How to Start a Reading Habit for Stress Relief


Let’s face it. Life is stressful.

The great news is that reading is one of the best ways to cope with stress. 

How do you get start with a reading habit that helps you decompress? 

  1. Change your mindset by challenging your beliefs.
  2. Stop believing the lie that you don’t have enough time.
  3. Believe in reading as a stress reliever.
  4. Find the best time in the rhythms of your day and week.
  5. Make a reading date with yourself.
  6. Use habit stacking. Link it to an already established habit.
  7. Start small. Six minutes is enough.
  8. Put some money on it.
  9. Use reading as a reward for finishing your work.
  10. “Throw your phone in the ocean”
  11. Pick the best books.
  12. Consider choosing books as a separate hobby.
  13. Find a book whisperer.

Maybe it’s time for bibliotherapy if you find yourself operating with a short fuse. Or you’re moving slower and slower almost grinding to a halt. If the swirling worries are keeping you from a good night’s sleep or the crushing overwhelm is threatening to push you over the edge, consider reading.

Change your Mindset by Challenging Beliefs

Changing your mindset is the first step to any significant change in behavior. The fact is that our beliefs influence our behavior. If we want to change our behavior, we need to examine the underlying assumptions and beliefs that drive our behavior.

Which lies are you believing? 

That you don’t have enough time?

That you don’t have enough energy to do what you need to do? 

That you don’t deserve any time off? 

Accept that life is stressful. It’s okay.

Stop Believing the Lie that You Don’t Have Enough Time

How would it change your life if you truly believed you had enough time?

Just say it. “I have enough time.” Can you feel the exhale?

You have enough time. Maybe you are too busy, but you still have enough time.

God holds our life in His hands. There’s enough time to get everything done that He has planned. 

If we can’t do everything that we have planned, maybe we’re doing something that He hasn’t planned.

Many adult women naturally put others’ needs ahead of their own, especially their children. 

Sometimes it’s easy to let that responsibility overwhelm us, to put our needs on the back burner. 

If you’re stressed, what do you do when you have time off? Stuff that makes you feel guilty? Maybe scrolling social media. Or reading internet news. Or falling down a Pinterest hole.

So, this tactic is to replace some of that activity that isn’t productive with something that will be helpful. Bump your reading material up a notch. Be intentional. 

Identify if learning new things is more uplifting or getting lost in story is more uplifting or a little of both. Both can be helpful. 

The liberating reality is that 6 minutes is enough time. 

If marking things off your to do list gives you satisfaction, then put reading on the list. Set the timer for 6 minutes. Completely relax and don’t worry about everything else on the list for that time.

Stop feeling guilty about reading.

If bibliotherapy helps you stay sane, if it helps you be a nicer human, if it just makes you happier, then make peace with the time you spend reading. 

Believe in reading as a stress reliever

Believe that reading will make your life better.

I believe in reading. I know it’s helped me through lots of rough patches in life. 

Yes, it’s true. Diet, exercise, the right medications, meaningful work and loving relationships matter.  There’s so many aspects to building a great life. 

But, I truly believe a critical piece of the puzzle is reading. Okay, the bigger picture is learning new things, getting lost in a story, being inspired and uplifted.

And, yes, there’s a lot of different ways to make that happen.

Go for a walk outside.

Turn off the lights, light a candle, lie down and listen to some music. 

Fill a bubble bath and sip your favorite drink. 

Picking up a book for 6 minutes can be even easier. Almost as easy as scrolling.

But choosing the right books and incorporating them into your life can be life changing. 

Strategize the best way to make it work with your current schedule.

Find the Best Time in the Rhythms of your Day and Week

Analyze the rhythms of your day

First of all, it makes sense if you’re reading to learn to schedule it early in your day. You tend to be more alert, your brain tends to work best first thing in the morning.

But, if you’re reading for stress relief, it makes sense to plan on it later in the day. It could be a gripping, page turning novel or something that you’re deep diving into to learn more about. The point is, though, it has to be something you’re looking forward to. 

One exception to this is if your morning commute or morning exercise is a good time for you to build a reading habit. 

When I was driving kids to school, we got to the point when my beginning drivers were in the driver’s seat and I was a passenger. On the straight stretches when I could trust the student driver, I would read aloud to everyone in the car. We loved it. Yes, you have to find those excellent books that delight all ages, even the adults. But, it’s so worth it. 

