Dealing with Stress

Please note this article was originally published in the Romance Writers of Australia Heart's Talk magazine, and has been expanded for this blog...

Most jobs aren't as glamorous as they seem from the outside. Being an author is no exception. You’ve got deadlines to deal with, fluctuations in creativity, an ever changing and over-crowded market, constant critiques of your work, scheduling conflicts…

Have I scared you off yet? No? Good.

Being an author is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. But stress management is essential, especially for those of us who put a lot of pressure on ourselves (fellow Type-A people raise your hands!)

Stress isn't inherently bad and it can drive you to deliver amazing things. But unmanaged stress is a whole other beast. Aside from the more obvious mental and emotional damage of it eating away at your concentration and confidence, making it a roadblock between you and your goals, it can also have serious physical consequences.

My husband is an expert at dealing with crazy, stressed-out Stef. It’s not always pretty (okay, it’s never pretty), but he gets the job done. That’s why I married him.  He’s helped me a lot in dealing with my stress using the following method. It’s not a new concept, but it works for me and hopefully it will work for you too.

ASSESSING YOUR CIRCLE OF CONTROL

Stressful incidents fall into three categories:

  • Something we can control (e.g. the words we put down on the page)
  • Something we can influence (e.g. how our book sells)
  • Something we cannot control (e.g. what people think of our book)

Good stress (the type that drives and motivates you) usually comes from something that we can control. For example: if we have a deadline a month away we can work out how many words a day we need to write to get the book in on time.

Bad stress is often caused by worrying about things outside our control, for example: a negative review.

Now, it’s easy to say ‘don’t worry about it’. As a perpetual worrywart, I know saying that is useless. However, next time you’re feeling stressed look at this list. We want to focus our energy in the top two groups—things we can control or influence.

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In the heat of the moment, it can be tough to think logically. This process helps me to get back into a good headspace if I’m feeling stressed:

  1. Remove yourself from the situation if you can. Step away from your computer, get a cup of tea or go for a walk etc.
  2. Have a vent to someone in person or over the phone. People outside the situation can provide a more balanced/unbiased view. Be wary of using social media to vent; the internet remembers everything.
  3. Ask yourself if there’s anything you can (or should) do about the situation. If so, make a plan. If not, figure out what where your energy would be better spent and go do that instead.

If you're finding yourself frequently stressed out, then look for patterns. Is there something in particular that's trigging these stressful feelings? 

It's a good idea to employ general stress management activities to help put you in a better position to deal with the lumps and bumps that life throws your way:

  • Ensure you're getting adequate sleep. I'm a terrible sleeper, so I know this isn't always possible. But do what you can to aid this: avoid caffeine later in the day, try using an app with soothing sounds or even meditate before bed.
  • Keep your body active. This is SO IMPORTANT for us writers, since our jobs is so sedentary
  • Cultivate a support network. Who can you call when you need to work through a problem? Or if your stress is severe, consider seeing a professional.
  • Take time out to do something that fills you with joy. Spend time with people you care about.
  • Schedule downtime. It's just as important as scheduling time to write.

Hopefully this helps you the next time you’re feeling stressed out! You got this, I believe in you.