5 Coping Mechanisms to Help you Deal

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Most people I know are living in a state of uncertainty right now caused by the coronavirus and a downturn in economic indicators. I honestly don’t know how I feel about all of this, because yesterday I felt all the emotions—anger, fear, anxiety-until I accepted that this is the new “normal”.

I recently wrote a nonfiction essay reviewing all that’d happened within the past five years. I reminded myself that the chaos we’ve all been experiencing in gigantic and tiny ways is nowhere near what we’ve dealt with before—at least in my lifetime. We’ve acclimated to every abrupt change, every dogwhistle to attack the Other, and every shitty leader who doesn’t know how to bring people together. The coronavirus is an escalation and many of us worry what’ll happen next. Except, you can’t tell people not to be anxious. Ever try that? They only become more so.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past.

1. Mental Health Check-Ins

It’s hard to “see” progress you’re making, because unlike physical health there’s no bandage for depression. A mental health check-in is a way of mitigating that, because you “check in” on a semi-regular basis. There’s a lot of different ways to do this. You could use mood journalling and bullet journal graphs so you watch your progress over time. You could decide that you need therapy right now, and go the professional check-in route. Or, you could touch base with friends/lovers/family on a semi-regular basis to share how you’re faring. I’ve used a combination of tactics over the years, and I’ve often found that knowing I am not alone (and not the ONLY person who’s feeling what I’m feeling) is what works for me. Sometimes, that means I check up on people I haven’t heard from in a while, too.

2. Reduce Noise

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a former musician everything translates into a song for me. Every word as a tone, every Tweet is a tiny refrain that carries emotional weight. My head quickly gets “noisy” if I fall into a rabbit hole where I’m constantly watching for updates and I can’t create. There’s too much noise and not enough silence.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media, because I’m never quite sure if I can continue on platforms where people’s mental health and safety is not taken personally. Yes, Twitter (less Facebook these days) is a frenzy of breaking news and unverified facts, but there’s so much misinformation mixed in with personal connections it’s often hard to know if I’m stepping into a minefield or not.

I know now I need to mitigate my usage for my mental health. Being online has its benefits and drawbacks because the websites and platforms we use are tools. Multiple studies have shown these tools have an affect on mental health, and as part of a plan to cope with the Chaos Timeline? It’s really a good idea to figure out your relationship to that.

The other thing I’d mention is that white noise and noise-cancelling headphones have been invaluable to reduce external influences. RainyMood.com and FocusMusic.fm are two, great free sites you can use.

Lastly, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, if you’re feeling stuck exploring YouTube! to find new songs or instrumentals is pretty awesome.

3. Drink More Water than Caffeine

Pretty self-explanatory, right? When you’re stressed or anxious hydration can be the first thing to go, which only exacerbates the potential for terrible mood swings or depression. If you’re like me and you’re also addicted to caffeine (I am never giving this up don’t bother trying), this can also mean you’ll dehydrate more quickly.

With body/diet your mileage will vary, of course, it is easy to forget the basics when you’re stressed out. As I’m sure your doctor/nutritionist will remind you, food does contribute to your overall health and well-being. My situation is going to be ten times different because of my physiology, so I don’t have advice to give here. I do favor citrus—especially lemon—when I’m feeling down, though, and I always feel better when I limit sugar.

4. Reframe Self-Care

Sometimes, chaos and unpredictability exacerbate my feelings of anxiety because I enjoy having a certain amount of stability to manage my expectations and workload. Ah-hah! Who doesn’t?

When life’s great, self-care is something I do once in a while. When I’m super stressed out, I add self-care to my To Do list. If I’m on “lock down” and recognize I’m being overwhelmed by the random and frenetic—I add a touch of whimsy so I don’t feel guilty about engaging in self-care. Sometimes I’ll assign numbers to the list of things I could do and then roll dice. Other times, I’ll write ten things on different notecards, shuffle, and then pick.

If self-care is stressful, here’s an easy art project you can do when you’re not at your limit. Grab a shoebox, use old wrapping paper to decorate the bottom and the top, and label it “My Happy Place”. Then, find some sticky notes or post cards and write down things you can do that you associate with feeling happy. These might include: watching a movie, re-reading a book, listening to your favorite band, baking bread, doing your nails, exercising, etc. After you’ve written these activities down, stick them inside the box. The next time you’re feeling like crap, go to your Happy Place, and pick a random card.

