Authors Have Mental Health Needs, Too
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I would be remiss not to address my author friends, because authors have mental health needs, too. Often we think of mental health needs pertaining to those in high burn-out positions such as teaching, emergency responders, and healthcare workers, but we (writers) also need to intentionally take care to improve or maintain our mental well-being. Mental well-being can be defined as how we feel and how we function. Each of us has the potential to experience good or poor mental well-being.
It is no secret that we are experiencing a mental health crisis here in the U.S. and around the world. As a long-time mental health case manager, coach, and pastoral care counselor I can attest that never before have we experienced the magnitude we see now of those battling anxiety, fear, worry, and depression. I am not referring to those with a major mental illness, but rather I speak of you and I, of those in our neighborhoods, and those we encounter at the local coffee shop. As authors, we are not exempt from experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression, but we do have a 'leg up' over those who are not writers.
Writing Alleviates Anxiety and Stress
Did you know writing is a recommended tool to improve your mental well-being? That's right! As little as 20 minutes a day spent writing can alleviate feelings of restlessness and anxiety, bringing peace and a calmness to your mind and spirit. Beyond this, writing brings mental clarity, allowing for better processing and the organization of thoughts. If these are recommendations for the general public, how much more important that we heed the advice to write every day, if only for a short time?
Authors of both fiction and non-fiction works can develop stories and characters that portray strong emotions reflective of the writer. Pouring out emotions onto the page releases the stress and tension and opens the pathway to creative solutions that transfer back to our real-life situations.
Journaling has long-since been recommended by therapists and coaches as another creative means to transfer internal feelings to paper. This type of writing allows the pen to flow across the paper without regard to grammar and punctuation, as feelings bleed onto the page. Authors may delve back to journal archives to pull material to use for a current work, whether it be a poem, short-story, or full-length book. Perhaps the journal will be shelved to collect dust for the next couple of decades. Either way, the benefit to one's mental well-being cannot be denied.
I am all about balance, so please indulge me while I balance our writing projects and deadlines with necessary self-care. As creatives, our brains require breaks that will allow us to refresh and recharge our batteries. If you are like me, you may get lost in a manuscript for hours and look up only when the sun is beginning to set. I've learned to set a timer as I write knowing if I give myself room to take a walk (for example), my mind will clear.
We are not made to be inside all of the time. We are made to live outside in the midst of creation. Psalm 23:2-3 TLB is a favorite of mine. "He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most." Finding trees, grass, and water is a life-giving activity. Our souls need rest and little will rejuvenate your mental well-being as much as getting outside. As you walk or sit, let thoughts free-flow, and you may find some that have been incubating for a while will surface and give way to material for the next writing session.
Get Lost In Someone Else's Story
Anxiety becomes paramount when we don't take time to laugh and get lost in someone else's story. As authors, we typically consume books and movies as though at an all-you-can-eat buffet at the local library. When's the last time you read a book, just for fun, not for research? Have you taken time to get lost in a movie with a storyline that keeps you riveted to your seat, popcorn in hand? Setting aside a few hours a week to become an audience member instead of an author will do wonders for your mental health.
Meet with Other Writers
Socializing and fellowshipping with other writers is another critical piece of self-care that leads to improved mental well-being. Many authors are content to isolate and peck away at the keyboard uninterrupted, but each of us is wired to be in fellowship with others (Hebrews 10:25). I acknowledge I am stretching the meaning of this passage, but the principle applies.
Carving time out of your busy calendar will yield much fruit for your soul as well as build writing skills. As you gather with other writers at conferences, in small critique groups, and in virtual meetings; you will both encourage and become encouraged. Prayer for each other and projects being worked on is a normative part of gatherings, which often becomes the catalyst for a renewed sense of purpose and energy to continue answering God's call to write for His glory.
Eat, Sleep, and Exercise
Authors are not exempt from the need to eat healthy foods, exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, and get recommended amounts of sleep. Yet, how often do we grab a sandwich to nibble between writing sentences or sip coffee instead of water? (I'm guilty of the latter.) Getting 20 minutes of exercise can be accomplished by getting up away from your desk, no matter how tight the deadline, and going for a walk around the block. Before sitting back down to write, fix a healthy snack or meal and fill your water bottle. Your brain will thank you. Finally, be sure you shut down and get enough sleep.
I do pray that these five tips to improve your mental well-being will prove beneficial. While nothing I have shared is earth-shattering revelation to most of us, the truth is we all need reminders that authors have mental health needs, too.
Let me pray for you right now. "Dear God, I pray my author friends will recognize the need to prioritize their mental well-being and be encouraged to engage in self-care. Lord, we desire to serve you by writing meaningful works that will transform lives and bring honor and glory to you. Help us to use wisdom as we balance our days between writing and self-care, knowing that self-care will result in a higher yield of fruit and a higher level of mental well-being. Thank you for giving us the model to follow to gain rest for our souls. We praise you and thank you, in Jesus' name. Amen."