Why might people have struggled to read books this year?


People may have struggled to read books this year due to experiencing multiple  stressors including homeschooling, homeworking , being furloughed or financial hardships. Moreover these prolonged stressors can contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, overwhelm and may be compounded by grief or trauma. as a consequence of COVID 19 and the associated  uncertainty. Stress, anxiety and other mental health difficulties affect Individuals cognitive abilities including attention, reduced motivation, impaired concentration and memory which could potentially avert individuals from reading books this year.


Most of society and the world at large have been under a real threat due to the pandemic. This will have resulted in our fear response being heightened and sustained due to real danger and limited relief and resolve although a vaccine has now been produced. Consequently the fight and flight response will have resulted in many individuals being hypervigilant to threat and danger whilst being more alert. 


Unfortunately the resolution of the danger and flood of relief from COVID has been limited as the infection rates continue to increase along with the death toll. Many of us remain in a stage of hyper-vigilance, unable to divert our attention elsewhere in case we put ourselves at risk. Logically it makes no sense but our nervous system doesn’t know this. Consequently it becomes more difficult to become absorbed in reading books as at an unconscious level we may be scared of letting our guard down until we know the danger has passed.

As well as the impact of feeling like we are in danger, the pandemic means that we are spending a lot more time using technology due to being at home and restricted  from socializing which means increased amounts of time in front of screens using zoom, making video Whatsapp calls or gaming. Many of us are working at home, socialising with friends in front of a screen, doing online shopping and this can impact our ability to read books. It must be noted that reading may now feel like a burden or chore rather than a hobby or pleasurable, therefore people may be less likely to engage with this activity.


How has the pandemic impacted our concentration and attention span?

The pandemic has adversely affected and impaired our concentration due to the continual excessive demands placed upon our cognitive abilities. The pandemic has placed a greater demand upon us due to the increased use of technology and having to conduct meetings virtually and via video conferencing and platforms.

Research suggests that isolation and loneliness is on the rise along with rates of depression which have doubled during the pandemic according to the Office of National Statistics. The rise of mental health problems has led to poorer concentration levels as these are symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. The pre-frontal cortex regulates attention and when we are  faced with immediate physical danger our  prefrontal cortex shuts down to make way for the more primitive parts of your brain which  can respond quickly in order to protect us.

The Prefrontal cortex weakens when faced with stressful situations such as COVID 19 therefore this adversely affects our ability to concentrate as the fight and flight response is activated which is due to anxiety and stress and the release of cortisol and adrenaline.  During the pandemic there will have been a heightened activation of the sympathetic nervous system which directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. Individuals react to this through the ‘Fight and flight ‘ response however some individuals may also  freeze which accounts for concentration and attention difficulties.

Is there something to be said about going back to familiar books for comfort? (i.e. someone hasn’t finished a new book but has read their favourites)


I believe that many will be returning to  familiar books for comfort as they know what to expect and this reduces exposure to uncertainty which is already heightened during the pandemic. It’s likely that re-reading familiar books can be perceived as  relaxing and soothing which is craved for during these unprecedented times. 

Many individuals may be returning to familiar books when  needing to escape for a moment as its a place where they can  trust as opposed to novel books. True stories, unfamiliar fictions and newfound writing styles may be perceived as far too risky.

Re-reading doesn’t just return us to a well-loved story, but to the people we were when we read them first.


We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, drop a comment below 🙂


Martina Witter

Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist