10 Steps to Help You Overcome Your Mental Distress and Find the Motivation to Write During a Crisis
Does the barrage of Instagram posts exhibiting home-baked cakes and lockdown art make you feel lost? Do you wonder why you cannot find the motivation to write during this COVID pandemic when others are churning out complete novels? Do you mourn for your lost writing routine? Or are you looking for tips for writing during this crisis?
I am hoping this article will offer you solace and help you find the will, courage and motivation to write through this crisis.
The Creativity Crisis
Just before the world caved to this tyrant called COVID, I packed my bags and shifted countries. We moved to Singapore from Mumbai about two months ago. I hadn’t expected to get much writing done for at least a couple of weeks but I hadn’t expected that I would succumb to this numb sensation where I do not have any inkling to pick up the pen at all. What was the point of it? Could writing save any lives?
I felt hopeless and helpless when I came to know of a family friend who was battling the virus in the ICU. Though I wanted to send his wife a message asking her to be strong, the right words eluded me however hard I tried. What was the use of being a writer if I couldn’t even type an SMS?
Then, I heard about this cheerful old man, a colleague of a colleague, who had surrendered in the battle. All I could think about was how his family never had the chance to kiss him goodbye. What use would a novel be to them?
My shoulders felt heavy as if the entire sorrow of the world rested there. It became an effort to force myself out of bed every morning to cook for the kids and clean up the house. I did not feel the urge to bake cakes or make art. A single thought swirled in my head all day: When will this war be over? How many more lives will be lost? Will my life ever get back to normal?
Just when things seemed bleak, I came across this article from the Harvard Business Review: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief If you are feeling depressed, dejected and lethargic and if you are wondering why, please read this article.
The article made me understand that I was grieving.
I was grieving the loss of my normal world, the loss of connecting with friends and neighbours and the loss of hope though I’m constantly reassured that this is temporary. Since I had also shifted my home during this time, I think the loss of normalcy hit me even harder. I was missing my house, my friends, my neighbours, my pets (whom I had to give away) and so much more.
Accept that You are Grieving
“If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it,” the above HBR article states. David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief, shares tips on how we can handle this grief.
“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world.
There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us.
There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities.
There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?
There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end.
And finally, there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I will learn how to work virtually.”
That was how I started healing too.
I learnt to accept this was here to stay.
I may not be able to see my parents, friends and relatives for some time and it was alright to miss them.
My household responsibilities have increased and I will have to cope with it.
I am going to be surrounded by my family all day, every day, which can be a mixed blessing if you are a writer.
I learnt to accept that writing cannot save lives but it can definitely change lives, including mine.
Don’t watch the News on a Loop
While it is important to stay updated about the COVID crisis and the recent developments, too much focus on the bleak picture around the world can be depressing. It is a vortex that can suck you in and render you hopeless and immobile.
Watch the news only once a day and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into this web of despair.
Take a Social Media Break
Social Media is a wonderful place for writers as it connects you with your readers and brings you various new opportunities. However, it can also feed feelings of misery and melancholy.
It can make you wonder how people can bake cakes and make merry when there are millions around them who have lost their jobs and homes overnight. You feel sad and angry.
When you take a break from social media, it gives you the time and space to introspect and understand the perspective of others. Each person deals with a crisis differently. While some might sleep it off, others might want to deep clean the house and bake cakes. While some may not want to write at all, another might find solace in writing.
Limit your time on social media even if you do not want to take a break. Being at home messes our schedule and we may end up spending hours scrolling through Facebook and Instagram or following all the rabbit holes into which Twitter takes you when you search for #COVID19Pandemic
Create a Plan & Maintain a Schedule to Gather the Motivation to Write
I am a planner girl. I love having goals, breaking them up into easily doable steps and doing things that take me a step closer to my dreams every single day. When I slipped into my depressed state, I lost this focus too.
One of the first things that I did to pull myself out of this misery was to pull out my planner and start planning once again. Neither did I have the time nor the inclination to be as productive as before. I told myself that I will just take a few baby steps and give up whenever I wanted to.
However, just the act of writing down my goals and visualizing the future motivated me to start writing once again. Read this post to see why you need a plan before writing a book.
Be Kind to yourself and your family
This is a highly stressful time for all of us. One of the best things that you can do right now is to be kind to yourself. Reduce, delegate and let go of housework and cleaning if it is stressful. Take short breaks and do things that make you happy.
