Stress is the bane of our times. In the age of pandemic, wars, and the internet (yeah, a pandemic all its own), it can be hard to manage stress.
Stress is a slow killer. It keeps you on a steady cocktail of chemicals designed to elicit fight or flight responses in order to ensure your physical safety. Only there are no lions in the underbrush now, and in most cases, there is no call for either fight or flight.
In our complex modern world, the elements that cause stress are varied, and fall under a wide spectrum. Each of us develop coping mechanisms to combat stress, some more successfully than others.
Here are a few things that work for me.
A. Figuring out the source of stress, and whether I have any power over it.
As an author, once the book goes out of your hands, the stress doesn’t cease.
1. How would it do? (Answer: no one knows.)
2. Were there any errors left behind in the manuscript? (Answer: for sure yes, but you won’t find them until you do a reading or someone points them out.)
3. Will you recoup your investment/ earn your advance? (Answer : no one knows)
So, in my situation, I know that 1 and 3 are beyond my control. Though 2 seems to be within my powers, given the dozen drafts, that power needs to be superhuman.
In 1 and 3, every time I’m stressed, I can remind myself it is not within my control, and focus on something that is (writing the next book, for instance). For 2, I can use stress as my motivator. I may not weed out all the errors, but my stress will keep me hyper-aware, and in a position to catch more of them than I were complacent.
Stress can be used to increase accuracy, and productivity (notice how approaching deadlines make you productive?), and can thus be a friend. How harmful stress is to you depends on how you see it.
B. Reframe the source of my stress against a framework of gratitude.
Yes, gratitude might sound like a new-agey term, but the fact is, it has a direct relationship to stress.
In the past week, as THE BLUE BAR rose in the charts due to its selection as an Amazon First Read, and along came two stressors: how long was it going to stay on top? (Answer: not long) how to deal with lower number of ratings compared to other First Reads due to trolling (Answer: there’s really no way)?
I dealt with both by recalling how much I had to be grateful for. Two years previously, the novel was languishing with my ex-agent for about a year. We eventually parted ways in December 2020. At the time, being agented again, and a two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer was a pipe dream. So even though the First Reads has been attacked by racism and trolls, it was still an achievement beyond my dreams just two years ago.
It’s helped that peers and booklovers have supported it, (you can download THE BLUE BAR–free via Amazon Prime, if you haven’t yet), but what helped most was the change in perspective. I’d achieved one dream. If I carry on, I might achieve another. I just need to continue to dream big, and keep plugging away at it, without being too hung up on the results or comparing my performance with those of others.
C. Setting Boundaries with Others on How to Treat Me
A lot of our ambient stress comes from our immediate environment: our workspace, our family or neighborhood, and yes, friends.
Whether online or offline, I’ve found that your interactions might cause you stress or leave you feeling raw and vulnerable. It helps to think of how you’d like to be treated, and check what steps you can take to ensure it is so. In most cases, changing your energy towards others helps.
For instance, introspection told me that I try and hide my inner straightforwardness, and then feel stressed when someone takes advantage of my relatively gentle persona. I’ve started cultivating calm assertiveness–an energy that reflects kindness, but does not brook disrespect. This has definitely reduced my stress levels, and helped my relationships feel more supportive and my interactions productive.
D. Figuring Out What is Worth the Stress for Me, and What Isn’t
Sometimes, I sweat the small stuff. The perfect dinner for guests. The right lighting for a call. The right word in my journal.
My old habits carry me into events and places looking for perfection. Letting go of being a perfectionist allows me to get more done, and be more happy doing it, taking less stress. And some things are simply not worth the stress. Like 1-star reviews.
(Today, someone called my book a waste of time, and for a minute, my blood pressure spiked, and then I laughed. Someone actually took the trouble to go download my book, read the first few lines, and quote from it to trash it. I know the person who is doing it, too. And that they read this blog. But I know it isn’t worth the stress for me, while I write one story, and edit another. Some day, this person will also learn the trick of dissociating themselves from what stresses them, and carry a far lighter burden.)
E. Observing My Stress, and Understanding It Better
At times when the stress is inevitable–like when a loved one is in trouble or if events take a turn for the worse around me–I sit back and look at it. I acknowledge it, sit with it, and tell it to stay right beside me. I’ve found that giving my stress a seat at the table makes it less scary. I know it’s there, and it is just doing its job. It’s my body-mind’s way of trying to keep me safe. Once I change my perspective, the resentment goes down, and the stress fizzles out for a while, letting me get back to work.
Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress, and need all the help, so I can get to beat stress in my life.
How do you ease out of stressful times? What advice do you have for me?
My lit crime novel, The Blue Bar is an AMAZON FIRST READ this December–download it for free if you’re an Amazon Prime Member. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads , enter the Goodreads Giveaway, or pre-order it to make my day.
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Stress will be there, always. But, my babies, who are my stress-busters, help me stay centred. And, stories I read or make up in my head. Gratitude helps too.
So many of those tips go beyond writing and publishing. We could use them in every situation.
Aww! Thanks a lot, Sonia. This means a lot 🙂
I am always under stress with mom’s demands always a priority, she is getting senile in her old age.
I can relate. Our parents become our children 🙂
Stress is useful in a fight or flight situation but can be a killer when we have a sedentary occupation. Exercise is a great equalizer. In my case when a story unfolds itself inside my head the temptation is to spent the day or days sitting in front of a computer without a break with the compulsion to get it all out while the story is fresh in the mind. Get up and move around frequently instead and I’ve found the story isn’t lost in those times away from the desk and health is better as a result.
That’s wonderful advice, Ian. I do enjoy my walk, in a park when I need to clear my head.
Great suggestions, Damyanti. I don’t suffer stress as much now as I used to. That’s a good part of aging.
Ah, yes! I think I understand what you are talking about. I’m so glad you are coping well with stress, Jacqui 😀
I like your advice. Letting go of the things I can’t control is a big one for me. As is focusing on gratitude (for so many things), and on beauty.
I also turn to authors (my heroes) and ride the magic carpets they provide to slip away from stress.
Thanks a lot, Sue! That’s a great way to handle stress 🙂
Great advice re handling stress! I use these tips myself and vouch for their effectiveness!
I’m so glad you find this useful, Tamara 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
🙂🤩🤩 my pleasure!