How to Keep Reading During a Season of Stress: A Guide for Resuming an Old Habit

Feb 5, 2022 | From The Heart, On Reading

Has it been a long time since you’ve read an entire book?

Maybe it was the pandemic that kept you from reading, or maybe it was just life in general. You’re feeling better now and have some free time on your hands, but when you open your next book—nothing happens. You can’t seem to keep turning the pages.

Sound familiar?

This post is for all of us who need help getting back into our old habits and rediscovering what we love about reading!

Why it’s been hard to read

I used to read as if my life depended on it, with a passion that stemmed from my heart.

But things changed over the course of the pandemic. The constant stress, the fear of losing someone close to me, of sickness and social isolation—it all took its toll.

I couldn’t read during that time period because reading meant sinking into another world and forgetting about the stressful pandemic for a little while. Which was impossible when I had so much going on at home and in my personal life too.

Reading will be difficult if you’re not in the right mindset, even with books that are totally engrossing like Harry Potter or The Broken Earth series. It’s easy to get preoccupied by what’s going on around us instead of focusing on fictional characters’ lives (more than usual).

There’s no way we can avoid this fact—life is happening here and now. And sometimes our mind needs a break from thinking rather than filling up more space with mental stimulation.

Reading is a habit that will be tough to pick back up when we’re in certain moods. However, the more we try and read during these times of mental exhaustion, the easier it will become!

Even if you just focus on reading for ten minutes at first, your mind will gradually get used to sinking into someone else’s world again. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself staying awake until 2 a.m. because there are so many books out there calling your name.

How to exhume your reading habit

What worked for me? 

My strategy was simple but effective. I forced myself to read small excerpts or even phrases before even thinking about checking my Twitter or Instagram feed. 

Reading helps relax our minds and is a great escape from the stressful world we live in. So if you need to take your mind off of work or school for even just ten minutes, pick up a book!

If you’re feeling drained after all that screen exposure, maybe it’s time to disconnect. Social media fatigue is a real thing and something you should avoid falling into. 

Reading doesn’t happen when our eyes are glued to screens (which can make us anxious), It happens when we’re curled up with an actual print book (or Kindle for those who love it). And this habit will come back naturally as long as we give ourselves time and space for reading—one small step at a time. 

When I slipped into bed each night, I made sure to have a book next to my bedside. 

Here are a few other strategies you can use to revive your reading.

#1. Commit to reading every day and set a time for it

I know, I know—this is easier said than done. But it doesn’t have to be a long commitment or time frame! If you can read for ten minutes everyday, your brain will adjust and get back into the swing of things. 

This may seem like a short amount of time but it’s actually pretty significant when we think about it! We spend so much time on social media that ten minutes feels like nothing.

Maybe instead of a ‘time frame’, you can fix a number of pages. Ten minutes may not be enough for you or your schedule, but committing to reading fifteen pages a day is better than zero right? 

Or you can even go big like I did and try to commit an hour a day. If the idea of setting aside an entire hour to read seems daunting— try reading just one page at first and gradually increasing that number. 

Focus on quality over quantity. Don’t force the progress. Instead, enjoy the journey.

#2. Read what you like

…not what you ‘should’

No one can tell us how to read, and reading a book we don’t enjoy will only make it harder for our minds to relax! If a certain topic or author is stressing you out, just skip it. There’s no sense in forcing yourself into something that isn’t right for your needs when there are so many other options out there.

If you like reading about history and nonfiction, go for it! If the idea of fiction makes your heart ache with anxiety, read a memoir instead.

Don’t let anyone else’s opinions or ‘the latest trends’ get in the way when we make choices about what to read (or how much). Give yourself permission to read whatever you like and trust that your reading habits will develop naturally.

When we’re stressed, our minds feel foggy and it’s hard to focus on anything other than the task at hand (like homework or work). However, giving ourselves permission to read something simple can be extremely beneficial for our mental health.

#3. Reread a book you already love

This is a great way to get back into reading during stressful times! If you’re struggling with motivation, why not try rereading one of your favorite books? I’ve been doing this recently with The Illuminae Files and it’s worked wonders for my stress levels.