I know there’s a certain amount of guilt associated with self-care, and I can empathize with that. Self-care is part of stress management for me. I hope if you find yourself in a similar position you’ll get the help you need. It’s hard to earnestly focus on your health if you don’t think it’s important.

5. Learn a New Skill

To close this short list of coping mechanisms, I wanted to mention how beneficial learning something new can be for your mental health. When you’re in that terrible headspace, it can be challenging to find your way out of the shadows. Learning a new skill benefits me in a couple of ways. First, it helps me refocus my mental energy on something that’s not related to the source of my anxiety. Second, learning often includes progress-tracking, so I can see how I’m doing over time. That slows me down and helps me focus on the moment. And lastly, the act of learning is also a really good way for me to remember life goes on—even in darkness.

If this doesn’t work for you due to financial or time constraints, the other thing I do is read well-researched non-fiction. The voice is usually very calming and filed under sleep aids for me.

I hope you’re faring better than okay. It’s been an interesting past couple of years, and I’m sure there’s more changes to come. Hopefully, there’ll be good news on the horizon.

New! December’s 30 Day Challenge to Make Art Not War

Wow! What a year it has been! For several months, you’ve learned some things about yourself as an artist. You’ve made art! And, you’ve stuck with me on my artistic journey. Now, I have one last challenge for you. In lieu of a theme for December, I’m offering a series of fun daily activities for you to complete. Each one touches on some of the tips, advice, and themes I’ve offered throughout the year. Enjoy!

Week 46 MANW Check-In: Where The “No, I Can’t!” Comes From

Make Art Not War Challenge November

This week’s check-in is brought to you by the makers of tissues, cold medicine, and the professional lung hacker’s association. (Of which, I am apparently a member.) Today, I want to write about the reasons why we talk ourselves down, and where those voices come from. Hint: social pressures are complex, often wrapped up in mores and cultural aspects, but there is something we can point to. How we, as human beings, are depicted in media matters, because we internalize stories as informative truths.

When youth and beauty are glamorized, deep down we begin to wonder. “Am I too old?” “Did I start writing/painting/singing too late?” We constantly see young people represented in movies and television shows, but we also notice them in advertisements, magazines, etc. Representation is a powerful force, because in our minds we still capture those images or depictions as information that we consciously and subconsciously process. The insidious questions arising from our manufactured self-doubt leads to jealousy or even spite. “Everyone younger than me is getting hired, so why bother?” “There’s too much competition. I’ll never measure up.”

In your head, you know that age is just a number. You have to feel it in your heart. You are not too young, too old, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, etc. etc. etc. The list of what you’re not is so long, if you believe every word you’ve mentally racked up, then you’ve already convinced yourself you can’t. If you believe that, deep down, then you’ll wind up procrastinating and sabotage your efforts.

I know it’s hard. That negativity something we all deal with, and it’s exacerbated if you aren’t seeking or getting the support you need. It can be challenging, too, with our 24-hour news cycle. This isn’t about what negativity you can handle; it’s the death by a thousand cuts. The things that happen in your day-to-day life on top of bad news on top of those niggly voices in your ear… It all adds up.

I don’t know the specifics of your personal situation, of course, but what I’m trying to point out here is that sometimes self-directed negativity is a big off-page factor that can affect your productivity. Unfortunately, sometimes the reason why you’re saying “No”, is because you’ve programmed yourself to think that way. If you find yourself talking yourself down, try to make a mental note of that. Or, flip the script and do exactly the opposite. It may feel uncomfortable, even fake. But those mental images and cues are so important. If you believe you can do a thing, you’re more likely to actually do it.

Mood: Coughing has a purpose. Right?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Tea? Coffee? Coffee-tea?
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking again. Still trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: The Killers “When You Were Young”
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: More works hit.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Sing
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Making Art During a Political Hellscape

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

If you are struggling to make art, you are not alone. You are not imagining the world seems to be on fire, either, and if you need confirmation of that I suggest you start by reading The Weekly List. Changes are sweeping through at a frightening pace, and just this past weekend thousands marched in Poland to the tune of nationalism and deadly rhetoric. Hate, even pedophilia, is presented as “acceptable” by some for political reasons so their “side” wins. A “side”, as if being a decent human being was important regardless of which “side” you’re on.

