not in a place where I am ready for that kind of emotional tidal wave, but I still want to read diversely. Nonfiction can be informative but less likely to engage your emotions the same way.

Stagger Your Reading

If your reading is stressing you out, then stagger it. Pick a certain amount to read each day, or over the course of the week. Build in breaks that give your brain time to return to reality and for you to make sure you’re safe and ready to dive back in.

Mix-Up Reading

This is an extension of the idea to stagger reading books that are stressful, but where you read multiple books in your staggered reading. On your breaks, pick up fun stories that engage other emotions and keep your reading habits going, despite your anxious feelings about one book.

Don’t Finish the Book

If a book is stressing you out to the point of being detrimental to your emotions and life, DUMP IT. Like a bad relationship, you don’t need to struggle on through something that is making you feel bad.

How do you deal with anxiety and stress while you’re reading?

This isn’t meant as a cure or treatment for anxiety, but to open conversation about managing ones’ mental health.  If you are struggling with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, please speak to your health provider.