The stigma surrounding mental health is slowly going away. Still, it seems like many people shy away from seeking the help they need.
As writers, we put a tremendous amount of stress on ourselves to write books, read all the time, and be present in the “real world.” That much pressure will make us crack at some point, which is why taking care of your mental health and adopting self-care practices are so important.
If we’re not functioning at our best, then we won’t be able to write or engage with the activities that make us happy, healthy, and whole. And the worst year on record has left its mark on everyone in some way.
Why not start incorporating new practices to help make sure that you’re healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally right now? And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, your mental health and some strategies to help you out.
What is Mental Health?
I love definitions, so let’s start with one:
Mental Health: is the state of your psychological and emotional well-being.Government of Canada
It affects how we think, feel, and act and determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. In other words, it’s something that we need to take care of so we can live fulfilling lives.
And many people are suffering some mental health distress right now. According to CBC News, Statistics Canada recorded “a decline in self-perceived mental health” in June 2020, and another study released before Christmas noted “Canadians’ measurement of “life satisfaction” had dropped to its lowest level over two decades of comparable data.”
This dip in collective mental health means we should be paying more attention to how we deal with external pressures on our psyche.
How Does it Apply to Writers?
To make things even worse, writers like to put unwarranted stress on themselves because we are doing more than others. We work, have families and friends to engage with, jobs to work at, and have a novel to complete. Not to mention all of the blogging and marketing we do to connect with our audiences.
It’s a lot.
Applaud yourself for creating and maintaining relationships with others under all of this pressure. You deserve it!
Common Myths and Damaging Misconceptions
However, there is a flip side to all of this good that we do and manage effectively. Let’s look at some common myths and damaging misconceptions about writers and mental health:
Mental illness enhances creativity.
Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolfe, Ezra Pound, Leo Tolstoy, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King. What do they all have in common? Mental illness.
These great writers had a mental illness that seemed to fuel their creative endeavors, but is this even scientifically true?
While there may seem to be anecdotal evidence to support that theory (hello, list of authors who have struggled with depression, substance abuse, etc.), there is no clinical evidence to support this hypothesis.
If you think about it, having a mental illness will hinder your creative process. Again, Sheena Jamora articulated this beautifully:
The process of continually producing creative work requires a mind that can hold and organize divergent ideas, a strong work ethic, and a focused approach to one’s creative tasks. Anxiety and erratic moods are hindrances to such a process. Interviews of artists who suffer from mental illnesses reveal that they believe that they are most productive when anxieties and depressive thoughts are at bay. The truth is more artists create despite their mental health struggles, not because of it.
Creativity ≠ torment
Jamora explained this beautifully:
It is easy to think of artists — musicians, writers, painters, and the like — who have suffered from mental illness. In psychology, this is called availability bias, the tendency to base conclusions on how readily we can think of examples that support them. [C]elebrated artists are more publicized, and we must admit, sensationalized, such information is easily accessible. This leads us to believe that such cases are more common than they actually are.
However, psychological studies have repeatedly found that the creative population is only equally susceptible to mental illness as the general population. In other words, the likelihood of mental illness in creatives is generally the same as in any other people.
There are so many great writers out there who do not have a mental illness.
Self-care will eliminate creativity.
This myth is by far one of the most dangerous out there. Some individuals believe their illness enhances their creativity and refuse to take their medication because they fear it might extinguish their creativity.
Taking care of yourself will not affect your creative ability to the point where you’re unable to create. You can always create something. It may not be brilliant, or it may take more effort to sit down and put words to paper, but you can do it.
And if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re putting yourself at risk of not accomplishing anything at all.
Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolfe took their lives because of their mental illnesses. If they got the help they needed or were alive during this time, I think each one would seek treatment options because it would increase their quality of life and allow them to continue to create.
How to Care for Your Mental Health
With those grim topics out of the way, I want to give you some helpful tips on protecting your mental health. Before we get into that, I wanted to say this:
- Not all of these tips will apply to you, so please take what you need.
- I am not a doctor. Please check in with yours for more tailored, medically-based solutions.
- There are resources at the bottom of this post that you can use if you need them.
- I am using what has worked for me, which means they may not work for you, and that’s okay. There is a solution that will work for you, but you may need to try something out. Please talk to a professional about anything negative you’re experiencing.
- Know that you are loved and valued by so many people, including me. I appreciate the time you’ve taken out of your day to read this post.
- You are not alone and will get through this. Keep your chin up.
With that said, let’s get into our mental health/self-care tips:
Acknowledge that You’re a Writer
If you sit in front of a computer and type out a blog post, you’re a writer. Ditto if you write poetry, prose, or nonfiction.
