Stress Reading is a Thing (for Kids, too)

Too Tired to Read?

You’ve likely heard of “stress baking.” Have you thought about “stress reading”? Essentially, it’s reading differently because you’re stressed. Some will binge read light, fluffy novels while others will plow through their long list of to-read titles. But others won’t read at all.

As adults, we’ve all been there: stressed over health concerns, financial worries, job issues. We’ve been too tired to read at night before dropping into bed, too brain dead from a busy day at work to pick up Les Miserables (which we were determined to finish this year), or too invested in learning something practical that we didn’t pick up a fiction read for weeks.

Our kids have been there, too, but we forget that. It might not be job concerns or financial troubles, but they’ve certainly experienced stress.

Reading Differently While Staying-at-Home

I imagine many of you, like me, have found yourselves reading differently this past month, “stress reading” if you will. Perhaps stay-at-home orders have afforded you more time to read, and you’ve taken full advantage of it. Perhaps you’ve finally plowed through The Odyssey or Tale of Two Cities or some other classic that’s been on your to read list.

Or, perhaps you’re like me: reading less, and reading very differently.

I usually have quite a few titles going concurrently: some are for review purposes, one is for a mom book club I’m part of, some might be pre-reading for homeschool subjects, perhaps an “interest” title or two, maybe some nonfiction, …. It worked for me, even though it sounds complicated. It’s not complicated; it’s more a “read at whim from this stack of relevant reads.”

But during this quarantine adventure we’re all engaged in, I’ve read one book at a time. And I’ve been stress reading.

The first couple of weeks, I read my book club title (Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner; lovely writing and a story that captivated me). I spent all afternoon the first two Sundays reading it. I stayed up at night reading it. I brought it to the breakfast table. And I finished the 500+ page novel in less than 2 weeks. Then I plowed through a quick mystery, read a Christian fiction thriller, and now I’m reading book 10 of the Rangers Apprentice series because my 12-year-old just finished it and thrust it upon me.

I completely avoided the library haul of books-I-should-be-reading for 4 weeks. I would pick up good theological or philosophical works that I’d been in the middle of, but I ended up putting them back down after a page or two.

Stress Reading is a Thing

Without realizing it, I was under a lot of stress. We all were (and still are!). My home life isn’t super different than before covid-19 except that my husband is working at home. My kids and I aren’t driving around going to co-ops or music lessons or the orthodontist. But our schoolwork looks just like it did pre covid-19. My family (including extended) is healthy. We have income. We have plenty of food. I didn’t think we were in the “stressed” category.

But I’ve had an influx of information that is urgent, necessary, scary, uncertain, requiring me to learn new terms and understand new things (how do ventilators work? can you really make masks at home? how long is this situation going to last? what is this graph telling me? what is the most reliable news source?).

I’ve taught my children how to use zoom. I’ve helped my daughter figure out how to finish her Pioneer level award–at home–for American Heritage Girls. I’ve helped my husband strategize how best to work from home. I’ve spent time with our team discussing how this lack of libraries affects our work here at Redeemed Reader.

Stress? Absolutely. And sometimes stress–even stress that doesn’t feel like stress in the obvious sense–has dramatic effects on our brains and energy levels. So it makes perfect sense that my reading life looks different than it used to. And that’s okay.

Only One Required Book

There’s only one required book: God’s Word. As long as that isn’t disappearing from my reading habits, then the rest doesn’t really matter, certainly in the short term.

And thanks to the Bible app that reads me the Bible while I empty the dishwasher every morning, I’m still hearing God’s Word daily. Stress reading should definitely include the Psalms, which it has for me!

Kids Are Stressed

Analyze your own reading habits and interests during this past month. Ask your spouse how his or her reading habits have changed. See what your friends have to say. I’ll bet everyone has reacted a little differently.

Remember this when it comes to what your children and teens are reading. They’re under stress right now, too. And they are likely reading differently than they were before covid-19; they’re “stress reading.” Remember this next year and the year after, too.

If your high schooler is taking a heavy load next year in school, odds are good that she might not be up to reading the same classics she was reading for fun in middle school. If your middle schooler has just switched schools and is trying to make friends, he might not be up for more than Calvin and Hobbes after school the first few weeks.

Don’t overthink your children’s reading lives. Offer them good choices, model good reading habits, and be open about when your own reading switches up. Do make sure they have their own copy of the Bible, and do encourage them to spend time in God’s Word every day.

And talk to them about what they are reading.

Ask them what interests them about a particular book. Maybe they needed something funny. Perhaps they’re interested in learning Python and need a bit more screen time to figure it out. Or maybe now is the time that your teenager is writing a book. And when you need good book suggestions, know that we’re reading ahead for you — even when stress reading.

Have you experienced a change in your reading this month? Let us know in the comments!

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Megan on April 17, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Excellent. I really needed this today.

  2. Karen on April 18, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    I’m doing this – I’m passing up books I want to read (Frankl’s – PragerU book club inspired me to start it 6 weeks ago). I’m afraid to read old “comfort” books – Sweet Potatoe Pie Society (or whatever the title is) because the current stay-at-home-government-micromanaging-my-life makes me think of Nazis. Instead I’m binge-reading book candy (think Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon) and watching movies lik Spiderman and Superman movies! ???

  3. Sally Rowlett on April 24, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you for giving me a term (stress reading) to identify my search for safe and secure reading right now. I’m craving rich, feel-good stories like Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Also, gentle stories like the latest in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. Am reading short bits of a gently humorous but somewhat emotionally challenging (family issues!) Anne Tyler book, A Spool of Blue Thread.

    • Betsy Farquhar on April 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm

      Oh, those are such great recommendations! We love the No. 1 Ladies Detective books.

  4. Natalie on April 30, 2020 at 4:21 pm

    I read a lot of non-fiction, but during this time I felt a need to immerse myself in a good story. A Gentleman in Moscow was recommended to me, and it turned out to be the perfect pandemic read! Beautiful writing, compelling and likeable characters, and some interesting plot twists. I’m not usually crazy about modern fiction, but this seems like a throwback to earlier classic books. If you read it, you’ll understand why it’s a good book for thinking about how to make the best of a bad situation.

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