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Are you stressed and worn out — too tired to write another word? Christmas might be a good time to indulge in some self-care for writers….
The phrase “self-care” has always sounded slightly suspect to me. It makes me think of wealthy people justifying their trips to the spa or nail salon. Which is all very well for those who can afford the money and time, but not much use to those who either can’t, or choose not to.
But self-care of a different kind is actually important for writers, especially self-employed ones. Writing is a mentally tiring job and if you don’t have a way to recover from the effort required, you’re likely to burn yourself out. One of the big benefits of Christmas is that it gives us more time to pursue the actions and projects that will help us feel better about ourselves — and give us more energy for next year.
Here is a list of ways to look after yourself:
1-Get more sleep
I don’t know if COVID has changed your habits, but the vast majority of people don’t get anywhere enough sleep. Did you know that as many as one in three adults doesn’t catch enough ZZZZZs? Life is better if you get more sleep. You will feel more relaxed and you will be more creative. (I have never understood those writing coaches who counsel people to force themselves to wake up earlier in the morning so they can write. Don’t those coaches understand that we are hardwired to be night owls, morning larks or third birds?) Don’t cut your sleep short. If you have difficulty getting enough sleep, try setting yourself an alarm to go to bed earlier. Maybe even set it for 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep so that you have time to wind down first. And if you have difficulty falling asleep, consider getting a weighted blanket. I have one and it really improves my sleep.
It’s tough to eat a healthy diet over Christmas. All the chocolate, cookies and eggnog tempt us into over-indulging. While there are fewer Christmas parties on account of the pandemic, there is also the temptation to bake more, as a form of relaxation. Me? I’m on a pie-making binge right now. Don’t deny yourself the occasional calorific splurge. But be sure you’re also getting plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as healthy protein-rich snacks like nuts. You will feel so much better if you include some healthy eating amid all the indulging.
3-Drink lots of water
Many people are chronically dehydrated. If you don’t drink enough water, you may feel tired (when you’re not), you may get headaches, or you may feel slightly nauseated. Don’t do this to yourself when it’s so easy to fix the problem. I like the taste of water (and I’m lucky enough to live in a city where the water is fabulous) but I’ve found I drink even more water if it’s carbonated. I have a Soda Stream that allows me to carbonate my water at minimal cost and without the addition of more plastic bottles to the world. I drink at least a litre of plain carbonated water every afternoon.
4-Connect with friends
If the pandemic has schooled us in anything, it’s taught us how badly we need our friends. Over the holidays, reach out to as many people as you can. In my family, we aren’t going to be able to see our son and his fiancée this Christmas so we’re going to go for a walk with them in the morning (being outside is relatively safe) and then connect by Zoom later in the day to open presents. We’ve decided we don’t like eating meals by Zoom so we’re going to eschew that option. But everyone is different so do what works for you.
5-Take a bath
Many years ago, when I was communications director for a daily newspaper, I remember being caught in an ugly labour dispute that led to my having three days without sleep. I remember the chief negotiator, another woman, telling me that if I ever had the choice between sleep and a bath, I should always take the bath because it would be more refreshing and relaxing. I have followed her advice for many years and I still find it to be true. It probably helps that I have a very large and comfortable claw-foot tub, which makes all my hot water soaks all the more relaxing.
6-Get more exercise
One of the paradoxes of exercise is that it takes energy to do it but it also gives you back even more energy. This can be hard to believe when you’re already tired or worn out, but trust the experts, exercise is a key part of any self-care program. You don’t even have to pursue something vigorous like a run or a bike ride. Just walk! I walk on my treadmill while I’m writing and, many evenings, I’ll go for a walk in our neighborhood with my husband. I’ve noticed that the pandemic has caused more people than before to walk. This is a really good habit that will make you feel better and, likely, increase your lifespan.