You don’t need to publish anything to be a writer or hit an arbitrary sales number or bank balance to be a writer. Your only job is to put words on the page to be a writer, so shout it out and ignore the haters who say otherwise. You owe them nothing.
Mental Illness is a Thing
I’m going to steal from Chuck Wendig here; he sums it up perfectly:
Writer’s block is not depression. Depression is depression. It is real. It is a disease (or, as some prefer, a disability) [and] it is not fake. You are not making it up. It is not “all in your head.” And worst of all, depression lies. And for the writer, one of its most insidious lies is that depression somehow entangles itself with your work. It twines with the art, like a tumor seeking its own blood flow, and you start to associate the two together. Maybe you come to believe that depression or anxiety is essential for writing. Or maybe you believe that it isn’t really depression, it’s just writer’s block or some variant thereof, and surely the best way forward is to write your way through it.
That can work with writer’s block. That won’t likely work with depression.
Trying to write your way through depression is like trying to run fast through the mud. It’s like trying to rid yourself of a headache by punching yourself in the head. It’s a [perfect] way to sink [and an excellent] way to deepen the ache. Do not try to write your way through depression.
Treat depression as depression. Or anxiety or whatever particular flavor you have. I’m not a BRAINOLOGIST, so that means whatever it means in terms of the specifics — but likely, it means going to talk to someone of a professional nature and then potentially either continuing therapy or finding solutions in medication or other life adjustments. But it’s real. It isn’t an illusion. And it isn’t part of your art. That’s how the demon convinces you into letting it stay.
Writing is not worth the pain and suffering that comes with some forms of mental illness. Please seek help.
Eat, Sleep, Exercise, and Drink Water
This suggestion appears on any self-care list because it holds for just about everyone. To help our minds function at the top level, you need to take care of your physical well-being. If one breaks, the other will follow, so focus on using all four of these things to take care of your physical and mental well-being:
Here are my tips for eating well:
- Follow your local food association for healthy consumption habits.
- Look for healthy recipes online. (I like Budget Bytes and Minimalist Baker for cheap and easy to make meals. I love to cook, so let me know if you want any more recipe recommendations.)
- Buy local. Besides supporting local farmers and reducing your carbon footprint, local ingredients will last longer, so there’s less chance of you getting ill from expired food.
- See a nutritionist. They can help you find a diet that works for you, your lifestyle and your goals.
- Indulge once in a while. Keeping to a strict diet with no fun thrown in make eating more of a chore than an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, food should always be delightful, so don’t feel bad about eating a cupcake or two. It’s good for you.
According to the Government of Canada, we need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but most of us don’t get enough sleep. In fact, “12.3 percent of adults who get insufficient sleep report having poor mental health compared to the 5.8 percent of adults who get adequate sleep.”
Here’s what the Canadian government recommends:
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before bed
- Maintain a regular bedtime/waketime
- Practice relaxation and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques
- Reduce noise in the sleeping environment
- Exercise regularly
- Review medications with your physician/pharmacist regularly
Here are some more ideas:
- Use a diffuser. You can get a cheap one on Amazon. I buy Anjou essential oil products to put into my diffusor, which you again can purchase on Amazon. My favorite homemade blend is equal parts lavender and bergamot.
- Guided meditations. I’ve gone with the app route and YouTube, and I find a better selection on YouTube than in the apps.
I’m a firm believer that exercise is fantastic, and it makes me feel better both physically and mentally. So here are some of the things I do to keep fit:
- Pace the house. If I can’t get outside, then I pace around in my house. It works well if you don’t want to go for a run in the dark or have any gym equipment.
- Bodyweight workouts are fantastic. I have one tailored for me from my last job (the company paid for a personal trainer once a week). I love it because it’s simple and you don’t need weights to complete it. I’m sure there are numerous free programs online that you can try out.
- Yoga. I love yoga and usually combine it with my body workouts. There are a bunch of programs and teachers out there with a variety of class types and lengths. You can find them on YouTube (Yoga with Adrienne is my favorite, she’s a writer like the rest of us.)
- Get a Fitbit or step counter. I have a Fitbit Inspire HR, and it keeps me accountable for getting off my butt and moving. If I didn’t have one, I would sit at my computer all day typing. The Inspire HR gives you hourly reminders to move, which actually helps boost creativity and keeps me fit.
- Intersperse little workouts with big ones. Exercise needs to be worked into your schedule as much as writing, so take the time to do it.
- Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a day. Sometimes we all need a down day.
