Self-Care During a Pandemic

Just like the rest of the world, all of us are experiencing life during a pandemic for the first time. And for many of us, it has been challenging. Some of us are learning how to navigate a job during this new time, some of us are figuring out how to teach distance learning to students or some of us are parents and attempting to figure out the best schooling for their children. And some of us are doing all three.

While we’ve all likely missed opportunities, had to cancel or change plans, have been separated by loved ones, or maybe even lost loved ones, the last thing we’re thinking of is taking care of ourselves. But in the same way a parent is told to put on their oxygen mask on a plane before assisting their child, we should be making self-care a priority. But what does that look like during a pandemic, when places and events are closed and when we’re practicing social distancing and kids are home doing distance learning school? You’re likely not even getting alone time, never mind self-care.

A few weeks into the pandemic, after the five of us had been crammed in the house, working from home, doing school from home, restaurants closed, church closed, sporting events, and concerts canceled, I realized this wasn’t going to end anytime soon. And instead of taking it a day at a time and hoping for the end, barely finding the joy in the small things, I had to change my thought process. I decided to focus on what I still had and what I was getting in return, rather than thinking of what was being taken from me as a result of the pandemic. For my family, it meant creative meals at home, movie series binging, music dance party nights, and VR gaming challenges. With three teenagers and one graduating and going off to college this fall, we realized quickly, that we were given the gift of time as a family.

While I’ll likely always treasure the additional family time, there was still something missing. Something BIG. Something I was lacking. Self-care. It’s the one thing I always put on the back burner but I knew I needed to make it a priority. For me, one of the best self-care things I can do is alone time. But how was I going to get that when I was always home surrounded by people? Just thinking and dreaming about alone time made my mental health even worse. Because I knew it was unlikely I would get this anytime soon. At least not unless I made it a priority. Here are some things I have been trying. I hope they help you. And I’d love to hear some of your ideas or things you’ve tried that have worked. Please comment below 🙂

Self-Care Tips That Worked For Me:

  • Invest in noise canceling headphones
  • Separate yourself from the rest of the family–even if it’s a different room, or outdoors, or even a closet–it can do wonders
  • Take a hot bath or shower in the evening
  • Listen to music
  • Get outdoors–even if it’s not great weather, a few minutes outside breathing fresh air is so good for the body and mind
  • Cuddle with your pet
  • Drink a hot soothing beverage in the evening
  • FaceTime a friend or family member you’ve been separated from
  • Read a familiar, favorite, comfort book
  • Watch a familiar, favorite, comfort movie
  • Go for a drive–even better if there’s no destination
  • Journal–either making a gratitude list or a bucket list
  • Try a new workout routine
  • Unplug from social media
  • Order take-out for dinner
  • Set boundaries during this new normal
  • If all else fails, demand some alone time from your family, (if you have littles, put on a movie and don’t feel the mom-guilt) and take it!
Here’s me with my son’s VR Oculus headset on playing Beat Saber. I was super focused! Ha!

Is This Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

In light of the current situation surrounding our world, there seems to be no escape from reality. A phrase like, “We’re all in this together,” has never held more truth. With nearly everything around us closed it feels somewhat strange to have the world continue to spin. Some nights I go to sleep and think I’ll wake up and it will have all been a dream. But as each day passes and the longer we remain in this new “norm,” I realize this is real life. And not a fantasy. So how can I create a new routine, a new functionality, a new “norm?”

Since I’ve been working from home with my day job for 6-7 years, continuing to do so hasn’t been much different. Though now, I have kids at home due to school closure. As well as a distracted mind by all that is going on around me in not only daily life, but the world. My volunteer work has been switched to online, livestreams, and virtual meetings. My family still needs clean clothes and to be fed. So not everyone is bored at this time, some of us seem to have more on our plates than ever before. Which has made accomplishing anything “extra” difficult.

Writing is not only a passion, it’s also a way of self-care for me. But when I have many things on my to-do list, and I’m quarantined inside the house with four other people and two dogs, it gets placed on the back burner. This is common in what I’m hearing around the writing/creative world right now. Everyone seems to be having a hard time to either create or to produce. But if you need to do it to center you, to get your self-care in, (like me) you need to try to find a way–in your new routine, new “norm,” to make it a priority. Sources tell us, this virus, this stay-at-home order isn’t going away anytime soon, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t continue spiraling. I need to find a way to fit my writing into my new “norm.”

