Coping With Stress

There are many factors that can lead to stress in a writer’s life.  The problem is that there are some sources of stress you can’t control.  Examples of things you can’t control are what people think of your books, how well your promotional efforts will pay off, and what online retailers are going to do next.

stress article
ID 19168698 © Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com

So how can you cope?  After struggling with overwhelming stress for the past four months, I’ve come up with a few things we can do to help put stress at a manageable level.

1. Routine

I think the first thing to do is set up a routine.  Predictability helps to buffer you because constant change is a source of stress in itself.

Write in the same place.  Do all your non-writing activities in a different place.

I suggest writing in the same place(s).  This can be the same room in your home, or it can be outside the home.  Once I started writing at the Starbucks cafe in Barnes & Noble, my stress level went significantly down.  When I’m home, I don’t write.  Some people have offices in their homes where they do all their writing.  So working at home is fine.  Just make sure it’s in the same place each time you do it.

I do all my non-writing activities at home.  I edit at home.  I do emails at home.  I do blog posts at home.  But I no longer write there.  If you write in one room, then consider doing all your non-writing tasks in a different room.

By writing at the same place, you train your mind when it’s time to be creative.  By going to Barnes & Noble for 3-4 hours a day, I have bumped my word count from an average of 1500 – 2000 words a day to 3000 to 5000 words a day in a month’s time.  I’m able to write faster, and I feel fresher when I’m working.

Take days off.

I know the conventional wisdom is to write every single day, but this was killing me because I wasn’t giving my brain time to decompress.  I always worried I’d lose serious word count by taking days off.  But in April, I started writing Monday through Friday (sometimes only Monday through Thursday).   The other days were days where I was not allowed to do any work.  I could do anything else, but I couldn’t do anything with writing unless it was necessary, which was rare.

Getting back into things on Monday does take a little longer than it does on Tuesday, but I’ve found the days off have been the trick I needed in order stop feeling uptight all the time.

2.  Sleep

Sleep is important for mental and physical health.  I recommend giving yourself a bedtime routine at the same time each night (if you can) to help train your mind to get ready for sleep.  I like to spend one hour in bed watching a movie or TV show off my Kindle.  Some people like to read for pleasure.  Some people like to listen to music.  Whatever relaxes you is best, and it has to be non-work related.

How many hours of sleep you need depends on your body.  I need nine hours of sleep to feel truly refreshed in the morning.  I don’t always get it since I have four kids, but if I can get it on most nights, I’m good.  Some people can get by with less hours.  Try different hours until you find your ideal hours.

I know this is not possible for everyone, but try to get as much sleep as you possibly can.

3.  Diet

A few years ago, I was a skeptic that what we eat and drink can impact our ability to work better, but when I changed what I was eating and drinking and was twice as much productive during the day, I was convinced.

We all know the foods and drinks that are good for us, and we all know what we should avoid.  I’m not saying you can’t ever have the bad foods and drinks.  Just make them a treat for rare occasions instead of a part of your daily diet.

It might take you a couple weeks to adjust to the new diet.  You might even need to gradually change the way you’re doing things.  But if you make it a priority to eat and drink better, it will impact your ability to work better.

4.  Exercise

The choice of exercise is up to you, but I prefer walking.  You don’t have to do this every single day, but if you can do it a couple times a week, it’ll be better than doing nothing.

5.  Laugh

When you’re stressed, it’s hard to laugh, but that’s partly why I believe taking days off from writing and having a wind-down time before bed every night can help relax our minds so we’re more open to humor.

And with that being said, I thought I’d leave you with a cute little comic I found that made me chuckle.

comic for blog post
ID 19168698 © Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com

20 Comments

  1. I also try to find ways to relax. Hypnosis, meditation, ASMR videos. You never know what’ll calm you and help you get back into a writing groove. Believe me, I know.

    1. What does “ASMR” stand for?

      You’re right. Hypnosis and mediation are other ways to relax. Have you ever tried hypnosis? As a psychology student, that always fascinated me. I’ve never tried it, though. I have done some meditation exercises, but it’s been years.

      1. ASMR is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s this phenomena where certain sounds trigger tingling sensations on your scalp that are supposed to relax you. You’ll find thousands of videos on YouTube devoted to creating that sensation (I feel it pretty heavily myself).
        And I’ve tried hypnosis plenty of times, and can even do a little hypnosis myself. It’s quite fun, and very relaxing.

        1. I’ve never heard of that. I’ll have to check it out.

          1. I can recommend a video or two if you like.

            1. Sure!

              I checked out a couple that featured running water and a thunderstorm, but the comments recommended having headphones on while listening to them to get the tingling effect. Even without the headphones, I found it relaxing to listen to.

              1. Well, there are quite a few that I’ve always turned to when I want to relax. Here are the links:
                Turkish Bath ASMR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_XBxR9-sYU
                Your Loving Friend Roleplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBkGaMA9jTo
                Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8OmKJAjFuA

                1. Thanks! I look forward to checkin them out!

                  1. No problem. Let me know what you think.

  2. Ron Fritsch says:

    I like all five points. “Routine” means something different for me, but I think a routine, whatever it may be, is crucial for a writer.

    1. I know routines can fluctuate depending on someone’s circumstance. I have a friend whose husband’s work schedule changes three times a year, so she has to adjust her own routine around it. I imagine that presents more of a challenge.

  3. This is great, practical advice which I know I should make more effort to follow.

  4. I really, really needed this. I’m so glad you wrote about it. When I start my next round of ROW80, I’m going to get that routine going. I’ll schedule certain hours for editing for clients, hours for writing, and hours for relaxation. I also need hours for Bible study and prayer. And exercise. Whew!

    Honestly, some of my main problems right now are lack of exercise, eating badly, and not getting enough sleep. Every time I start a routine of walking on the treadmill, my foot gives me trouble. I’m going to try to get back on my PiYo routine. And I’ve been taking a class called Culinary Herbalism, so I’m going to gradually start working on that kind of eating. And the sleep thing…I usually only get about six hours or less. That needs to change, too.

    So thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. Your life (minus the job) sounds as hectic as mine. If only we didn’t need to sleep! LOL

      I hope things get less stressful for you. I’m still aiming to lower my stress. I think I know how you feel. It’s so hard to juggle everything. 😦

    2. Oh, I wanted to add that I needed this post so much I had to write it. I once heard if there’s something you’re struggling with, you learn more by writing the post on it. Around February when I did my taxes and took a look at what was happening to my sales, my stress started. It kept mounting and mounting until I started to have panic attacks and repetitive nightmares. I even had a rebound of this earlier this week. That’s when I decided to sit down and write out tips on how to manage my stress better.

      Everything you mentioned on your list of things to do resonated with me. I kept nodding the whole time because it mirrors a lot of mine. May we both find that adjusting our diet and exercise will help us get the other things on track. I’m really hoping this will be the start of a period of de-stressing for both of us!

  5. carolmalone says:

    Thank you Ruth Ann. Your article came at a low point in my writing life, when the stress of not being perfect all the time was weighing me down. I do adore your advice to not be married to writing every single day as others have suggested. That we can take a break and allow our minds to soften and feel calm. Thank you. You’re one of my favorite authors.

    1. Thank you! That means so much to me!!

      I hear you on the stress of being perfect. That one is so hard to beat. When I started writing, almost every article I read said that if I wanted to be a “real” writer, I needed to write every single day. Unless we’re going to allow an email or a grocery list to be accepted as writing, then it’s just not realistic. 🙂 Trying to get something in every day burned me out.

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