This is not politics as usual. I’m guessing deep down you know that, and not just because the communities you frequent have changed. Engagement is all over the map; some people are glued to the news, wondering when the next disaster will strike. Others are abandoning networks in favor of local communities. If you know what’s happening, it’s because you understand the consequences of those blaring headlines. Good people are getting hurt right now. Maybe someone you love. Maybe even yourself. And it hurts. It makes you angry, sad, concerned. Wondering what you can do; wondering if what you are able to do will be enough. Wondering if you’ll be next.

Political hellscapes are something a lot of artists struggle with, and this year is no exception. Toxic stereotypes are still (incredibly) entrenched in our social zeitgeist that affect artists. It’s the idea that we (e.g. artists) don’t matter, because our work is a luxury item rather than a necessity. Worse: we must suffer in order to make good art, and if we’re not starving we haven’t paid our dues. Never mind the fact that the billion-dollar entertainment industry is comprised of publishers, game manufacturers, studios, etc. Never mind that there’s no “one” path for artists to follow. Some are hobbyists and never intend to sell. Others are professional artists whose livelihood is dependent upon what they produce and sell. And, of course, the hundreds of artists who fall in somewhere in between.

Being an artist can also be a big part of your identity. The word “artist” evokes a stereotype which is further refined by the type of art you make. Writer. Sculptor. Painter. Musician. Yes, there are many artists who can and have mastered different disciplines, but that is not how we are judged. Art, after all, is something you do for fun. It’s not a real job. It’s not as important as putting out fires or saving lives or governing. Often, artists feel powerless in a sea of hate-filled rhetoric and change, because we often passively influence change as opposed to actively. Suddenly, everything we do is deemed “political” whether it is or not, and we’re not sure if writing heroes who fight monsters is as important as dealing with the real ones.

Art will always be political, because art is made by human beings, and human beings are always political. Art has the power to influence, convince, dissuade, etc. because it is often designed to evoke a specific emotion for a reason. As time passes, we may not feel the same impact of a piece’s original or subliminal intent. Hell, we may not recognize or even notice the originating political influences on older books, movies, games, etc. but they are there, whether they be intentionally inserted or not(1). The stronger the rhetoric, the stronger its effects will have on us and our art, because we cannot ignore what’s happening all around us. And, if we ignore politics, that is often an intentional choice–one that not everyone has the luxury of making.

What we feel and what we think are crucial to making art, because our mental health and emotional well-being matters(2). We are not robots. Artists are human beings who tap into the deep reserve of who we are to facilitate laughter, tears, terror, rage, etc. We might tell ourselves that we are entertainers (certainly I have done that myself as a coping mechanism on occasion), but at the end of the day we utilize different tools to relay an aspect (e.g. truth we know) of the human experience through various mediums. And, when we suffer, our art can also suffer–but not always. Sometimes, we establish coping mechanisms to ensure we keep making art, or reasons why we can’t afford (financially, emotionally, etc.) to stop or slow our production. Other times, the art we make is our coping mechanisms, our means of escaping all the shit that’s around us, to depict a beautiful, even hopeful, future.

I don’t have a magic wand that I can wave and resolve those deep, messy feelings you’re experiencing right now. To keep making art, however, means that you have to do what you did in the past. To be an artist, means you have to find the time to make art. To do that, you have to put yourself first, and that can be a very complex and often painful thing to do. It feels selfish, right? Only, if you want to donate your time/money to make a difference, it’s harder to do that when you’re not doing well. So, the best way to help other people is to ensure that you’re okay first. Then, when you’re strong enough, then help somebody else. And, if you need help: ask. Otherwise, you’re scattering your resources so broadly that you’ll feel as if you’re not making a difference. I’ve been there myself, and it was a difficult lesson to learn.

Yes, as always, your mileage will vary, and I do feel that you know what’s best for you and your situation. However, the sharpened truth is that you can always find a reason not to make art. Politics is one (or a hundred) reasons, but there are so many more. To find the will to produce, look for the reasons why you want–no need–to make art. Sometimes, that basic motivation can be the lifeline you need to keep at it. Find that and remind yourself why you need to make art and why the world needs your vision. No, I can’t guarantee that your work will be popular or will be wildly successful–no one can. What I can do, however, is tell you that if you call yourself an artist, it’s because that is who you are. And that, dear reader, is reason enough to keep at it. You’re worth it.

