Navigating Stress: A Guide for Writers and Creatives
Life’s already something of a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, even before factoring in pandemics and global crises. Try as I might, my head isn’t going to clear itself on-demand and let me fixate on writing my next book. Like almost everyone I know, my brain is fizzing with stress and emotional reactions. The pressing question becomes how to quiet the chaos in my head and focus on writing or the other tasks life throws my way.
There are those who insist it’s wrong to turn your head away. We should engage with how we feel. And yet, society prefers stoic disposition – unless we’re going online to moan about an annoying co-worker/neighbour.
Schools don’t teach emotional intelligence. We’re passed through the sausage machine, armed with the ability to solve a quadratic equation, explain the First World War, and find Slovenia on a map, but when it comes to coping with life, we dive into the deep end without swimming aids. We ignore the inner turmoil, maintaining a stiff upper lip – at least in public.
Reactions to circumstances
In private, we stress eat, indulge in a few extra glasses at wine time, and tell ourselves mood swings are normal. We devise personal coping mechanisms for a gamut of emotions ranging from fear and joy to anger, sadness, and disgust.
Put simply, emotions are our reactions to circumstances. They’re critical for survival and act as barometers of our comfort and safety levels. Positive emotions act as guiding lights, whereas negative ones ought to be the warning bell that it’s time for change.
Emotions, though, are not feelings. Feelings emerge after we’ve had time to think about and take a position on these emotions. When we bottle up how we feel, that’s where the real trouble kicks in. They don’t go away. They ferment. Leading to a complex emotional brew.
It’s essential not to oversimplify your feelings. Sometimes, a single situation generates a whole load of emotions.
Everywhere you look, there’s someone ready to help you deal with feelings. What works for one person might not suit another, much like that pair of jeans gathering dust in your closet, which you’re determined to fit into one day.
Reactions to stress
Mood-tracking apps offer valuable assistance by monitoring emotional patterns and triggers over time. Mindfulness removes any element of judgment – it’s OK to feel the way you do, so let’s talk more. Regular reflection often helps distinguish between constructive and harmful reactions to stress.
The crucial takeaway here is to employ these insights as benchmarks for navigating the next bump in the road, and not as a way of simply explaining why you lashed out at that cold-caller trying to sell insurance.
That said, repetitive fixation on certain emotions often becomes stifling. The healthy approach often involves acknowledging the emotion and then setting your sights forward. We all have bad days. We all lose it.
Holiday season dread
If you’re dreading the upcoming holiday season, you’re not the only one. It’s OK to lean into the discomfort. Once you’ve done that, put your best foot forward and continue on your journey. This, too, shall pass.
Regardless of the approach you adopt, processing emotions is invaluable. Be patient with yourself and keep experimenting until you find the strategies that work for you. With persistent effort, you’ll navigate your emotional landscape without losing your way.
I’d planned to publish this in a week or two, but the untimely loss of Matthew Perry this weekend made me want to publish sooner.