Why Do I Get So Sad And Depressed After Reading A Book Skip to main content

We often talk about the therapeutic escape reading offers. In them, you find a retreat from reality. They transport you to worlds where you are distracted from the humdrum of life.

But what about books that hit a bit too close to home? Do you never feel low after reading a certain book? Is it solely about the book, or is your mental health at stake? Oh, well.

Depression is real. And books can stir unexpected emotions. They evoke strong feelings, more so in someone who is already in the clutches of a poor psychological state. They can plunge a sad person into deeper despair.

So, let’s move on to the concern of why certain books trigger these feelings. Why do I get so sad and depressed after reading a book?

The Psychological Resonance of Reading

Literature acts like a mirror to our souls. Characters’ struggles echo our own experiences at times. We tap into a well of unresolved emotions or past traumas. This triggers depressive episodes or feelings that we’ve buried on the surface. It is a connection that hinges on the psychological concept of catharsis.

Catharsis, meaning “purification” in Greek. It suggests that we tend to release strong emotions through art. Reading about a character battling depression that mirrors our own struggles can be cathartic. We see our pain reflected. It potentially validates our feelings and lessens the burden of isolation. Confronting themes of loss or existential despair in books lends us a safe space to process these emotions indirectly.

However, cleansing our emotions becomes a double-edged sword for us. Although catharsis renders a healthy release, if we dwell on those themes for too long, our depression will only go downhill.

What we need is a balance to let literature be cathartic while maintaining a hopeful outlook on life.

Identification with Characters

We naturally connect with characters who share our experiences. Their joys become ours, and their sorrows resonate deeply. This is empathy in action. But it goes further. Reading about a character’s struggles can trigger emotional contagion, a phenomenon where we unconsciously mirror their feelings. Suddenly, the character’s despair feels uncomfortably familiar, potentially leading to a dip in our own mood.


If you’re already struggling with depression, your empathetic response will only heighten your feelings through projection. We unconsciously project our own experiences onto the character. Their depression becomes a reflection of our own, intensifying the emotional impact. This can be endorsing – finally, someone “gets it” – but it can also be a double-edged sword.

Dwelling on these mirrored struggles can reinforce negative thoughts and feelings, potentially worsening depressive symptoms.

Catharsis and Hope

Literature is prone to evoke emotions, even the difficult ones. It is a good source of catharsis. When we see our struggles reflected, it lessens the burden of isolation. Yet, if you have depressive tendencies, this connection can be detrimental too.

Themes and Topics in Literature Prompting Depression

While we often turn to books for solace, some narratives can unintentionally trigger depressive episodes. This is because literature frequently explores themes that resonate deeply with those prone to depression. A few common catalysts are:

  • Loss: It is a universal experience. If you are struggling with depression, it can be the fire for you. The theme of bereavement will remind you of your own loss of a relationship. Or a shattered dream can mirror your own unhealed wounds. This will exacerbate feelings of sadness and emptiness.
  • Trauma: Books that explore traumatic events triggering readers who have experienced similar trauma on another level. The raw emotions depicted can resurface repressed memories. It, then, leads to a resurgence of depressive symptoms.
  • Existential Angst: Literature raises big questions about life’s purpose and mortality. These existential themes are unsettling for those with depression since they are already wrestling with feelings of meaninglessness. They prompt doubts and fuel negative thinking patterns.
  • Loneliness: Characters struggling to connect with others are deeply relatable to those experiencing depression. Reading about their loneliness can validate their own feelings of alienation. They might feel more hopeless or become nihilists in response.

While these themes are triggering, we must also acknowledge the potential for catharsis. Reading about characters overcoming similar struggles offers hope too. Nonetheless, we need to be mindful of our emotional state.

If a book is dragging us down, we should consider taking a break. Or maybe choose a story with an uplifting perspective. Remember, literature can be a powerful tool for both reflection and healing. But, we should be an active participant in shaping our reading experience.

Reader’s Emotional State and Vulnerability

Books, with their power to transport us to a new dimension, it can be a blessing and a curse for readers already susceptible to depression. Their current emotional state acts as a filter, intensifying how they connect with certain themes and how vulnerable they are to depressive thoughts.

Emotional Vulnerability

If you are emotionally vulnerable, you are increasingly sensitive to external influences. Your connection with stories touching upon themes of despair overwhelms you. It’s like reading with a magnifying glass on negativity. It amplifies the impact to startling degrees.

Cognitive Biases

This vulnerability also interacts with cognitive biases. They are mental shortcuts that often distort our thinking. Being prone to depression, you will see your own struggles mirrored in every character’s misstep.

This bias reinforces negative self-beliefs. The story becomes a reflection of your own darkness, potentially leading you to a downward spiral.

Mindful Reading and Self-Care

To dismiss damaging influences, be a mindful reader. Dismissing the potential for positive connections would be a mistake. Even dark narratives can release pent-up emotions. Read more about characters who overcome their struggles.

Remember, reading should be enriching, not detrimental. Your reading journey should complement your well-being, not worsen existing struggles.

Coping with Post-Reading Sadness and Depression

A book’s emotional impact often lingers. Here are ways to manage it:

  • Therapeutic Writing: Journal about your emotional response will help you process it in a healthy way.
  • Discussion Groups: Talk to others about the book. It will create shared understanding, especially helpful for feelings of isolation.
  • Mindfulness Practices: Meditation and deep breathing are likely to regulate emotions and promote self-awareness.

Choose Books for Your Mood

Just like choosing a movie for a certain mood, you can tailor your reading experience to your emotional state:

  • Feeling Down? Opt for lighter reads with humor, adventure, or uplifting themes.
  • Seeking Validation? Choose books that explore similar struggles where characters overcome challenges.
  • Craving Catharsis? Consider darker narratives that allow for emotional release through shared experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to choose books to avoid depression triggers?

Opt for genres like comedy, self-help, or uplifting fiction. Authors like Fredrik Backman or books like “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho can offer positive narratives.

Which genres or authors may trigger depressive emotions?

Works by authors like Sylvia Plath or genres like existential fiction and noir can deeply explore themes of despair and may trigger such emotions.

Can book clubs reduce post-reading sadness?

Yes, participating in book clubs like Oprah’s Book Club or Goodreads groups offers community support, helping to mitigate feelings of sadness by sharing insights and reflections.


Reading is a profound emotional experience. On one hand it offers escape and empathy. On the other hand, it can trigger negativity in you. The key lies in mindful reading.

Remember, there’s no shame in putting down a book. Engage with enlightening literature, not otherwise.

Let reading be your passage to growth, complementing your mental health journey.

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