Here’s some tips I plan on putting to the test:

-Delegate a specific time each *day to write.

-Try not to read the news on the day you plan to write, (it will be there when you’re done–trust me).

-Find a place in your home where you can separate from distractions to write, (noise cancelling headphones are amazingly helpful as well).

-Set a goal of what you’d like to accomplish during that writing session.

-If social media is a distraction or brings you down, try to take a break or step away until you’ve met your goal.

-Find either an online writing community or critique group, somewhere or someone you can find support, (it’s so much better knowing you’re not alone).

There’s not much control we have over the decisions being made surrounding our world right now, but we can take control of our actions. And for me, making writing a priority means I’m making my mental health a priority. I’m planning on setting small writing goals to start with. But also plan to give myself grace. These are uncharted waters. Please feel free to share your goals, how you’re managing with your writing, or how writing has changed since the virus hit your community.

Stay safe and healthy, friends!

*I say, each day, however the reality for some may be every other day, or weekly. Whatever you used to do before the pandemic seems like a solid choice/goal.

Writing With a Full Time Job

One of the biggest challenges as a writer that I’ve faced is trying to make progress while balancing a full time job. Sure, I have many other adulting responsibilities that consume large amounts of my time, like kids, spouse, house, volunteering. But a full time job is a place I spend the majority of my “awake” hours in a single day. This results in giving me fewer “free” hours to disperse among the remaining items on my to-do list and the things I want to spend my time doing.

It can become super easy to use those few “free” remaining hours to do anything other than writing. Unless I make writing a priority. Which is something I’ve decided to do for the last few years.

Writing is something I’m extremely passionate about. It’s something I enjoy and I love spending my time doing. It’s an area in my life where I feel like I’m doing something I was born to do. When I’m writing a project, my soul vibrates and I feel alive. And because of these things, (and more) I have made a decision to make writing a priority in my life.

If that’s you too, I hope you’ll find these tips helpful:

Get up early – If you know you typically need to be up at 6 a.m. to begin getting ready for work, I suggest waking up an hour earlier. I’m not a morning person but this is something I’ve been practicing for over a year and have grown to love. For me, since I’m a mom, this is the only time in the day when my house is quiet. A cup of coffee + a laptop or notebook in front of me + a quiet house = progress. There’s a supportive community on Twitter: #5amwritersclub. Never underestimate the power of a quiet home and the kind of creativity it can grant you!

Use your breaks – My day job grants me two 15 minute breaks + one 30 minute lunch break. If I’m currently working on a project I’m super excited about and it’s consuming my thoughts, I’ll squeeze in writing time during my work breaks. Writing for those extra 15-45 minutes during the work day can increase my word count/progress. It also allows me to use a creative outlet during a stressful work day.

On your commute – If you work in a big city and take a bus or subway or even carpool to your place of employment, take advantage of the time you’re stuck with nowhere to go. If you don’t feel comfortable bringing your laptop, try typing on your phone or handwriting into a notebook and adding it onto your computer later. If you’re the driver, try a voice recording app that puts your spoken words into a note app, like Day One Journal and Evernote.

Night owl – If you’re like me, nighttime is your most creative time of the day. You’ve checked everything off your to-do list, your family has been taken care of, the day job has been completed, and now your mind is free to create. Depending on the time, or how late, sometimes my house is quiet and sometimes I still have kids up, (teenagers). This time of the day has become hit or miss for me. I’ve found that if it reaches past 8 p.m. and I haven’t made time to write yet, this can be a perfect time for me. There’s a big writing community on Twitter who write at night. I used to be very active on #OwlWriters. Though, have been more of a morning writer the past year or so.

Weekend writers unite – When the day job has been stressful, stealing all creative juices throughout the week, the weekend is sometimes the only opportunity for us to write. If that’s you, the weekends can become a sprint of writing. And you can up your word count and make a considerable amount of progress this way. I know many writers with full time jobs who only write on weekends and they’ve been able to complete several projects this way.

