Hunter McLendonComment

Reading With An Anxious Mind

Hunter McLendonComment
Reading With An Anxious Mind

In a perfect world, I could write all morning and read all night. I'm sharp in the mornings and think clearly, my mind isn't buzzing all around and my voice is more distinct. Late afternoons into the night is when I give my mind a rest from creating and focus on appreciating the work of others. I love to sit on my couch, while my dog burrows under my arm, and read for hours. All of this could be possible, even with my full-time job and outside activities. All of this is not possible, because I have anxiety.

This morning, my anxiety is at a 6. I live day to day at a 4. Tons of people deal with anxiety, and I've learned to live with the general anxiety with no problem. Do I think my friends hate me? Of course. Do I think I'm doing a terrible job at work, even though I'm trying my best? Duh. Does it feel like I'm going to die at any moment? Every moment. But none of these things hinder me to the point I can't get out of bed and face those fears. If things go perfectly, this 4 drops down to a 3 by the end of the day. When something foreign introduces itself into my schedule, my anxiety spikes like a diabetic shoveling candy in their mouth. I rarely encounter a 9 anymore, but anything over a 5 and all I can think about is the apocalyptic universe I've created in my head. In moments like this, the thing I want to do most is forget everything and read. In moments like this, the last thing my brain will let me do is read.

What do we do when our anxiety takes away the thing that we enjoy the most, the thing that gives us peace? In moments like this, I used to close my book and turn on Netflix. As loud as my anxious mind is, Orange Is The New Black is louder. But one day, as I sat in bed and thought about an argument I had with a friend and chewed my nails down to the quick, I asked myself, "Can't you at least try to push through it, just once?" Reading is so important to me. In the darkest moments of my life, I've been able to read my way out of it. I knew I couldn't keep blasting out my anxiety with TV and neglecting something I loved to do. So, I made a deal with myself. "If you want to be stressed, that's totally fine. But read your book, first." 

It wasn't as easy as that. My brain still buzzed with worry, and I had to re-read certain lines as thoughts popped into my head. But here's what did happen. I stopped treating my books as wants and understood them as needs. I've never been the best at meditation. Sitting still, being mindful, letting my brain find total peace...hasn't worked for me. But with reading, I was able to re-organize my thoughts. The stressful things went on the back burner, turned to a simmer. I knew my worries were still there, but I also knew they'd still be there after I was done with the things I wanted to do. Instead of trying to remove them or shut them out, I allowed them to stay. I know it's a strange concept to let your worries sit with you. But by changing my motivation from "fixing" things, to "I can worry at another time" it helped me a little. 

I'm not saying reading is going to help you with your anxiety. In fact, sometimes reading gives me anxiety. But I think it's important to remember, in moments where you're really stressed and trying to drown things out, that the worry can wait. If you love to read, then read. Sure, you'll probably have to re-read lines and in the end, you might ask yourself what the book was about. But even getting through a book sometimes can take a weight off of you. I'm still not sure how meditation works. But I feel like reading might be the same way. Instead of focusing on your breathing, you're focusing on the thing you love. Maybe it's like prayer, too. My Granny prays whenever she's stressed because thinking of God gives her peace. 

I'm not trying to fix anyone or solve the world's problems. But I am asking that if you love to read, but you feel like your worries are louder than the words on the page, try to rethink the way you prioritize books. I think it's okay to think of the things we love as needs because, without the things we love, we'd have a hard time living at all. Do you have thoughts or suggestions on dealing with anxiety as a reader? Or did you think reading with an anxious mind meant something totally different than the direction I went? Let me know! I almost didn't share this post. My anxiety eats away at me anytime I share something with the world. But I think sometimes sharing how we handle our anxiety might help others. Hope this helped you.