Anyone who knows me knows my mood can swing from very high and happy to very low and gloomy. In the worst of cases, I can feel so down in the dumps that I won’t want to get out of bed (that’s happened only once maybe five or six years ago). If I had to rate my mood on a scale of 1 (blissful) to 10 (depressed), I’ve been hovering between 4 and 5 for the last month or so.
In an effort to get ahead of my brain, I’ve tried distilling the last month into a handful of habits to keep in mind to hopefully avoid the blues or at least minimize them. These five things popped up again and again.
Leave work at work.
I have a day job like virtually every other writer. No surprise there. And I work equal hours each for the art and the paycheck. It used to be that I’d bring work home. I’d check work email before going to bed. I’d update project records after clocking out for the day; in the busiest parts of the year, this could suck up to five hours a week off the clock. I’d this was unacceptable and that enough was enough and have restricted me mind to think about the day job during the hours I’m scheduled for it. Plain and simple. The only time I check work email at home is Sunday night when I’m getting ready for the week ahead just so I don’t feel like anything’s creeped up on me Monday morning.
Take care of yourself.
In addition to battling my roller coaster brain, I’ve also been battling weight issues. I’m not obese or anorexic, just out of shape thanks to last year’s holiday pastries that never quite left me. And crap, that time of year is almost upon us yet again! My weight has fluctuated over the last couple of months, but I’m hell-bent on trimming myself down. When I was in college, I weighed 252 pounds at one point. Most people don’t believe that, but it’s true. My goal is 175, and the closest I’ve gotten was 180. What began as a health issue has since expanded to include a vain act of vengeance. I know I can get within arms reach of my goal, and dammit, I know I can do it again. This isn’t easy. It’s about eating right and choosing fruit yogurt over M&M sugar cookies at the local 7-Eleven. It’s about exercising regularly throughout the week over making excuses to do it a little later. And it’s about getting a good night’s sleep over burning the midnight oil working on a project or watching American Horror Story.
Lighten the workload.
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from people on how organized I am, and that’s no bull. Every hour of my day is scheduled, including sleep. I keep meticulous records on my personal and writing finances. I watch IKEA videos on Youtube because I’m a neat freak and proud of it. In addition to my schedule, I also have a very healthy to-do list. The list can be redundant at times since a lot of it mirrors my calendar, but it’s also got a lot of reminders that automatically repeat to my preferences. And if I am, say, paying a handful of bills one evening, I’d prefer there to be just an hour-long block on my calendar marked “finances” rather then a whole bunch of things cluttering it up. But the to-do list can feel overwhelming because the curse of it is that it’s easy to say yes and pile things on top of each other. So just as I limit myself to certain hours at my day job, I also limit myself to three sectors in my life (work, writing, and personal matters), and allow only four or five bigs items a day to each area tops. That might not seem like much, but when you multiply it out, I can get about a hundred things done in a busy week. Breaking the week down and setting boundaries like this keeps my brain from going into shock and caving in.
Don’t stress what you can’t change.
A lot of times, stuff just happens, stuff that’s nobody’s fault. For example, I had planned a trip out of town earlier this month. I was really looking forward to it, but my truck kept making this weird noise every time I made a right turn, and when I took it to the mechanic, I had to fork over a pretty penny to have a gear in the power steering system replaced. Bye-bye, vacation fund. A couple of weeks later, the dashboard freaked out that the braking system needed servicing. I mean, really freaking out. Like, the warning light would go on even if I sat idly at a stoplight. The last time something like this happened, I had to replace the brake pads. I could cover the cost of replacing them again this time around, but I really didn’t want to. Like an inmate heading for the prison showers, I clenched up and braced myself for the worst. It turned out that I was just low on brake fluid, but because I was already prepared for the worst, the news came as a pleasant surprise. I’m not saying you should be a pessimist, because focusing on the worst will only wear you out. But by acknowledging the likelihood of a negative event, you won’t be caught unawares, and if the problem itself is unavoidable, you could take steps to weather it.
Feed your brain.
Learning is one of the best things you can do for yourself because, regardless of whatever else happens, no one can take away what you’ve learned. I’m doing the reading challenge on Goodreads this year. 24 books, but I’m only on my seventh. With a few months left in the year, I’m trying my best to get through it. On top of that, I have Pocket on my phone, an app that lets me download articles to read later either on my computer at home or on my phone on the go. And let’s not forget how-to videos on the web. Reading has made me fall in love with science fiction and horror all over again, and inspired me to do better in my own writing. I’ve read informative articles on everything from how to make better use of my day to the newly confirmed planet orbiting Proxima Centauri to why Donald Trump doesn’t understand global economics (and, you know, basic human decency). There are a few podcasts I listen to regularly including the Writer’s Market, AfterParty Pod, and Drunk Monkeys Radio, the latter two mainly because I’ve had friends appear on them. I wish I had something more profound to add to this, but the truth is that this has provided much more than sedentary entertainment. It inspires me each day to raise my own standards.