Self help

Let’s talk about mental health as writers

starbucks

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!

Mindfulness

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

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.

Tea

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.

Baths

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.

Writing

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!

 

 

Self help

Writing Anxiety

tizzu

If you’re a writer, it’s safe to say you’ve probably been there – the need to be productive, but the lack of motivation or ideas to begin. I have a love-hate relationship with writing the first few sentences of anything, especially if I’m itching to get something on paper before quite deciding what. I often find myself staring at blank pages, fumbling with various sentences that just don’t read well enough – as well as battling with my own subconscious (anxiety is a b*tch, ya know), I can quickly burn myself out and self-sabotage to the point of closing my laptop in a slump and being unproductive elsewhere.

So how can we diminish these feelings, despite our anxieties?

The following are tips that help me, but it’s important to find what works for you! What works for one person may not help another.

 

Music

Research shows that music can actually affect your mood. This is evident when people start dancing to upbeat songs, for example. I find that making playlists that pertain to the genre of the piece I plan to write helps me channel the desired mood, and this also helps me to tap into the minds of my characters. As well as this, I have a general playlist of instrumental tracks that aren’t too distracting to write to. If you feel that you would find yourself distracted by singing along to your favourite songs, try piano pieces, or movie and video game soundtracks. It certainly helps me to have some sort of background noise.

If you think that music will distract you altogether, try searching up nature sounds. For example, this video is over an hour long and is just soothing enough to write to.

If you prefer to write in complete silence, find a quiet place in your house to let your mind wander freely. Tell your family or housemates that you plan to write for an hour or so, and ask them if they’d mind leaving you alone for a while.

 

Planning

This method suits both myself and my partner really well. As people who find ourselves overwhelmed by ideas sometimes, it definitely helps to write these ideas down in a coherent manner to avoid them getting lost amongst the hustle and bustle of our minds. I particularly enjoy scrapbooking and making mood-boards of my ideas; this helps me to keep track of idea development and make sure everything is organised. The visual representation of my ideas through scrapbooking also gives me the boost of inspiration I often need to write those tricky scenes.

Try planning out, paragraph by paragraph, what you intend to write about, and then build the words around that. This way, you’ll be getting rid of the hard part – deciding on the direction of the plot, and you can focus wholly on the words and how you’d like to portray the scene.

 

Habits

Get into the habit of writing every day if possible, even if it’s just a paragraph or two per day. This will diminish those feelings of self-deprecation that keep the words from flowing and you might just feel better for being productive! Don’t beat yourself if you end up writing a page of crap, we all have those days. Just be happy for having written something! Crap writing can be revisited later, but not if there’s nothing to revisit.

 

Don’t be afraid to step away from your work sometimes!

We can’t always commit to a single story. We’re likely to burn ourselves out that way. So don’t be afraid to step away and work on something else sometimes.

Personally, I enjoy fumbling around with writing prompts to see what I come up with. Sometimes it just takes venturing into another plot to make you feel refreshed enough to come back to your main story.

Here are a few websites that I frequent for prompts:
http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts
http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/
http://www.creative-writing-solutions.com/creative-writing-prompts.html

Also, I’m giving 642 Things to Write by San Francisco Writers’ Grotto an honourable mention. This book, as well as others of the same series, have helped me to climb up and out of a fair few fickle phases.

If you don’t feel like writing, step away from the page or the screen for a little while. Perhaps do some of those chores you’ve been putting off so you don’t have to worry about doing them later, read a book to stimulate your brain or play a video game. Immersing yourself in something else will help you to quieten your mind, and you can always come back to your story later with a fresher mindset!

 

Take Regular Breaks

Writers aren’t immune to the health hazards of being in front of a screen or in the same position for too long. We all need breaks from time to time; it’s important to move around and rest our eyes and minds now and then. Sometimes, our anxieties are exacerbated by tired minds, and forcing ourselves to get the most perfect strings of words on paper can only be a recipe for disaster. Make sure to get outside every so often, even if just for a short walk. You may even draw inspiration from the outside world! I find that taking a notebook on walks proves to help me come up with ideas better than I would if I was cooped up at home all day. That said, don’t push yourself if you really don’t feel like writing. We can’t always have effortlessly productive days.

 

Self-Care

Make sure you practice self-care! It is extremely important to eat well, get a good night’s sleep – and perhaps a 90-minute nap here and there, and exercise when and where you can. Your body won’t forgive you for eating trash, stewing in the same clothes over and other, and keeping yourself up at night, and all of these can contribute to your writing anxiety. A healthy body can make for a healthy mind and a healthy mind will flow more freely when it comes to writing.

Keep your hygiene in tip top shape too. Going too long without a wash will prove a distraction, and there’s nothing more refreshing than feeling clean and fresh.

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Allow yourself to follow these tips to aid in finding your own methods of getting through your writing anxiety. What works for me may not work for everybody, but just know that you can get out of this slump! Most importantly, don’t push yourself. Be kind to yourself and set yourself realistic goals to avoid feeling disappointed by the end of the day. Only you know what you feel you can achieve throughout the day.

What are your tips for getting through a writing slump?

Good luck, and write well!