Taking care of your mental health is an underestimated essential for a fulfilling and rewarding writing career. After all, it’s difficult to write well when you don’t feel your best. In this article we'll be leading you through five effective ways to familiarise yourself with health-supporting habits in order to keep the blues at bay.
It’s no secret that the writing profession carries with it a stereotype of the brilliant but depressed creative genius. It’s a common assumption that poor mental health goes with the territory of being a good writer.
Emotional depth and a heightened sense of empathy are characteristics that usually set writers apart. However, depression and anxiety do not have to be an inevitable part of a successful writer’s career. So keep reading to prevent it being a part of yours.
Let's start simple:
1. Get outside
We are all guilty of undervaluing the need for exercise. Mental health goes hand in hand with physical health and if you are not taking the time to look after your body, your mind may pick up the slack. If you have been writing at a computer for eight hours straight, step away from the desk.
When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins, chemicals that work to lift and stabilise our mood. Turning into a couch potato after a day of writing might be tempting, but don’t be surprised if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed the next day.
It’s important to find something that you like doing in order to motivate yourself. If running on a treadmill staring at a grey wall is not your thing, find activities that stimulate your mind and body while improving fitness. Yoga, for example, is a great way to re-centre your focus if anxiety is a major problem for you.
Alternatively, spending time in nature may be the best solution. Sensitive people can really benefit from getting out of a loud, polluted city. A new and fresh perspective can also help lift you out of stagnated thinking.
It might feel like you are taking time away from your writing, but there is the potential to find fresh ideas when we allow our attention to wander.
Walking your dog counts if you really are on a tight schedule, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day. Also, having another little friend depend on you is a great reminder to pull out of intense introspection. Too much navel-gazing can lead you down a path of circular negative thinking if you don’t stay vigilant.
Honour your free time, get some oxygen flowing to the brain, and reflect on what got you writing in the first place.
Many writers may feel a shiver down their spine just reading the word. A writer’s lifestyle is usually an introverted one, whether they like it or not.
People who feel depressed can lose motivation and withdraw into themselves. From there, it becomes all too easy to disconnect. The solitary lifestyle of a writer makes them even more vulnerable to loneliness and symptoms of depression.
If these feelings start to manifest, resist the urge to distance yourself. It will only make it harder to resurface from an emotional slump. Maintain friendships and organise plans to spend time with people.
Remember to take breaks from your writing and make the effort to be more socially active. Here are a few suggestions to get you started if you struggle to meet new people:
- Join a local activity group that engages with your interests, e.g. reading, crafts etc.
- Online forums are great for rainy days or discussion of niche interests.
- If you have an existing mental health condition or other social disadvantage, sign up for support groups to meet people like you.
- Find other writers. Take advantage of writing festivals or events to circulate with others who are terrified of the word ‘networking’.
- Say ‘yes’ more often to activities outside your comfort zone. You never know when an unprecedented social observation may spark an idea.
Ultimately, to write people well, you have to actually spend time around them. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to call your mum. She’s worried about you. And she’s probably the person who loves you most in this world.
3. Establish a routine
It’s unrealistic to tell writers when exactly to channel their creativity, but there are ways to mitigate the effects of a writing hangover from a midnight binge. In most aspects of your life, you can take control and establish boundaries for better organisational habits.
Sleep can be elusive but we all desperately need more of it. Eight hours is the recommended amount each night for optimal productivity the following day. If you find it difficult to nod off, be strict with yourself about waking up early. If you wake at noon and start work at one, your body will need more time to slow down later.
Set yourself a clear routine during the day. Treat your writing schedule as you would a regular job. Start at nine on the dot and if possible, turn off the internet so you don’t become distracted with the black hole that is YouTube.
Even if you write nothing for the first hour, arrive at your desk ready to commit. At the end of the day, it’s less likely you’ll be plagued by procrastinator's guilt.
When those wonderful sparks of inspiration do finally hit, it’s ideal that we find the time to ride the wave of creativity. However, that can be difficult when they arrive at 3 am. It’s no good ignoring them as sometimes you can’t afford to let certain ideas escape the pen. Write them down if you have to, but set that alarm for 7 am as usual.
Repetition and consistency is the key here. Hemingway’s advice of ‘write drunk, edit sober’ is not realistic if you want to sustain a long career while keeping your sanity intact. If you respect your brain’s need for sleep rather than stimulants, it will reward you later on.
4. Be nice to yourself
When you treat your work as an extension of the self, it’s difficult not to take criticism personally. In most cases, it is unavoidable to not be attached to your work. Writing from experience and your deepest feelings is what probably makes your work so good in the first place.
Regardless, looking after your self-esteem cannot be stressed enough. If you are your own worst critic, you need to learn how to curb the nagging inner perfectionist. Seeking excellence is good, just make sure the internal dialogue you have with yourself is supportive and useful.
If you start to hate everything you’ve ever written when last week you loved it all, it might be a sign to leave your work to rest for a while. Come back to it in a week or more with a fresh perspective and lifted spirits. Many great passages have been ruined with an overzealous editing eye.
Even if you manage to be nice to yourself, agents and publishers might not be so forgiving. Constructive criticism is essential for improvement. Nevertheless, critiques can feel brutal.
Learning how to deal with rejection is a steep learning curve early on in any person’s writing career. Just trust that in time you will adjust and even see the benefit in the quality of your work. Take a moment to read ‘Why Your Writing Has Been Rejected And How to Cope’ to learn strategies for dealing with disappointment.
Coming to terms with the fact that your work will never be perfect is a step closer to a healthier outlook as a writer. Even if your work is a major success, the glaring holes of imperfection will still taunt you.
Smile at them and high five yourself for how far you have come. It’s a sure sign you are growing and maturing as a writer.
5. Get help
This might be the most important section of this article. Sometimes no amount of socialising or established routine can help a severe mental health episode. The stigma experienced by many can mean people slip under the radar without receiving any help.
If you are suffering, you need a strong support network. Open up to your family if you can. If this is not an option, there are services available that can give you the help you need.
Ideally, you want to go to your doctor first. Make an appointment with your local GP who can refer you to a psychiatrist for assessment. Remember that it is important to feel comfortable with your doctor and you have every right to ask to see someone else if you are not happy.
If the situation is more urgent or you are feeling suicidal, phone a Suicide Helpline. They can assist you over the phone and provide crucial support when you need it most. Local communities usually have an over the phone service provider. If this option is not available, be sure to phone your regional emergency contact number.
Beyond Blue are an organisation that offers advice on mental health and how to look out for the warning signs of a bad episode. Their website provides more information and facts about symptoms of depression and anxiety.
For those across the pond, UK readers can find more information with their local NHS service here.
Our US readers can click here to access online resources and local support.
You want your writing to be the best it can be and that starts with taking care of yourself. This is a great time to be alive as a writer. People the world over are more connected than ever before and it’s easier to share ideas with people just as passionate as you.
Just remain aware that as a writer you are more susceptible to certain emotional difficulties. Whenever you start to feel the reins slip, look over these suggestions to get back on track. Have a good belly laugh now and again and cry when you need to.
Your feline friend is not the only one who understands you. Take that brave step out into the world.
And take your notepad.