I know there’s a lot of us here who struggle with anxiety in some way or another, so I thought it’d be great if we could share tips and tricks on how we each combat it. Writing in general tends to be therapuetic for me but sometimes that anxiety can creep into my writing habits itself, and I can struggle to write in those instances. What do you all do to help kick anxiety to the curb and get some writing done? Listen to music? Drink calming tea? Rant about it to someone you trust? What are your go-to’s?
I have anxiety, but writing is one of the few things that helps it. It’s the depression that’s hard to kick when I’m writing.
I suppose if I’m in too heightened an anxiety state to function, I’d probably make a cup of my favorite tea and turn on some ASMR videos. ASMR is my go-to when my anxiety’s flaring up.
Yes, tea can certainly help. Chamomile is good.
I find writing in a journal helpful as well. Write about what’s stressing you out. It can really help you process your thoughts and clear your mind. Plus, if you’re struggling with writing, you can then carry on with your journal entry to writing about whatever you’re stuck at at the moment. So it doubles as a writer’s block cure.
Talking with someone can be super helpful for the same reason – putting your thoughts into words helps you process them, plus having someone rational to offer an outside perspective can help you put your worries into perspective.
Meditation helps, too. I like the guided meditations on Headspace. (I use the free version; the subscription price is ridiculous.)
Don’t forget about day-to-day self care. Get plenty of sleep. Eat proper meals and stay hydrated. Don’t rely on caffeine or other substances. Make time for things you enjoy. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Yes, that tip about pressure applies to writing, too. If writing is feeling like a chore, take a break and do something fun. When you come back to it, approach it with a renewed mindset – “I want to write”, not “I have to write”.
When it’s not November, I don’t force myself to write, especially if I’m struggling that day mentally. However, I do have a little ritual I do when I know I want to write that I also do when I want to want to write. I boil tea, put on a specific playlist, and pick out a pretty pen to write with. If I don’t feel like writing, often sitting down at my desk with a cup of tea, some music, and actual paper/pen helps me get into things.
During November, I have made a commitment I want to meet, and basically just turn on music, block out distractions, and type away. Sometimes I do word wars or a “pub crawl” in order to make things more fun. Lately I’ve been trying to be kinder to myself, and trying not to beat myself up if I don’t meet my goal every single day. Unless it’s the last day, there’s time to catch up on a day when I’m feeling good.
Another thing that really helps me is that I have supportive people in my life. My husband, for example, really helps encourage me when I need it (emotionally, but also with candy rewards!). He even did NaNo with me one year and helped us both cross the finish line.
@yuuen Yeah depression can be a really rough one to beat. But tea is a life send!
These are all fabulous tips! I use so many of these on a daily basis too They definitely help. And I love using journals to talk out writer’s block with myself!
@WatrPriestess Those are all really great tips! Your husband sounds like a wonderful person. My sisters do that for me, too. They’re always so encouraging/supportive and it’s such a huge help. Most of the time, having supportive people in my life is the best help I can have.
For me? Outlining. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, when my brain is trying to convince me that nothing I write is ever going to go anywhere, having an outline in my hands helps everything. What do you mean, anxiety-brain, I know where it’s building. I have that plan.
I’ve been using an 8-sequence outline lately — which is admittedly more of a film thing but translates to other mediums, because it gives me a definite shape to the story but it’s loose enough that I can still figure some things out. If, for instance, I know a sequence starts with a character finally reneging on a bad deal, nearly getting arrested, and ends with him getting introduced to the main ensemble, there’s a lot of give in the details but I know what I’m building to and that means I can tell the voice trying to convince me I’m out twisting in the wind to sod off.
Of course, too much outlining and I’ll never get anywhere, so it’s a balance.
Otherwise? I honestly hoard those themed one-word Inktober lists and will use them as writing prompts. Just 200-300 words, with the characters I’m working on, if my brain decides to freeze at the blank page. No one else has to see it, and I can put it in the cut scene/dump file immediately afterwards, I just have to put words down so there’s already something on the page. Blank documents or ones I haven’t touched in a little while are scary.