When I started taking short breaks, I found that I felt better and could tackle tasks cheerfully. After every forty-five minutes of cooking/cleaning/mopping, I take a break, have some cold coffee and read a book for at least fifteen minutes before getting back to my work. Nowadays, it is my sons who do the laundry and vacuuming. I have let go of perfectionism and accept whatever help they offer. I listen to my favourite podcasts or an audiobook when I do the dishes.
Initially, when my sons started home-based learning, I would hover around them and nag them to complete their homework and revise the topics taught. This wasn’t just stressful for me, but it was driving them nuts too. Now, I understand that it will take time for them to adapt to this new education model and it is not right for me to expect them to be productive when I am finding it hard myself. If you are doing the same, you need to let go. Children experience sadness and confusion too. We must be mindful of the effect of this crisis on them even if they do not exhibit any signs of stress or gloominess.
Plan Fun Activities With Your Family
When was the last time you had your family to yourself for weeks together? Make the most of this time. Play a game or do some craft activities with your children. It is said, ‘You don’t smile when you are happy, you are happy because you smile!’ You can influence the memories these lockdown days leave behind for your family.
“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love… A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.
– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
Do Not Compare
Do not compare yourself with others. There is no ‘Lockdown Productivity Contests’ happening anywhere. To reiterate, everyone reacts to a crisis differently. There will be people who would want to fill every minute of their day with various activities that keep them busy and not allow them to worry about the crisis. At the same time, there will be others who will feel too hopeless that they are numb and immobile.
Keep yourself away from social media if it makes you anxious. Do not believe a person’s social media posts. We all are missing our friends and relatives despite the strong and happy selfies we post online. Try and reach out to others and offer mutual support. A hello from you could brighten up their day and yours too.
“There is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life; to improve ourselves, and contribute to the happiness of others.”
– Mary Shelley in her novel, The Last Man, a novel about a pandemic that erases the entire human species except a sole survivor.
Journaling to Find the Motivation to Write
Journaling can help you find the motivation to write again. Just getting your hand to move across the paper can help loosen those tight writing muscles. It needn’t be an elaborate essay or even a paragraph or even a grammatically coherent sentence. It can just be some random scribblings or some rough sketches of the tree outside your window.
When I picked up my pen again, I started journaling feverishly.
I wrote about how my first guest in Singapore to my new home was, not all those friends whom I had been longing to get in touch with once again but, this tiny lizard who barged into the house without an invitation.
Words started to flow about how hubby and I tried not to miss the one government-permitted walk every day. I wrote how we often meet these little snails on the walking path in the late evenings and how we stand and wait for them to cross the path safely so that they aren’t crushed beneath the wheels of a bicycle.
As I kept writing, I discovered that journaling makes me sit and take notice of these little incidents that go fast and unnoticed usually. These little moments are what makes life worth living.
Journaling can be a form of meditation on paper. It can help you overcome the mental stress of this crisis and get you to start writing once again.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Knowing my love for journals and stationery, a friend gifted me a beautiful notebook just before I left Mumbai. She told me how she had started maintaining a Gratitude Journal where she jotted down three things that made her happy and thankful every night. She urged me to start the practice in the notebook she had gifted. I thanked her and accepted it but did no such thing. The notebook just got dumped with everything else in my suitcase.
I came across the notebook a couple of weeks ago. It reminded me of the power of gratitude and I decided to give it a shot. I started jotting down three things that made me thankful to God every night before going to bed. Many days, the entries repeated themselves. It made me understand how there were just a handful of things that actually mattered.
The one thing that this crisis and lockdown has taught us is that life is simple. We need very few things and very few people to be happy and content.
Take One Step at a Time
When we slip into a rut, we go all the way in. I’ve noticed that when I stop exercising, I stop eating healthy food or waking up on time or feeling motivated to write and so on.
However, we cannot jump out of a rut in an instance. We need to take it slow. We cannot start exercising, journaling and writing 2000 words a day right from day one.
Take one step at a time.
For the first week, you could try waking up on time, having a shower, getting neatly dressed and doing some stretches. Once that is in place, you could start reading a book and journaling every day. Slowly, introduce writing into your life. The crisis is here to stay. We must battle it in our very own way.
Let these words of Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, help you understand how it is our duty to find our destiny and fulfil it rather than question what we expect from life.
“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from life any more.” What sort of answer can one give to that?
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly.
Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual.
No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross.”
- That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
- Coping with Fatigue, Fear, and Panic During a Crisis
- 30 little ways to motivate yourself to write, RIGHT NOW
- How To Get Motivated to Write: 5 Bullet-proof Strategies