Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 31, 2023

The Case for Slowing Down and Self-Care

by Amy Winters-Voss

and breathe

As creatives, we feel the push to keep producing and hustle culture says we always have to be as productive as possible. 

When the finish line is on the horizon, those tasks we have yet to do multiply like rabbits. And we have a hard time saying “no” when others ask for help or to join in on a group activity, thinking we can stack one more project on our plates and keep balancing everything. After we complete a project, we don’t feel we have time to celebrate and just jump into the next one. Each deadline looms, a specter on the horizon. Fans ask when the next book is coming out. And people always want assistance with their writing and creative projects.

But we aren’t machines. We burnout. What does that mean? The American Psychological Association says burnout is:

“physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others. It results from performing at a high level until stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion or an overburdening workload, take their toll.”

Your body can only take so much

Jessica from How to ADHD quoted her research consultant saying that “Our bodies are not designed to run from a bear everyday” as she described what happens when we work under the gun long term.

When the adrenaline and cortisol are gone, there’s a crash. Sometimes a hard one, leading to feeling lost and even depressed. Anxiety can kick in, because of the rush to get to the point we need for our careers. 

I’ve heard it said people will often jump right into the next big project, so they don’t have to face the post push blues. But our bodies, minds, emotions, and even our souls need the reset—the refresh—to remember what calm is like.

If you don’t listen to your body and the warning signs of burnout, chronic stress can lead to being sick more often, depression, heart disease, insomnia, and many more health issues. Always pushing hard uses up your ability to make good choices. A common one I’ve seen is spending too much on eating out because we don’t have the energy to cook.

My story

I volunteer often and like to have several interesting projects at once so I can hop between them. But filling my to-do list plate to the point it was impossible to keep up was becoming the norm. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t be the answer to every need. I’m learning to say “no”, so more people can help and feel the joy of being there for others.

I’ve also found that I don’t recognize the signs of burnout until I’m pretty deep in it and feel a strong need to withdraw for a while. Knowing I can only handle so much gives me the opportunity to plan rest times.

For example, after last year I had to slow down. I went from one tough project to another starting in July 2022 until May 2023. Those months were crazy! I was dealing with the editing, release and promo of my second book, being in the leadership for a very active online writing game, supporting people after a stressful parting of ways in an author group, replacing several expensive things for our house and family, an anniversary trip to japan and ensuring my kids who weren’t coming along would have what they needed in an emergency, my youngest graduating, my husband traveling more for his job, and supporting my eldest as he worked through whether or not going back to college was the right choice for him, and more!

Needless to say, I was frazzled (mentally, emotionally, and physically) by the end! But I knew myself well enough to expect the crash and planned ahead for recovery time.

What is Self-Care?

On the surface, it’s easy—doing what you need to maintain yourself so you can be your best. Usually self-care allows you to mentally and physically step away from whatever your stressor is. But these things feel like a luxury and are often the first to go when we’re under the gun. 

During events like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’ve seen writers skip sleep, forget to eat and drink, and push their hands so hard they can’t type anymore. None of that helps an author be at their best.

I’ll encourage you to find ways to step away from your stressors for a while and try to find at least some balance. Self-care areas you might want to look at include physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, professional, and social care.

Remember, not everyone views self-care the same way. We have different needs. Guys may be drawn to try different self-care ideas than gals. It’s ok. The important part is stepping away from the push and doing something to renew you.

Need a few ideas to get started? Consider exercise (even a simple walk to take in the world around you), yoga, meditation, stepping away from social media for a while, hobbies, listening to music, reading, or napping. For me, yarn crafts with their simple repetitive motion help me process overwhelm. You know the t-shirt that says, “I knit so I don’t kill people”? There’s truth to that! 😉

Planning ahead

Before taking on a big project or stepping away from putting out content for a while, consider what you can do ahead of time to lessen your stress.

Content for Readers

Ensure you’re not overbooking yourself. Keep your project list smaller, if possible. “On Substack” had a post with several ideas about how to ensure you have content for blogs and social media during a big push where you need to step back or simply take time off. Ideas they listed that were particularly good included asking for guest or cross posts and re-running your popular or favorite articles.

Planning Ahead

It will be tempting to skip aspects of self-care during stressful times and when that deadline is looming. But doing what you can beforehand can help. 

Food is a big one where people skimp. Here are some ideas I’ve used.

  • Prep or stash easy to cook items in the freezer or plan dump and go meals for the crock pot or instant pot.
  • Cut down on the number of times you cook by making a bigger batch or instituting a leftovers night.
  • Have prepped fruits and veggies ready to eat or try frozen ones.
  • Ask your family to help with meal prep and dishes.
  • Leave vitamins and meds on the table so you remember them.
  • Order groceries online if the store feels overwhelming. Even just picking them up can save time and energy.

Prepping for routines can help too. Feel free to try these.

  • Set out items to help with your routines. I hang a stack of washcloths over the shower door because I often forget to grab one before hopping in. Then I’m set for several days.
  • Make a plan for what you want to do the next day. Keep the list short, 3-5 things if possible and eliminate anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done. Time blocking can help organize your tasks for the day so you don’t get squirreled.
  • Have a water/drink bottle with you to help you avoid dehydration.
  • Stretch out cleaning by alternating weeks for tasks.
  • Take a few deep breaths before starting your work for the day.
  • Pick a time of the day to be done and stick to it.

Self-Care for when you’re under the gun

Last fall, I was pushing hard to finish my second book and an authors’ group I was heavily involved in had a falling out. That’s when I started knitting a blanket, a super simple pattern. At night, if I didn’t get to knit on it after a rough day, I’d feel jittery because I hadn’t had down time. I teasingly called it my stress blanket. Just knitting half an hour to an hour most nights during the crazy times allowed me to calm down and fall asleep.

