How Anxiety Ruins Reading

For some reason, it seems to me that many people who identify with issues regarding anxiety are the same people that love reading. There may be a correlation there—but as we become disillusioned with life, I think we naturally grow to read less.

That’s not to mention that anxiety can take many different forms, all of which make the activity of reading more difficult.

When I was young, we’re talking as young as 6 years old, I developed obsessive compulsive behaviors related to reading.

I was trying to read the Harry Potter series—I was super young but I was doing it with a couple friends, so we enjoyed it—and whenever I reached the end of a paragraph and moved to the next line, my eyes would glance up.

I would look at the line before the one I was reading to make sure that I hadn’t skipped any lines. This fear came from me once flipping two pages at a time. I wanted to avoid missing even a single detail.

Reading 2 pages became a process that took 15 minutes, and whenever I had to flip the page, I would focus on the number to ensure that the one on the other side of the page immediately followed.

After the Harry Potter books, I kind of curbed my interest until I was older. Although I read a lot more now, I understand what it feels like to want so badly to read because it’s something that has always given you comfort. But, for some reason, to be unable to do so.

Whether it’s because you focus so hard on your speed, your comprehension, or are obsessive about details, somehow, anxiety will weasel its way into this sacred part of your life.

Here’s an illustration of the way neuroticism ruins the reading experience:

Cycles create paradoxes in our minds, and these can be difficult to escape.

So I’m going to discuss how I dealt with that and how I still currently deal with it, because, like anything, it’s a process. And it’s no use to become resentful of that fact.

How to Stop Being Neurotic While Reading

If you have found that you’ve stopped enjoying reading and it’s difficult to determine why that’s the case, it may help to realize whether it’s because of a compulsion.

In my case, I became obsessed with reading faster, and so whenever I pulled up to a book and was unable to read as quickly as I would like, I would become dejected. I tried different techniques and nothing worked. I found that while I was focused on how I read, I wasn’t able to focus on what I read.

And that is a magnificently efficient way to ruin the entire experience.

If you see some of this in yourself, it’s imperative that you learn to stop caring, if you desire to retain your enjoyment for reading.

It doesn’t matter how fast you read a book. Nor how much you remember. Nor whether you understood every detail.

And the truth is, each person will read each book differently. If you relate more to one, you may remember more. You may pick up on details others don’t and vice versa. That’s what makes book clubs so popular: people forget things from their reading, and they get a much more complete knowledge of the literature by talking about it with others.

“Exercises”

It can be difficult to just stop being neurotic, but there’s a couple things I like to do when I feel it ruining my enjoyment of reading.

  1. Read a page rapidly—This is exactly as it sounds. In order to obsess less over speed and comprehension, it can help to set a timer for 30 or 40 seconds and read through a page as well as you can in that time. When you’re done, you may move on to the next page regularly.
  2. Read a page slowly—This is the opposite, but both will give you the impression that you have control over your reading enough. Read a word every second. Notice how boring it is but realize that when it comes down to it, your anxiety can’t determine your next action.
  3. Take a break—If your trouble is with focusing long enough to read, take a break as often as you need. Remember, we are all different. By recognizing that we allow ourselves to be more flexible to our own needs, in every walk of life.

Those tips work in a similar way to grounding techniques for general anxiety. When you do something a little absurd, something healthy but that your brain doesn’t expect, you regain a margin of control from your thoughts and from your neuroticism.

It’s deeply unfortunate that anxiety can ruin our capacity to enjoy something that can teach us so much.

One of the most important things to remember is that it doesn’t really matter how we read. If we’re doing it, we’re automatically beating out the people that don’t. And to let our anxiety determine what we do and don’t enjoy doing is to set a horrible precedent for the rest of our lives.

The most important thing you can do to get better is to spend more time reading. For the same reason exposure therapy works so well in countless therapy circles, spending more time doing something will increase your confidence with it.

What is your favorite book? I imagine the people attracted to this post will share a similar love for romantic, introspective, and thickly philosophical books.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment or message me directly. You all have the potential to change your relationship with reading for the better. Reading automatically upgrades your way of thinking, so it’s an invaluable tool for someone who spends so much time thinking and worrying.

6 thoughts on “How Anxiety Ruins Reading

  1. I really enjoy Camus’s books, particularly The Stranger and The Plague, and I really want to get my hands on The Fall. I also really loved The Bell Jar and the Death of Ivan Ilyich. Kurt Vonnegut is also among my favorites. I really love anything that makes me feel solace in the sometimes frightening way I think. Anything that reminds me that I’m not alone.

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    1. I did the same thing for a long time. I never technically finished the last Harry Potter book because I really didn’t want the series to end. If an anxious person has trouble getting through a book, they may decide to move on to another in the hope that it will be easier for them. But it’s good that you suspect that, because now you can try your best to combat it.

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  2. I don’t know if I’ve said this before but I find my level of anxiety intermingled with how curious I am about the book. Again, if I start a book and get to the juicy bits much later then I’d be more anxious. Other times it could feel like a chore reading (when its boring.) And I’m not an avid reader per se so I guess I do not experience this on a cautionary scale.

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    1. I feel the same way sometimes. The most important thing is to keep reading. As long as you finish the book, it doesn’t really matter how you got there.

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