It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and as this subject is very close to my heart I wanted to share some thoughts with you.
Mental Health is something which needs to be spoken about much more, in my opinion, and as writers, we are well equipped to raise this issue and contribute to dissolving and de-stigmatising this taboo as freely and regularly as possible. So here’s my contribution.
Let’s face it, as writers we spend a lot of time alone. Which is – in my world anyway – pretty great most of the time. Often, we’re stuck in our own heads too. Which, again, is a pre-requisite for our creative minds.
But sometimes, being stuck in our own heads isn’t always a healthy habitat. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety a number of times in my life. Having swallowed the prescribed pills to level up the chemical imbalance in my brain and bared my soul to an incredibly wonderful counsellor, I know what does and does not work for me now. This has enabled me to come up with my own Swiss Army Knife of techniques to call on when I’m struggling and it’s a great comfort to me when I feel those unwelcome but all too familiar wobbles creeping in.
If, like me, you’re a writer who needs to be aware of their mental health then I hope you’ll find some of my solutions helpful. This is not a replacement for seeking medical advice, by the way, merely suggestions which I genuinely hope will work for you.
Step Away from Your Keyboard and Get Outside
Regardless of the weather, I walk between 8,000 and 10,000 steps almost every day. My Fitbit keeps me on track so I understand the reality of how many times I’ve moved out of my chair (instead of assuming) and I have a very fit Shih Tzu who demands three walks a day (more if he can get away with it). Feeling the sun on my face, walking at a slow pace, and consciously slowing down my breathing is a great way to put things in perspective and stop all those racing thoughts from taking over.
Embrace Mother Nature
I love being outdoors, and if I can combine this with some gardening, or a walk near the local river (or reservoir – as shown in the image below), surrounded by greenery, I can literally feel my serotonin thermometer creeping up. At times I tell myself I’m way too busy to indulge in a trip to the local nature reserve or hike around the forest with my friend, but then I remind myself of the benefits. How much lighter my mood is for hours, and sometimes days afterwards. And not only does that make me happier, but it also fires up my creative juices. What more could a busy writer ask for?
Make Time for Me Time
I know I need some Me Time when I’m trying to write a blog and it’s taking me forever, or I’m waking up at 3am with my to-do list for the next day whizzing around in my head. So, I schedule in some Me Time. Sometimes (as a writer, business owner and mum to two teenagers) this Me Time is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds. It can literally be an afternoon off to catch up the latest BBC crime drama I’m addicted to, while wading through the ironing pile. Yes, you read that right. #rocknroll. These things make me happy, fill me with satisfaction and I get to enjoy a bit of tele at the same time! I return to work the next morning all fired up and raring to go, and my productivity soars.
I’ve always loved music and the house is too quiet sometimes when everyone is out, so I put on a CD while I’m doing non-writing work to take the edge off. It’s a great way to get those happy vibes going, especially if you’re in a funk with yourself (for no good reason) and you don’t even know why. Or is that just something I do? Sometimes I’ll listen to my latest audible book while I’m doing the chores, or I put on some binaural tunes (for positivity) or classical music while I’m concentrating on writing or editing. For me, this stops my brain for overthinking (which it does if I’m working in silence) and gets me out of my head. It may work for you too, who knows?
Along with EFT this is one of the most powerful ways to keep my brain balanced. Whether I’m feeling grumpy, too tired to do anything or it’s impossible to add some good quality writing time into my busy day, I recognise my increased stress levels and find a 5-minute guided meditation on YouTube to calm things down and realign my perspective. Works every time.
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
This has been my sanity saviour so many times. I tend to prefer guidance when I’m tapping so I tune into either Brad Yates or David Childerley on YouTube if I’ve got a specific challenge to work on which stems from my anxiety or low mood. It’s powerful stuff and even 5-minute tapping sessions can bring about a huge mental shift for me.
As a writer, you’ll probably have a penchant for reading too. And what better way to allow yourself some Me Time and quieten your mind, than to pick up your current read? It’s not indulgent (before your inner voice fires up). It’s crucial to your happiness levels. You are allowed to read in the middle of the day, if things feel like they’re just getting on top of you, or you just want to slow down and be. Don’t feel guilty.
Take Regular Screen Breaks
Looking at a screen all day long isn’t good for your physical or mental health. It impacts on your eyes, your circulation, your posture, and your stress levels, and by focussing on a screen all day, the concept of time is significantly distorted (you lose countless hours without realising you haven’t shifted position, stretched your legs, or drank anything for hours). So if you want to improve your productivity levels, increase your attention span, and keep running at optimum healthy levels (physically and mentally), step away from your screen regularly.
Sidestep Social Media & Emails
If you’re trying to write and/or be at your creative best, you need to focus all your attention in one place. Getting sidetracked by social media alerts or email notifications is only going to pull you from one place to the other. You’ll end up with a headache, and too many thoughts firing around the nooks and crannies of your mind, which in turn will influence your mood. Remember, not everything you see on social media is real, true or authentic. Don’t get lost in there, because it can play havoc with your mental health.
When you exercise (whether it’s a walk round the block with your dog or a 45-minute high-impact cardio session at the gym) your brain releases little bubbles of happiness – the technical term here is ‘endorphins’ but I much prefer my alternative. Even if you’re not a gym bunny, or you couldn’t tolerate being in a class full of sweaty people being shouted at, there is an exercise for you. Maybe it’s swimming? Maybe it’s walking? Or Pilates? Or cycling? Or an hour on the treadmill while you listen to your favourite upbeat music (or latest audio book)? There is an exercise to cater for your needs, your level of fitness and your personality.
Check out these No-Gym Workout Methods from GroomandStyle.com – this is a great article which offers bags of fab insights. And don’t shy away even if you’re an exercise-phobe – I Pinky Swear it won’t bring you out in hives. Just read it! Exercise, as all the health professionals will tell you, comes with heaps of wellbeing benefits (this article from the Mental Health Organisation explains more).
I sincerely hope at least something has resonated with you here. Mental Health isn’t something we should take for granted, treat light-heartedly or be ignorant of. If you or anyone you know could benefit from some support, then no matter what your inner voice says, please do speak with someone. If you don’t want to speak to your GP or a family member or friend, or anyone, and you’d rather text, here’s something which may help.
Remember, it’s okay not to be okay. Speaking up for yourself isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long.
‘Til next time,
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