You probably have a few options in the rhythms of your day that are best to build a reading habit. 

Consider the middle of the day

This could be on your lunch hour if you’re at work. Or during baby’s naptime. Or right after lunch if you’re homeschooling or working from home. The point is, you’ve successfully nagivated your morning (or unsuccessfully, in which case you need the break even more.) And now is the time designated to read, when you can breathe a sigh of relief, refresh and fill the tank again. 

Depending on your personality, you might want to set the timer. You know whether you’ll need a kick in the seat of the pants to stop or if you need the encouragement to stick with the plan and not get up early to start working again. 

Another option for later in the day is shoot for 4 o’clock or the lull before the mad supper rush begins. Or plan to show up early for sports practice pick up. Sitting there waiting is your own personal reading time. (As long as you hide from the other pick up parents— unless working on those relationships is higher priority.)

Depending on the ages and needs of the people you live with, after supper clean up might be the best time to plan your reading habit. 

Maybe you have a guest room or den or porch you can escape to for 20 or 30 minutes before the bedtime routine. 

Maybe you need to get everyone bathed and settled and tucked in before you can even think of relaxing. 

Those before sleep minutes are some of the best for reading. If you’re exhausted, of course, you might run out of steam 4 minutes in. That’s okay. Just knowing that you have that to look forward to can get you through the rough spots in the day. 

Instead of your daily rhythms, or in addition to them, take a look at your weekly rhythms.

porch swing

Make a Reading Date with Yourself

You might have to make a coffee shop date with yourself once a week to escape the craziness. Call in the reinforcements to cover for you: spouse, girlfriend, sister, mom, older offspring. The 24/7 mom job is overwhelming. Get some help. 

Knowing that you have a reading date with yourself coming up means you can work hard with the knowledge that you’re going to get back to that great book.

Put it on the calendar. Put it in your planner.

You are important. 

Keep your commitment to yourself. 

Decide what parts of your daily and weekly rhythms need to be protected reading times. For your own mental health and for the good of those around you. 

Throw your phone in the ocean 

This is Austin Kleon’s number one tip for how to read more. 

He qualifies it by adding, “or put it in airplane mode”.

The point is our phone keeps us from the most important things. It can be a time suck. 

It’s easy to fall down the social media hole. 

The same thing applies to Netflix binges and internet scrolling, even watching commercial TV.

Investing that time in reading books instead will pay off. 

You will be choosing what your mind is chewing on, instead of letting random algorhthyms choose, or even your social media friends and gurus. 

“Don’t leave home without a book and a snack”

Wise words from Anne Bogel.

Always having your books accessible is important for grabbing those wasted minutes that we spend waiting in line, waiting in lobbies, commuting, exercising. 

A fact of human nature is that our mind will be chewing on something all the time. 

That means you need to feed it. 

The fodder you pump into your mind is what you will chew on. 

The best news is that you can make a conscious choice to fill your mind with great literature, with inspiring true stories and uplifting affirmations. Or you can feed it fear producing information and let it wander to negative thoughts. Your mind can spin in circles with worry and the tornado of overwhelm or you can meditate on truth and beauty.

habit stacking

Use Habit Stacking

Link your reading habit to an already established habit.

One important thing James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits is habit stacking. Linking new habits to old habits. If you have a firmly established habit of brushing your teeth, you could link the habit of wiping down the sink. If you have an already established habit of doing dishes after dinner every day, you could link the habit of sweeping the kitchen floor. If you have the habit of checking facebook, you could link the habit of sending an email to your mom. 

It’s easier to add a new habit to an already established habit than to establish a new habit by itself. 

This works well with establishing a reading habit. 

Some habits pair naturally with a reading habit. Walking the dog or folding laundry works great with listening to an audio book. 

Putting your feet up and drinking a cup of coffee in the middle of the morning or afternoon works great with consuming a chapter of an engrossing mystery. 

Waiting for a child to get out of practice or rehearsal is a great time to get a little reading done. In fact, you can plan it that way and get there a few minutes early. 

Different studies have come up with different results, but repetitions of 21 to 66 have shown good success in establishing a new habit. 

Repetition and a habit tracker helps to get a new habit going. 

Read at the same time every day or every week and mark it off on a habit tracker. Try to make an unbroken chain. 

