The writing life is unhealthy. It’s solitary, sedentary, and obsessive. Any writer knows this and is in all out warfare to balance their life in spite of that. For the past two years, I have struggled more than ever. I was successfully teaching full-time at the high school level and teaching part-time at the college. I love it and my passion for writing was fueled not dampened by it. Then, my world crashed around me. Those who follow this blog know they diagnosed my father with Alzheimer’s, my youngest became ill, and a thief stabbed my oldest. My husband and I sat down in May and decided our lives needed to change. For the sake of health and sanity. We began packing up our lives for a return to the family ranch where life is simpler, and I can still teach at the college and continue to write. He can enjoy his family’s land for the first time since he was a boy. No more business suits. That alone is worth celebrating.
It took a year for them to correctly diagnose my youngest, and the oldest is still dealing with court appearances for the last of the perpetrators in his case. They dealt my dad another blow in December when they diagnosed him with myasthenia gravis. He just suffered a MG crisis last week. Mmm…writing? Not so much. Writers write even when they don’t so I thought about it non-stop but little other than editing of existing works has happened. Frustration is high but not resentment. I only have my parents for so long, and I want this time. There is no denying that stress is high however.
My life is not unique. We all have periods of stress that vary from minimal to unbearable. It’s difficult to cope when you’re in the middle because frankly even simple decisions like “what’s for dinner” require an act of Congress. If you’re prepared, there are ways to contain these times. These are things that work for me. There are no magic panaceas for everyone, but perhaps these will work for you as well.
1. Prioritize: Do you really have the $ to Botox that frown wrinkle you’re developing? Not if you’re a writer. Instead, make lists and publish them to family and friends. Here’s what I can and can’t do. End of story. Which leads us to:
2. Learn to say NO! Not that no that people interpret as a maybe or I’ll see or next week but that all caps, exclamation point at the end NO. Women are worse about this than men, but all of us can learn that we cannot be all things to all people or those people will be writing our obituaries.
3. Remember that sedentary thing? It’s not healthy. In fact, it’s really unhealthy. Get off your butt and move around. Every 30 minutes. Move the laundry, the sprinkler, check the stock market (don’t allow yourself more than a 15 minute break on that couch), dust. Remember the color your furniture used to be? Find out.
4. While we’re worrying about the sedentary part, exercise is crucial for writers. Not just because we sit on our butts but also because exercise releases endorphins which keep us productive. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to do it. On a regular schedule. Work it into the schedule you set up for your writing. It’s as important as your query letters, your edits, and your blog posts.
5. While we’re talking about that, you need a schedule. Something that will keep you focused. One of the first things stress does is shut us down. Make it difficult for us to function. A set schedule and lists of tasks mean we don’t have to think. We can go on auto pilot and maintain even in the toughest times.
6. Relax! Music is the thing for some people. Yoga or meditation for others. It’s a proven fact that laughter lowers the blood pressure so that’s always good as well. Watch a bird or a squirrel, or a You Tube video of your favorite comedian. Sit in a dark room and place yourself on a beach in the Caribbean or a ski slope in the mountains. Removing yourself from the stress of the environment can only make things better.
We can’t remove the stressors in our lives, but we can learn to cope while they mainline speed. What do you do to reduce stress in your life?