Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Stress And Reading – A Numerical Effect?

A photo of my three current books: The Headmaster's Wager, The Eighth Wonder, and Eleanor & Park

In my October reading round-up I asked the rhetorical question of whether stress can impact the number of current reads I had at any one time. It was a random thought at the time but I liked it and thought it might make an interesting discussion. Please forgive me if it doesn’t.

I am comfortable having two books on the go. For a long time I was a book monogamist, but then I realised it might suit me better if I didn’t restrict my reading time. It’s worked out well and in a general sense it’s lead to me reading more. But it has made me more lackadaisical about numbers, and whereas one book was easy to be strict on, once I moved to two, adding a third or fourth once in a while didn’t seem so ‘bad’.

However thinking back on the occasions and times that I extended my ruling, I noticed that often the number of books I had on the go at that time (which I’m estimating by the date each was started – finished dates vary wildly as you can imagine) was a reflection of sorts on how stressed I was at the time. It seems the more stressed I am – or at least this was the case before I made this realisation – the more books I had on the go. (I wonder if knowing the potential that it’s related will stop it happening so much in future.)

Now if you asked me before this, I would’ve said that the number was in correlation with how much I was enjoying the first (and second and so on) book at the time. I wouldn’t say that that’s no longer possible, as I know that many second books are the result of the first being average or very slow-paced, but many times the few books I was reading at once were all good, strong, award-winners, popular, you name it. And there is an undeniable link to stress.

Upheavals – I read more. My aunt died – I had three books on the go. Changes – I’m reading some very good books but am restless to start another. Is it a coincidence? That’s certainly possible. But coincidence or not I think there’s a fair argument for it being related to stress.

Of course stress can limit your reading if you’re not in the mood or don’t have time. This in itself can lead to more books because if you’re away from one book for a while it may prove difficult returning to it, and whilst you can’t return at that moment, you know you’ll want to when you’re mentally ready. But stress doesn’t always limit your reading time; it depends on the cause of the stress.

If stress can lead to poor choices, impulse buying if accompanied by upset, and so on, I’d say it can affect reading in more ways than limitations.

What have your experiences with stress and reading been like?



November 11, 2013, 7:15 am

I’ve always read about 10 books at once, but stress does lead to comfort book buying (I don’t comfort eat), and my concentration is always shot when I’m stressed, so I tend to flit from one book to another and get bored really quickly. It can be quite painful at times!

Terry Lynn Thomas

November 11, 2013, 12:37 pm

I always have an audio in the car, one on my Kindle that I read in the dark while my husband sleeps, and a paperback for reading in the bathtub. I am a book polygamist!


November 11, 2013, 1:04 pm

All this resonates with me as well -reading while stressed can definitely interfere with the enjoyment of a book you might otherwise enjoy. Good to have book options during those times – usually something will work out. Or sometimes TV is soothing in those circumstances when too hard to focus on books.


November 11, 2013, 2:16 pm

I can only read two books at once if one is a non-fiction, otherwise I risk my mind exploding.

This is a really interesting topic, especially as you seem to read more books at once while stressed. I find stress and anxiety pretty much kill any ability to read as I can’t concentrate.


November 12, 2013, 1:31 am

I don’t buy more books, but I definitely look around my house or library for more books and have more going at once when I feel stressed. It’s kind of like pacing, going from one book to another.


November 12, 2013, 2:14 am

I totally get what you’re saying. It’s happening to me right now and I’m reading three books at the same time! I usually don’t do that because when I read several novels I mix up the characters and my readings turn into a blend of everything. It’s awful! But also, like you said, I have different readings based on how close I am from the book. I have books all over my house!


November 12, 2013, 9:53 am

I find I read less when I’m stressed even though reading is one of the best ways for me to relax. I think because when stressed I have less motivation it just so easy to pop the television on instead. I have found that I am more likely to re-read when stressed. A well-loved novel brings comfort and is easy to read because I already know it.

Jenny @ Reading the End

November 13, 2013, 2:21 am

I know that when I’m stressed, I’m less likely to want to start reading books that I haven’t read before; and if I do make myself start them, I’m less likely to carry on. It usually ends up with me rereading a whole bunch of books that I’ve read before — like jessicabookworm. Rereading is just more peaceful.

Katie @ Doing Dewey

November 14, 2013, 2:03 am

I think I would be more stressed as a result of reading multiple books at once, rather than reading more books at once to relieve stress! I am, however, most likely to pick up formulaic books when I’m stressed – things like thrillers, mysteries, or romances that have fairly predictable plot lines :)

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

November 21, 2013, 6:07 pm

I’m like Violet — stress definitely leads to comfort book-buying for me!

I love your term “monogamous reader,” and that is what I am most of the time. I usually find having more than one book going at a time stresses me out and makes me feel scattered and over-extended. For myself, I usually feel that jumping from book to book takes away from the experience of each of them individually. However, I do have one exception — I do sometimes have one print book and one audio book going at the same time. I find the different format easier to keep separated and audiobooks allow me to make more reading time that I might not otherwise have because I can do other things like cleaning my house or doing yard work while I listen. I think my ability to have an audio and a print going at the same time is also helped by the fact that there are very specific genres I prefer on audio (mainly non-fiction, memoir & humor), so it will never be too similar to a print fiction book I’m also in the middle of.


November 28, 2013, 4:17 pm

Violet: Wow! More power to you though, I’ve always been too distracted for that (I did used to read that many as a child but never finished them). Comfort book buying, I can emphasis with you there, I know I’ve done that at least a couple of times. Boredom and stress – that’d make an interesting topic, too.

Terry Lynn: I found that sort of reading really works for me too – having any ebook and then a paperback. The difference in format makes it less likely you’ll feel bogged down. I’m grateful for my Kobo’s backlight for bedtime reading as well. Bedside lamps just aren’t ‘quiet’ enough.

Jennifer: That’s a good point. Even if it takes a while, you do generally work things out. Too true about TV as well, though it can be hard to admit it as a book lover!

Alice: That’s generally my way too (or at least it is when I’m not stressed!) I do read more, but then I’m not sure I’m always concentrating as much as I should be. It depends on the stress, the reasons for it.

Jeanne: Indeed. Just that the pace seems quicker!

James: Yes, there’s that too – the stories can be completely different but you’ll often still be wondering where such and such a character is because you’re mixing books up in your head!

Jessica: It’s strange that, isn’t it? When reading is the best way to relax yet you can’t read. True, TV tends to require less attention. Good point about re-reading, the familiar helps and yes, you don’t need to pay so much attention to it.

Jenny: Yes, you’re less likely (well, okay, it’s impossible) to miss anything by re-reading because you know it. That said, an interesting question – are you attentive enough then to catch things you may have missed the first time around?

Katie: That is one of the points that made me so confused as to how it ends up working – multiple books may intimate stress but surely they should also be something that would cause even more. My reads after the three above have all been romance, it does help to read the predictable, and I suppose the predictable is akin to rereading in that way.

Christine: Even now that I’ve been reading a few at a time for a couple of years (before that I was a one book person) I feel scattered sometimes, so I know what you mean. Yes, very good point, even if we’re giving each book our full attention there’s surely some sort of influence on our experience of them if we’re switching so much. Print and ebook here, very much the same, different formats affect how you ‘see’ reading, I think, because physically you’re only see one book. I like that, maybe I ought to try limiting genres to certain formats.



Comments closed