I posted this status update on FB a few weeks ago. The private responses surprised me:
“How, how do you find the quiet place?”
“I have many dark places in my head and I fear them.”
“I have severe bouts of anxiety about my writing. How do you deal with yours?”
How I wish I had the answers to these questions. So many artist friends I speak to deal with this darkness, these demons inside our heads that refuse to die. They are demons of self-doubt, of low self-esteem, of fear of rejection, of fear of success. Sometimes they can take over and instead of motivating us to do better, they paralyze us. When this happens to me, I find myself in a scary place where I cannot move forward with my work, I cannot do anything. I just sit and stare at the computer and feel this sense of hopelessness and loss that seems insurmountable.
When I decided that I needed to face this darkness, I knew I had to make a few key changes. First, I needed to face the fact that I was going to have very dark days. I made a conscious decision that when the dark days came, I would deal with them instead of letting them take over my whole world. Let me tell you, before I go on, that it was not easy to learn. I failed miserably along the way; in fact, I failed spectacularly along the way.
But then, slowly, I began to learn how to handle the demons. I began to notice the signs of their arrival and to strategize how to deal with them. I recognized that this feeling of darkness was a luxurious gift that I gave myself. Perhaps that sounds idiotic, but this is how I explained it to myself: Feeling sorry for myself, being worried about the future, feeling “less than,” or feeling anxious was a luxury that I could not afford. I was, I am, a working writer and in order to work, I need to have a clear mind.
Strategy one: When I feel a pang of anxiety coming my way, I just get up and walk out into an open space—the deck, the patio, the street. And I walk. This helps clear my head. If the feeling is particularly strong, I listen to really loud, happy music. Many times, just this helps a lot and lets me get back to my desk energized and ready to work.
Strategy two: I wear a rubber band around my wrist and when I start to worry about my work, I pull the rubber band really hard. It smacks my wrist and reminds me that worry is fruitless and that I need to continue to work more and worry less.
Strategy three: This is not pretty, but when no one is home, I crank up my Bollywood tunes really loud and dance until I break out into a serious sweat.
Strategy four: I make a gratitude list every night before I go to bed. I write about what I am thankful for the most and keep going till I hit ten items. By the time I reach the tenth item, I am usually smiling.
Strategy five: When nothing else works, I realize that perhaps it is my brain’s way of saying I need a break. I distract myself by cooking, or reading a funny book, or watching my favorite TV episodes.
Then there are times when I just sit still and let the thoughts go by. This is possibly the easiest and yet the hardest strategy. If I can let them go and not get entangled in them, then I am home free. I find my quiet and outlast my demons.
(I hope you will find this helpful. If the feeling of anxiety won’t go away, I seriously suggest you speak with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.)
Do you suffer from anxiety? How do you cope with it?
An engineer by training, Bhide followed her instincts to become a sought-after food/travel/parenting writer. She has been published in national and international publications including Food & Wine, the New York Times, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, AARP-The Magazine, Health, SELF, Bon Appétit, and Saveur, to name a few.
She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Kitchen Window and a frequent speaker at the Smithsonian and at national and international writers’ conferences. Her work has garnered numerous accolades: her food essays are included in the Best Food Writing anthologies of 2005, 2009, and 2010, while the Chicago Tribune chose her as one of seven noteworthy food writers to watch and Mashable selected her as one of the top ten food writers on Twitter.
Bhide has published three cookbooks, the latest being Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon& Schuster, 2009).
Bhide lives in a suburb of Washington, DC with her husband and two sons. Visit her website, Modern Indian Cooking & Food Writing Workshops by Monica Bhide.
OUTLASTING YOUR DEMONS: HOW TO COPE WITH ANXIETY, by @mbhide #TheArtistUnleashed #WritersHealth #Authors #IndieAuthor http://goo.gl/cT1zfe