Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
December 11, 2017

Winning the Anxiety War

Piper Bayard

First, I will speak as a writer . . .

I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve done it. I started out thinking, “I’ll just pop onto Facebook for a few minutes before I hit the WIP.” Then one post leads to another, which leads to an article, which leads to another, and before I know it, I’m locked in an ideological battle with a troll, gnashing away at each other’s perceptions of reality, while anxiety savages me like a rag doll in the mouth of a pit bull. Half my day is gone, and I’m on the phone the other half saying, “You won’t believe what this idiot said! . . .” . . . Anxiety 10, Me and WIP 0.


Actual photo of writer beaten down by anxiety after a morning online.


As writers, we are anxiety-driven on the best of days.

Even if we aren’t in the throes of our own internal angst, we are seeking to provoke anxiety in others. We do everything we can to infuse our works with conflict and tension. Why? Because we all want to write that story that has people screaming at the characters and staying up all night turning pages. We know the power of anxiety.

If our readers are anxious, they are ours.

Now, I will speak as a writer who has worked daily for a decade with a forty-year combat and intelligence veteran who is a senior member of the intelligence community . . .

Writers aren’t the only people who know the great, pervasive psychological power of anxiety. Anxiety opens the door to subversion. Anxiety opens the door to control.

Journalists know the power of anxiety. Businessmen know the power of anxiety. Politicians know the power of anxiety. Big Media is Big Business, and Big Business is inextricably intertwined with Big Politics. Put it all together in the big picture, and we see Big Media, Big Business, and Big Politics wed to each other in their motives to keep us anxious and, therefore, keep us coming back.

It’s no secret that the days of Walter Cronkite are over.

Virtually extinct is the journalist who puts out dry facts, devoid of their own voice, and leaves it to others to spin, comment, and opine. In fact, journalists are now celebrities, with their voices and opinions being the spearhead of their drive to build audiences. Like all good writers and storytellers, they hold their audiences with tension and conflict. They create and maintain anxiety to keep people coming back for more. We can't look away.



But who are the players behind the journalists? Surely they just want to make money by bringing us the truth, right?

Well . . . Umm . . . No.

Many of us think of media in terms of “American” media or “Western” media. That may have been true at one time, but now “American” and “Western” media outlets have international owners, many of whom are not American or even Western.

For example, the primary shareholder of Class A stock in The New York Times Company is Mexican billionaire tycoon Carlos Slim. Saudi Prince Alwaleed was a co-owner of 21st Century Fox until he sold his stake to an unidentified buyer last month. Foreign billionaire felon George Soros has his fingers in over thirty mainstream media pies. And CNN? It’s founder, Ted Turner, also founded Russia’s Channel 6. Media is a global enterprise with no loyalty or interest in any single country. This global enterprise generates revenue by generating anxiety in our society to serve the goals and objectives of players both domestic and foreign.

Social media, with no obligation or pretense of being unbiased, is also rife with foreign influence.

Saudi’s Alwaleed holds a 35% interest in Twitter. Teams of professional trolls from Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, and countless other countries daily work the internet, manipulating information fed to the West for their own agendas. And proving nationality is no indicator of loyalties, we also have the recent confessions of Mark Zuckerberg that he sold ad space on Facebook to Russia for the purpose of influencing last year’s American election. Social media is a mosh pit, where we who enter are slammed with anxieties, both real and invented, for ultimate purposes that we are not in a position to know.

What does all of this add up to?

Media is a battleground. Messages are the weapons. Our anxiety is the prize.

He who holds our anxieties, holds us.



How do we protect ourselves from psychologically aggressive media?

As writers, we can’t avoid the need for a platform any more than we can avoid the need for coffee. So how do we win the Anxiety War and protect ourselves from those who would manipulate us through our fears?

When it comes to wars, I ask a warrior. According to my writing partner, warrior Jay Holmes, the best mental defense is compartmentalization. That is the art of leaving the battle on the battlefield.

Three Elements of Compartmentalization

  1. Decision

We must decide and commit up front to leaving the battle on the battlefield. This decision happens before we ever enter the arena.

For an author, this can be a moment to pause and think before we open our computers.

  • Why are we going online?

Remember the writer’s goals of an online platform—to build audience, to network, and to sell books. If we are on social media for other purposes, we can generally find better uses for our time.

  • What will we post, and where?

