Wellbeing for writers
Support and advice from our wellbeing ambassador Muriel Cooper.
To support our members and community navigate challenges and changing times, our volunteer Wellbeing Ambassador helps guide us through.
Thanks to Psychologist Muriel Cooper of The Talking Room for sharing these insights and suggestions for our mindfulness and wellbeing.
All writers benefit from comforting check-ins, and Muriel’s background means she’s the perfect ambassador for the collective wellness of our scribe tribe.
Not only is Muriel a talented member of Peninsula Writers’ Club, but she’s been a respected Australian prime time talk radio host and is a fully registered psychologist in Mornington, specialising in stress, anxiety and depression, and offers therapy for most psychological and emotional problems using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
We are grateful for her support through this curated collection of her articles. For regular check-ins, Muriel shares weekly Wellbeing Updates on a Monday on our Facebook page.
If only people really knew about me. Beating imposter syndrome.
You’d be surprised how many successful and talented people are afraid you’re going to find out they’re just a fraud. Maya Angelou, David Bowie and Serena Williams are only three of the many people who suffer from this crippling and anxiety-provoking self-belief.
You have such high expectations of yourself that you believe others do too. So you think they might one day notice your perceived failures.
You’re a high achiever
You must do more, be better and achieve more all of the time. If you don’t, people will see through you and know you’re a fraud.
There was a lot of pressure on you to succeed growing up. You constantly felt you had to prove yourself.
What to do?
Don’t be Mind-reader and assumer. Don’t put negative thoughts into other people’s heads by projecting your insecurities. Ninety-nine percent of the time you will be wrong. They sincerely admire your work.
Accept sincere compliments graciously. Don’t demur… especially don’t say things like, “Oh, it’s not that good.” Pay the person the compliment of believing they are telling the truth.
Tally up the facts
fact: You DID get that job
Fact: You DID get a good review/promotion
Fact: You DID have success.
Don’t diminish yourself by ignoring the facts in favour of self-defeating self-talk.
Don’t put your success down to luck
“Yes, I’m successful but I just got lucky.”
Oh really? You got that job, that great review, got published, or got that promotion because you were lucky? Luck might have had something to do with it, but not without talent and hard work and not every time. Validate your hard work and ability.
Talk it over with a trusted friend or mentor. They’ll put things in perspective for you lickety split.
If you’re a high-achieving personality with perfectionism thrown in accept that means needing to bring balance into your life, including your beliefs about what people think about you.
Take a 28-day Imposter syndrome busting challenge to change your self-limiting self-beliefs. When you notice them, gently tell then NO, and let them go. Replace them with facts or self-validating self-statements, e.g. “My talents, abilities are real and genuinely expressed.”
Finally, be kind to yourself.
Stress and the writer’s brain.
If you’re wondering why your brain didn’t working as well during lockdown, you might guess that it’s because of stress, which is inevitable during such a tumultuous time, but you might not actually know what’s going on in there.
Stress chemicals cross the blood-brain barrier and get into your brain; a bit like alcohol but not as pleasant. Like alcohol, substances like adrenalin and cortisol have significant effects on how we think and remember, and subsequently on our ability to make decisions. All these things are vital in everyday life but especially relevant to the writer.
When you sit down to write during stressful times, do not fret if your brain doesn’t work as well as it usually does. This is secondary stress (being stressed about being stressed) and creates an even more ‘fuzzy brain’ as I call it. Take as many deep, full chest breaths as it takes to calm yourself. Then write.
If you’re still having ‘fuzzy brain’, take a short break and think of all the ways you could immediately reduce your stress bucket, like meditative breathing, or just making a cup of tea. Are you paying attention to your overall wellbeing, like having a routine, and getting adequate rest, relaxation and exercise? Most of all, don’t get frustrated with ourself and don’t push yourself. As I said, this just makes more stress. Be kind to yourself.
The gratitude exercise and the writer.
The gratitude exercise has almost become a cliche and as a result, people may shy away from it. This is a shame because we know counting the things we are grateful for makes physical changes in the brain. Forming stronger positive neural pathways leads the brain away from worry and negativity.
For writers, the worry and negativity often center around confidence, the ability to be productive, and a concern that what we are writing isn’t good enough. This can be a recipe for self doubt and procrastination. But how can being grateful help us avoid these traps? By being grateful for the many things that enable us to write at all.
I respectfully submit my Gratitude Exercise for Writers.