Having something simple and relaxing to look forward to after the stress of the day can really help. Some people like crafts, to watch TV, read a book, or listen to music. Pick something to help your mind stop churning. 

It can also help to keep a small notebook, pen or pencil, and flashlight near your bed for those ideas that keep poking at your mind.

Recovery after a long haul

Years ago, I read the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson about putting space in our lives again timewise, emotionally, etc. to avoid being overloaded. It was a game changer. While I can’t say I’m perfect at making sure I’m not “taxed to the max” all the time, the lessons from it stuck long term.

So after my insane year and the end of May arrived, I was more than ready for a break. I’d planned at least a month to just slow down and explore what “normal” was again.

What to Expect

When you escape being under the gun all the time, you might feel a little lost and be tempted to jump into another project right away. I’m challenging you to give yourself space. Let your nervous system recover and breathe. Pick something completely different to do for a while.

For myself, I chose not to jump into writing book three immediately. Oh, I was tempted! Right after I released book two, people asked about the next one. It was awesome to hear! But I needed time to recover or I’d break. Anxiety was already creeping into everyday activities. Does that mean I’m not thinking about the third book? Nope. I can’t stop my brain from producing ideas. But as they occur, I stuff them away in a list for later.

For now I’m doing some worldbuilding. I’ve really missed it. Also, writing a “sleep story” has been on my agenda for a few months and it’s time to try my hand at it. This style of short, quiet tale helps my brain to stop churning so I can rest the night through. Additionally, I’m spending more time walking outside and playing RPGs with my gaming group. 

But I can’t slow down!

There are times when we need to keep pushing. I get it. But please respect yourself, your mind, and your body. Find ways to rest and take breaks—escaping a bit by listening to books, taking a long bath or shower, going for a walk, scheduling time at a retreat center, etc.

Wrapping Up

Always going full bore on projects will wear us down and burn us out. We need margin, space to breathe so we can recover before we’re ready to start another big push. Our sanity and our health are worth more than any project. 

So I’ll leave you with a question and invitation.

What is your favorite form of self-care? Feel free to share a self-care tip for busy times, too.

* * * * * *

About Amy

Amy Winters-Voss

Amy is the author of the Liminal Chronicles series, a mythological/urban fantasy set in small town Japan that focuses on social redemption and found family.She runs the vssCollab very short story challenge on Instagram, and Substack and publishes the best of the entries in the online zine--'In Threads'. Additionally, she founded the Anvilite Streamers Corps and streams her writing and crafts on Twitch.

Top photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

17 comments on “The Case for Slowing Down and Self-Care”

  1. This is so true. Thank you! Slowing down is hard, but burnout is miserable, and sometimes the recovery feels like forever. For me, self-care is a "do nothing" day.

  2. Thank you for saving me from myself. I am retired and too busy completing my lists. I never ask myself what I REALLY want to do. Today I will!

  3. As someone with a body that routinely just shuts down, I appreciate this very much! My favorite thing to do is to go walking on the beach. A second favorite is just pure rest. Sitting on the porch, breathing fresh air.

    All too often, my self care looks like: remember to drink something. Remember to eat. Realize that sleep is required. Trying to remind myself that it is okay to treat myself the way I would treat someone who was in my care. I wouldn't expect a pet to go without food or water, so I should treat myself at least that well!!!

  4. Thanks for the topic - it really made me think about what it means to consider self-care - as a person who is disabled, and barely makes it through most days (or at least that's what it feels like).

    Rather than comment about it here - and risk detouring your lovely ideas about HOW to do self-care, I posted something on my writing blog (https://liebjabberings.wordpress.com/2023/07/31/is-self-care-compatible-with-disability/) which takes a different look.

    I think it's because all those ideas seem so lovely - but are one more thing I SHOULD do, but CAN'T. It would be nice...

    As one of the people on this planet with a very limiting post-viral illness looking forward to whether research on Long Covid might help us actually get better in the future (but that future could be years away, and may not apply to those of us who have had ME/CFS for decades), I'm in an ambiguous tunnel: do I hang onto HOPE - or be realistic?

    Most disabled people have relatively little hope of change.

    I look forward, possibly, to having the ability to choose. And keep reading posts like yours - to store up ideas.

    1. As an individual with multiple incurable chronic diseases, I can assure you this is not true:

      Most disabled people have relatively little hope of change.

      There are lots of authors, or people in general, who find a way to work within the confines of our diseases. July is Disability Pride Month. We need to let go and fight ableist comments and find a way to acclimate and accommodate our disabilities in the world.

    2. I learned from a friend who was disabled about the spoons theory for energy. How each person has a different number of spoons (energy) in their drawer for the day. Sometimes that number varies. She often had low energy. (I think she had MS - it's been quite a few years since I served on a board with her so I can't remember for sure.) She learned how to only do what she needed and to carve a bit of time out to craft for sanity here and there. I hope you can to. I'm not in your shoes, so I can't speak to your situation. But from that friend, I've seen self care be things like taking a nap in a parking lot because she couldn't drive the last hour to get home. So consider what makes sense for you. It will be different for everyone. I hope too that you may partake in luxuries and have more choices that make you happy in the future. All the best.

  5. Hi Amy,
    What a timely post for me.

    I've just finished a few big items on my to-do list and have been setting up my fall for a little less stress. That included making batch meals of lasagna and hatch chili enchiladas that I can freeze. 🙂

    A book I'm currently reading on running an (author) business in an anti-hussle way, is "She Builds", by Jadah Sellner.

    It has actionable and reflective exercises, and although I'm in the first few chapters, I'm already feeling less stress and more direction in my planning.

    I appreciate your reminder to pay attention to self-care - thanks!

    Kria

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