I’ll begin this weeks post with two words … stress kills. We all have varying degrees of this nasty scourge in our lives, but have you ever considered this? We manufacture a great deal of it ourselves. Headaches, panic attacks, and that constant state of feeling overwhelmed are sure signs that you’ve taken on too much responsibility. Now, anyone in their right mind wouldn’t consciously load up with something they’re adversely affected by, right?
Granted, most of us don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Gee … what can I do today to cause myself harm? However, whether or not we realize it, a certain percentage of the stress we feel each day is self-induced. Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example. Are you, or is someone you know, a “joiner.” I speak from experience on this one. Induction into one writers group is good, so two must be twice as good … and you join the second. How is that working out? Honestly, I knew it was a mistake the moment I did it. The reason? There just aren’t enough hours in the day to actively participate in both. I did it anyways. Time to change course.
As a writer with a full-time day job, I’m painfully aware that you can only burn a candle at both ends for a finite amount of time, before all you have left is a flaming puddle of wax remaining. Taken literally, one may end up with a hellacious mess to clean up. In real life, what you figuratively have on your hands is a meltdown. Let’s try to figure out a solution before that happens. After all, running yourself ragged and becoming ill helps no one—especially you.
The first thing that’s so important to remember is this … it’s all about the journey. We must learn to slow down and take it all in. A failure here almost insures that down the road, you’ll wonder where the time went while remaining a considerable distance from your goal. As counter-intuitive as it seems, sometimes less is more. Make a list of your commitments. Don’t bother to include family, or paying the bills. These are obviously a given and are non-negotiable. As for everything else, let’s try to find some things on the list to cull.
First, put a little star next to the things that bring you the most joy and also serve a purpose. These are the activities you’ll definitely keep. For instance, I enjoy the dual purpose of Twitter. I get to meet and interact with some tremendously friendly, gifted, intelligent people while making this on-line society aware that I have a novel to offer for their consumption. I do my best to balance the social/promotional aspect of this activity and truly enjoy myself in the process.
Next, look at the remaining items before you. Put a check mark next to those that you don’t quite enjoy, but are necessary for the successful advancement of your goals. Editing is one item on my own list that instantly comes to mind. It’s not my favorite activity, yet, the process is imperative if there’s any hope of producing a solid work. These items also stay.
At this juncture, the remainder of said list will be subject to the cull. This is where we play stress-buster. I began with my blog. As it turns out, I had placed undue stress upon myself by thinking it was necessary to have something fresh on there every day or two. My solution—quality versus quantity. I decided to post two pieces, once a week. One is this very post that you’ve been kind enough to visit, where I share my experiences with you. The other; a creative writing exercise. I produce a flash fiction work from a prompt that I request from fellow writers. I write both pieces on Saturday for post on Sunday. This decision immediately alleviated stress from my life, turning a self-imposed chore into something I now look forward to and enjoy immensely. Writing is my passion, yet I had turned it into a nightmare by inadvertently overdoing it. Common sense? Yes. Easy to see. No. Sometimes we’re just too close to see the forest for the trees.
Here’s another suggestion that may prove helpful. The items that you put a check next to on the list—schedule them so they’re completed first. This way, only the tasks with stars next to them remain. Leave these for last, as they’re the activities you enjoy. Regard these items as a reward for completing the chores first. This way, you always have something at the end of your hard work to look forward to. Seems simple, right? Some of you are already doing this. I’m willing to bet many are not.
Here are a few more common-sense maneuvers you might try in order to succeed in being less stressed-out. If you engage in an activity that requires your undivided attention, give it the respect it deserves. Shut the music off. Turn off the television or the computer. Silence the cell phone and leave it in the other room. Your improved focus will increase your efficiency, which in turn will reduce stress. It’s a matter of initiating good habits versus the bad ones you may have picked up along the way.
Maybe you’ve developed an unhealthy obsession. I know some writer friends who check their sales stats constantly over the course of any given day. A watched pot never boils, but you do it, regardless. How stressful. Stop. Try having a conversation with a fellow author instead. Perhaps you could give them some assistance in the form of a promotional tweet, or post a review of their work you enjoyed. Not only will this distract you from staring at the sales page, but you’ll likely feel fulfilled when the individual you help shows you love in return for your kind gesture. You may be amazed at what a fantastic stress eraser this can become.
Yup … you may very well have driven yourself into this veritable mud bath of stress. Hook your common sense winch onto that classy chassis of yours and pull yourself out. Adjust your repertoire and kiss that stress goodbye.
We’re all human and spreading ourselves too thin is one of the easiest mistakes to make. Give yourself a break. Realize that you can’t do it all. Complaining about it is a good vent, but does little in the way of alleviating stress. Take action.
Do you have any comments or ideas on the subject? I’m always thrilled to hear what you have to say. I sincerely hope the ideas put forth in this post will help you live a more stress-free life.
All the best, AB