There’s no doubt of the importance of reading and the benefits you and I can reap from this key habit.
If you googled “benefits of reading”, you’ll be drowned in too many results with no lifeguard to save you 😀
And while reading can reduce stress as one of its benefits, it also can be the stressor causing you more stress than relief.
So, how can reading be stressful?
Reading stresses you out because of 19 reasons with different impact strength and grouped in 6 categories: Environmental, Physiological, Planning, Distractions, Personal, and Material. Each has number of correctable problems that you need to identify first and correct to have a stress-free reading and get the most out of it
Relation to Wellbeing
Reading is an important tool in the learning process to develop and improve all 6 dimensions of your wellbeing.
Stress for any reason, affects mainly your mental wellbeing which then affects the other wellbeing dimensions.
That’s why learning how to avoid reading being a stress and rather use it as a supporting tool, is key in upgrading your wellbeing and life.
Causes of stress from reading and how to fix them
Below is a handy table that summarizes:
- Stress levels (0 is lowest, 5 is highest)
- How it is easy to fix (0 is hardest, 5 is easiest)
- Net strength of that factor (it’s stress – easy to fix)
- Solution(s) for each.
This table enables you to see all the data at once, plus it can allow you to prioritize which factor to work on first as per its net strength if you have more than one cause.
*Numbers provided in the table is based on my personality, observation and experience. It’s meant to provide a real and practical example of how you can prioritize multiple causes and address the important ones first.
You can use the same table and change the numbers according to your evaluation to your own personality and experience.
|Problems||Stress level||Easy to fix||Net Strength||Solution|
|Noise||2||5||-3||1- Choose quiet place
2- Cover your ear
3- Listen to music through headphones
|Lighting||2||5||-3||1- Read in properly lit room
2- Read outdoors
3- Use bedside lamps for quick reading
|Ergonomics||4||3||1||1- Use a comfortable and ergonomically chair
2- Use a desk or a table for reading
3- Adjust your reading station' height
4- Check your neck posture every 20 minutes
5- Stretch after 60 minutes
6- Rest your eyes using the 20/20/20 rule
|Time/Place||3||5||-2||Choose the best time and place for reading|
|Weather||2||5||-3||1- Adjust the temperature of the room
2- Compensate with clothes
|Eyesight||4||2||2||1-Check your vision.
2- Do vision checkups every 6 months
|Reading Disability||5||1||4||Check a therapist. No internet solution|
|Lack of Goal||4||5||-1||Identify your goal(s)|
|Poor Strategy||3||5||-2||1- Learn the reading rules
2- Use the right rule
|Too much too soon||3||2||1||1- Identify right amount
2- Chunk reading
3- Improve reading speed
|Mentally Distracted||4||2||2||1- Write everything down
2- Plan to analyze the list
3- schedule the analyzing
|Emotionally Distracted||3||3||0||1- Meditation
2- Write down feelings and causes
3- Calming breathing
4- Refresh with water
6- Fix the situation
|Slow Reading||4||3||1||1- Use a virtual pacer
2- Don’t self-narrate
|Ineffective Reading||5||3||2||Use the Pareto's principle
Focus on the core content
|Forgetting phobia||3||2||1||1- Affirmation
2- Taking notes
|Complex material||5||2||3||1- Look for an easier alternative
2- Ask someone to help
3- Drop it
|Lack of interest||4||3||1||1- Read what interests you
2- Look for benefits
3- Leave comfort zone occasionally
4- Get rid of extras
|Forced to do it||4||2||2||1- Identify benefits
2- Acknowledge necessity
3- Make it fun
|Stressful content||4||4||0||1- Read less stressful content
2- Aim to apply
Reading in a noisy environment contributes to increasing your stress levels while trying to focus on the reading material you have regardless of its type.
Even reading a novel in a noisy place completely removes the joy out of it.
- Always look for a relatively quiet room or place to read your book and get the most out of it.
- Use headphones and listen to music if you can read while listening to music
- Use ear plug if you can’t apply above solutions
Another self-explanatory problem, yet one that I see or know about most often when I investigate the reading environment of others.
Reading in a place that is poorly lit, is another cause of associating reading with stress since you put too much strain on your eyes to see right, which causes headache with more reading and therefor stresses you out.
Sometimes that strain is so slight to notice it yourself.