(You’ll notice there are many superlatives here. They add emotional tone to the exercise which helps the brain to fire and wire those positive neural pathways.)
‘I’m immensely grateful for my education, a tremendous gift that gave me the tools to write.
I’m so grateful to the hundreds of generations before me that constantly invented new words to describe our amazing planet and its people.
To my creative, intuitive brain, I’m so thankful for the inspirations you send me, especially if I allow myself quiet time to let you speak.
I’ll be forever grateful to the family and friends who support and encourage me.
I’m tremendously grateful to live in a beautiful environment that inspires me every day.’
When you question whether it’s worthwhile
Even the most enthusiastic and dedicated writer can have doubts. Writing can not only be lonely but lacking in reward, both artistic and monetary. We spend many hours plugging away at a poem or a manuscript, only to find no audience, let alone one that wants to pay money for it. That’s why belonging to the Peninsula Writer’s Club is so important, as well as other writer’s organisations.
It’s easy to get discouraged, so here’s a way of thinking that takes the impact of our art to another level, and that is its impact on society. I don’t just mean well known writers or media commentators, their impact is well known, but the efforts of everyone who sits down to put words on paper. Every writer who does this is making a contribution to the artistic life of the community. Whether your work is read by everyone or no one but your friends or family, your writing works as a conduit for bringing society to life, for pointing out our issues, as well as our joys, and for leaving a record of life in our times.
In storytelling, we portray humanity through the wellspring of our unconscious, re-interpreting ancient archetypes and themes, Even writing about history is still a reflection of how we see the past from the viewpoint of today.
C.G. Jung said in his paper ‘Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’
“That is the secret of great art, and of its effect upon us. The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking.”
Always remember that every time you create, you are making a contribution, not only to your own wellbeing, but to society as a whole.
Writers stand up!
You’re on a roll. The words fly onto the page. Conversely, you sit at your desk, staring at the screen trying to get creative. Or you’re fascinated by the subject you’re researching and can’t seem to stop.
Whether the writing is happening, or not, suddenly you look at the clock and an hour, or two or three have gone by. You realize you’re thirsty and you desperately need to go to the toilet.
You’ve lost track of time.
It’s easily done, and it’s not good for you. Writing is a sedentary activity and as ‘they’ say, sitting is the new smoking.
Take care to get up regularly and move. Put a timer on. Stretch, walk around, put the kettle on. Resist the temptation to think it will spoil your creative flow. That will come back, believe me.
Also take time to look away from your screen and do some horizon gazing. This is very restful for the eyes.
Writing is good for the soul, but it can be hell on that body. So, stand up! Better still, go for a walk in nature. Japanese researchers have found that even a 15-minute visit in nature causes measurable changes in physiology, including a 15% drop in the stress hormone cortisol and a 2% drop in blood pressure. Less stress can mean more creative flow, a great reason to connect with nature.
It’s also the quiet. Except for waves on the shore or murmurings in the trees, the quiet is soothing and relaxing for the brain, ceasing the chatter and allowing our creative thoughts to come through.
A short, or long visit to a beautiful part of the world, whether it’s Red Hill, or sitting the beach, is a wonderful investment in our creative energy. So let’s get out there and commune with nature. It’s not only good for our writing, but good for us as a whole.
See you walking around the block, and don’t forget to stand up!
The benefits of being an optimistic writer
Being an optimist costs you nothing.
Being a pessimist could cost you your writing and possibly your health. Pessimism causes worry, worry causes stress, stress affects your writing.
Pessimism erodes your self-confidence and may make you quit the thing you love because you’re not succeeding (atm anyway).
Deflect pessimism and adopt optimism.
“But that’s just the way I am?” do I hear you say? “How can I change?” Don’t be downhearted. You can cultivate optimism. Martin Seligman founded the positive psychology movement with his groundbreaking work, culminating in the best-selling book ‘Learned Optimism’. Here are his three ‘P’s’
Permanence: Optimistic people believe bad events to be more temporary than permanent, so they’re more resilient. Remember “It will pass.”
Pervasiveness: Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness, whereas pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole.
Personalization: Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves for events that occur.
So, cultivate optimism, especially in these challenging times. It’s but only good for your writing, it’s good for you.
Your space, your right
As writers, our space is crucial to our enjoyment of our craft and our productivity.
But it seems selfish to want our own space when others needs seem so much more important. Children doing homework, others having to work from home.
If we give up our own needs (and writing is a need, for me anyway) to facilitate the needs of others, this can end in resentment, frustration, and anxiety.