If you drive to work every day and listen to the radio, you could substitute that for an audio book. 

If you scroll email before going to bed, you could read inspiring stories, devotional thoughts or a chapter in a page turner instead. 

Reading before going to sleep is a great habit to cultivate. 

A sleep researcher reports that one of the most common problems he sees is people having problems falling asleep because of the swirling thoughts that accost them when they lay down to go to sleep. 

Counting sheep (or counting backwards by threes from 300) or working Soduku puzzles focuses your mind to a boring repetitious pattern that bypasses the swirling thoughts. 

Getting lost in a story can do the same thing. 

Reading uplifting, inspiring stories can quell the anxious thoughts, the unsolvable problems, the regrets and negative thoughts. 

Start Small

Make it so small it’s easy. 

Another tip from James Clear is to start with habits so tiny it’s almost impossible not to do it. This is where 6 minutes fits in.  Six minutes is enough. Even better, 6 minutes is long enough to make a difference.

Studies show that muscles start relaxing and breathing slows after as little as six minutes.

Small steps can result in big changes.

Read longer, more complicated books on vacation, road trips and weekends.

Put Some Money on It

Studies show that an effective way to change behavior is to put money at stake.  It works for weight loss. It works for achieving work goals. 

It’s a little different than a straight reward system. 

Say you tell your spouse or offspring you will pay them $500 on December 31st if you haven’t read 50 books by then.  

You will actually lose a chunk of change if you don’t follow through. 

It is amazingly motivating. 

Use Reading as a Reward for Finishing your Work

Finishing your work doesn’t necessarily mean getting all the tasks done.

In The Messies Manual Sandra Felton recommends the Mt. Vernon method of housecleaning. At the historic George Washinton’s house at Mt. Vernon, there’s a team of cleaners who work 8 hours a day to keep the house clean. They start at the front door and clean clockwise. When their 8 hours is up, they go home for the day. 

If we apply that to our lives, then when our time designated for work is up, we stop. We pick it up again the next day. 

The old saying is a woman’s work is never done. 

Truer words were never spoken. 

The point is: stop working. It’s hard to do when there’s more work. But, if there’s always more to do, you will never stop.

Rest and read. 

Read for fun. The hours for work are over, regardless of the progress you made. It can wait till tomorrow. Now is your time to read. 

Pick the Best Books

The real key is to have a stack of books that you’re looking forward to reading, and a good one that you’re in the middle of all the time. 

Like magic, you’ll find that you’re plowing through books at record speed. 

Follow your interests. Pick books you’re excited about reading 

Read to learn or read to escape. Either one will lower your stress if you’re learning about something that you’re excited to learn. 

Quit reading books that aren’t working for you.

Re-read your favorites.

The key to looking forward to your reading habit, is to be surrounded by books that you’re loving, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. 

Read with the people you love

Consider Choosing Books as a Separate Hobby

I saw a meme that said, “I consider crafting and buying crafting supplies to be two different hobbies.”

It made me laugh, but there’s some truth to that. 

Putting some time and effort into finding the right books will pay off in an exponentially better reading life. Finding great books to read can be a fun hobby in itself. So can tracking the books you read, reviewing the books you read and sharing the books you read with others. 

All fun. All different from actually reading. 

But finding the right books for you? How do you make that happen?  

Find a Book Whisperer

Follow someone you trust.

Best seller lists usually aren’t the way to go. Amazon or New York Times is going to have back to back books that are polar opposite from each other in every respect. Yes, a lot of copies were sold, but to different people. Random picks from best seller lists are going to be hit or miss. You want better percentages than that. 

There’s thousands of people on the internet willing to share their recommendations with you. The trick is to find someone whose tastes are similar and someone you can trust. 

If you connect to a trusted book whisperer, you can explore new authors or even new genres that you might not have considered without a recommendation. 

Finding book whisperers has dramatically improved my reading life. I never have to read another book that I don’t know something about. 

Follow #bookstagram. Listen to podcasts about books. Watch You Tube videos about books.

Check out podcasts and You Tube channels. What Should I Read Next?, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books and the Read to Lead podcast have a lot of recommendations.

Social Media is a great place to find professional book reviewers as well as hobbyists who share for the joy of it. 

One place to start is my post What Should I Read When I Don’t Have Time to Read?

Happy Reading!

read for stress relief

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