This includes reading while in bed using only bedside lamps which most people do. This causes a small portion of your room to have light while the rest of it is dark, and this hurts your eyes, every time you lift them up to see your surroundings then get back again to your book.
- Always make sure that the entire room is properly lit, not focusing the light on your book only
- You can read outdoors when the sun is still there.
- Use the bedside lamps for quick reading (less than 30 minutes)
If the bedside lamps are convincing because they’re closer to you, then you can have your electrician adjust the room lights switch to be close to the bed if you’d like.
If you can’t have the switch closer, then it’s always a good exercise to put the book the down when you finish it and take couple of steps to turn the lights off. It helps in breaking the mood before going to bed.
Are you comfortable at your chair? does your back hurts while or after reading?
Being comfortable while reading is another hidden cause of stress while reading as a result to neck and back aches because of the following reasons:
- If you’re not sitting right to read
- If you have a poor ergonomically chair
- If you don’t have a table and you’re holding the book for too long
- If table and chair aren’t well adjusted according to your body’s dimensions
All of this can cause your neck and back muscles to ache so badly that they can sue you for abuse.
Oh, and by the way, when I say too long, I mean just above 40 minutes. So imagine what can happen if you’re reading for hours to study or reading a novel
- Always check that your reading environment is comfortable using the following tips:
- Try to use a chair that is comfortable and is ergonomically friendly
- Try to use a desk or a table to put the book on
- Always make sure your reading station is height adjusted according to your height
- If you don’t have a desk or a table, check your neck posture every 20 minutes or so
- Do quick stretches after 60 minutes or so
- Rest your eyes using the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, gaze at 20 feet away objects for 20 seconds
If you’re reading an important material, then choosing a bad time in your day to read, increases your stress levels because you could have repeated interruptions, or low focus, or taking longer time to finish the reading.
Examples could be:
- Parents choosing to read while it’s play time for their children
- Reading while cooking which causes you to get interrupted frequently
- Reading while waiting a phone call any minute.
- Reading quickly before a meeting starts
- Reading while being sleepy or with low energy to focus, specially if you’re reading to gain information for later use.
In the above examples, your focus and concentration are mainly on the side activities as they are equally important, whether it’s watching out for the kids, or looking out for the food not to be burnt or waiting for the ring or the meeting start, etc.
The same goes for choosing a bad place to read your material, specially if it’s important, as you can get distracted easily, or get hurt as a result of reading in the wrong place.
Example of relatively poor places to read in
- Reading while commuting. While that is a great investment to time, it also can be a stressor.
- Reading in a relatively hazardous place like the street or specific areas in your workplace where you can get hurt
From the above examples, transportation can be bouncy causing you to swing while reading which isn’t comfortable. Or it could be noise by others, so you won’t be able to focus or enjoy your reading material.
Reading while in the street can be hazardous as number of things can go wrong. It’s not for reading unless you identify a safe one that is less with traffic, people, and construction.
- Always choose the best time in your day
The one that will allow you to get the most out of your reading. Note: I didn’t say the “perfect” time, because you won’t find it, it’s a perfect fiction 😀
- Always choose the best place you can read in
If the transportation you’re using normally work for you then it’s fine. Otherwise, you can consider postponing the reading or listening to the audio version of that book if available.
Reading in too hot or too cold weather isn’t optimum for concentration or focus. So, it’s really important, specially if you’re reading to gain information and memorize them, to look out for a comfortable whether that you can read in and be able to maintain concentration and focus.
Jim Kwik, the reading coach, comments on the cold weather effect as this:
“because our brain is insulated beneath bone and other tissue, the temperature itself doesn’t have a direct impact on it. However, it’s important to understand how staying warm can impact other body functions that can disrupt hormone levels or glucose production so that we can stay happy, healthy, and productive no matter what the weather is”
- Adjust the temperature of the room
Adjust the heater in winter or the air-condition in summer to have your pleasant temperature to read in.
- Compensate with clothes
If you can’t find a warm or cool room to read in, you can adjust with your clothes by taking them, if you can, to lower heat, or wear more to have more warmth in winter.
Sometimes you can have a slight vision condition that could interfere with your reading elevating your stress because of headaches resulting from the eyes strain or not being able to read comfortably and taking longer to read.
The 2 common problems here are the nearsightedness or inability to see distant objects (myopia) and Farsightedness or inability to see near objects (hyperopia).
