You wake up. You feel dizzy and discombobulated. Your throat is sore. You’re coughing uncontrollably. When you go to eat breakfast you have no appetite. You realize you must have gotten that bug that’s been going around. You start to freak out because you think it might be that new epidemic of H1N1-Ebola-Bird-Monkey-Butt Virus you heard about on the news the other day.
If that isn’t enough, it is freezing cold outside. Your laptop is on the fritz. Your “significant other” is mad at you, and for good reason this time (you made a huge mistake and you’re too prideful and too stubborn to admit it, so they’ve given you the cold shoulder.)
You got a big dent in your car, but you can’t blame anyone else because no one else hit you (you just backed out of a parking garage the wrong way.)
Someone just updated their Facebook status telling you that another foreign country has just fallen under political unrest and chaos is rampant.
You’re upset that Glee didn’t “bring it” last night for their post-Superbowl special.
Worst of all, you just got an e-mail from you best friend telling you that the DNA results are back: unfortunately, it turns out, you are NOT Oprah’s half-sister.
Then, as soon as you finish reading your best friends’ e-mail, your computer crashes.
It’s official. You are now experiencing YOUR WORST WRITING DAY EVER.
Whatever you do: DON’T. PANIC.
Please, allow the lights to guide you to the exits. Your desk chair pillow acts as a flotation device. Put the oxygen mask over yourself first before you put one on the child sitting next to you.
Okay, now that you’ve calmed down a bit. The first thing you need to know is this: we’ve all had our worst writing day ever.
You are not alone. These types of days can be frustrating, especially when we are trying to keep loyal to our regular writing routine.
But we’re going to get through this. All right? All right.
The first step I want you to take is:
I know. Everyone always tells you to breathe, and you’re always like:
“I DO BREATHE! I BREATHE ALL THE TIME! IF I DIDN’T BREATHE, I WOULD DIE! OBVIOUSLY! I’M NOT A TALENTLESS IDIOT WHO’S ONLY FAMOUS BECAUSE HE HAS GREAT ABS! I DON’T LIVE ON THE JERSEY SHORE!”
Yes. You are right. You DO breathe all the time.
But I think what people mean when they ask you to “breathe” is that they want you to PAY ATTENTION to your breath, and, most importantly, they want you to try breathing the “correct” way.
I want you to try something out to see what I mean:
First, I want you to try inhaling using your chest muscles.
Notice how that feels.
Now I want you to try breathing using your diaphragm muscles (the group of muscles located at the very bottom of your ribcage.) Act as if you are trying to fill up your stomach to the brim with air.
Then exhale and let all that air out.
Which kind of breathing got you the most air?
When you tried breathing using your diaphragm, right?
What you just did is what Dr. Joan Borysenko calls “diaphragm breathing” and it is actually the “CORRECT” way to breathe.
Breathing with your diaphragm muscles, and not with your chest muscles, will help you reduce stress and anxiety, and this will help you face the extreme challenges that often come with your worst writing day ever.
Take In Your Surroundings
After you breathe, I want you to start paying attention to your body and your surroundings.
What you are doing now is a practice called “mindfulness.”
Dr. John Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as a practice in which you go about life NOT resisting what happens to you but, instead, accepting what happens to you—the good AND the bad. Instead of running away from unfavorable or challenging situations, mindfulness asks you to meet these challenges head on, and give them your FULL ATTENTION.
When you are mindful, I have noticed that this does three things for you:
1. It saves your energy. We use up a lot of our energy trying to resist situations that are either unfavorable to us or are out of our control. When we resist a challenging situation, the process often leads us to become MORE tired and MORE stressed then if we just accepted the situation and gave it our full attention.
2. It is healing. Because you are no longer resisting the situation, you are no longer wasting your energy fighting the problem. This allows your mind and body to “rest,” and when your mind and body are at rest I think it is easier for physical or emotional healing to take place.
3. It puts things into perspective. Taking in your surroundings reminds you that the only “reality” that truly exists is the one you are currently experiencing.
The future hasn’t happened yet. The past is already past. The only thing you have to focus on is the present moment. Taking in your surroundings brings you peace and relieves some of the unnecessary stress you will be experiencing throughout your worst writing day ever.
Go With The Flow
After you have anchored yourself in the present, you’re going to have to allow yourself to adapt and flow with whatever situation has been thrown your way.
For example, if you’ve become sick, there’s no choice but to rest and get better. If your computer crashes, there’s no choice but to borrow someone else’s computer, or go to the library, or just wait to get the laptop repaired. If a foreign country is experiencing social unrest, there is no choice but to pray or wish that country the best and then go on with your day.
Don’t Knock Yourself Down. Instead, Lift Yourself Up
The worst thing you can do in this type of situation is to criticize or blame yourself. That will only make things worse. If all of the issues you are facing are either out of your control, or have already happened, then no matter how you look it, YOU CAN’T CHANGE THEM.
So why are you going to blame yourself for something that is either out of your control or can’t be changed? Why are you going to add a sense of worthlessness to your feelings of despair and anxiety?
No, blaming yourself in this type of situation isn’t very productive.
Be gentle with yourself, instead. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be understanding.
Don’t make things worse by hating yourself. Instead, make things better by loving yourself.
Cut Down The Overwhelming Situation Into Bite-Sized Pieces You Can Chew
If you made a mistake, or screwed up, learn from it and make a note to be careful next time. If you are worried about something that is out of your control, focus instead on what you can control: what you think, what you do, and what you say.
Choose to think positively, then. Choose to take a small, doable action today that will make you feel better or improve the situation. Choose to say that although today is challenging, you are trying your best and that everything will be much better tomorrow.
If, however, the situation you are facing is within your control, but you realize that it will take A LONG time before the situation can be adequately resolved or improved, then you need to do yourself a favor by dealing with the situation ONE DAY AT A TIME.
Try not to take the long view on an issue that is so overwhelming that it might cause you to panic. Because if you do that you won’t be able to take the small step today that will eventually lead you to solve that overwhelming problem tomorrow.
Remember: This Too Shall Pass
Finally, if everything on this list should fail, remember that your worst writing day ever is just one day.
It will pass and eventually things will get back to normal. You’ll be healthy again. You’ll make up with your boyfriend. Your laptop will be fixed. Your friend will tweet that Ellen DeGeneres’s mother just revealed that she gave up a child for adoption in 1963 and you’ll realize that you have one more shot at discovering that you might be a part of a celebrity dynasty.
Everyone will be happy.