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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ways to Motivate Yourself to Read When You Have Depression


To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, click here.

Reading is one of my favourite things in the world, and it almost always makes me feel better. However, depression can make it excruciatingly hard to motivate myself to pick up a book, if I’m even able to read at all, what with my other conditions like brain fog and fatigue. There are some things I’ve found over time that really help to motivate me to read and to stay reading in spite of depression. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday was a freebie, so I’ve collected some tips for you if you’re struggling in a similar way.

Asian woman with bright eye shadow reading a book with a light blue cover, overlaid with the words

#1 Don’t beat yourself up

This one might be obvious, but it’s also really important. I know it can be frustrating when you miss a day or two of reading, or even entire weeks, but it’s not a failure. Some days you’ll be too tired, stressed, or sad to read. That’s okay. The goal is to enjoy reading, not to read every day without fail. And just because you didn’t read yesterday, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a book today.

#2 Recognise your avoidance behaviours and stop them

When I’m depressed, I tend to fall into patterns of not really doing anything for long stretches of time, like refreshing Twitter over and over, playing games on my phone, or watching YouTube video after YouTube video, but without really enjoying myself. When this happens, I have to make a conscious effort to stop drifting and to make myself read (or whatever else it is that needs doing). Observe yourself, figure out what your own avoidance behaviours are, and consciously try to influence them. This can be really hard at first, but it gets easier with practice. It’s worth putting in the effort in order to be able to surface from your aimless depressed haze to do something that actually makes you feel better.

#3 Avoid distractions, but remember to take breaks

If you know you get easily distracted, don’t read on your phone if you can avoid it. In fact, if you’re able to, turn it off or turn on airplane mode. Try to make your reading environment as free of distractions as you can so you can fully immerse yourself in your reading. However, remember that it’s hard for your depressed brain to focus for a long amount of time, so don’t be afraid to put your book down for a few minutes, do some stretches, go to the loo, and rehydrate. Ignoring your body’s needs for too long will only make you feel worse, so try to find a balance that works for you.

#4 Make reading part of your routine

black woman with glasses and natural hair reading at a cafe table

If you’re able to, replace another activity at a certain time with reading. If you watch YouTube videos in the morning while drinking your coffee or if you spend your commute on your phone, consider whipping out your book instead to get in a little bit of reading time. It doesn’t have to be long, but I find it helps me to get going when I have a specific time to get out my book and just settle down for a couple of chapters. A good time to do this is when you’re feeling relaxed, which for me personally is breakfast time. I drink my tea, snuggle my dog, and do a bit of reading. Knowing that I made progress on my book in the morning allows me more peace of mind during the day, but your mileage may vary with regards to what time works best for you.

#5 Be okay with only reading a little

Sometimes all the reading I do in a day is one short chapter before bed before my sleeping meds kick in. And that’s okay! Again, the goal is not to read as much as humanly possible, the goal is to be able to pick up your book and enjoy it for even a short while. So you “only” read for ten minutes? That’s ten more than zero minutes. You’re “only” reading comics or graphic novels? That’s still reading! You’re reading! Success!

#6 Do not read (too far) past your bedtime

Asian woman lying in the dark with a

I know it can be incredibly tempting to just stay up and finish your book when you’re really into it in the moment, but I personally recommend not doing it. It’ll cause your sleep schedule to get out of whack, which will probably make you more depressed and unlikely to read. Instead, save your momentum to keep going the next day! It’ll be easier to pick your book back up again if you’re dying to know what happens next.

#7 Have your next read lined up before finishing the last

This is in the same vein as the last tip. Whether I’m reading a series or a stand-alone, I always give some thought to what I’d like to read next before I finish, so I can have the sequel or a new book ready to go as soon as I’m done with my last read. Making sure you have your next read downloaded to your e-reader, or in your bag if you read on your commute, or next to your bed if that’s where you do your reading makes it so much easier to pick up the next thing. Personally I even like to go so far as to open the next book I’m reading as soon as I’m done with the last, and sometimes that means I immediately get sucked into my next read. No in-between-books slump for me! If you’re someone who reads multiple books at a time, this will obviously be less of an issue, but this could really help any of my fellow one-book-at-a-time readers out there.

#8 Give yourself permission to not finish a book

Have you ever found yourself pushing through a book you hated just because you feel the need to finish it, becoming more and more reluctant to pick it up as you go along? I’m definitely guilty of this. Here’s the truth: whether or not you finish a book doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make the time you’ve already spent reading it a waste of time. You know what would be a waste of time though? To keep reading a book you’re not enjoying just because you feel you have to. When you’re depressed and motivating yourself to read is a struggle in itself, don’t make it harder on yourself. Put that terrible book away and delve into something more enjoyable.

#9 Get an e-book library subscription

I know this is not possible for everyone, hence why I’m putting it at the bottom of my list. If you have free access to a library and/or can afford the subscription fee, get an e-book subscription. This will allow you access to a free or unexpensive never-ending supply to books that you do not even have to leave the house to schlepp to and from the library. And the best part is that if you’re struggling to finish a book in the allotted time, you can put your e-reader in airplane mode and keep it on there for a couple of extra days to take the pressure off. Don’t tell anyone I let you in on this top-secret trick.

#10 Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Person with colourful bracelets holding an e-reader, legs stretched out in front of them

You’re not making progress with a book as fast as you’d like? You’re not on track to finish your Goodreads Challenge? You’re not reading as much as you’d like to? Stop, take a breath, and remember that this is not a competition. Like I said under #1, you’re reading to enjoy yourself. When you put too much pressure on yourself with arbitrary reading goals, it can suck all of the pleasure out of reading and make you feel like a failure, which in turn will make you want to read even less. Cut yourself some slack and get to reading when you can. And lower that Goodreads Challenge goal to a number that’s feasible at your own reading speed, instead of whatever number you think you should be able to read in a year.

I hope some of these tips were helpful for you. Let me know what you think in the comments, and please leave any further tips that you might have for reading while depressed or chronically ill down below as well! Happy reading!