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April 20, 2019

Is Our Reading Obsession Unhealthy?

by Donna Huber

We joke about being obsessed with books. There are memes we laugh at, like the one above. There are also memes that tout the health benefits of reading. We've even run an article at Girl Who Reads on the long-term health benefits of reading. But I have started to wonder if our reading obsession can become unhealthy.

reading burns calories

I started thinking about whether reading could become unhealthy after reading several bloggers' end-of-the-year posts. One in particular stuck out to me. She had read 500 books last year, but that she was cutting back this year because she felt like she never did anything but read. And when she did use her "reading time" to do other activities, like going out with friends, she felt guilty. This made me think about my October wrap-up post where I read more books than typical for a month. 

I was going through some medical uncertainty and I think I found comfort in the fictional worlds of books. 

I began asking myself, can something good for us become something bad for us? If so, where is the line between the two?

When an obsession becomes unhealthy

I asked a friend who is a psychologist if reading obsession can be unhealthy like drug or alcohol abuse. She said that addiction experts use the same criteria for substance abuse as they do to diagnosis any compulsive behaviors.

Do you need to read more to feel the same effects? Do you spend more and more time reading and buying books (or borrowing more from the library)? Do you ignore other aspects of life in order to read (not sleeping, not eating, not socializing, etc.)?  

If you answered yes to those questions, then you may have a reading addiction and may need to speak with someone to manage it.

As with other addictions, there can be underlying physical or emotional issues that need to be addressed. If that is the case, please do not hide behind the socially acceptable behavior of "reading being good for you". Seek the help you need.

I used reading as a way to escape the stress of a medical uncertainty. It was for a short period of time and after the stress had passed, I returned to my normal reading habits.

Tips to keep reading from taking over your life

Reading can take over the life of a book blogger, even without it becoming a compulsive behavior. There is always the pressure to read so that we have a review to post. Also, we are targeted with upcoming new releases more so than the average reader. Here are some tips that can help safeguard you.

  1. Set a reasonable yearly reading goal. I often feel envious of people when I see their goals of 200, 300, 400, 500 books read in a year. Especially when I was struggling to read 50 books. 
    1. Keep in mind how much time you have to actually devote to reading. People who are retired often have more time to read than those who work full-time and/or have children to care for. 
    2. Also, not all books are created equal. Someone reading mostly children's picture books, can read many more books in a year than someone reading 500+ page nonfiction tomes. In this case, it might be better to set a goal of number of pages reads instead.
    3. Consider listening to audiobooks. This is how I increased the number of books I 'read' in a year. Audiobooks have the double benefit of being listened to while doing something active - like cleaning the house or taking a walk.
  2. Write other posts than just reviews and/or added reviewers to your team. To give myself a break from reading all the time and feeling guilty when I didn't get a book finished in time, I added reviewers to Girl Who Reads. I also started writing a couple of discussion-type posts (like this one) each month. Both tactics have allowed me to keep Girl Who Reads active and allow me time for things other than reading.
  3. Combine reading/books with other healthy activities. I started attending a book club as a way to be more social, but also get to keep reading. You could also join a writing group or attend bookish events like festivals and author talks & signings. You could also do the opposite - combine your other hobbies/interests with reading. I joined a ladies homesteading group last year and since then I have reviewed a book on hog raising and a memoir of growing up on a farm.
  4. Reduce your book buying. Our book buying habit can be another unhealthy habit; one that can cause financial hardships. Or perhaps lead to hoarding. Since becoming a Barnes & Noble member, I have purchased a bunch more books than I normally would. I've probably read half of them. I try to stick to the bargain shelves and only go into the store when I have an extra coupon. If that still too much temptation for you, get a library card and make regular visits (there are often also programs that could go along with the tip above). My library also as a digital library that allows for checking out ebooks and audiobooks. While mine is not as useful now that it isn't compatible with my Kindle and doesn't have a good listen-online option. There might be some truth in Marie Kondo's assertion to have no more than 30 books in the house. Without all the unread books to stare at all the time, you might feel a little less stressed to read all the time.

Reading is good for you, just in moderation

Overall, reading is good for you. It keeps your brain sharp, lets you experience cultures, places, and time periods that you may never experience in real life. It also gives opportunities to explore issues that can be uncomfortable to discuss. But keep in mind the old adage, "everything in moderation". And while it might be hard to believe there is any such thing as too much reading, it is important to keep our reading habits in check.

reading reduces alzheimer risk

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. I have joked on my blog that my blog title is apt---sometimes I do actually think that my reading/blogging has veered into addiction. I try to be aware of when I'm making bad life decisions for my reading habits (and I'm moderately successful).

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction