I won’t tell you to keep writing no matter what. Maybe that’s not what’s best for your right now. Perhaps it is better if you let it go for the time being and spend time taking care of your loved ones. However, if you feel the need to write, and have all the time in the world because you’re staying home, but find yourself too distracted to write, this post may be for you.
How you react to stress is all in your head. Some of it is involuntary, and some is up to you.
Why Everyone’s so Stressed
The coronavirus situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The consequences, whether health-related or economic, are going to get you. It doesn’t matter whether your country is in full lockdown like Italy, trying to remain calm like the UK or Germany, or dismissing the situation as some global hysteria, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 will impact every person currently alive. And we know, though we would rather not because the thought terrifies, that it is going to get much worse before it gets better.
This oppressive big picture is beyond your control. Life’s about to change, and you can’t help it.
The only things you can do are small things, like washing your hands, maintaining physical distancing, locking yourself and your family home, or making sure that the elderly woman who lives down the street has something to eat.
The pandemic is reason enough to be stressed beyond your wits. Add to that the cabin fever of having to stay in isolation, and it’s easy to let yourself fall to pieces. Writing that book of yours is the least of your worries.
The Side Effects of Doing Time
Even as economies enter recession or crash, we will all find ourselves with an abundance of that most precious resource of all: time.
In Italy, amidst the lockdown, and the tens of thousands of small tragedies, people suddenly found themselves able to reconnect with their passions. They’re learning how to play instruments, how to sing, paint, or write. In that one regard, the scale of the favor the pandemic is doing for art is unprecedented. And it might just teach us how to appreciate life and our humanity more.
A Global Lockdown?
It’s hard to say if the pandemic will cause the whole world to go into lockdown, but if the closures of borders, the numerous travel bans, the calls for working from home are any indication, it is incredibly likely that, in the coming months, we will all be spending much more time in our homes.
It is a perfect opportunity to finish that book of yours… well, aside from the stress. That’s the challenge we’re facing, isn’t it? Not finding time, or being more productive, which have been two main obsessions of the last decade of self-help publications, but staying at least somewhat productive as the tragedy around us unfolds.
In my restless search for understanding humans better, I’ve read more self-help and psychology books than I should. As such, I think what I’m about to share is solid, down-to-earth, no-bullshit advice. But, your first priority should be taking care of yourself and your loved ones. Everything else is secondary, and you shouldn’t feel inadequate for handling it less than optimally.
Time to be Human
The last few decades of TV and then social media have created a climate where everyone’s expected to be much, much more than average. You should be rich, successful, good-looking, self-assured, productive, fit, and healthy, have lots of sex too. If you’re anything less, you’re made to feel like a failure. Primed for buying the next product or service that can help you catch up.
We’ve sustained this mad-dash to a new vision of human partially because we’ve lived in objectively peaceful and prosperous times ever since anyone remembers.
I don’t want this argument to get too lofty, so let me just say that at times like this, it is okay to be human. It is okay to feel scared, to take the time necessary to calm your nerves, and to feel bad and question your life’s choices. Whatever it is, let it go. Don’t beat yourself up for it.
Willpower vs Habits
If your day is a mess, your life will be a mess too. This is especially true when locked in quarantine. Where previously your day orbited around a few fixed points, like going to work, picking up kids from school, making dinner, or walking the dog, now it is just you and the four walls around you.
No one will know if you don’t take a shower, and then eat potato chips and watch Netflix while scrolling through your phone all day. And since it’s so easy to get away with doing nothing, many will settle for precisely that. Wasting time, accomplishing nothing, feeling worse day by day.
Maintaining a daily schedule is a powerful way of combating cabin fever. Cultivate good habits. Sit down to write at a fixed time in your day, maybe in the morning, right after you take a shower. Soon your brain will start to associate a shower with a writing session and mornings with this whole routine. Habits, once established, require little to no willpower at all, leaving you plenty of energy to deal with other crises that life may throw at you.
The Destructive Power of Distractions
We live in the age of mass distraction. Notifications, pop-up, messages from friends and family, newsletters, calls… everything around us conspires to form an endless queue of stuff we need to pay attention to because it’s urgent.
Mind you, little of it is important. It’s just urgent.
What people do with their time is none of my business, but if you want to stay at least a little bit productive when stuck at home during the pandemic, you need to put the distractions away. Find ways to focus. You scrolling through Facebook all day makes only Facebook happier.
Maybe put the phone away in a different room when you write? It’s such a simple thing to.
And when you write, write. Forget the newsfeeds.
Read Books, Not Feeds
For the next six months all newsfeeds may read like a Tom Clancy novel, but many will just try to monetize your worries. You should consider reading a real book instead.
Reading books has lots of proven health benefits. It helps you focus, keeps you engaged; it’s a calming activity that puts your brain in a relaxing mood; it eases up stress. Books are pure goodness to your mental well-being.
If you’re not sure what to pick up, start with Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Even though two thousand years old, his thoughts about life in Ancient Rome are still on-point today. Maybe especially today.
Physical Distancing Doesn’t Have to Mean Social Isolation
Not being able to hang out with your friends and family? It sucks. And it is going to takes its toll. But for the time being, physical distancing is the best weapon we have against the virus.
But staying home doesn’t have to mean being lonely. We have the technology, and we should use it. Don’t shut yourself out, reach out, connect with others.
To that end, I recently started a virtual co-working space for writers. My Online Writing Cafe is a place where people come to shut up and write in good company. We stay on a video call the whole time, even though the only thing you can hear is other people typing out their stories. You can find instructions on how to join here.
I plan to keep it open for the foreseeable future because we could all use some company.
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