As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the library of my university, desperate to be productive.
I have a brand new notebook, brand new pens (coloured fine-liners to be snazzy!), and an iced soy chai latte from Starbucks. All of these things give me the illusion that I’m about to do something big, but that’s not always the case.
Today, it definitely isn’t the case.
I have so many ideas floating around my mind, but I can’t seem to stop myself from getting distracted. My anxiety is getting the better of me.
For the past hour or so, I have been hiding behind my laptop screen from passersby, hoping that they can’t see what I’m writing – which will be stupidly ironic when I post this. Perhaps this is because online, nobody can see how I struggled to maintain my focus for more than a few minutes at a time, or the way I fiddled bashfully every time I stumbled over my words.
We, as writers, need to learn that it’s okay to stumble. It’s okay to take breaks to rejuvenate our minds. It doesn’t mean that we are quitting, it means that we are human.
Specifically, when we suffer from mental illness, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves, and it’s important that we implement that, outside of our writing.
These are a few things that help me, personally. They may help you too, but it’s good to find out what works best for you!
It’s sometimes easy to rush through life without stopping to notice what’s around you. This is the same with writing – it can be easy to get lost in the idea of getting something done when your mental health isn’t up to par with your productivity.
According to Professor Mark Williams, the former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs,” he says.
“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
We cannot stay inside our own heads at all times. As well as frequent breaks and exercise, even if it’s just a short walk, mindfulness can keep our minds inspired and energized enough that we wouldn’t have to rely on racking our brains for ideas when we simply don’t have them. This, in turn, reduces the stress of feeling pressured to have something in mind every time we open a blank document. Sometimes just noticing nature or people’s manners and behaviours are enough to help us with that.
Meditation goes hand-in-hand gracefully with mindfulness. It’s all about having time to yourself in silence, outside of your anxieties and worries, and getting in tune with your body.
I find it helps to take 15 minutes here and there in the morning, just before anybody else in the house is up, and at night after everybody has gone to bed. This gives me the freedom to sit – cross-legged is most comfortable for me – and pay attention to my body. Honing in on the way I breathe, my own thoughts, sounds outside, and the sensations in particular parts of my body each help me to stop my mind from wander.
Creatively, it helps to pretend that I’m a tree, rooted to the ground. Every time I breathe in, I feel it in my roots, and as I breathe out, I imagine the sensations traveling throughout my bark, along my branches, and finally to my leaves.
I’m British, so perhaps I’m slightly biased, but coffee doesn’t often do much for me other than making my anxiety more noticeable. Whereas tea has just the right amount of caffeine to keep me alert, yet simultaneously soothes me.
Taking a tea break in between writing makes sure I stay focused and have ample opportunities to relax my mind.
I’m a bit of a bath-bomb junkie and I spend more time than I care to admit in Lush stores throughout London. I can’t help it – I love taking baths. I love them even more when the water is made up of all kinds of funky colours. I take solace in sitting amongst those colours and pretending I’m in my own little canvas painting.
Again, this ties in with mindfulness, but I like to look at the bubbles and the way the colours merge in with one another and imagine a story inside this canvas. My favourite bath bomb, Intergalactic (£4.25 @ Lush), gives me the impression that I’m floating about in the galaxy. All of my worries are minuscule compared to the size of this vast universe made up of colours and lights, and I can allow myself to float away with the thought of it.
Lighting candles help too! I recommend Garden Sweet Pea by Yankee (£19.99 for a medium jar candle) for the ultimate experience in relaxation.
This may sound rather contradictory but writing helps. Perhaps this won’t always be genius works of fiction, but merely how you feel. Writing down our thoughts and feelings is a therapist-approved method of putting a break on our emotional responses and really getting to grips with why we feel the way that we do. Similar to venting, it helps to lift our worries from our shoulders and clear our minds.
Remember, having a clogged mind disrupts our fluency in writing creatively. We may get our thoughts jumbled, or just struggle to concentrate. Writing our thoughts clearly at least helps us to feel better organized, and therefore less stressed.
These are all methods that help me, but remember that they are not sure-fire cures. Sometimes we need to allow our minds a rest and step away from our work for a while. We can always come back to our ideas, but we need to take care of ourselves first and foremost.
What self-help methods aid you in de-stressing and helping to manage your mental health?
Happy writing, and good luck!