And hey, sometimes it also produces something I’ll use an image from later on. Which is nice in reminding myself that not everything I jot down is crap; I got that idea from a throwaway drabble.
I’m definitely going to second everyone saying take care of things and yourself outside of writing, too. If I can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something else even when I know I don’t have obligations, it’s probably worth asking questions like “have I eaten today?”
I love all of this. Dabbling down throwaways is something I haven’t done in a while but I should definitely get back into doing. Continues my mantra lately about everything not needing to be perfect
I have three main things that I do, usually at least one of them will work.
The first is to distract myself. Maybe I play a few rounds of Splatoon or watch a tv show I’m wayyyyyyy too invested in. Because if I can take my mind off of it, even when it comes back, I’ve literally just finished proving to myself that it does not control me, I control it, and just that sort of victorious and superior mentality helps.
The second thing I’ll do is just cry it out, which sounds super lame, but whatever works, right? Find a nice quiet secluded spot and just get it out of your system. Add the fear and frustration to it and it all just goes whoosh down the drain. Although that only works for some people.
And third is to read the Bible, which again doesn’t work for some people, because they aren’t Christians. And even if you are that can be a tricky business, you don’t really want to read about someone being beheaded when you’re feeling anxious, but there are other ones that can be really helpful, like a lot of the Psalms.
Oh boy. Still trying to figure this one out.
Anxiety in general has skyrocketed for me since I lost my job a few weeks ago (er… more closer to a month at this point, yikes!)
Though I think it was building up due to the job and personal stuff, so loosing the job was the… bag of flower that broke the camel’s back.
But a few things I do to help me combat the anxiety are as follows:
I’ve been trying to go down a mental task list of physical things. I’ve seen some of the things listed here, actually. “Have I eaten?” “How much sleep did I get?” “Have I stepped outside at all today?” I need to get better at this one, as it does help me a lot.
I’m also a Christian, so prayer and reading my Bible is often a comforting thing. Though sometimes my anxiety messes with me and twists everything I hear, so something comforting I twist into something uncomforting, because I’m panicking and not thinking clearly. But in the end, God breaks through the confusion.
I need to do this more.
Distractions are helpful. Pull your head out of yourself and onto something else can often help.
And specifically for writing, I’m still figuring it out, as I thought of this last night, grabbing pen and paper and just write by the seat of your pants.
I’m usually an outliner, but there is something calming about just writing a random story you did not plan that may or may not be of any consequence.
D&D. I have been doing this with my friends the last couple months, and it almost always brings up my mood and gets my creativity going. (Also, if you’re like me and are more of a worldbuilder/themer and struggle with characters, D&D is great practice, as your characters determine what happens.)
I’m seconding/thirding/whatever the tea. Any sort of hot drink can be helpful (though you have to remember that herb teas work through chemicals and thus, if you’re on meds, it’s a good idea to check if they don’t interact with them, esp. when it’s stronger or marketed-as-medicinal blends).
Breathing excercises! From yoga (yes, it sounds really cliché, but proper yoga has a breathing rhythm thorough everything, and even super-beginner stretches can help. it also helps to take mind off of things, since you have to concentrate onto how you’re moving), through the 4-7-8 breathing technique, to guided meditation (I personally use Youper, which is free and should work on both Android and Apple mobile devices afaik. It doesn’t only have guided meditation, but also other things, too.). These two help if it’s the sort of peaking, panicky anxiety, but when it’s the long-drawn-out-dread anxiety, it’s usually a hundred little steps, lots of trial-and-error, and making sure that my body is also doing alright, to get my anxiety down, though.