Sneak away – Writing is self-care for me so if I don’t make it a priority, my mental health notices. My family notices too. This means, I have to write. And if I can’t squeeze in the time in any other area I’ve mentioned above, I have to choose me and tear myself away from my other responsibilities. What this usually entails is either, separating myself from others in my household and ask them not to disturb me, go in a quiet space, close the door, and put my headphones on. Or, if I know I won’t get those things, (teenagers-dogs) I leave the house and go to a coffee shop, book cafe, library. The most important thing, making me and my writing a priority.

Writing retreat – Whether this is a stay-in retreat, (I’ve done once and it was heavenly) or an away retreat, this is the ultimate for making writing a priority and making progress. When you attend a writing retreat you have little to zero distractions. Oftentimes, writing retreats are at locations that are more secluded than what you may be used to. This helps in cutting out distractions. Getting out into nature, away from the hustle and bustle of your life and the city. There are writing retreats where you can meet other writers, or you can plan your own. Either way, I look forward to attending a writing retreat soon.

I hope these tips have been helpful. If you’re a writer who also works a full time job, what are ways you squeeze in your writing and make it a priority?

How Does Anxiety Fit Into Writing

A few posts ago I said I’d write about anxiety. So here goes.

Living with anxiety is different for everyone. For me, it shows itself in various ways. At times, it sneaks up on me while I’m not expecting it and it can cause either an accelerated heartbeat, shortness of breath, an inability to concentrate, and irrational, (though not to my brain) thoughts and fears. Other times, it can send me into a full fledged panic attack. Sometimes anxiety hits me when there’s too much on my To-Do list, not enough time, and I’m sleep deprived.

In whichever form anxiety hits me, if it lingers, writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Either by choice or not. Anxiety can cause me to spiral, making it so my brain is unable to either form the words and sentences I want to write or making it so I believe my words don’t matter or I’m not good enough to write this story. When anxiety causes lack of concentration, I’m unable to stick to a plot or fully form relationships or dialogue. When anxiety is stemmed from busyness or too many balls being juggled, I have no choice but set my writing aside. The only problem with that, is that writing is a form of self care for me. So if I’m so busy I can’t find the time to write, it makes me irritable and can even cause a form of anxiety as well.

Leading from that; writing as a form of “self care”. When I become too anxious or irritable, I have to step away from my adult responsibilities for a few hours. I usually take an evening. My husband and kids are super supportive and they actually are good about noticing when I need to shut myself away by myself to write. When I do this, there are times when I’m able to pick up my current manuscript and add to my word count no problem. Other times, when my brain is foggy from anxiety, I spend time either journaling or writing poetry. While those are a similar type of creative outlet as writing fiction, they’re a bit different. I find journaling and writing poetry therapeutic. An added bonus? There’s been times when I’ve gone back and read some of those poems or journal entries and have been able to incorporate them in a story. I feel like anytime I can use this cursing disorder to my advantage, I’m sort of winning.

How does anxiety affect your writing?

To Write or Not to Write?

Somewhere along the way, someone gave the advice that to be a “Real” writer, you have to write every day. Sure, if you’ve read *Stephen King’s book On Writing I believe he does say something along these lines. But mostly I think what he was trying to convey is that, to become a better writer you have to actually write. I know, what a concept, right? I mean, if your goal is to run a marathon you should probably start by putting in place a running routine that will build your strength and longevity so you’re ready to actually run a marathon.

Same thing goes with writing. Regardless if your goal is to write a full length novel, a short story, or poetry. If you want to get better at it, you need to practice, condition it. Stephen King goes on to share in his book that he writes every day, including his birthday. If you’ve been writing for any length of time, I think it’s safe to say, that’s impressive. No matter how determined you are, (and I like to think that I am) burnout, writer’s block and mental health condition are real things.

To write well, you also have to take care of yourself and your mind. Everyone needs a break once in a while. Take a self care day if you feel you need it and try not to feel guilty about it. Sometimes just a walk outside, a shower, meeting a friend for coffee can help without taking a full day off. Sometimes writers need a full week or a month or a year. Take the time you need. Your story and your creativity will thank you.

If you need to hear this: You’re still a “Real” writer even if you don’t write every day.

*Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is actually fascinating and I highly recommend.