I think most of us would agree that 2022 was rough. The war in Ukraine. A war of another kind taking place right here at home, tearing apart families and communities, everyone pointing fingers at the “other side” for this pseudo-dystopian society in which we currently reside. For survivors of sexual or religious trauma—and there are MANY—simply keeping up with the news over the past year has been a daily minefield of panic triggers.
Writers, many of us empathic by nature, are hard-wired to struggle in this kind of reality. When marginalized and vulnerable groups are being targeted, we feel the echoes of history in our bones. We know that the educated and the artistic will be next. We’ve heard this story before. Hell, we may even have written our own versions of this story.
It never ends well.
Fellow authors are having their books banned in wide swaths of the country. We may be tempted to self-censor, to avoid controversy. Would we still want a character to choose abortion if a conveniently timed miscarriage would work? Would we risk having our book removed from school libraries by including a boy who wears black nail polish? Dare we say (or even imply) that he might be something other than straight? Do we set our story in 2019 or earlier to avoid making a political statement over the use (or not) of face masks? Do we avoid including minority characters or touching on any racial themes for fear of being labeled “woke”?
Having to even consider these things, to second-guess, is creative suffocation. It makes me want to slap a Pride flag on that boy’s drum set—yes, I’m talking about one of MY characters—even though he hasn’t yet revealed his sexuality to me. In the grand scheme of the story, it won’t even matter, but I can hear my two Gen Z girls chanting “Do it! Do it!”
So I might.
How do writers (or other artistic types) cope?
I’d be willing to bet many of us have spent the last year (or more) ping-ponging between rage and panic. Fight or flight.
It isn’t healthy. It isn’t sustainable without leading to despair.
For anyone else trying to claw themselves out of that trench, I propose making 2023 a self-care year. This will look different for everyone, of course, but collectively nurturing body, mind, and spirit may help us reclaim pieces of ourselves that have been lost, or at least temporarily silenced, in the upheaval around us.
Take care of your body
For me this means keeping on top of regular screening tests because I “won” the genetic lottery. It also means taking the damn vitamins, eating (or juicing) the damn vegetables, summoning the motivation to get back into a post-surgery exercise routine, and trying to sleep more. Have I succeeded in all of this? Not in the least. But I know what needs to be done and I’m working on it.
Take care of your mind
Take stock of those stressors over which you can have any control.
If beginning or ending your day by reading the news or scrolling through social media causes your cortisol levels to skyrocket, maybe now is the time to ditch that habit. Allow yourself ten to twenty minutes in the middle of the day to catch up on the headlines. If even that is too much, or you have no self-control to limit how much you take in, a complete detox may be in order. Unplug for a week. You can catch up after your mental reboot.
Purging the clutter in your environment can bring anxiety levels down. If you can, take a week and go through your whole house. If time is limited, start with the junk drawer or whatever catch-all place causes the most stress. For me the benefit of this exercise has been two-fold. One, my house is less chaotic. Two, having less stuff will make it easier to flee Texas, should it come to that.
Even paint colors may be affecting you. Are the colors in your home bold or soothing?
Don’t be a hermit. Lean on those people you trust. Hold each other up.
Even people in good mental health can benefit from therapy. Seeking help can prevent temporary floundering from becoming a deep depression.
Take care of your spirit
If you find your peace through prayer, by all means use that, but this need not be a religious experience at all.
For me, nurturing the spirit means reconnecting with things that bring me joy. Things I turn away from when stress levels rise or when life gets in the way. A few simple possibilities:
- Discover new music on Spotify.
- Listen to a podcast on a topic of interest.
- Take a continuing education class.
- Paint a watercolor. Or, if not naturally artistic, a paint-by-number.
- Take a walk in the woods or on a beach.
- Play a computer game.
- Go to coffee shop with a friend.
- Knit a scarf.
- Work in your garden.
- Build something.
- Tackle a home improvement project. Maybe not fun in the moment, but satisfying in the end.
- Take a nap.
- Adopt a pet or volunteer at an animal shelter.
- Take a road trip.
- Have a date night.
- Binge-watch a TV show that brings you back to a happier period of your life.
- Cook a fancy meal in the middle of the week.
- Spend a rainy afternoon curled up in bed with a good book.
Most importantly, write!
Anyone who is crazy enough to choose writing as a career path does so because they NEED to write. Show me a writer who isn’t working on anything, especially for extended periods of time, and I’ll show you someone who is stuck. Someone whose life is, at best, off-kilter. Possibly miserable.
Think about the healthiest and happiest times in your life. My guess is that these periods line up in some way with when you’ve been your most creatively productive. Finding the importance in our stories when big things are going on all around us, especially when we feel unsafe, or when we worry about threats to our children, is a struggle. I battle this every time I open my manuscript.
When we don’t open our manuscripts, though, we are allowing outside forces to silence us.
Do you want that? I know I don’t.
If you aren’t in the right headspace to work on a novel right now, write a short story. Write a poem. Journal. If even this is too much, write your to-do list in prose form and include uncensored feelings about each chore.
That’s the best medicine for all that ails us.
Do you have any best practices for nurturing mind/body/spirit? What are you working on now?
Kim (she/her) has an M.A. in English from Iowa State University. She writes mainly historical fiction, though has also contributed non-fiction articles to historical and Arts and Crafts publications in both the United States and Canada. She has just finished The Oak Lovers, a novel based on the rather colorful life of her great-grandfather, landscape painter Carl Ahrens.