As for writing-specific anxiety, these approaches usually help me:
- ‘This is just a thumbnail. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be. I can take it, choose what is best and fix it up later. Not even painters make their masterpieces straight on the canvas without throwing ideas around and exploring lots of things that never make it into anything complete and that’s alright! It’s part of the process. Sometimes you just have to let it all out, the bad, the good, the I-don’t-know, and pick the best later.’ This is a variation on the ever-repeaten NaNo mantra for first drafts but, honestly? It’s one of the best things NaNo gave me
- Go do something creative you don’t usually do, and treat it more like a learning experience than a try for something finished. Try a short piece in a POV you don’t usually do, grab a prompt and write it like a chatlog, or do a short scene like a screenplay, write a fake encyclopedia entry on something silly… Take note of the different limitations and freedoms it gives you, how different it is from how you usually write! Or go edit a piece of an ancient, terrible piece of writing (finding out how much better you’ve become can be very reassurring)! Basically just changing up what you’re doing to break off as much of the ‘I should already know how to do this, I’ve done it so much before’ baggage and pressure to be good as possible.
- I find the Start With This podcast to also be strangely calming. It’s aimed more at creators wanting to create a podcast, but (at least the first episodes) can be applied to basically any project, and hearing creators of WTNV, which I love, talk about how they didn’t have any idea what they were doing, how they can’t show anyone their first creations because they’re just So Bad, can make me realise that ‘Oh wait, maybe struggling through this does not make me an absolute failure!’
- If my brain still keeps insisting that I should be better by now, that I am Terrible because what I’m making is Terrible and that I won’t be able to do the story the justice it should get, it’s a sign that I just. Need a break by that point. Call the rest of the day off and maybe turn off your brain. My favourite ways of doing this are playing picross/solving nonograms, rewatching episodic TV shows like Midsomer Murders, or just spend the next two hours looking at cat videos and set an alarm to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
These are all great, and I agree with many of them! I’ve had an unusually stressy month, and there has been a lot of anxiety with it, so I have been leaning heavily on:
Meditation (I do use the paid version of Headspace but there is a lot of good content even in the free version)
100-500 word sprints with random writing prompts. I have a bunch saved in my Pinterest but I usually fall back on either my old copy of A Writer’s Book of Days or my Rory’s Story Cubes (I have the basic set of physical cubes but I usually just use the app on my phone). Sometimes, but not always, my childbrain writes its way from the prompt into my story and I get good stuff that I hadn’t planned on. I’m totes cool if it doesn’t, though - as long as stuff came out of my brain and onto my keyboard, it’s a win.
This sounds weird but it works for me if I can get alone in a quiet place, preferably my bedroom - I indulge in it. Feed the anxiety monster, let the panic thoughts run crazy until I can have a good old-fashioned purging ugly-cry. (WARNING - this works for me but might well be a terrible idea for some, so don’t try this unless you know you are safe!)
I set a 5-10 minute timer on my phone to do just one thing. In an anxiety state I tend to try to do everything at once, and it makes it all worse - but I can trick myself, if I know it is a short-term thing, to just draw cities on my world map, or just brainstorm reasons why my character might end up wrongfully imprisoned, or … single task.
Wow, y’all have some fantastic ideas!
If I’m having anxiety about not being a god enough writer, etc. I have found it helpful to read a section of something that I have written that I know I like. It helps build my confidence back up. I will also talk to my wife about it and she is always encouraging. I also remind myself of my writing strengths, because they should get at least as much air time in my brain as the weaknesses. For example, I’m good at describing a distinct setting.
If I’m having anxiety in general that is interfering with my ability to function and I’ve tried coping skills already, sometimes I have to just accept that I am anxious, it won’t last forever, and maybe just writing a sentence today is enough for me.
If I’m having trouble concentrating when I’m writing due to anxiety, I find it helpful to change where I am writing and who is around. Sometimes I need to be all alone in a small dark corner somewhere and sometimes (counter-intuitive I know) I need to blend in to a whole bunch of people like at a cafe.
Hm. Definitely interesting.
