Friday, November 30, 2018

9 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health as a Writer

The depressed writer. It's a major stereotype that crops up in books, movies, documentaries, and even social media. This stereotype is so common that I've started wondering: Is this really a stereotype? Or a writers actually more prone to being Eeyore incarnate?

I don't have an answer yet, but I do have a hypothesis. I think that, because we writers are in our heads so much, we are actively putting ourselves in the position to be mental health train-wrecks. It's not good.

Thankfully, there are ways to combat this. As somebody who has struggled with depression for a variety of reasons, I've had the opportunity to come up with a lot of different ways to balance mental health with my writing activities. Here are a few tips:

9 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health as a Writer

1. Develop outside hobbies/jobs. Yes, I mean outside literally. Make sure you are getting out of the house on a regular basis. While it may be helpful writing-wise to isolate yourself, it is not great for your mental status. Going outside can take a lot of forms, but whatever form it takes needs to involve you getting out of your head and interacting with other people. *gasps of horror* Yeah. I know. If you're like me and don't particularly enjoy non-introverting-activities, this can be hard. But it's worth it. Trust me. Here are some ideas: Visiting with friends (or one friend, if groups stress you out), going to church, going to school, and going to work (provided your work isn't you in your PJs writing your next novel).

2. Exercise. This is important because it helps with hormone balance and science-y stuff like that. If you are physically healthy, this can improve your mental health, too. Go for a jog, lift some weights, surf, hike, skateboard, walk, do yoga, stretch. Whatever is in your means.

3. Eat good food. Caffeine and sugar are yummy food, but they are not good food. Make sure your diet is balanced. Have some salad, eat some non-refined carbohydrates (brown rice, millet, quinoa), boil an egg, consume a fish.

I'll have you know it took me a solid 10 minutes to find this gif.
I regret nothing.
4. Learn to value your own writing. Is it nice to receive outside praise about your writing? Absolutely! But you cannot rely on this as a way to keep feeling good about yourself and your projects. Our brains have the horrifying ability to largely ignore awesome feedback/reviews and latch onto small bits of negative feedback/reviews, thus making ourselves miserable. One of the ways to combat this is to stop relying on outside feedback. Those peasants don't know anything anyway. Instead, learn to be proud of yourself and how far you have come. This boosts self-esteem and means that you no longer rely on outside sources to keep you balanced. That being said...

5. Get outside perspective. It is very easy to get so focused on the imperfections of your writing that your brain goes off the rails. You've read your story so many times that it may appear boring or disjointed even when it's not. When you reach this point, send your draft to a few trusted writer friends and ask for constructive feedback. If they are good, honest people, they will praise your writing and help you move forward and fix up any sticky parts, thus keeping you from going insane.

6. Take breaks to avoid burnout. This is SO important. Be nice to yourself and take breaks when you feel your mind starting to unravel. Breaks can mean taking a few days off from writing, or from social media, or whatever it is that is causing you stress. But here's the thing: When you take a break, you need to be replacing your time with something healthy. Don't just sit in a corner and feel bad about yourself. Try cooking a new dish, going somewhere new, chilling with a movie, re-organizing your desk.

7. Do not play the comparison game. Comparing yourself to other writers is a huge no. Not only does it lower self-esteem and poison your relationship with other writers, but it is also massively stupid. Like, trying-to-make-Marvin-the-robot-happy level of stupid.
I've written an entire post about why you need to stop comparing yourself to your fellow writers, and also outlined tips for how to go about doing this, so check it out.

8. Let yourself write garbage. Remind yourself that it is okay to write stories that aren't completely stellar. In fact, most first drafts are naturally terrible (at least I know that mine are). You are not Legolas, so you can't be perfect all of the time. By taking the pressure off of yourself, you can have time to love your writing (and yourself). I wrote an entire guide about how to write terrible first drafts just for you. You're welcome. Also remember that just because you write something bad doesn't mean you are a bad person. Try not to connect yourself so closely to your writing. A garbage draft does not make a garbage human or a garbage writer.

9. Ask for help. If you know that you are prone to depression or anxiety or catastrophizing or whatever, reach out for help. Tell your family, friends, writer buddies and ask them to check-up on you, to set up days to meet with you (see tip 1), to pray for you, to send you nice texts. Doing this isn't weak. In fact, it shows that you are willing to face your difficulties head on. Besides, most family/friends would love to have the opportunity to help you out.

You know how else you can help your mental health? Hang out with me! I'll be doing a Facebook livestream next week and would love for you to join me!

[Yes, I'm aware of the fact that that transition was not at all pretty or subtle. Sue me.] 

I'd love to know what days/times work best for you, so please fill out the below form. I'll hold the stream on whatever day/time the majority of you will be able to attend.

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Looking forward to seeing you during the stream!

*transitions awkwardly back to the post*

What are some things that you do to maintain your mental health as a writer? I personally drink a cup of tea every day, read the Bible, pray, eat well, and keep a Happy Calendar (patent pending) that I mark only with pleasant things I'm looking forward to. I'd love to hear about your own techniques!

Related articles:
8 Non-Writing Activities to Help With Your Creative Process
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity

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  1. Thank you for talking about this, as it is very important.
    Besides everything you mentioned, I've also found that I need to be careful with the music I listen to - sad music can help me set the scene for something I'm writing, but listening to too much of it (especially after writing something emotional) can definitely push me firmly down into the dumps.

    1. Your insight about music is awesome, Gwendolyn. It's great that you've been able to notice what gets you down so you can better manage your health. Thank you for the sweet comment!

  2. Thank you so much for this! I like that you point out how writing and living in your head can easily lead to depression/etc. So often I hear that people with poor mental health are more prone to create beautiful work, which often comes across as romanticizing mental illness (not cool). I like that you flip the cause and effect- at least in my experience, that's a lot more accurate.

    I second point 1, especially! I know I'm a lot happier when I get out of my head (and my house) often. :)

  3. As a writer who struggles with anxiety, I really want to thank you for making this post. :)
    Also, spending time with people I enjoy hanging out with helps a lot, or just settling down to read a good book or watch a good movie and forget myself for a while.

  4. It's amazing how practical all of these things are. Why is maintaining a balanced lifestyle so hard when it seems so simple in theory? LOL.

  5. I have a three-pronged approach to this 'keep healthy thing'. Running, hiking, and eating out with a few select friends. It works like a charm. Thanks for sharing your ideas, Hannah.

  6. I have other activities to be busy with, knitting, crocheting and tv, or walk. When I have to get away from my writing, I turn on the tv with a semi mindless needle project and get into somebody else's story. Just bought an exercise bike so I can ride that while it's too cold/snowy to walk outside. I love reading your post!

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