by Lori Freeland
Anxiety. The word alone is enough to set off a tingle in my fingers, a tightness in my chest, and a worn-out mantra—Breathing is good. Passing out is bad—that rarely works.
And I’m not alone.
I’ve read so many posts from authors dealing with health problems related to or caused by anxiety—especially in the last few years. The push to perform and market and put more and more out there seems to be ramping up to an almost impossible level, for indie authors in particular.
What’s really frustrating is that the very things that make us good writers—empathy, sensitivity, being observant, and of course the power to picture in IMAX the very worst thing that could happen in any situation—are the same things that fuel the anxiety.
From the fear of not being able to meet deadlines to not being good enough to straight-up failure, there’s A LOT to worry about. We even worry about the good things! Praise easily leads to pressure.
Sadly, all that yuck doesn’t just stay in the writing part of our lives. It leaks over into everything, and random moments can set it off.
Driving in the rain makes me shake. Claustrophobia in a crowd tunnels my vision. Restlessness spins my thoughts until my mind won’t shut off and I can’t sleep, I can’t focus, I can’t function.
And worse, when I get that way, I can’t write. Like not at all.
Anxiety might be one of the least understood stalkers of mental health. Especially to people who’ve never experienced it. Broken bones, people understand. Even a broken heart gains a sympathetic nod. But anxiety can get brushed off as being all in our heads.
Except it’s not. Physically, the “fight or flight” hormones released during stress mess with our weight, our energy levels, our focus, our productivity... the list feels endless.
When I’m open with people about my anxiety, I get a lot of—Stop thinking about it. Just tell yourself you’re fine. Nothing terrible is happening to you. So-and-so has it worse.
Honestly, none of that helps. And sometimes the temptation to walk away from writing tugs hard.
Believe it or not, I had less anxiety over my son’s diagnosis of cancer than I do over my writing. Maybe because cancer is not something I can control. No amount of effort on my part could change his prognosis or take away his struggles.
Not true with writing. My effort can make me or break me.
Helpful Tips and Tricks
So what can we do if we’re not ready to chuck our writing dreams for peace of body and mind? Here are 12 survival tricks that help me function when I feel like I’m coming unglued.
1. Ramble to someone. Monologue it if you’re alone. Sing along with the radio or risk it and go acapella. This is great for when I’m freaking out in the car. Talking and singing naturally slow my breathing.
2. Get Your “Go” on. Walk. Run. Dance. Ski. Skateboard. Climb stairs. Lift weights. It works. And this is coming from someone who is totally anti-exercise.
3. Stand Up—comedy that is. Find your sense of humor. What’s funny in your situation? Or what will be funny once you’re out of it? Where can you use this story in your writing? Some of the best things we throw at our characters are things we’ve been dealt first.
4. Change Your Creative Focus. Paint. Draw. Play an instrument. Start a garden. Knit socks. Grow Chia Pets.
5. Organize. Cleaning, sorting, and rearranging gives focus. Bonus—you also get a completed project to feel proud of.
6. Shower. Or bathe. Warm water relaxes me.
7. Take a Tour. A mental tour. Growing up, I lived in a lot of different houses. When my mind refuses to turn off, I mentally walk through each one and see what details I remember—the pink flowers on the wallpaper of my house in Ohio, the deep end of the pool we had in Florida, the creepy basement of our first house in Wisconsin. Replay a visual of your favorite places.
8. Wave Bye-Bye to obligations. Yes, there are certain things we have to do. There are also lots of things we only think we have to do. Prioritize. Step away from what you can and conserve your mental energy for what you can’t.
9. Turn Off the Noise. Isolate temporarily. I’ll let you in on a secret. If I’m going somewhere to meet other people, I drive myself so I have an escape plan. Most of the time I don’t need to use it, but it makes me feel safe to know I have an immediate getaway.
10. Pinpoint Focus. Social anxiety is a problem for some of us and leaving isn’t always an option. Pick one person you feel comfortable with and ask them about themselves. If you’re focused on someone else, you’ll spend less energy focusing on yourself.
11. Fail. Give yourself permission to fail. A lot of us who suffer from anxiety also suffer from perfectionism. Give it a try. Failing really isn’t the end of the world.
12. Go There. Make a plan. Visualize the worst and plan what you’ll do. I like to be prepared. Just knowing I’ve already hypothetically walked through a situation from beginning to end calms my anxiety.
This post is definitely atypical for me. I usually share writing tips. But I think so many of us can relate. Can you?
Are there pieces of your writing life that stress you out or cause you anxiety? Have you tried any of my stress relievers or, better yet, others that work well for you? If you feel comfortable sharing, we'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.
You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her latest release, The Accidental Boyfriend, is currently free on the Radish app.