Even in small spaces we can negotiate a corner, an end of the kitchen table. Even in a busy day we can negotiate with ourselves, or others, a block of time to enjoy our craft of writing. For some of its it’s a job, for others a recreation, for all of us it’s therapy.
Be gently assertive with yourself and others that you deserve your space and time to write.
When you’re feeling unmotivated and procrastinating
If you’re feeling generally unmotivated or procrastinating here’s few pointers.
Be aware of not ruminating on negative things. It will make your brain risk averse, and you will avoid anything that takes energy, or that that is not routine to save energy. Remember the brain is set for survival.
Like lack of motivation, procrastination is fuelled by the negative. Especially, don’t think of your writing in a negative light or be critical of yourself, e.g., ‘That story is no good’, ‘I’m no good’. Don’t make your story, or yourself, bad. Your survival self will want you to avoid bad things, so you put them off, including your writing. Procrastination is a fear issue.
Think positively about your writing, chores, work or caring. Don’t start your morning sentence with ‘Oh no!’, or ‘Oh God, not that thing I have to do today!’ Look on responsibilities with equanimity. Let the sentence start with ‘I’ll be happy when I get that thing done.’
Invent something to look forward to every day, a phone call with a friend, or an appointment with a great book at lunchtime.
When you wake in the morning, look up into the sky and get a dose of blue light therapy. Even if it’s cloudy, it switches off your melatonin, perks you up and gives you more energy to start the day.
Vitamin B and C induces energy, as do coffee and tea – great natural substances to perk you up. Take the time to enjoy your cuppa, and while you do:
Start the day as you end it, by writing down three things you are grateful for, or are looking forward to in the day.
Just pick one thing from your to do list. When you get it done, give yourself a big pat on the back. Then pick one more thing… or not – if you don’t have to. Go with the flow if you don’t have deadlines.
And if, despite all that you can’t get motivated, don’t beat yourself up Have a little self-compassion and give yourself a hug.
Are you too well informed?
Whether we’re writers, or not, we often think we must be well informed, so we watch every news service and troll through every online news app.
Is it because of FOMO? Fear is missing out on that important bit of news that actually is new (most of it is regurgitated). Is it that we don’t want to appear ignorant when we’re in conversation, or that somehow, it’s an obligation to know everything that’s going on in the world?
Admittedly, we want to be up to date with Covid restrictions etc. But beyond that, how much news do we really have to expose ourselves to?
I’ve invented a term for watching too much bad news. Media Inflicted Fear Syndrome – or MIFS. Stress caused by constant checking of media outlets.
Watching videoed news is particularly stressful. The brain has trouble sorting out all those distressing images. Sometimes they make their way into your dreams as your brain processes then during sleep.
The recent upheaval in the US, Brexit and geopolitical disturbances, and our own domestic news all combine with the pandemic to present a bleak picture of life.
For those doing it tough, my thoughts are with you. However, for most of us, all we need to do is walk around the block to realise that for most of us, life here is good and nature is inspiring.
For the news junkies among us, except for actual breaking news, just read the headlines. Avoid videos, and the florid commentary that often passes for news these days.
As a former media commentator, I can tell you that for the media bad news is good news. Limiting our exposure to it makes for a less stressful Life.
The power of words.
‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’
This old saying made us feel better when we used it as a retort to name-calling in the schoolyard, but it’s not true. Words can hurt and very badly.
Recent research shows that children who were badly verbally abused felt more severe effects later in life than those who were physically abused.
Why? Because verbal abuse is sustained and sometimes relentless. It eats away at our confidence and self-esteem. It insinuates itself deep into our memory, more so than physical violence, which, although horrifying, is brief.
Words can hurt. But they can also heal.
One theory of why we evolved our complex and elegant languages is put forward by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. He says that when humans settled, they formed larger and larger groups. Physical grooming, a vital part of our bonding and socialising, became impossible as a result of these larger groups (it’s thought humans now have an average group of about 150 people – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and community). So, to take the place of physical grooming, we evolved language so that we could verbally groom each other.
Words are not just to pass on information to each other, they are to form connections, bonds, to sooth, as well as to punish and chastise.
Words hurt, but they also heal.
When a tell our stories, we have the opportunity to soothe and heal. Our words, even if they are only read by a few, have an important impact on the reader, even if it doesn’t seem so at times.
Writing is a gift to the writer, as well as to the reader. When we use words, let’s use them wisely.
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