The early stage of the above 2 vision conditions could be so minimal to be unnoticeable by you but still impacting you.
When having one of those vision conditions not corrected, you are putting added strain on your eyes to correct that small error in your vision, and shortly, your eyes begin to ache, and headache becomes your reading companion.
- Visit your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to check your vision.
- Do vision checkups every 6 months or as your physician advises.
7- Reading disability
Reading disability is a condition where the person has a brain-based type of learning disability that impact that person’s ability to read though having normal intelligence.
Persons with reading disability, or Dyslexia, read at significantly lower levels than expected as per their age and intelligence which is mostly normal.
They have problems with spelling, accurate and fluent word reading, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
That’s why having a reading disability that is not being treated properly will increase stress levels with reading as they will require more time to read, process, understand, and memorize the material if needed.
- Check a therapist and follow up with him, PERIOD. No internet solutions.
8- Lack of goal
- Why am I reading what I am reading?
- What am I expecting when I finish reading?
- How important I think it is?
- How can I benefit from this reading?
- What will happen if I don’t read it?
All of these questions serve into clarifying a better reading experience. Not knowing “why you are reading” is totally a waste of time as you won’t gain that much, and this can cause you to stress more knowing you wasted time and gained nothing or little in return.
For me, I see reading without a purpose is like listening to an advice that you didn’t ask for. It goes from one ear and gets out immediately from the other ear. But an advice can last for seconds while reading a book can take days, so imagine how much time you wasted.
- Identify your goal(s)
Always start reading with a clear goal: You can use the questions above to help you come up with your goal.
9- Poor Strategy
Yes, there’s a thing of having strategy when reading. Everything has a strategy and reading is included.
Poor strategy in reading is like digging a hole with a spoon or making a delicious peanut butter sandwich with a shuffle. The success isn’t sure, but even if happened, you can imagine how much energy, and time were consumed compared to other ways to achieve the same result.
In my coaching about reading, I always talk about the 3 types of reading and 2 rules of reading for these types.
If you’re not using the right rule for the right type of reading, this can affect your outcome by having either insufficient or excessive reading.
- If your purpose is to have more information or more pleasure, then your strategy will be reading more
- If your purpose is self-development, then your strategy should be reading less.
You can fine more about this in “Reading Rules”
- Learn the reading rules
- Use the right rule for the different types of reading
10- Too much too soon
Stress while reading can come from having to read a huge bulk of information in one setting.
This is not contradicting the above rule about reading more. The distinction here is to do this in “one setting”
Having too much to read in one setting can backfire if you don’t know how much is enough for the time allocated. Therefore, going beyond your capacity will causes you to get stressed for not finishing in time
- Identify right amount
Always be realistic with the amount of reading you can finish in the time you allocate for yourself depending on your speed of reading, comprehension, and complexity of the content you’re reading.
- Chunk your reading
Break larger content into chapters or fewer pages in each setting and modify as you go along. If it’s still too much, next time decide on fewer chapters or pages and so on till you get to your optimum number and vice versa.
- Improve your reading speed
With the above being said, I’m also with improving yourself, so if you’re normal amount is like 10 pages per hour, aim to improve it to 11 or 12 pages per hour and so on. You can use the tips mentioned in the “slow reading” problem
11- Mentally Distracted
Mental distraction happens when you have too many things on your mind, regardless of their importance, before or while reading.
Our subconscious mind treats open tasks with the same endless loop strategy until they’re closed regardless of their importance. Our conscious mind assigns the importance to some tasks making them surface more, other than that, your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference. To it, they are all open tasks, so all are important.
When that happens when you’re trying to read, even for pleasure, your mind will get distracted often, getting your focus somewhere else and thus affecting the benefit you’re trying to get out of reading.
You won’t be able to study efficiently. You won’t memorize the information you want, and you won’t be immersed enough in your novel to engage with it and benefit from it.
- Write everything down
Take a piece of paper or open your notepad and start writing everything you could be thinking of. Calling dentist, washing car, buy milk, feed cat, finish presentation, email Jack updates, pay phone bill, do laundry, etc.
- Plan to analyze the list
Writing things down alone isn’t enough. You have to be trained to process those inputs and act on them. This is the only way your mind will take a rest and won’t bother you about them while reading.
