Monday, October 24, 2011

7 Things to Do When You Feel Like You're Losing Your Mind

We've all been there, right? That feeling that you're just about to go absolutely bonkers and that if one more thing goes even vaguely not-just-right, you're going straight over the edge?

OK, but going over the edge isn't exactly a good life strategy. With NaNoWriMo coming up, a lot of writers are going to be dealing with some extra stress from the presence of that deadline. But other writers are dealing with deadlines of one kind or another all the time, be they from agents, editors, contests, or what have you.

And it's not just writers who deal with this feeling. There are a lot of holidays coming up, and while those provide many great experiences and memories for many people, they are also a great source of stress and agitation for many people.

So here's a list of 7 things to do when you feel like you're losing your mind:
  1. Breathe. Oxygen is what drives our bodies and our brains. Also, for some people, focused breathing exercises can be a source of relaxation. If you're feeling panicked, one of the best short-term things you can do is be aware of your breathing.

  2. Don't make rash decisions. For a writer, this could mean not pressing the button to delete some work that you've gotten frustrated with. For someone else, it could mean not sending out a hotly-worded email telling everyone not to bother showing up for Thanksgiving. Conceivably there could be good reasons to do either of those two things, but make sure you've slept on it, and don't act in the heat of the moment.

  3. Talk to someone about it. For writers this can be very easy -- there are lots of places to vent about your frustration with writing, from Twitter to blogs to forums like the Absolute Write Water Cooler. For general like issues, though, this can be hard, especially if part of your stress comes from interpersonal issues in the first place. But letting it all stew inside of you can be a path to greater stress levels. Try to find someone who's a good "sounding-board" who won't be emotionally involved. They may end up giving you a bit of a reality check -- there may be things you're doing which are increasing your own stress -- but sometimes that's what we need to hear.

  4. Take a break and do something "guaranteed" to be fun. This is a good thing for when you're feeling "stuck" in some way and are having trouble making progress. So, if you've been staring at the screen for a long time and haven't gotten much accomplished, it may mean you need to take a break. Sometimes the best thing to do is to set the situation aside for a few hours and do something which you'll almost certainly enjoy -- watch a favorite movie, go to a favorite restaurant, do some type of exercise you really get pleasure from. When you come back -- and you need to make sure that you plan to come back to what you need to get done -- you may find that your perspective has changed and, if nothing else, your mood should be better.

  5. Take care of your body. This is not the time to be skipping meals, drinking to excess, or going without sleep. When you're under a lot of stress, you need your body and mind to be as sharp as possible.

  6. Make sure you're doing the most important things first. If your stress is being driven in part by feeling overwhelmed by the number of demands on your time, make sure that you are prioritizing effectively. There are lots of different ways of looking at this, but one is to divide tasks up into "Urgent and Important" (which means they are both time-sensitive and of value to you), "Non-Urgent and Important" (so there is little or no time pressure, but it's of value), "Urgent but Non-Important", and "Non-Urgent and Non-Important." An example for each of these could be:
    • "Urgent and Important" - Submitting an entry to a contest before its deadline.
    • "Non-Urgent and Important" - Finishing a final draft of a short story before submitting it to a magazine with open submissions.
    • "Urgent but Non-Important" - Incoming messages on Instant Messenger or similar tools. ("Non-Important" here can depend somewhat on context. If this is an important professional message or an important person in your support network, such messages may not go here. If it's someone pinging you "just to chat" while you're deep in trying to get your main character out of the jam you put him in, then it probably belongs here and maybe this would be a good time to turn off the IM software.)
    • "Non-Urgent and Non-Important" - Watching an episode of a TV show you don't really have any interest in just because it's on. (And it's OK to have leisure time, even when -- sometimes especially when -- you're stressed, but there may be better choices for that leisure time than something left on the TV "just because.")

    Remember that the "Important" piece of that depends on your goals and values, not mine or anyone else's. So the examples above definitely shouldn't be taken as a statement of what should or shouldn't be "Important" to you or anyone else.

  7. Remember that you are not your writing. So even if you're feeling like your writing is a complete wreck, that does not make YOU a complete wreck. Everybody has a multitude of roles which they play in their life. If it's your writing (or some other specific part of your life) which is driving your feelings of stress, work to remember that you have value in many other aspects of your life as well.
I hope that one or more of these tips are helpful to you in dealing with stress either as part of your writing life or simply life in general. What do you find helps you when you're feeling stressed?


  1. Very good advice! In the heat of the moment it can be difficult not leaping into the first action you think of. But it's always best to walk away & take a breather, before acting.

  2. Wonderful advice, Michael! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks, Trisha, Carrie and Cherie for your comments. I'm glad you liked this post!

  4. Darn. Wish I'd read this before I lost my mind! If I find it again, I'll try to remember your advice.

  5. Great advice! I think we can all use this reminder now and then. Sometimes there's a reason for writer's block, and it's called "Get back to the real world and breathe before you lose your mind, you crazy over-ambitious fool!" :)

  6. Thanks, Nicole. I think I have been having one of those "Crazy over-ambitious fool" nights, myself, today...

  7. Oh, and Daniel, I think it's hidden under a shrub. Try looking there.

  8. We always have to make a point to remind ourselves these points from time to time! Thanks for the reminders! :D

  9. You're quite welcome, Jamie. And I bet this week's acceptance makes them easier than ever to remember, right? ;-)

  10. Ah, stress. I try not to do that anymore. :P lol

    I've always been "high-strung" but I'm striving more for "low key" these days. Love your opening for this post - all of us really have felt that way.

  11. Thanks, Jennifer! I also strive for low key, but it is a constant -- and I mean CONSTANT -- struggle. But when I can achieve that state, I feel so much better...

  12. Great advise, Michael. Sometimes it's impossible to escape stress but knowing what to do in such situation is definitely helpful. Thank you for sharing!