That fight or flight thing gets us in trouble. Stress leads to burn-out. When we crash and burn it is hard to get up and get going again. Writers share war stories. But writers also share something else—burn-out that is related to writing. This is a different kind of stress, because we think too much. We process, analyze, dissect, put back together, and come up with ten ways to worry over a sentence.
When you add life plus deadlines plus health issues to the mix, well, that’s called writer’s stress. Soon, you’re sitting in your office staring out the window. You’ve forgotten how to write. Here are some suggestions on how to take care of yourself. (And I hope they encourage our readers, too.)
1. Set realistic expectations (Let go of trying to find your super power.) Don’t try to prove you can do it all. You can’t and you’ll only make yourself sick if you try.
2. Our worst fears stem from not measuring up. We don’t want to be judged. Right? To quote a popular movie song “Let it go.”
3. Stress and burn-out are not about everything that’s happening in your life— they are about how your react to everything that’s happening in your life.
4. “Don’t go borrowing trouble.” Publishers are shutting down, editors are being shifted around, and e-publishing is killing print books. This industry is just too big for one writer to worry over! Stay informed, yes. Ask questions, yes. Read PW and publishing blogs and online magazines, yes. Absorb facts, but don’t take on extra stress that will only make you feel bad. You only have two shoulders! (Stretch those shoulders every few minutes.)
5. Learn to take things slow. Or as my friend Judy Christie says in her book “Hurry Less, Worry Less at Work” learn to take the “deadly” out of deadlines. I’ve learned to always put some wiggle room in my deadlines and in my blue jeans. Because your waistline can increase right along with your deadline worries, right? I take my time getting up to my office but once I’m there, I’m focused. Let that guilt go and take a walk or kiss your honey. My rule—Take a little time each day to do something that doesn’t involve your work. Even during deadline week!
6. Prayer plus Action equals less stress. Prayer or mediation can be very important in every aspect of our work and our lives but action can bring you the peace of mind you need. Find a way to live with intention. Don’t let the writing own you. Let your life be about what matters. If your flame is fueled by what matters in life, your fire won’t burn-out when your career takes a wrong turn.
7. Take on only what strengthens you. Don’t say YES to all the right things for all the wrong reasons. You have to carve out a spot where the world goes away, a spot where work takes priority. Say NO to requests that don’t bring you joy. If you find writing draining at times, try to find a pace where it becomes a joy again. For me, focusing on the one thing I could call all mine helped me to stay strong. Writing is all mine.
8. Are you successful but stressed? Or are you successful in spite of your stress? I have to say, there have been times when I didn’t care about my success. I wanted to stay in bed all day, hidden under the covers. But I knew I had to get up. I wanted to stay busy and I found ways to do that with deadlines. Writing has always been a joy for me even on days when it feels like a drain. Find that joy again.
9. Are you keeping up the act? You have to act the part of a happy, successful person when you feel like such a complete flop? Reach out to others, but be yourself. If you strip things down and spill your heart, you will become surrounded by the grace and the fellowship of a people who understand.
10. Last, learn to show poise under stress, grace under pressure and acceptance of yourself during hard times. Remember, it’s how we react to stress and burn-out that matters. It’s not easy but the next time you want to throw a hissy fit, try the 555 rule instead. Take a deep breath, hold it in for 5 seconds and then slowly let it out over 5 seconds. Do this 5 times.
Find the joy in each day. Breathe, really let go and breathe. Define burn-out as part of life, laugh in its ugly face. Put on some color now and then and blow kisses into the wind. You can’t burn-out if you know how to sparkle! How do you take care of yourself?