Drinking water has many benefits, including staving off headaches, which you can get when you stare at a screen for too long. There’s a bunch of science on why it’s good, so follow it already. You can do this by buying a giant water bottle and take it everywhere with you.
Digital Detoxes are Excellent for Mental Health
The internet is a beautiful way for us to connect, share ideas, and access information. It. is also stressful, time-consuming, and full of nonsense and hate. We can’t avoid the internet entirely, but we can take a break from it.
Taking a break is the best feeling. You won’t feel like you’re always in work mode or “on,” and it’ll take the temptation of looking at negative reviews and feedback lessen. While you’re gone, you can check in with the people that matter the most and do things that you haven’t had time to do because you’ve been sucked into the black hole that is the internet.
The best thing about a detox is that the internet will still be there when you come back from your break. Cute and funny animal videos will always be there waiting for your return.
Feel the Emotions But Focus on the Positive
Life can suck, and things may not go your way. That’s okay. You should feel those emotions of sadness, anger, frustration, etc. It’s healthy to do so.
However, there’s a point where you need to shrug them off and move on with your day. I know it can be hard to move past those feelings sometimes, and our outlook on life may be bleak, but I’m a firm believer that there’s good in every situation.
And this all comes down to one thing: attitude. (You read more about my change of attitude and subsequent successes in this newsletter article.)
If you need an attitude adjustment, my advice is to read inspirational articles, collect uplifting quotes, surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and shake up your routine. Or watch some fun videos and movies.
Being around positivity breeds more positivity.
Take a Break
It’s a common refrain across the writing community that writers must make time to write. That we always need to be writing.
While that’s true, you need to write to finish your book; you also need to relax. If you don’t, your brain will freeze up, and you’ll become harder on yourself. In other words, you battle burnout, which we don’t want.
So take some time to care for yourself and spend time with loved ones. It’ll vastly help your mental health and your writing life. (Taking a break helps your brain turn over writing ideas.)
And if you don’t know when to take a break or feel lazy, look at my post on creating new content ideas. It has a little test you can take to help you differentiate between the two. Also, don’t forget to come back to the writing at some point. (That trilogy won’t write itself.)
Be Gentle With Yourself
You don’t need to beat yourself up for little mistakes. We’re human and fallible. Everyone makes mistakes, and you’ll always have room to grow and learn.
If no one is the same, doesn’t that make it unnecessary to compare yourself to someone else and their successes? It’s not good for you.
It sets unrealistic expectations for yourself that you can’t achieve, making you feel ashamed and like a failure. You’re not a failure, and you don’t need to do anything to anyone else’s timeline other than your own (and maybe your editor’s).
So be kind to yourself. You’re doing great!
Mental Health Resources
Before I leave you for the day, I wanted to leave you with as many professional resources as possible if you are struggling with your mental well-being. This list is not complete and missing a lot of information and organizations that people may need, so if you have anything to add, please let me know via email or by commenting down below.
I’m going to be linking to other websites that have lists of resources, and I’m trying to cover as many countries worldwide that I can:
- Checkpointorg has numerous links for resources and programs in particular countries and a general information tab for international support.
- The International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses has a list that leans heavily towards the UK. The resources direct you to organizations that can help with immediate mental health issues or to advocacy groups.
- United for Global Mental Health also has a list of call centers and resources you can access. They are divided up by country.
- The Massachusetts General Hospital has created a (mostly) local list of resources that BIPOC individuals may access. It doesn’t seem to have many global resources, but some recommended reading articles may be helpful.
- This PopSugar article contains 25 mental health resources for the Black community. (Most of the resources are for American audiences, but others may apply to those living outside of the US.)
- Mental Health America has a list of resources for the LGTBQ community in the US.
- Therapy for Black Girls is an all-encompassing organization working to connect Black women with therapists and destigmatize mental health for the Black community.
- Black Mental Health Alliance collects resources such as programs and services for Black people.
- Therapy for Latinx is built to serve the Latinx community by connecting the community to mental healthcare providers.
- We R Native is a general health organization by and for Native youth to promote positive change in Indigenous communities.
As I mentioned, this is not a complete list, so if you have more resources you’d like me to add, please let me know!
There is no one right way to treat mental health or to take care of ourselves. It’s essential to build a strong foundation filled with good habits to insulate ourselves from the challenging moments.
So take care of yourselves. Feel those emotions and move past them when you’re ready.
If you’re having trouble doing that, reach out for help. There are people out there that want to help you and need you in their lives. You don’t need to suffer.
What do you do for self-care? Are there any mental health resources that I need to add? Please let me know in the comments below!
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.