(1) The Twilight Zone, The Blob, and The Crucible are all great examples of this.

(2) This was something I realized the hard way this past year. 2017: the year of shitty life lessons.

Mood: Change is in the wind
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Vini, vici, espresso.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking. Trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: Game of Thrones Season One soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

MANW Check-In Week 45: Why Finishing a Thing Can Be Hard

Last week I announced that FINISH was November’s theme. And, as I type this, I have a few projects I need to get off my plate this week. Part of that is due to con crud, but I am just as guilty of not finishing projects sometimes. It does happen and I have to own those times when I don’t. Sometimes, it’s because a project is on spec or doesn’t pay a lot. Other times, it feels like nothing I do goes right. That doesn’t excuse me being late or not finishing a thing. I have to own that, and I know it, too.

So, what happens? Why are some projects easier to finish than others? What I’ve found, is that lagging projects comes down to four buckets or categories of Shit That Can Go WrongTM:

  • motivation (or vested interest) – Why are you making the thing you’re making? Money? Creative itch? Self-fulfillment?
  • logistics – How capable are you of making the thing? Time, space, skill, etc.?
  • personality conflicts/communication issues – Do you get along with the people involved in your thing? Or are there issues?
  • mental health/physical concerns – Are you physically okay? Mentally? Emotionally?

Okay, let’s put this into practice. Say you were laid off from your day job. That impacts your schedule (time to write) and financial outlook (money you get from writing). It can also affect your mental health and motivation, too. Doesn’t sound like you? This is where the conversation gets complicated: your mileage will vary widely, because you are the best person to identify why you haven’t finished a thing. Sometimes, your ability to utilize insight comes from having a little distance between you, your day-to-day life/experiences, and the work. The time to think, in and of itself, is a luxury that not everyone shares. The busier you get, whether that’s due to the holidays or the work-life balance or the thousand things that fill up your day, the harder it is to analyze what’s going on with “you”.

I’ll use myself as an example to highlight the unique aspects of my current situation. For me, as a full-time writer, if one project slides it’s not a big deal. But, if I lose time due to travel, etc. that’s when it’s bad because I have to re-prioritize what’s on my plate. Unfortunately, my work in the game development/writing sphere has become increasingly harder because of two things: one, training/working with new folks does take time and that will always be the case and two, the harassment and vitriol originating from being active in certain online spaces (needed to remain visible and network with people) have unknowingly caused a lot of emotional labor on my part. I also did not fully understand what it meant to be triggered, and now (thanks to our political trashfires) I do.

That, right there, is what slowed me down on top of the regular day-to-day issues of stalled payments and dropped balls that were outside of my control. I eventually realized the danger of prioritizing social media, blogging, or watching the news over getting words down. Words matter and words often tap into our emotions in wild and wacky ways. Now, I’m literally three “The Ends” away from being totally caught up (YAY!), and I’ve been sick the past few days (BOO!). That’s not something I’m proud/happy of at all. Yes, I’ve been online, but appearances can be misleading, in part because I use social media as a tool for inspiration. To motivate myself, I’ve found (unfortunately) that I need the happiness that comes from shared joy. To get that, I have to find it and it is harder to do that in this climate.

Why are you not finishing your stuff? The reasons can vary widely. Maybe you bit off more than you can chew. That happens a lot. Maybe you’re depressed because the world is on fire. Maybe you’re not sure you know how to finish it and you’re afraid to ask. Or, maybe you have a vision of that finished thing in your head and the draft isn’t measuring up. Whatever the reason, I trust that you know what that is. That’s step one. Step two is finding ways to address the problem. If, for example, you’re worried about the end result and you haven’t finished your first draft? Give yourself permission to suck. That’s what first drafts are for!

I hope something in this post has sparked an idea or a new path that will allow you to troubleshoot your situation. Please keep at it! I shall do the same. I want, more than anything, to be fully caught up by Monday. I’ve already planned how I’ll celebrate: pumpkin spice cupcakes for the win! Sometimes, the smallest rewards can really help motivate you as well. Keep on keepin’ on!

Mood: Hellbent and determined
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee is life.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I walked in freezing temps. Not smart. Thought I was fully recovered and collapsed in Ny-Quil
In My Ears: Lord Lardbottom is snoring. Loudly.
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

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