I have a go-to list of comfort books that never fail to bring a smile to my face. This list includes Flipped, Ella Enchanted and Harry Potter

Giving yourself permission to read what you love without having to worry about reading anything new is a great way to clear your mind of stress!

If reading is your go-to stress reliever, then finding something that’s already done the trick for you in the past is a good shortcut to cultivating the habit again. 

If it’s not already something that comes easily to you, just keep trying little by little and I’m sure things will fall into place soon enough.

#4. Use audiobooks an an alternative

If life has got you juggling many balls between family, work commitments and other stressors, an audiobook is a great alternative.

I personally like listening to audiobooks when I’m doing chores, cooking, or working out. It’s always nice (and super helpful) to have an alternative reading method on hand, especially one that doesn’t feel like ‘work’.

#5. Find a book club or reading buddy

If you’re finding it difficult to get back into reading, why not find a friend who has similar interests? You could start your own book club or even just ask them if they’d like to do regular buddy reads!

I can’t stress enough how important and beneficial this is for keeping up with our habits. It makes the entire process so much more fun and, in my opinion, is always better when you have someone to share your thoughts with.

I have a pandemic reading buddy who I like to share my experiences with and it’s made the journey that much more enjoyable. Plus, we get a little competitive sometimes so if I know he’s ahead of me chapter-wise, I dedicate the time I need to catch up so we can discuss the story. 

Seriously, if you haven’t already, try sharing the journey with a friend or community. You won’t regret it. 

#6. Get yourself an e-reader

If you’re reading is currently suffering, then an e-reader would be a great investment. I have a Kindle myself. 

I confess that I’m a sucker for hard copies of books and feel nothing can ever come close to replicating that experience. That being said, my Kindle has kept me company on many long commutes and also opened up a whole library of content I wouldn’t otherwise be able to read.

E-readers can be a great way to combine your love of reading with technology (which we all know is the future). I like having an e-reader on hand, as it makes it easier for me to start reading when my phone has run out of storage or I’m away from home.

 

#7. Create a comfortable reading spot for yourself

If you’re struggling to get into reading due to your surroundings, then this is a great tactic. If it’s not already obvious, the more comfortable we are with what we’re doing, the easier it will be for us!

This can include using candles or essential oils (if they work well for you), getting yourself comfy on the couch with a blanket and some snacks, or maybe just putting on some light reading music from your favorite Spotify playlist. 

Putting ourselves in a comfortable space will make it easier to focus on what we’re doing—which is reading!

#8. Don’t do hard lists

Maybe this is more a me-strategy, but every time I’ve created myself strict reading lists, I’ve failed to finish them. Hard lists only bring out the worst in me (I tend to go against them) and make reading seem like a chore.

This isn’t helpful for my motivation at all! If you’re struggling, try not putting yourself under pressure or making things too complicated. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact this has on our mindset when it comes to reading.

Personally, I’ve decided to sit out the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year and it’s the first time I’m doing this in several years. I noticed I put myself under pressure or felt guilty when I hadn’t aced my previous reading challenges, despite having valid reasons for not being able to do that. 

This year, I’ve decided I’ll read as much or as little as I want to and whatever total number I achieve at end is what I’ll mark my ‘challenge’ as. 

Honestly, just trying to read and having fun with it should be your goal. Any time it starts to feel like a chore, it’s time to step back and rethink your approach. 

It’s time to read your heart out!

I hope this guide has helped you out a little! Remember, if it’s the right time for you to start your habit of reading again, then do what works best for YOU and don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Sticking to our habits takes time but staying motivated during difficult times is always possible if we keep trying!

Some days, you might not feel like reading at ALL… That’s totally normal and okay too. Sometimes the best thing we can do is take a break from everything for a little while. But if your mind keeps going back to how much you want to pick up a good book again, just give it time.

You’ll be picking up your next favorite novel before you know it!

2 Comments

  1. Raghu

    I’m in a reading slump myself, and find it tough picking it back up. I’m gonna jot these down and try them from now! Will let you know the results 😀

    Reply

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