It’s like a bodyguard that won’t feel comfortable until its client is transferred to a safe facility that will protect him and answer his needs.
Your mind needs to know that there’s a safe system out there responsible for taking care of the tasks you take out of it, and that they will be processed and acted upon properly.
- Schedule the analyzing
It’s better to comfort your mind more by consciously scheduling the analyzing step after reading. This way, your mind will be much more comfortable that you will take care of those tasks
All of the above steps are part of the productivity training I provide, and if you’re interested in being more productive and have more control over your life then choose a plan and let’s get started.
12- Emotionally Distracted
Another type of distraction is being emotionally unstable or upset about something before initiating the reading.
This has the same effect as the mental distraction of giving you too little concentration to get the benefit- out of your reading material.
This could include feeling angry or sad or disappointed about a situation that happened but still has an impact on you.
Mostly it’s going to be mild to moderate emotional distraction thought, because I doubt that anyone will initiate reading with severe emotional upset.
Relaxation using one or more of the following methods:
- Writing down feelings and causes can help dialing them down
- Calming breathing: deep breathing (4 counts), followed by holding it (4 counts), then releasing it slowly (4 counts), and repeat
- Refresh with water: Wash your face, or take a shower if you can
- Walk: walk inside the house or around the house for 5-10 minutes to change the mood.
- Fix the situation if you can.
13- Slow reading
Slow reading speed can increase level of stress as time is consumed with little outcome, and your chances of being distracted increases as well
Solutions: Increase your speed with one or more of the following tips
- Use a virtual pacer
It could be a pen or your finger to underline the words as you read them. This will limit the time wasted of identifying the line you were in, and will increase your focus
- Don’t self-narrate
When reading, don’t read out loud or read in your mind each word. This slows you down as you’ll be limited to your reading and talking speed not on your seeing and thinking speed.
Jim Kwik, the learning coach, advises to listen to music or keep your lips busy with humming while reading to stop that inner reader of yours and stick with your eyes and the virtual pacer above for faster reading
14- Ineffective Reading
Aside from the pleasure reading, not all what’s on the page is equally important. Some paragraphs are important, and others needs to be skipped quickly.
Not being able to tell the difference causes you to consume your concentration and focus energies on less important content while you can save them for other important parts to finish your reading time with more outcomes and less stress.
- Use the Pareto’s principle
Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto who stated that 80% of results come from just 20% of the action. Therefor 80% of the reading material will be delivered from only 20% of that book.
Knowing this, you should affirm your self that it’s okay to quick read some parts of the page following the 2nd solution below.
- Focus on the core content
Any reading is structured into core and elaborative contents. Your priority is the core content.
The core content= concepts; theories; principles; definitions; terminologies; nomenclatures; etc. In this article, it would be the headlines and the solutions sections
The elaborative content= illustrations; examples, anecdotes; stories, etc. In this article it would be examples and stories.
15- Forgetting phobia
This is one of the major causes of stress with reading to many people even before they start reading. It’s the fear of forgetting what they are going to learn or read, and the situation worsens if it’s linked with being tested or examined on that material.
This leads to compensating with slow or repeated reading to memorize better which is not true at all and it only leads to a stressful wasted time.
This includes both mandatory reading for school or college or any “must” read books, and it includes voluntary reading as well like novels or self-development books.
This was my huge barrier against reading, and it scarred my relationship with reading. Knowing or feeling that I have to memorize what I’ll read and feeling I should prove competence in the end drove me away. Even for novels and self-development books
I broke that down now with the following solutions. It still haunts me from time to time but it’s well under control compared to 4 years ago.
- For voluntary reading: I’m reading this book, ( name of the book ), which is not part of my obligatory education nor I will be examined on it, and that I’m reading it voluntarily to ( identify purposes – the more and specific the better ), and it’s totally okay if I forgot parts of it.
- For mandatory reading: I’m reading this book, ( name of the book ), which is part of my obligatory education and I will be examined on it, and I’m reading it because ( identify benefits to you, graduate, be a doctor, etc – the more and specific the better ), and it’s totally okay if I forgot parts of it now, cause it will be reinforced in time with repetition.
- Taking notes:
Regardless of what you’re reading for, there’s always a chance that you’ll learn something from it even if you’re reading a novel, as you still can learn a powerful quote or story or a lesson.
