Anxiety is the enemy of writers everywhere.
Think about all the times you’ve procrastinated for fear of sitting in front of a blank page or Word document for half an hour, unable to put down even a single word. Yeah, I’ve been there, too. With problems like social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and the occasional psychotic episode, anxiety is a near-daily presence in my life. However, anxiety can be fought. With the proper tools and resources, it can be defeated. I’ve spent years compiling methods to keep myself calm. I’d like to share some of those resources with you today.
1. Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake
Both of these can be harmful to your writing in large amounts. Since consumption of either is fine in small quantities, limit yourself if you believe your intake is affecting your ability to write or function. I find that more than one drink of either each day usually leaves me restless, jittery, or unable to focus.
2. Deep or Mindful Breathing
These never fail to calm me down, even during some of my most intense panic states. For deep breathing, breath in for seven seconds, hold for five, then breathe out for eight. Really breathe in deep and exhale forcefully. Repeat several times. You want to feel a slight lightheaded sensation. For mindful breathing, set a peaceful sound on a timer and time it for a minute to start with. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing. Block out all outside sounds. The trick is to practice both of these when you aren’t anxious so that you don’t need to remember instructions and can do them as a natural response to anxiety.
3. Weighted Blankets
These provide a sort of pressure to your body, and this actually has a very strong calming effect. I started using one after my fiance got a job working swing shift. Sleeping alone in our house became difficult, even with our dog dutifully curled up next to me each night. The weighted blanket had an almost instant calming effect that allowed me to drift off to sleep within minutes. You can find these online or at most big retailers like Wal-Mart or Target. These can range anywhere from $50 to well over $100, depending on the retailer and size of the blanket.
4. Sound Machine
If you’re sensitive to noise like I am, a sound machine can block out unwanted stimulus and replace it with a soothing or consistent sound. It’s much easier to block out the sound of rain than it is to block out the sound of a TV in the next room over. Most come with multiple settings. Personally, I prefer ocean sounds. These can also be found online or at Wal-Mart or Target. They often cost around $25. If you want a cheaper option, you can easily find videos with these sounds on YouTube.
5. Noise-canceling headphones
These are also helpful if you are sensitive to noise. However, unlike a $25 sound machine, these often cost $80 at the very least. If you want the sound completely blocked out, you may be looking in the hundreds. If you have the money to spare, and you desperately need some peace and quiet, these are an excellent option.
6. Go for a walk
One of the cheapest and best options is to exercise is some manner. Exercise also improves mood if you have a mood disorder like me. The most stabilizing exercise is at least thirty minutes of cardio. You want to be able to talk while you exercise, but not sing.
7. Talk it out—but watch what you say
It can be helpful to talk about your anxious thoughts and feelings, but only if you are truly getting them out. If you start to speak in circles or delve deeper into anxious territory—stop.
Whether it’s scented candles, lotion, diffusers, etc., aromatherapy works for many people. Try a relaxing scent like lavender. Or just find one that you like. Orange has always relaxed me despite its supposed energizing effect, so just use whatever works best!
9. Have a cup of calming tea
Many underestimate the power of a cup of calming tea. Chamomile is a popular choice. I’m personally partial to tea including mint.
10. Make sure to get enough sleep
A lack of sleep can seriously mess with your mood and anxiety levels. We have trouble functioning on less than five hours of sleep, but if your average is five or six you’re still going to be more prone to anxiety and mood issues. Aim for seven or eight hours a night, limit the napping, and try to get a decent sleep schedule going. Your brain will thank you, and so will your writing.
11. Write about it
It may seem counterintuitive. I mean, your problem is that you can’t write. Well, I’m here to tell you that your problem is you’re anxious to write about your current WIP, and writing about your anxiety may still be very possible. It may help to make a list of the things you’re stressed about. The list may be much, much smaller than you think it is. Or maybe it’ll help to pick a random prompt and write about that. Either way, it gets words on the page.
12. Mindful Thinking
This one is a bit tricky, but it is a very valuable skill once you get the hang of it. With your eyes closed, picture your mind as a vast ocean. Now, picture those anxious thoughts swimming by in the form of a school of fish (or whatever marine life you prefer). Acknowledge the thoughts, but don’t actually take hold of them. They can be present in your mind without you grabbing hold of them and letting them take over. Each time the thought tries to invade your mind, repeat this exercise. Eventually, the thought becomes less intrusive. It weakens. This exercise works best after some deep breathing.
Anxiety does not rule you. It does not dictate when you write, or how much you write. With proper effort, it can be defeated, and you can return to your WIP in peace. So take some deep breaths, sip that calming tea, and get back to what you were born to do. Write!
I look forward to comments and questions below! Keep writing!