We all know it’s tough being a writer. The craft of writing itself is a feat, trying to string together cohesive sentences that are both original and true. But one of the biggest challenges for writers is learning the art of self-care. With all that ruminating, the self-reflection or emotions, the 10-hour writing, uh, work days, we end up falling into bed with a mind that won’t stop and a body that’s been crunched over a laptop one too many hours. With the way most of us are wired, we’re easily affected by our environments and this can mean fatigue for our minds, bodies, and souls. I think that’s why so many artists end up using their own creative expressions as a form of therapy. Writing is no longer just writing. It’s survival!
In Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, the author echoes this idea:
“Writing regularly fosters resilience—a quality that enables people subjected to difficulties to thrive despite them. According to Tim O’Brien… beginning to write about a difficult experience signals that we have chosen hope rather than despair.” – Louise DeSalvo
DeSalvo also emphasizes the writer’s need for self-care. And this is about more than taking Epsom salt baths at night (although I’m all about that life!). It’s about taking a holistic look at your lifestyle and assessing how your environment affects your well being—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s about fighting to be as whole as you can in the midst of a broken world:
“The emotional territory that we must learn to live with and manage, if we want to write powerful, authentic pieces of work, is complex. It is necessary for us to learn how to care for ourselves as we embark upon complex but significant writing so that we can benefit from the healing power of telling our stories.”
In this blog series, I’ve created a list of what I believe are some of the best ways to care for yourself as a writer. We’ll explore a different theme in each of the next three parts, and hopefully you can share feedback as you try out some of these activities. Sure, not all of them will appeal, or even be possible, to everyone. You’ll discover which work best for you. But as a deep thinker and feeler, I’ve found certain activities to be essential in maintaining my own sanity and joy. This first post in our self-care series is all about the mental and physical benefits of movement.
You’re familiar with the word catharsis, right?
It’s the release of pent up energy or emotions through forms of expression, whether that’s physical activity, art, or smashing something. If you’re anything like me, you need to move after sitting in one place for too long, and movement can be immensely cathartic. I believe writers underestimate the power of movement to alleviate emotional stress or fatigue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt defeated or lethargic and thought, I bet this feeling would go away if I went for a walk outside. I always second-guess the healing power of a walk, but after 20 minutes in the fresh air… wow. I’m a whole new person.
We want to find cathartic activities that aren’t destructive but healthy, activities that release pent up energy or emotion and allow us to get out of our own heads. Movement can do this.
I’m not a huge runner because it’s hard on my body. But there’s something strangely satisfying about the act of physically moving forward that serves as a good metaphor when you’re feeling emotionally or mentally stuck. With the help of some colorful running shoes and a dynamic playlist, you might find that running helps you leave more than your footprints behind. Of course, some people love it, some people hate it. And some people don’t have the physical ability to run. So always consider what’s best for you.
Kickboxing is the perfect sport for releasing anger or sluggishness because you’re allowed to kick and hit things (including plastic dummies if you get lucky). Whether it’s cardio kickboxing or straight up Jillian Michaels, the use of heavy bags and hand wraps gives you confidence as a fighter. And being a fighter is a great mindset for a writer to have. Many community colleges offer credit/non-credit kickboxing classes, or you can sign up at a local martial arts center. If those options aren’t available, rent a Jillian Michaels workout DVD and do it in your living room (been there, done that). Also, YouTube.
All forms of dance are excellent for your physical and mental health. Right now, Zumba class is my favorite form of movement. Yes, you heard that right: Zumba. It’s a beautiful blend of dance and aerobics, which equals exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. There’s a class at my gym (Crunch) on Tuesday nights, and it’s literally the best hour of my week. Tavio, our instructor, is a guy with an electric personality and, boy… he’s got moves. For 60 minutes, our class moves synchronously to high intensity music, shaking our hips, stepping in rhythmic patterns, skipping in a circle. We have the best time. Time flies by, and I usually walk out of the gym with a huge grin on my face. I could leave it at that, but let’s go deeper. Three things, I think, make this form of catharsis so effective: 1) Community – you’re not sitting alone in your dark room anymore; you’re surrounded by people making as big of fools out of themselves as you. 2) Endorphins – because this is high intensity cardio, you have the chance to get out your anger, restlessness, and energy in a safe context that literally changes your brain pathways and helps you lose weight. The harder you swing, the more calories you burn. It’s a win-win. Plus, some of those songs have attitude, and they bring out the tiger in you, which is always fun to watch. 3) Fun – you might begin your Zumba class stressed out, but after said community and endorphins kick in, you’ll be skipping around the room light as a feather. This is how Tavio ends every single class—skipping around the room to “Cheap Thrills” or “Let Me Love You.”
Lap swimming is an excellent example of low-impact movement that can both increase your heart rate and decrease inflammation. I don’t know about you, but I’m very sensitive to temperature. My body actually craves certain temps depending on how tense or sore it is. Swimming in a pool of ice cold water decreases inflammation, when I’ve been sitting at a desk too long. Submerging in a steaming hot jacuzzi calms the mind and relieves tension. Alternating between the two is usually even better, if you live in an apartment complex that has both. If not, ice packs, cold showers, hot baths, and hot water bottles can suffice.
Now enjoy a special “Feel the Burn” Spotify playlist I created just for you, as you start caring for yourself holistically. (You’ll need to register an account to listen to the full songs. It’s easiest if you login through Facebook.) Look for the next activity soon in Part 2 of our self-care series.
Feature image (c) Unsplash, 2016.
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