It should be a four letter word, but unfortunately it’s two letters too long for that (English is cruel). Everyone deals with it, but we all seem to compare ourselves to those curious humans who never seem to show the slightest give.
Newsflash: They’re probably just having a nervous breakdown on their own time.
Stress causes serious problems for even the best of us. At best, it’s a minor hang up a good nap can relieve. At worst, it’s a creative train wreck so severe, even the tracks seem to disappear.
Here’s some things you can do when it all seems to be too much.
1. Reevaluate Your Life
Do you WANT to take that extra shift at work? Is the payoff worth enough to you to account for the added pressure? What about that extra five credit class you’ve been eyeing up? Are you going to be able to balance 15+ credits and still get some rest, or would it be better to prolong your time by a quarter?
These are things to think about when you design your goals for writing, too. Especially with the annual tear-fest known as NaNoWriMo coming up, it’s time to seriously evaluate writing goals. 50,000 words in 30 days is not something you can pull off the night before the due date (I don’t care how good a procrastinator you think you are). The key to things like this is careful planning.
Make good goals. Good goals are going to push you, but be attainable. There’s a delicate balance there. You don’t want your goal to be so taxing, you eventually just stop trying. For instance, one of my friends likes to do NaNo in the first week. She writes almost 10K a day. I cannot do that. I know that goal would be too lofty for me. Instead, I try to write about 2000 words every day so I can keep pace, but not have to stress about finding the time. Goals should always be reevaluated after a period of time. That’s part of the beauty of goals; they are evolving right alongside you.
2. Take some time for yourself
Characters won’t shut up. Kids need to be fed. Dog needs to be walked. Homework needs to be done. Laundry is slowly creeping across the floor, looking for its next victim. You think it ate the cat. And now-
One of the pitfalls I fall into, and often, is telling people, “I’m okay. There’s a million things going on right now, but it’ll get better soon.” That is, until next week when there is more homework, chemistry labs change, and I still don’t have a day off between work and school. But I keep on going with the hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
When my knees start to quiver and it becomes hard to keep trudging on, I finally stop myself. “Me time” doesn’t have to be something that takes away from life. It just has to be something that wakes me back up and makes me strong enough to continue on. Personally, that’s music. Throughout writing Nightfall, I wrote up several playlists. Some were specific to each character, others were for scenes. Taking my dog to the park and going swimming were great stress relievers, too.
Every person is going to have their own “thing.” Some ideas include:
- socializing with old friends
- Sharing a family meal
- Going for a bike ride
- Taking a long, hot bath
3. Assemble a Stress Box
Under my desk, I keep a small box full of things that help me relax after a tough day. The contents include:
- Wax tarts (because good smells are soothing)
- A stuffed owl from my girlfriend (because she’s special to me and I love owls)
- A Bible and book of devotions (because prayer is always helpful)
- A “calm down” water bottle (it’s literally a bottle full of water, glitter, and 2 drops of purple food coloring. Shake it and watch the water settle)
- Colonial style embroidered trim (for sensory issues)
Put together a small box of things that help you “get grounded” after a particularly stressful event.
4. Self Care
Take care of yourself! There’s nothing you can do to help other people if you aren’t being taken care of yourself. Remember: You are not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own. If someone wants to be grumpy toward you, tough. They can be grumpy. Your needs come before their wants, and that is the first rule of self care.
Are you hungry? If you haven’t eaten in the last few hours, please go fix a snack.
When’s the last time you had water? Please go get a glass.
Are you clean? Showering can make you feel so much better.
Have you slept? Set an alarm for a 20 minute nap. That won’t hurt you.
Does anything hurt? Take care of that, be it with medicine, ice, or a heat pad.
You matter. Take care of yourself. Dedicate about 20 minutes to taking care of YOU each day.
Bonus: Sugar Scrubs
One of the best things my university did while we were coming up on midterms was a workshop on making bath bombs and sugar scrubs (I chose the latter). They feel wonderful, and they take less than ten minutes to make.
- Put about a cup of sugar into a jar/container of some sort.
- Add vegetable oil, to your preference. It’ll take about a third of a cup to get a thick scrub, more for thin. This is 100% personal preference. Play with it until you like the ratio.
- Stir with a spoon until it’s evenly disbursed.
- OPTIONAL: Add essential oils. Good ones include: eucalyptus, lavender, orange, peppermint, lemon
- OPTIONAL: Add food coloring. Five drops of green plus two drops of blue gets a rich, grassy green that I always use for my eucalyptus-peppermint scrubs
Stress is something that is always going to be around. Then again, so is air. It’s possible to live with it, if you can only find how it works for you.