Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Habits and Taking Care of Yourself

I’m a big fan of your blog and I don’t know where else to turn ^^; I’m having a lot of trouble getting the motivation to write, to work and to exist in general. I thought it was just procrastination, but it’s gotten to where I’ve completed 0 assignments all week and haven’t written anything for a whole month. I could really use any help or advice you’ve got, even if it’s just yelling…

First of all, I’m super glad you turned to someone about this, because I know it’s not always easy working up the nerve to ask people for help. Also, I’m a big expert on how to get myself (and my lovely partner in crime) to work beyond what I call our “brain rebellions”.

The brain rebellion is simply when we’ve fried ourselves by overworking for extended periods of time. Lots of people will tell you this is just bullshit and you need to learn how to “work through it” like “everyone else does”, but if you’re stressed, then you need to de-stress, not make yourself even more stressed. Don’t listen to those people, because, chances are, they don’t know a thing about your inner workings.

Here are some things to help you cope and de-stress:

  • Know your limits. Everyone’s different and, consequently, everyone needs different things and works at different paces. The important thing is knowing how much you can take. Never think of it as “giving up” or “giving in” when you reach your limit. Think of it as, “My well-being comes first.”
  • Be realistic about what you can handle. It’s okay to challenge yourself, but don’t tell yourself anything like, “Okay, yesterday I wrote 500 words, today I’m going to write 5k!”
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. If you see someone who regularly writes 5k words a day, don’t kick yourself because you can only write 500. Your circumstances are likely so different from theirs that comparing yourself only hurts you with feelings of inadequacy.
  • Take care of yourself first. Eat. Sleep. Take breaks to watch mind-numbing television or look at pretty artstuffs. Your brain is telling you it needs to turn off for a while, so let your brain turn off.
  • Change your routines. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, consider changing it up. Work somewhere else, at different times of the day, in public places or in private. Sometimes our default working environments aren’t very good to us for various reasons.
  • Go someplace new. Take a little mini-vacation. Go find your nearest state park. Take some friends (or a significant other, or, heck, go by yourself) and stay at a place in the mountains or by the river. Find your nearest old towns and do some window shopping. Give your brain a chance to think about other things and detox from stress.
  • Treat yourself. Reward yourself with something you love but you don’t have very often.
  • Find a community of people similar to you and connect with them. Support groups are awesome and the right people can help talk you out of bad places.
  • Know that you’re more important than the work you do or put out. You must always, always come first.
  • Ask for help. If you fall into one of those bad places, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak — it actually takes a great deal of strength to ask for help. A school counselor should be able to direct you to where you can find help, or you can always try hotlines.
There will always be school and there will always be something to write, but you’ve got to fulfill all your mental health needs before you get to that. When I’ve a friend who’s clearly been overworking themselves and is considering whether or not to just shut the book for the night and do what they want, I will be the first supporter.

Once you’ve done the things above, then here are some tips to get yourself working again:
  • Set small goals. A lot of the time, we think about ALL the things we need to do and it haunts us as one giant entity. Sometimes making “to-do” lists to organize projects in order of importance can do this as well, because then you have a full visual of how much needs to be done. Write your to-do list, take the first thing, and divide it up into manageable segments. Then —
  • Organize your time. Work for maybe a half hour, then take a work-free, mind-numbing tumblr break or whatever you please (or you could write or doodle or look for new music — it’s okay to be productive on your breaks because sometimes productivity in any form is what it takes for us to feel good about ourselves). Then take this process and repeat.
  • It takes seven minutes for you to fully fix your concentration on something new (at least, that’s what I’ve heard). The first seven minutes are the hardest when you pop open a school book to do homework or open up a word document to write, but give yourself seven full, uninterrupted minutes of focus.
  • Train yourself to think positively. This’ll take time. My father says it takes 21 days to make or break habits, but this is of necessity. When you finish your working increment of thirty minutes, don’t go, “Oh hell, I only read two pages and I still have to read 17 and answer the response questions and alkdsfl.” Get yourself to start thinking, “Two pages are out of the way. Now I get some free time.”
  • Take walks. If you’ve got nature around you (green belts or anything similar), then take a walk. Negative ions are said to be good for the body, and nature secretes loads of negative ions. If you don’t have nature, then get away from technology (which secrets positive ions, said to be draining) with a book or a notebook or a drawing pad.
  • Talk to people, whether in person, on the phone, through AIM or Skype, Tumblr or forums. Connecting with people gets you to hear voices other than your own, and it also gives you the chance to unload all your thought vomit. Just make sure you find some positive reinforcements, not negative.
  • Build yourself up. Work with smaller segments an increments at first. Work for ten minutes, then give yourself a break. Then, as you get more comfortable, challenge yourself to do fifteen minutes.
  • Cheat a little. Oops, you got to this part in your story that you’ve been waiting for and you wrote for fifteen minutes longer than you should have. That’s cool. You might match your next work segment time to make up the difference.
  • If you feel like giving up, stop. Repeat the first set of bullets. Don’t start working again until you’re ready.
Your writing may be suffering because you’re simply overworked and overstressed, but it could also be because of guilt: “I haven’t done any work, I don’t deserve to write,” or, “How can I do any writing if I haven’t done any work?”

Your creative process might be poisoned by this stress. For now, you could do little things for your writing that help inspire you. Between your work segments, look at art, listen to music, plot and plan. Try to keep yourself in creative habits, and when you feel confident again, start writing little bits and pieces that excite you.

Here are some additional links that might help:
I hope all this helps, and thank you again for the ask.

Good luck!

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

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