Writing can be a deeply rewarding yet demanding profession. Like any other job, it comes with its unique set of challenges. However, writers are often picked out as an at-risk group for mental health conditions, including stress, anxiety, isolation, and depression. Ensuring that writers take care of their mental health is crucial for both their well-being and their craft. Here are some practical tips for writers to manage their mental health:
1. Embrace Nature
A change of environment can quickly give you a fresh perspective and clear your mind. Go for a walk outside, take a hike, swim, play an outdoor sport, join an outdoor yoga class – do whatever you like to get your body moving after sitting behind your writing desk for hours. Endorphins released during physical activity combined with sunshine can reduce stress and improve your overall mood.
2. Plan Social Activities
Writers are notorious for avoiding social interactions, though not always intentionally. As humans, we are social creatures and need regular engagement with others to keep up relationships. Connecting with others offers us a sense of value, can give us new perspectives, and can even be a therapeutic outlet. It’s important to plan social activities regularly and stick to them.
It doesn’t have to be formal. Ask a friend out on a coffee date and catch up with them. Plan family outings and quality time. Watch a movie with a friend or find a local team for a sport you enjoy.
Joining a writing group is a good way to mix socializing and writing. You can chat about your projects, receive and give constructive feedback, or talk about life.
3. Structure and Routine
Do you wake up at 3 AM with a great idea and run to your computer to write? Is your sleep schedule irregular? As writers, we are often seen as creatures with inconsistent habits. Those very habits are harmful to our mental health and physical well-being, though.
Erratic waking and sleeping hours leave you restless and increase stress levels. Establishing a routine and allowing your natural circadian rhythm to take over can provide you with a much-needed sense of normalcy. Aim for at least 6 hours of sleep each night. Ideally, you’ll have 8 hours. Reducing brain stimulation an hour before bed will help you sleep deeper and feel more rested in the morning. You’ll be more alert and able to make better decisions, have clearer ideas, and reduced stress.
While setting up this routine, it’s important to set boundaries for yourself. Will you continue to give into those 3 AM writing urges? Hopefully not. Clearly outline where you want to set checks on your habits and where you’re willing to be more flexible. Allow yourself some time to experiment and find what works best for you.
4. Physical Health Tips for Writers
Try to practice good posture while writing to avoid strain. Posture can impact multiple aspects of our physical health and mental perceptions of a task.
Additionally, take small breaks between sessions and incorporate exercises specific for writers. Watch a YouTube tutorial for yoga to stretch your muscles after long hours of sitting in the same position. Try out exercises for your wrists, hands, and shoulders. Rest your eyes and practice looking at objects at various distances to keep them healthy.
In all of this, remember to eat a balanced diet. Ensuring you are getting enough nutrition and staying hydrated is vital for keeping your brain functioning at healthy levels.
5. Emotional Well-Being
Be gentle and understanding with yourself. It’s easy to be mean or self-loathing, but practicing self-compassion can do wonders for your productivity and overall well-being. While you do this, remember that writing is an experimental journey. Your projects aren’t going to turn out perfectly the first time or the second time. And when you receive criticism for your work, keep in mind that feedback is a tool. Because writing is such an intimate craft, it’s easy to feel any critique is a personal attack. But that isn’t the case.
6. Manage Stress
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, allow yourself to take a break. You need regular breaks from your projects, or else you’ll quickly burn out or run into writer’s block. Have a plan ready to handle stress. That could look like walking, journaling, deep breathing, meditation, taking a shower, or hanging out with friends.
To help keep stress at bay, make sure you are organizing your projects and setting realistic goals for yourself. Staying organized will keep you from scrambling to find information, feeling scattered, or potentially losing work. When setting goals for yourself, make sure they are ones you have control over, no one else. For example, instead of aiming to finish a collaborative project, where you’re dependent on others, you could set a goal to write two books this year. That goal is entirely on you, and depending on your writing process, could realistically be done if you were determined to do it.
7. Seek Support
Consider talking to a professional or joining a support group tailored to writing or mental health. Don’t settle for the first one you find – take time to research your needs and find a counselor or group who connects with you in all the ways you need. You can also conduct research and access mental health resources online.
8. Secure Your Work
Unfortunately, many writers have experienced the awful feeling of realizing they closed a tab or document without saving it. To avoid the stress of lost work, back up regularly and use software that has an auto-save feature.
Recognizing personal challenges to mental health and writing is the first step to addressing them. By taking care of your mental health, you not only ensure your well-being but also invest in your craft. After all, a healthy mind is the most powerful tool a writer can have.