On Trying to Read When You're Stressed Out

On Trying to Read When You're Stressed Out

[image description: A letter board that reads “happy days ahead” resting on top of a pile of open books.]

This isn’t the post I hoped to write this week, but it’s the post that’s coming out.

To put it bluntly, I’ve had a hellacious week. The short version is my car broke down and was expensive to repair, the hard drive crashed on my laptop and it was expensive to buy a new one, a bookternet community I’ve been following for several years is falling apart (more on that later; I’m still processing it all), and everything just went wrong.

It’s not the end of the world and these are all first world problems, I’m aware. However, that doesn’t diminish the actual stress I feel from experiencing them and nobody likes a Murphy’s Law kind of week. My particular brand of depression is triggered and exacerbated by stress, so I kept feeling like I was on the verge of a depressive episode.

So what does this have to do with reading? Well, through all the week’s frustrations, I’ve learned that it’s hard to read when you’re stressed out.

Normally, reading is my refuge. It’s the thing I turn to when I’m just done dealing with the world. I curl up in a blanket on the couch with a cat and a mug of steaming tea and let the world melt away with each page I turn. But this past week, I had trouble even doing that.

First, I finished all the books I’d started before the shit hit the fan and everything new I picked up just didn’t sink in. I kept saying I wasn’t in the mood for the library holds that came in or the book for my book club (which I picked!) but nothing was reaching me. Nothing sounded good or interesting.

This has happened a couple of times before and I usually work past it by picking a book and sticking with it, even if I don’t love it at first, because it almost always gets better and when it does, I’m out of my slump. But that hasn’t happened yet.

The second manifestation of stress on my reading life was extreme lethargy. I’m a believer that sleep is healing and that “sleep on it” is sage advice. So I tend to deal with stress by sleeping it off, when possible. Even if sleep doesn’t make all the stressors go away, at least I’m in a better, more well-rested position to deal with them.

But sleeping off stress can become a difficult cycle. This past week I found myself lethargic from all the energy I had to expend on dealing with the stressors while simultaneously wanting to sleep to get away from the stressors. Actually being lethargic and wanting to sleep as an escape when I’m not physically tired were two sides of the same coin. And however I was feeling in the moment was a toss-up.

Since both lethargy and a desire to sleep for escape both have going to sleep as the end goal, sometimes I wasn’t able to tell which I was actually feeling until I got in bed and started reading. There were several nights this week when I nodded off after a handful of pages. One night, I couldn’t get past two paragraphs.

I clearly needed the sleep, though that was its own stressor in a way because it was taking me forever to read the book for my book club. After nearly a week, I hadn’t even read 100 pages. And considering that I facilitate the book club, me finishing the book is kind of important.

I wish I had some tip or trick that was easy and simple and worked every time. I wish I could snap my fingers and snap out of this funk. But you’ll notice the title of this post is “trying to read when you’re stressed out.” I’ve been pondering answers all week and so far I’m coming up short. And, in my experience, that tends to mean that nothing but time and patience will do.

I’m always paranoid that whenever I complain about my life on here (which isn’t often) that you’ll read it and think I’m whiny or petty, but at the same time I don’t want to project a false idea that my life is a perfect book nerd wonderland. To perpetuate that falsehood wouldn’t be fair to either of us.

So even though this wasn’t the post I wanted to write this week and I tried to talk myself out of it, I ended up writing this post because I figured there are other stressed out bibliophiles out there and they need to know they’re not alone. If you’re behind on your reading goals, it’s okay. If you’re in a slump and hating every book you pick up, it’s okay. If the people you follow on social media are reading a million more books than you, it’s okay. I see you. I’m with you.

I’d also encourage you to try not to let those things stress you out, if you can. Life has enough stressors on its own––trust me, I know.

And if you do have something that’s stressing you out and you just need to rant, leave a comment and rage your heart out. I’m here for you. And if you’re in a reading slump, I’ll try to recommend something that will get you out of it.

And, perhaps, after reading this post you thought to yourself, “Damn, that sucks, Mandy. I wish there was something I could do to help,” check out my Support page. There are both free and monetary ways to support my work and anything you do will warm my heart.

Whatever happens, I believe there’ll be happy days ahead––and they’ll include books.

I've got an essay in Mizna magazine!

I've got an essay in Mizna magazine!

The Personal and Political with Angie Thomas

The Personal and Political with Angie Thomas