Last week’s comments, about how many of us are worried, anxious, and fretful, started me thinking about my mom. She used to say that she got stupid when she was anxious. She was right on the science, apparently (though she was never stupid). When we use up a lot of our mental bandwidth fretting–about money, about health, about housing, about headlines we can’t control–we lose cognitive ability to the tune of as much as 13 IQ points. We don’t problem solve as well when we’re worried. We become more impulsive, and we make more errors.
Which results in… more anxiety.
And this in turn led to me to recall a class I took about twenty-five years ago, “Sustaining the Peacemaker.” I was in a conflict studies master’s program, and my classmates were from South Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Baltimore slums, and so forth. They were coming from and preparing to return to areas gripped by deadly strife.
The idea was to give some thought then–in the midst of the academic oasis–to how to get the trauma, worry, exhaustion, and despair deflector shields up and how to keep them up so the peacemaker’s well being didn’t become yet another casualty of the conflict. We also looked at, “When do you know you’re beginning to stumble?” I learned some strategies for managing worry that I still use today.
I garden with my bare hands, because playing in the dirt makes me happy (I’ve got science on my side). Yard flowers make me really happy (and there’s science behind that too). I live where I can hear the birdies singing (more science). I walk for the recommended thirty minutes a day, usually more. I read good fiction. I spend time at the horse barn, I consort with cats, I practice mindfulness when the worry gets really bad.
I avoid news and social media until after I’ve written the day’s scenes, and I never EVER let that baloney near me at the beginning or end of the day. Not. Ever. A quick skim in the middle of the day (unless I need to do a PR post at higher traffic hours), and then I bounce off to do jig saw puzzles, get after the weeding, or tend to my “one thing a day for the house.” I regard those activities as clearing the social media/news trash from my emotional buffers. I will be darned if I will let the bottomless greed of the Zuck’s of the world steal my fire.
This is only a partial list of my coping strategies, but I find the very act of looking over all the actions I can take to keep myself safe and sane–from simple stuff, like a gratitude journal or jasmine-scented candle, to not so simple stuff like professional body work–is empowering in itself. A worried author is not at her best, just as a worried, parent, spouse, teacher, neighbor, and so forth is not at her best. For myself, and for my readers, I want to be at my best.
I challenge you each to give some thought to the list of strategies and skills you have for keeping the Undertoads from stealing your fire. My guess is, the lists are long, creative, and powerful.