When I’m anxious about my writing in particular (which admittedly doesn’t happen that often, mostly because I’ve grown past the point of taking constructive criticism as an attack, though it took me a shock to be able to do that), I tend to go back and re-read some of my own stories that I really like. Usually fanfic, especially if I’m looking for a finished story! That tends to help calm me down, both because I can know that I’ve written something I enjoy, and the sheer fact that I enjoy reading it.
Larger anxiety issues - usually caused by sensory stuff, or medical discussions (I get panic attacks because of medical discussions, even if it’s not about human medical stuff!), or frustration with something - are harder to deal with, in part because there’s little I can do to ameliorate the situation, and in part because unless it is a panic attack, I don’t necessarily realize that I’m anxious.
I cuddle my cat.
I try meditative breathing/mindfulness meditations.
I read stories I enjoy (whether they’re mine or a friend’s, or someone else’s).
I cuddle my cat even more.
When it’s definitely inhibiting my writing, I go to a local coffee shop. Usually one of the ones at the mall, because I can just hop on the bus outside my building and it drops me right there. But in general - I’m not the best at noticing when I’m anxious, so I’m not sure how much this list would help someone else.
I love cuddling my cat as a way of coping! 1000% agree.
When I first started writing, anxiety kept me from finishing anything. I worried about what other people would think. It was debilitating. I was always starting over because nothing was ever good enough. I overcame it by deciding to write a novel that no one would ever read. I could work on whatever I wanted, but no one would ever read it no matter how good or how terrible it was.
So I started. And when anxiety began to stall me, I’d just remind myself that no one would ever read this, no one would pass judgement, and it just didn’t matter whether or not it was any good. No one would ever know.
I finished my first novel that way. And along the way, I learned to have fun, and I established a daily writing habit. No one ever did read that novel. I kept my promise. So now I know that I can give myself permission to write terribly, and the anxiety just isn’t an issue anymore. Also, having written more than 15 novels now, experience gives me a level of confidence that goes quite far in keeping anxiety at bay.
I have been wrestling with writing anxiety for years and years, honestly. At one point, I stopped participating as much on the NaNo forums because I was putting unrealistic expectations on myself and my writing, based on everyone else’s ways of doing things, and my lack of really having anything to show for my claims of writerdom. I wanted to learn but I ended up feeling inadequate.
That said, I’m sort of a part of the Writeblr community on Tumblr now, and have found some really really good posts, including this one specifically about Writing Anxiety, which I will share with all of you on this thread.
I hope it is helpful! I have read it a number of times and still get good stuff out of it.
I agree with all of your tips. I’m just trying now to get into a daily writing habit and sometimes have to remind myself that the word count is not what is the most important. My boyfriend actually helps to remind me of that sometimes when I start getting overly critical of myself. And sometimes, when he thinks I need it, he’ll pause behind me and massage my shoulders before going to the freezer and getting me some of our Hershey’s miniatures to snack on as a reward for spending some time writing.
I second @TrudyG’s practice of rereading old stories I’ve written. It helps to remind me that I’m not total trash. I get something out of every project, and most projects are workable.
Talking to someone is a huge help, too, at least for me. My main anxiety is that my writing is not going to sell, because I put so much pressure on myself to make enough money to help my family and live a lifestyle I crave. So the anxiety that it builds can completely incapacitate me. Talking to a professional is helping me work through the deeper things that cause these symptoms, i.e. why do I feel so great a need to provide luxuries for my family, etc.
When my perfectionism gets in my way, breaking down my writing into little chunks helps sometimes. That way the problems and tasks of actual writing are not so overwhelming. I can solve issues one at a time.
Breathing helps. So does sequestering myself. Walking a labyrinth (meditating) is even better. Sometimes just writing gobbledygook on my draft to get me typing can get me over my anxiety enough to launch me into writing for the story. And taking a moment to remember the real, true reason that I write: it’s what I do. I’m wired for it. I would do it even if I had no hope or chance of success. Remembering that gives me some real perspective and eases the stress.