How to manage emotionally triggering books


Is it weird when I call a book “emotionally triggering,” I’m talking about the passive of time in the book rather than anything else?

I can deal with my fair share of self-harm, sexual abuse, and even suicide. When a book writes about them (and they do it well), I find it most fascinating and continue to read instead of depressing and want to put the book down.

However, you mention the passive of time and getting older and being on your deathbed and I’m an emotional wreck.

I’m currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and if you haven’t already heard of this book it’s an emotional time bomb. Each section of the book brings forth something else that will break you down, make you cry, or leave you in the dark of your bedroom with a full blown anxiety attack. Almost every review (despite its star rating) has said “THIS BOOK IS DEPRESSING AS FUCK. HEED CAUTION.” Who would ever want to read a book like that?

But people do and they all fall prey to its emotional triggers and depression. Every time someone mentions how old they are and how their bodies and deteriorating and culling up dead people, then I’m in the dark having an anxiety attack. It’s got something for everyone!


For the most part, if a book is emotionally triggering for me (and many are. How do you write an adult book that doesn’t talk about existential crisis?) I will put it down. If it’s not worth my time reading or if the book straight up sucks the I won’t do it. I’ll just put it down, remove it from my Goodreads, and not mention it again. I won’t write a review. I won’t talk about it with friends. If a book is emotionally triggering for me, it might not be for anyone else so I don’t bring up my opinions on it because I would rather someone read it for themselves.

22822858However, this book is good. The writing is beautiful albeit a little heavy on the descriptors and unnecessary comments. And yes, emotionally triggering. So I’m stuck at this crossroads where I need to decide if I want to continue reading the book despite its emotional triggers, or if I should put the book down and go the route that I’m used to.

And I’ve decided that I’m going to continue reading it. But how do I manage the emotional triggers? How do I get passed them and still enjoy the book. I’ve basically put together a list of ways I can manage this emotion and continue on. I hope you enjoy it!


1. It’s just a book. If you’re a big fantasy book reader always wanting to ship your OTP and bust out the knives and guns to defeat the bad guy, then you might be one of those Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole falling people who have pretty bad book hangovers. You get lost in the book. You find yourself traipsing along through a story as if you’re standing beside the main character. What they feel, you feel. It’s a great feeling and one of the ones that really makes me love reading. However, you need to draw a line when it comes to the emotionally difficult stuff. If you find yourself trapped in the abuse of a character or tripping down a dark path, you have to remember that it’s just a book. It’s fiction. It’s a fantasy. It’s something that someone made up in their brain, put to words, and got some sadistic publisher to publish. It’s just a book and reality is waiting outside your bedroom door and reality isn’t as bad as the book you’re reading.


2. Take breaks. It’s so crucial that when you’re reading a book that is emotionally triggering and an amazing read is to take breaks. Take 5 minutes. Take an hour. Set a timer on your phone. If you’ve got one of those smart watches or a Fitbit, then set it to tickle you every hour and take a walk. Sometimes the cause for the emotion draining is the fact that you’ve spent too much time stuck in the book’s story and you need to pull yourself out. Forcing yourself to take a break while you read will refocus your brain to the reality of things. It’s a sunny day. There’s a dog sleeping at your feet. There’s a cat swatting at your water glass. If you take a break and look around or walk around, your brain will naturally pull itself out of the emotionally draining and give you the energy you need to continue reading.

3. Keep distractions close by. This kind of goes along with taking breaks. If you’re like me and you think about books long after you’ve finished reading them, then you need to  refocus your brain on something else. I don’t want to say “distract” yourself because that implies almost a bandage to the wound rather than a fix. However, if you’re able to refocus your brain on another activity then you’re not distracting yourself from the inevitable continuation of reading, but taking your mind completely off the book and doing something else for a while. It’s a method used for people with have obsessive thoughts (like me). Don’t “distract” yourself, but refocus your brain to do something else other than thinking about the book. I like Candy Crush personally as a way to stimulate my brain and refocus.

4. Learn to know when to let go. The final step is basically pulling the ripcord. While you may try to be as strong as you can be when reading an emotionally triggering book, sometimes the themes and the story are just too much. In this case, you need to let the book go. I’ve come across so many books where I thought it was enjoyable but then feel emotionally triggered by one little theme that runs through the entirety of the book that I had to let it go. It’s tough for us book readers especially since we’re all about reading what’s new and interesting and possible award winners. I feel a little bit of pressure to read and enjoy some very popular books because everyone else is reading them. Granted this is all in my head and I can easily turn it off, but it’s an insecurity of mine. But knowing when to let a book go or stop reading when you’re feeling emotionally triggered is like learning that what you’re going through isn’t the definer of your being. It’s like CBT to know when enough is enough. You have control and it’s as easy as closing the book.


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