Have a plan for a tweet, a Facebook status, an Instagram, or a blog post before logging onto the platform. Stick to that plan.

  • How long do we have to post and interact with others?

Set a timer and/or state our time limit to a friend who will check us if we stray behind anxiety lines. Honor that limit religiously.



  • How can we avoid Anxiety Bombs while we are online?
    • Unfriend trolls. --- We owe trolls nothing.
    • Discreetly unfollow friends who batter us with their ideals. --- It’s a positive thing when people disagree with us for thoughtful reasons, but when people club us over the head with their own anxieties in the form of post after post of their opinions and beliefs, it creates anxiety for us. We have no obligation to subject ourselves to that, and there is no productive reason to do so.
    • Either avoid headlines, or commit to digging past the headlines. --- Headlines are the Hellfire Missiles of the Media Battleground. They explode their Anxiety Bombs across social media, going viral because people react without ever understanding the essence of the stories. To avoid this, commit to reading before retweeting and giving equal, open-minded time to opposing opinions.
  1. Have a Transition Ritual

Warriors have rituals that help them transition from the battlefield back to home. For example, when Holmes travels home from an overseas mission, he schedules in a few hours in a city with a first class art museum, where he immerses himself in high concepts and beauty. It anchors him to the home world and helps wash away the anxieties of the battlefield.

For a writer leaving the battleground of media behind, this ritual can take almost any form as long as it helps transition the mind from the anxieties of media to the business of the day.

  • Log off and read a good book for fifteen minutes.

Reading focuses our minds away from media anxieties so that when we put down our books, we can choose what we will think about next.

  • Meditate.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal

Sit in a room alone, and focus on breathing, banishing all other thoughts for a few minutes. Let the mind relax and refocus.

  • Do a few yoga poses.

As writers, this has the dual benefit of stretching our bodies while focusing our minds so that we don’t get sore sitting at our desks.

  • Walk the dog.

Hard to beat the power of a walk outside for refocusing our energy. Our dogs will thank us, too.

  • Wash your hands.

This was a ritual I used myself when I was a hospice volunteer. After I visited my patients, I washed my hands as my symbolic way of saying to my mind and soul that I had done all I could do that day, and I needed to focus on my own life again.

Which brings us to . . .


Actual photo of a writer with a life, in control of his anxieties.


  1. Have a Life

It’s impossible to transition from battlefield mode to normal life mode if we have no life outside of social media. Social media friends and colleagues are priceless, but nothing replaces face time. No matter what our platform, we still need our work, our families, our pets, our IRL friends, and our homes if we are to derive any deep satisfaction from life and give us a refuge from those who would battle for our anxieties.

Sometimes, compartmentalization is not enough to tame our anxieties and allow us to make each day productive. One reason for that is because anxiety is an addiction. Like drugs or alcohol, immersion in our anxieties can take over our lives and leave us craving for more.

For those of us who find ourselves in an addictive relationship with anxiety, there are numerous apps and programs that allow us to schedule tweets, statuses, blog posts, etc., in advance so that we don’t have to log on every day. We can also hire others to handle our social media platforms altogether. Many authors find these tools to be an effective way to minimize the power of anxiety to eat away at their time and their sanity.



We do not need to be cannon fodder in the Anxiety War to accomplish our own goals as writers building platforms. If we armor ourselves and use our weapons, we can protect ourselves from the unseen enemies who would use our anxieties against us for their own purposes. We will be able to keep manufactured anxiety where it belongs . . . On the pages of our books.

What are your weapons in the war to dominate your anxieties? What tools do you use to keep your anxieties in check?

Related Articles

Analyzing News: Considering the Source

Is Anxiety an Addiction?

Addiction to Anxiety: Steps to Recovery


*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

38 comments on “Winning the Anxiety War”

  1. Loved this post, Piper! I'm all about shared information, and this was an eye-opener. I've wondered why I get irritated at the "stay tuned" teasers meant to keep me glued to my chair. I'm not good with manipulation of any kind. "Compartmentalization" is a great tool for so many things we face in life. Thanks for the concrete takeaway!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. . . . I always learn, too, when I ask Holmes questions. He is so used to doing this that it took him a little while to realize what it is that he does.

  2. I try to approach social media as a chance to connect in universal ways and hopefully be positive, or funny if it's negative (like sharing a bad thing but having a sense of humor about it). Life is hard enough without people bashing others online, and if you need to rant about something, it's usually better to do it to a close family member or friend who knows all your various facets and loves you.

