Sometimes having a good imagination and being a good writer can increase anxiety. My own busy writer's brain tends to circle the same thoughts, ask a lot of What Ifs, and conjure worst-case scenarios.
But all that creativity can also help us become calmer and happier, which is the subject of a new non-fiction book I'm writing: Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.
Below is an excerpt:
Using Questions Proactively
In the past when I felt anxious I looked around until I found what I thought was making me feel that way. I tried to think myself out of anxiety by asking these types of questions:
- Why do I feel anxious?
- What’s going wrong that’s causing these feelings?
- What might happen today that I’m worried about?
Because it’s rare that life is perfect, there was always something that was a concern or might become one in the future. And sometimes significant things were happening that would cause anyone to feel anxious.
The problem with these questions is that if you ask them, consciously or unconsciously, you’ll likely spiral into greater anxiety. Similarly, if you’re apt to wake up feeling discouraged or in a depressed mood, these questions and their answers will likely sink you deeper into feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
But what if instead you asked yourself:
- What can I do this very moment to feel just a little calmer?
- What can I do this very moment to feel just a little happier?
I included the phrases “this very moment” and “just a little” intentionally.
Those words stop my mind from pushing back and insisting that it’s impossible to be calm or happy given what I’m facing. Even in awful moments, such as after my parents’ deaths, I could almost always do something in the moment to feel just a little better.
Becoming Just A Little Calmer
When something you fear looms or you feel anxious regardless what’s happening around you try asking and answering those two questions.
To give an idea how this works I’ve listed common answers my mind gives me below.
- Drinking a glass of water (especially first thing in the morning when I’m apt to be dehydrated)
- Thinking of someone I care about and hoping that person will have a good day
- Stretching (hands, wrists, shoulders, feet, any part of my body)
- Reimagining a good moment from the day or week before
- Writing things I’m grateful for
- Reading a page of an encouraging book
Your answers will vary, I’m sure, from mine or from anyone else’s. But however you answer, the two questions about feeling better are likely to provoke answers of things you can do quickly. If you do them, you’ll likely feel a little calmer and happier than if you regularly ask and answer the first three questions in this article.
Sometimes you’ll find there really was nothing of concern and things are going pretty well.
You may have awakened unsettled, but the feeling was a holdover from a bad dream, a result of the chemicals that shift your body to wakefulness from sleep, or an ingrained and unconscious habit of scanning for trouble the moment you awaken (or throughout the day).
Regardless, once you feel a little better you can check in with yourself. See if there is any concern you need to address. In fact, if you make a practice of checking in it’ll reassure you that it’s fine to first get a bit calmer and then take care of whatever needs taking care of.
Happily, you’ll be more able to keep it in perspective and deal with it in a calmer frame of mind.
For example, let’s say you have a presentation that afternoon and you don’t feel fully prepared for it. Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to feel better you can decide when you can fit in preparing for that presentation. Even if you realize you have little time to prepare, you can ask yourself what’s the quickest thing that you can do to do the best job possible under the circumstances.
Intense anxiety, though, may require more than shifting your mindset….
That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about how reading biographies can help you write stronger characters—