7-Put down your phone
Many of us (and I include myself in this category) spend way too much time on our phones. My weakness is my digital subscription to the New York Times. For others, however, the temptation is Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Overall, resolve to spend less time on social media over the holidays. Seeing what others are doing is not helpful to you and may cause you to feel frustrated or more alone. Even if you can’t put down your phone entirely, at the very least, be sure to detox the list of people you follow by removing the names of anyone who makes you feel bad or angry. And if you have had the habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning, see if you can delay looking at it for at least an hour or two. That way you’ll be able to spend time doing things that interest or relax you, rather than worrying about what other people are doing.
8-Get yourself outside
Light in the morning is what causes us to wake up and feel energized and for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere, this is the time of year when we are most light-deprived. I suffer from a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) so I have a special light on my desk to give myself a good shot of lumens first thing in the morning. But even this special light can’t match the lumens I can collect myself, outside — even on a cloudy day. And, of course, there are other benefits to being outdoors. You get a change of scenery (so important during the pandemic). You get fresh air. And, if you live near a forest, park or gardens, the appearance and scent of the trees will make you feel better.
9-Read a novel or a short story
Some people tell me they read only non-fiction. If you fall into that camp, let me encourage you to try the occasional novel or short story. Being transported into the life of a fictional character helps improve our sense of empathy and well-being. Plus, it’s entertaining — often way more entertaining than Netflix or Hulu. Find a genre you enjoy and if that genre is something that other people try to diminish (because they don’t think it’s highbrow enough) ignore their opinion. You are entitled to read anything you like.
10-Listen to a podcast or audio book
One of the great joys of my life is listening to podcasts. I find them entertaining and informative and I especially enjoy listening to them when I’m walking. (My two faves are Fresh Air and The Daily.) I don’t generally listen to audiobooks (although I made an exception for the remarkable Born A Crime by Trevor Noah) but many of my friends do, and they get great pleasure from the experience.
This may just be me, but I love decluttering a drawer, a closet or a cupboard. It makes me feel organized and effective and accomplished. Plus, I love the way it looks afterwards. (I recently decluttered one of my desk drawers and I now sometimes open it just to admire its stark beauty.) The hard part, of course, is getting started. If you are bedevilled by how to begin, give yourself a clear, easy-to-accomplish goal. For example, you might tell yourself you’re going to declutter something for 10 minutes or declutter until you’ve discarded 10 things.
12-Give your eyes a break
Writers already spend a lot of time staring at computer screens. And, during the pandemic, that will have translated into even more digital time. Be sure to protect your eyes. Experts say that every 20 minutes we should look away from our screens for 20 seconds. (I work in 25-minute pomodoros so I take my break at the end of each pomo.)
13-Check your breathing
Many writers (including me) suffer from what I call writing apnea. We are thinking so hard we temporarily forget to breathe. This is not good for us and causes our hearts to beat faster, our bodies to sweat more and it also increases our stress and tension. Pay attention to your breathing habits and work to make sure you’re getting enough air to help your brain work properly. (Although our brains represent only 2% of our body weight, they use a full 20% of the oxygen we take in.) Box breathing is a good habit to build into your daily schedule.
14-Learn something new
Once we emerge from the obligation of high school, most of us find we really enjoy learning. Taking courses just for fun is an excellent form of self-care. I’ve recently signed up for MasterClass (although I’m not sure I can recommend this platform – I’m beginning to conclude they’re simply trading on the fame of celebrity names.) If you want a more certain deal, and one that’s free to boot, consider Coursera. An online learning program developed by a couple of professors from Stanford University, Coursera offers no-charge classes in thousands of subjects. In fact, many readers discovered me thanks to Coursera’s Learning How to Learn, the most popular class on the platform taught by superstar Barbara Oakley.
The biggest benefit of a holiday is that it allows you to do nothing. Take advantage of this annual respite and schedule time when you can just sit on the couch and stare off into the twinkling Christmas light. No demands on your time. No one needing anything from you. Your mind can wander in any direction it wishes.
This Christmas will likely be quieter and less busy than in previous years. I hope it gives you the chance to indulge in more self-care than usual.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week described how to start a newsletter. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
What are your best secrets for self-care? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!