Getting Out of That Reading Slump!

By Heather Procter, Librarian 

The dreaded ‘reading slump’… 

Some people use reading as a mechanism for de-stressing. Some people enjoy reading as a hobby. Some people need to read sometimes – that book you’re studying in English for example. But sometimes, even people who usually read a lot, and enjoy it, can find that their mental health condition has forced them into a ‘reading slump’. It becomes hard to focus on the story or the words on the page and reading doesn’t bring the joy that it usually does. Here I’ll suggest three ways to overcome the barriers to reading that might be brought on by those struggling to engage. 

Option 1: Reading out Loud

Okay, it sounds a bit crazy. But there’s good evidence that reading out loud might be the best way to overcome a reading block.

Long ago, before the written word, people told stories to each other – out loud! Think about it; audiobooks are becoming one of the most popular ways to read. Why are we so happy to listen to someone else read a book, but not try it ourselves? 

Verbalising the words on the page requires more concentration. The act of speaking out loud, the mental effort put in to avoid mistakes, helps to silence the other thoughts in your head. 

You might feel slightly ridiculous at first – but it’s like singing in the shower. Once you start it is quite absorbing. Still not convinced? Take it in steps:

Try reading out loud alone: Take yourself to a quiet place in your house and try it. Make sure you’re unlikely to be interrupted. If you’re feeling anxious you don’t want to have one ear open for potential unwanted intruders.

Try reading out loud to someone who can’t judge you: Some great options include your pet, or a young cousin or sibling. Most of the time they’re just grateful for the company and don’t mind if you make mistakes. 

Try reading out loud with a family member or friend: If you’re feeling bold, or have tried it and found it really works for you, ask a friend or family member to read with you. You can take it in turns to read the same book. It doesn’t even have to be a book. Try reading a news article, or something else short for them first. 

Option 2: Listening to a book

If you really can’t stand the idea of listening to your own voice read a book out loud – listen to someone else read one! For many, one of the first experiences with books we have is being told a story, or being read to. Listening to a book can bring back those feelings of comfort, pushing negative or anxious thoughts to the back of our minds and allowing us brain space to relax again. If you’re worried about the cost of audiobooks – fear not! All public libraries in the CHS area offer audiobooks services for free. There’s more details about how to access these on the library extension site under ‘Public Libraries’, or you can search online for your local library to get started. 

One of the best ways to really engage your brain is to listen to an audiobook and read alone with a physical copy at the same time. It’s a great way to increase the amount of work your brain is doing, forcing you to concentrate and leaving little room for pesky anxious thoughts. 

Option 3: Trying something new

Starting a new book can be daunting – the thought of trying to get through a whole book exhausting. Sometimes, we need to shake things up and there are a few ways we can do this…

How many of these formats have you tried?

Graphic Novel, Poetry, Manga, Novella, Free-Verse Novel, Memoir, Diary…

And there’s more where that came from. You can always ask your librarian, reach out to online book communities or use online tools, like Penguin’s ‘Where to Start’ website for recommendations. 

It’s not always about the type of book – but the way in which you engage with books in general.

New Friends: Joining, or starting a book club might be just the sort of mental stimulation you need to get talking about reading in a fun and social way again. You can kill two birds with one stone as both the social aspect and the reading can help alleviate symptoms of some mental health conditions. 

New Techniques: You could set a time each day dedicated only to reading. Half an hour usually works well, but you can go longer or shorter depending on what works best for you. Having a routine can work well for some people. The second most useful tip is to find a reading buddy. Choose the same book, and set times during the week when you’ll both read, and message each other afterwards to talk about it each time. 

New Games: Use Book Bingo to force yourself into new formats or new ways of reading. Simply take an empty bingo card and fill each square with something different – ‘a book with a red cover’, ‘a book of poetry’, a ‘a prize-winning book’, ‘reading outside’, for example. Then once you’ve completed a square, cross it off. Achieved a line? Reward yourself! Full house? Reward yourself more! 

Final option – take a break!

Sometimes, all the brain needs to get reading again is a little break. But that doesn’t mean you need to disconnect from books altogether. Try the following to fall in love with reading again, without reading!

  • Organise your bookshelves: Getting your body and brain moving by physically taking books off the shelf, dusting, and sorting through them can give you a mental break as well as a sense of ‘clearing out’. Donate books you think you’ll no longer read and rediscover something you used to love, that may have been buried for a while. 
  • Watch a book to film adaptation: Google ‘book to movie adaptations’ if you’re stuck for something to watch. Seeing a new story play out on the screen in front of you might make you want to read the book too. But what about spoilers? Studies have shown that sometimes people who know the story, and therefore the spoilers, might actually enjoy the book more. You’re cognitively more comfortable as you know what’s coming and you can focus on other elements of the story for a deeper understanding. 
  • Go book shopping/to the library: Getting into a different physical space with enticing displays full of the latest must-reads and finding something that really appeals to you can be just the boost you need to get excited about reading again.