    1. Your comment reminds me of the Japanese approach. There's the face we show to the public, the face we show to our family and friends, and the face we show to ourselves.

  3. Wow, thanks, Piper. I had let this slip, but it’s so important to keep in mind that media outlets sell because they create anxiety. For an interesting take on this in novel form, see Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.
    Thanks again.

  4. I'm still assessing my relationship with social media. On the good days, it helps me connect with a writing community and gather support and ideas. On bad days, it makes me feel small - as in, I'll never be as good, as famous, as successful, as smart, as talented.....as pretty much everybody else online. I tell myself to keep it in perspective and swear off facebook and twitter for days, but in the end I go back. I need a plan, as you say. That's my new year's resolution.

    1. I understand. I often remind myself of the line from the Desiderata about not comparing ourselves to others. It's difficult sometimes to focus on just being better today than we were yesterday. . . . Good luck with the New Year's resolution. 🙂

  5. Piper, I am a small time for fun writer on social media with a serious side as well. I used to get so anxious to get on social media to see what was happening and how I could relate to others with my conversations and tweets. No more nervousness, and suspense, in fact I am trying to wean off. My Klout score was everything, but my sanity means more, I may have not written something people tuned into, but I surely found I needed the people inside my computer to live. No more, I am a volunteer now, with a real life.

    1. I remember when Klout first came out. I checked my score all the time. I can say now, though, that I don't remember the last time I even thought of Klout before I read your comment. I love it that you're a volunteer. How much better would we and society all be if we volunteered rather than argued on social media?

  6. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I try to limit my overall engagement. I follow a group on Twitter and they do fire me up. But that's okay, as long as I limit my time there. With FB I only engage with readers and writers. I rarely engage in politics there. And I blog. Once a week I create a post that is fed by my strong feelings about life, our country, where we are headed, things we need to be aware of. I may be a lonely voice, but I feel I am
    contributing something. The rest of my writing time is devoted to escaping into my novel. And I LOVE THAT.

  7. You did such a great job on this post, Piper. I absolutely relate to the anxiety of being online these days. It started years ago, but it's gotten worse with all the vitriol pervading the political arena. I don't go online for any of that.

    I want to talk to my pals, and look at cat videos, and see what's up with people's families. I want to join writing sprints.

    The answer for me has been Facebook groups. I find the ones that make me happy and stay there. I hide a lot of items that come across my timeline, and just enjoy my circle. But I'm online a lot less than I used to be.

  8. Piper, to tell the truth, the social media sites don't effect me the way I see them effecting others. My problem is blogs. Yes, here I am, a blogger and whoever I am following on the blogosphere I feel deserves my attention each time they send me an email telling me of a new post they've written. What is so silly about it is that most of the bloggers I follow are writers. Certainly they will understand if I miss one or two posts every once in a while so I can work on my WiP. However, I am obsessed with following through on those email.

    1. I get it. I call that the Blog Love Circle Stroke. As bloggers, we share the blog love, and we love to receive the blog love. The problem is that we end up blog loving all day, and our real work falls to the wayside.

      I would point out two things:

      First, as we said in law (I'm a recovering attorney), do the paying work first. That's the WIP.

      Second, unless we are writing books for writers, writers are not our audience. The purpose of the blog is to build our own audience of fans. So often in the Blog Love Circle Stroke, if we stop stroking others, they stop stroking us. That means they are not our audience. We want fans, not a mutual admiration society.

      One way to use compartmentalization to break out of the Blog Love Circle Stroke is to always open the WIP first. Let the Blog Love be your reward for having written your pages on your WIP. Set a time later in the day to look at blogs, and set a time limit for doing so. We don't have to respond to every blog. Just check in once a week. If they stop stroking back, they weren't your fan. They were only stroking you to get the return strokes, and that doesn't sell books.

      Good luck!

  9. Thank you for sharing this information. I knew about Soros, but not the others. Social media can be a time-suck, so I've tried to limit my comments to only family and friends who are posting pictures of their vacations, kids, dogs, etc before I log off but every once in a while a troll will find me. yikes!

    1. Only commenting to a limited group is a great way to participate without exposing yourself to unwanted postings. Those trolls are tenacious, though. Good thing we can block them and delete their comments.. 🙂

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