How Do I Concentrate On Reading When I Have Anxiety
December 10, 2017 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I desperately want to read more, but I have such bad anxiety that it makes it difficult. What do I do? Details inside

I am currently getting treatment for my OCD/anxiety. I have a hard time concentrating on reading due to my racing thoughts. I have tons of books that I want to read. I've tried everything. I think that the problem is that reading is a quiet activity, and that is more of a space for me to fill with anxious thoughts. I don't care for audio books. I want to be able to sit and read.

I generally can't read at night. My brain is exhausted and it is hard to concentrate. In the AM, I am anxious about everything that I have to do. I've tried smoking pot and reading at night. It slows things down, but I find it hard to concentrate.

Any suggestions on how to read when your brain is an asshole?
posted by kbbbo to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Really gripping psychological thrillers are the only genre distracting enough for me when I get like this.
posted by amro at 7:27 AM on December 10, 2017

Listen to some music you are overly familiar with that you can tune out. I have found having background music can help me tune out the world and concentrate on reading.
posted by zzazazz at 7:34 AM on December 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I feel like gripping psychological thrillers would not be the best thing for someone with anxiety.

Seconding the music suggestion, and also reading out loud, if you're somewhere you can do that. It'll take more focus than simply reading in your head, and should help quiet the stream of thoughts.
posted by Tamanna at 7:48 AM on December 10, 2017

Does rereading something you love work any better? I am faster reading something a second time, probably because I don't have to pay such close attention. Maybe rereading one or two beloved books will help get you back into the habit and headspace where reading is relaxing. Then you can move on to new stuff.
posted by soelo at 7:49 AM on December 10, 2017

If you can, try starting by reading in the morning in bed. That will hopefully start cosy association with the activity, at a time of day you have more resources to bring to bear on it.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2017

My anxiety during reading is related to feeling like I should be doing something - working, working out, laundry, call my mom, etc - so maybe it’s different than yours.

Every time I have one of those thoughts I stop and tell myself it’s ok to read, reading is beneficial, and reading is a worthwhile activity. It takes a while but eventually the guilt/anxiety subsides.

Also, sometimes a change in setting (different room/chair/couch), going to a coffee shop/park bench, putting on instrumental music, or changing my posture helps.
posted by jshort at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have attention trouble and reading aloud to myself works pretty well - I also try to think of it like meditation, where if I wander away for a minute I don’t beat myself up, I just come back and reread.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I try to have one or two books in reserve that are my "drop into" type or author.
posted by sammyo at 8:49 AM on December 10, 2017

The mental activity of discursive thinking naturally loses its force of momentum as you become aware of it. This is the crux of Buddhist samatha or "tranquility" meditation. The practice of Buddhist meditation starts by choosing a suitable object to fix one's attention. The rhythm of the breath is the most common object. Make yourself comfortable, and once your body is settled in, observe the full in-breath while thinking 'breathing in', then just observe the out-breath thinking 'breathing out'.

At the beginning, it won't be long before the mind has strayed from its object. Whenever you become aware of discursive thinking simply - and without judgement - begin again with another in-breath.

Here is some further guidance.
posted by little eiffel at 8:49 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Finding page turners is probably helpful. There are page turners of all genres - like right now I'm reading a book that would be considered literary fiction called The Reluctant Fundamentalist that's a can't-put-it-down page turner. But so-called genre fiction, from thrillers to fantasy to mystery to romance, are especially good for page turning.

I would be wary of pot. It can definitely help chill you out in the evening, but there's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence and a little bit of research indicating that using pot in higher doses or frequency can exacerbate anxiety.
posted by latkes at 9:04 AM on December 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I read aloud. I find it forces me to focus on the text and generally forces me to consume at a slower pace. If someone’s around and I feel self-conscious, I’ll move to another room, read under my breath, or mouth the words even though I produce no sound.
posted by tcv at 9:27 AM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about humming? Seems like it might be enough of a distraction to allow you to continue on. Maybe put on familiar music low volume and humming along. Just a thought.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2017

My students with this exact same issue have told me they are able to increase concentration by listening to the book at the same time as reading it with their eyes (NOT audiobook-only). There is some research to indicate this works, and I am convinced this is the only way some of them were able to complete their assigned readings. The way they described it, it was as though the sound of the words masked the background noise of their anxious brain and allowed them to concentrate on the words on the page.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:14 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you given graphic novels a try? I find that concentrating on the art helps slow down the reading process and provides a diversion when my brain is being especially annoying.

They don't have to be super-hero-y at all. Maybe give Marjane Satrapi or Will Eisner a shot?
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:28 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

When my mind wanders, sometimes it's because I'm thinking about what I'm reading. I think that's fine. Sometimes it's because I'm thinking about whatever is the current nightmare worry and I'll read the same paragraph three times without taking anything in, and then I read out loud until the book grabs me again and I can read undistracted.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2017

Reading outloud or struggling through a reading in a second language helps me focus.

I have a 50% success rate with the strategy of keeping a pad of paper nearby and writing down distracting thoughts when I have them instead of indulging in them.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:57 AM on December 10, 2017

I don't know why, but I can read better when I have a fidget toy (mine is telephone wire) in my hands.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2017

White noise doesn't work for me but try the genre of brown noise. I use it in certain high anxiety circumstances and it's excellent for drowning out everything else so I can concentrate on a single task at hand.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2017

Try reading with a notebook. When you get distracted by an anxious or obsessive thought, write it down and tell yourself you will go back to it when you are done reading.
posted by Shebear at 5:40 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I spent many happy hours dozing to the sound of my extremely anxiety-prone and OCD mother reading aloud to herself. (She’s a VERY rapid reader, so it was quite something.) I finally asked her about it, and she says that it is the only way she can get her brain to just shut UP for a while. So I’m onboard with that suggestion.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:46 PM on December 10, 2017

I love when people read to me. So when I'm having a tough time focusing due to anxiety and/or depression, I treat myself and get the audio book in addition to the paper copy I've borrowed from the library. All I have to do is follow along.
posted by nathaole at 5:15 AM on December 11, 2017

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