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Reading in lockdown: mental wellbeing

People in Scotland are using reading to combat isolation, stress and anxiety and try to find a sense of normality

Last updated: 20 May 2020

In order to track how reading habits have changed during lockdown, Scottish Book Trust has recruited a panel of readers across Scotland. Each week they complete a short survey letting us know what they are reading and how they feel about it.

Over the past four weeks, we’ve asked our panellists all about how reading in lockdown is impacting their mental wellbeing. The results were fascinating, and sometimes surprising! We saw how people are using reading to combat isolation, stress and anxiety, connect with friends and family and try to find a sense of normality.

Managing stress

Lots of people spoke about the benefit books and reading have had on their mental wellbeing during lockdown. Reading has given people a way to take their mind off worrying news, cope with insomnia, and fill their time at home.

“It's hard for me to imagine coping with the current lock-down situation without books.”

For those who are isolated or have a lot of free time, reading has provided essential structure; almost all of our panellists read before bed or over lunch. Lots of respondants told us they have enjoyed reading outdoors in their garden or listening to an audio book while walking.

Struggling to focus

Everybody’s experience of lockdown is different. For people who are in key worker roles, working from home and looking after children, finding time to read has often become harder.

“Initially I was reading a lot less as I didn't have the concentration to read”

Others said that illness, unemployment and general upheaval meant that they simply felt too anxious and distracted to focus.

Making connections

We received a lot of comments about how reading was bringing families together or helping to bridge the gap between households.

“My eldest son has ASD so the youngest has been reading to him. Lovely to see.”

People are using social media and online book clubs to chat about what they are reading, and even running book swaps through the post. One grandfather records himself reading a poem each week to send to his grandchildren.

Managing expectations

Some panel members said they felt guilty for not reading more, but most said they were finding ways to make reading easy for themselves.

“Make time for reading, but don't let it become another stress point.”

Some people are re-reading favourite books or stories from childhood, while others are using audiobooks, short stories, poetry and online author readings instead. Most importantly, reading shouldn’t feel like another chore on the to-do list; lots of people told us they had stopped reading something they didn’t enjoy or found challenging during lockdown.

Find out more

We’ll be sharing more reading in lockdown updates over the coming weeks. If you'd like to know more about our research into reading in lockdown, please email Head of Research and Evaluation Katherine Wilkinson on katherine.wilkinson@scottishbooktrust.com(this will open in a new window).