Building the habit of note taking while reading will improve your reading experience by affirming the important parts and making it stick for longer, so even if you didn’t completely fix your irrational fear of forgetting, this will help you fix part of that fear with the notes you’ll take.
Personally, I do mind maps for the books I’m reading
it’s going to be easier after finishing school and collage as “that education” will be over if it’s the reason why you’re not doing it.
16- Complex material
Stress can rise from reading a complex material. This can include the material itself being complex and hard to understand or that it is poorly written.
If it’s one or both of the above, then this will serve a great deal of stress that results from poor self-confidence, large time consumed, and poor results gained.
This applies to all types of reading, even with pleasure reading for complex science fictions or poorly written ones.
- Look for an easier or well written alternative
- Look for someone to explain it to you
- Drop it if it’s not that important
17- Lack of interest
Reading something you’re not interested in can be stressful at times cause you’re feeling you’re wasting time on something that is not worth while
- Reading non-interesting subjects in school or college, like history or geography for some.
- Reading to please someone who recommended a book
- Reading just to finish the reading list or books pile that sits Infront of you.
You don’t have to read everything, specially what you’re not interested in.
- Figure out what you are interested in and read in those areas.
- Look for benefits
If you must, try to come up with reasons you’ll benefit from the reading material.
- Stretch yourself occasionally
Every now and then, read in a different area out of your comfort zone to stretch your learning and brain capabilities
- Get rid of extras
Delete or throw away the books or materials that you’re not interested in. If applicable, find if you can donate books to a charity or a library
18- Forced to do it
Mos of the times reading can be stressful if you’re forced to do it even with novels.
This is mainly happening in school and collage time when you must read to pass and have your degree.
For some it’s not stressful though and on the contrary it’s a pleasant exercise. For the majority it’s agony since it can include few of what we talked about:
- Being forced to read it
- Reading things you’re not interested in.
- Material being complex
- Having to finish too much too soon specially around examinations time.
- Identify benefits
One of the easiest and effective ways to overcome the forced reading is to think of benefits you’ll have from your reading and how it’s going to help you in your life
- Acknowledge its necessity
Until learning becomes more effective and targeted towards what’s really needed in life for each one of us according to our different needs, learning is in the circle of concerns.
It means we can’t control it yet, and so we have to play by their rules, and you have to acknowledge that.
- Make it fun
You can turn scientific material into experiments. Watch movies about historic events. Write songs about topics. Draw pictures about topics. This can help you when you read the content and make it feel less forced and therefore less stressful and more likable
19- Stressful content
Sometimes the content itself is what causing you to be stressed as a result of reading.
This includes reading about stressful news, war news, pandemic news, or reading shocking facts, etc. It can also include reading about sad or disturbing events in novels.
I know people only read news with all the bad, negative, and worrying news and information so no wonder reading is stressful to them.
Sometimes when I asked my father if he’s going to read the newspaper, he was answering “no I’m not in the mood for bad news now”. Reading the newspaper was linked with stress.
In self-development type of reading, you can get stressed if you’re not demonstrating the values or the techniques you learnt to overcome the situation, you’re in.
In a pilot study about effect of reading self-help books, the groups that were assigned to read self help books showed more stress and depression signs and symptoms than the group that didn’t read this type of books.
Reading self-help books can cause stress:
This can be because of many reasons discussed in the article “Why Don’t Self-Help Books Work As You Expect”.
The one reason I’ll highlight here is if you’re not applying what you’re learning so you’ll be in the 3rd step of the ladder, or if you’re not applying enough which will only get you to the 4th step of the ladder to mastery and both have the stressors of self-doubting and self-criticism respectively.
You can check the article “ The Ladder to Mastery” to understand the 5 steps you go through from 0 to mastery with any tool in life.
- Read less stressful content
I was going to add to the above solution “and more bright or uplift content” then I realized that this is also in the circle of concerns and we can’t change it cause there are less uplift content.
So what we can do and control is reading less stressful content. Don’t read the news daily, do it every other day or weekly, trust me you won’t miss much.
- Aim to apply
When it comes to self-development, always aim to apply and practice more cause this is where the development happens as I explain in the ladder to mastery article.
Application makes transformationWellBeing Toolkits
I hope you had value from this article, and that the table I shared above is a useful tool for you to use to overcome your reading stressors, if you have them.