Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Artist Unleashed: OUTLASTING YOUR DEMONS: HOW TO COPE WITH ANXIETY, by Monica Bhide

Sometimes the obstacles seem insurmountable, the heartache is paralyzing, the fear is searing, the anxiety makes my head spin. It is only when I find the quiet in the fear that I find my strength and my purpose. And I write. And write and write. I am finally home.

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?
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EASY TWEET:
OUTLASTING YOUR DEMONS: HOW TO COPE WITH ANXIETY, by @mbhide #TheArtistUnleashed #WritersHealth #Authors #IndieAuthor http://goo.gl/cT1zfe

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Author, writing coach, and popular speaker Monica Bhide, known for her exotic cookbooks and beguiling essays about food and life, has released her first short story – “Mother. “It is included in the anthology Singapore Noir (Akashic Books, 2014). She is currently working on her first collection of short stories.


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 App├ętit, 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.

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9 comments:

  1. Anxiety about writing is sourced in expectations and needs or demands in regard to our work and how it is received. It does not matter how successful or famous you become, the questioning for most does not end. Gaining perspective about what is important in life, and as important as it is, writing will never be the most important thing in any human beings life because that is a source of satisfaction so influenced, if not controlled by others and by society. Unless of course one is able to write purely for one's self and to find satisfaction in that act alone.

    Anxiety in general may be projected onto our work but is sourced in deeper issues. I would say general anxiety is a call to soul work, but we are all different.

    Here is something I wrote some time ago on anxiety and its frequent companions, panic and depression.

    http://nomadletters.blogspot.com/2013/07/finding-path-through-panic-and.html

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    1. Great points and I will definitely read your post too, Roslyn. However, I don't understand how something cannot be the most important thing in one's life because it is influenced by what others think?

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    2. Well it can be Luca but it is unwise to allow it to be so. Peace and fulfillment lie within and as I said, unless you can write purely for yourself, and even then it will not be the most important thing in life because the most important thing in life needs to be who and what we are and not dependent on our work, job, creativity, or other human beings. The most important thing in life is being the best that you can be. Harder for some of us than others. :)

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  2. It is also worth bearing in mind that anxiety is not a requirement for being a writer and not particular to those who write. There is still a strong belief in the 'tortured artist' as archetype for writers but this has more to do with nature than it does with writing as profession, career or creative expression.

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  3. I agree that the idea of the 'tortured artist' is a stereotype, but stereotypes are there because they are generalizations based on fact. It is true, that many writers experience anxiety but in some ways that's a good thing as it shows you care about what you are doing. I worry about all of the things that I care about in life and believe that it's part of our motivational engine that drives humans to success.
    Writing is by nature introspective and meditative. It's interesting that great meditators describe moments of worry, panic, and horror during their practice as they strip away everything their mind and the world has constructed and look at themselves honestly, as they truly are. In that way, I think it's a natural part of the process.
    Thanks Monica though, for these practical tips. I particularly like the aversion therapy and am sure that these will help a lot of people still coming to terms with this aspect of their craft.

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    1. Yes and no. I think sometimes people like the idea of a stereotype because it seems exotic but my point was it is neither necessary or synonymous. Many great writers are neither tortured nor exotic, quite the opposite in fact.

      I think most people experience anxiety and know plenty of engineers, architects, mechanics, gardeners etc., who agonise as much as I might.

      Writing is more solitary that is certainly true but then so are many professions. Scientific research can be very solitary for much of the time. You and the petri dish and microscope most of the time. I had a friend once who studied fireflies and who worked from home and her life was more introspective than mine because while my writing was solitary my life was that of an observer of the outside world.

      Gardening is solitary and more meditative than writing in my book.

      But then gardening, scientific work and writing are all creative... actually, many jobs are....it is just a matter of definition.

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    2. There is nothing exotic about a stereotype per se. That a group of people are ordinary and un-exotic can be a stereotype. All stereotypes speak to general truth, otherwise they would not exist. Of course there are, often many, exceptions to every stereotype.
      I agree with you about the gardening. I was taking a buddhist definition of meditation, which is the act of concentrating completely on one thing. In that case any activity can be meditative. In fact, in Japan, almost every traditional art form-- flower arranging, calligraphy, and poetry--developed as a form of Zen buddhist meditation.

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    3. Yes, and the Quakers take a similar approach to absolutely everything - all is 'prayer' whether cleaning a toilet or creating a work of art.

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“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris