Living Well to Write Well When Feeling @%$#-y

Illness is part of wellness, and strikes all of us on occasion. If only we could choose the timing…

If only we could choose the timing.

I caught a nasty bug last week, while up against a tight deadline. Like many writers, I have multiple work-streams and projects ongoing. The assignment plunked down like an elephant on that pile.

Some years ago, I would have worked my butt off, eaten low-cal foods and hit the gym while sick. I’m so glad I’ve learned since then. I now appreciate the fact that food fuels the body and brain, and that during sickness, it needs ample glucose. Since we only have one source of glucose (carbohydrates), eating enough (if possible) and at regular time intervals is vital. So is rest, since glucose also fuels activity. While enduring illness or injury, our glucose should fuel recovery instead.

Rather than fight the virus with stubborn ignorance, I hit the pause button. For the first day, I barely moved from the sofa—sans laptop—other than to grab food and such. The next day, fueled up with rest and nourishment, I completed the assignment. While it may not have been my greatest work, it turned out significantly better than it would have, practicing my former habits.

Back-flat on the sofa afterward, I couldn’t help but marvel at the way our brains and bodies work. They not only respond to self-nurturing, but help and heal themselves—given the proper TLC. (I don’t know about you, but that seems super power-esque to me.)

The experience reminded me of a few things. First, the work we do as writers takes a lot of energy. Second, the healthy habits needed to overcome illness promote writing health (sharp brain function, productivity and creativity) as well. And third, we can’t starve away illnesses, regardless of what old adages say.

If you’re feeling under-the-weather, or simply bogged down by the pressures of a hectic life, you may find the following tips useful. They’re far from revolutionary, but guess what. They work! 😉 If you’re like me, you can use the occasional reminder.

Living Well to Write Well When Feeling &%^#-y

1. Try to get enough sleep. I can hear some of you groaning. This isn’t my strong suit, either. But sharp thinking and creativity are some of the first things to go when we’re sleep deprived. The key, I feel, is trying to stick to a healthy sleep routine, and allowing time for our brain and body to decompress before bed. (This means turning off light-up everythings.) A positive sleep environment—dark and comfortable—also helps.

2. Eat well. In general, this means eating balanced meals and snacks at reasonable time intervals, and emphasizing whole, natural foods. Remember, the brain needs more carbohydrates than any other nutrient. Rather than skimp on carbs, emphasize healthy sources, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Lean protein sources, like fish and legumes, and essential fat sources, such as nuts and seeds, promote positive brain function in other ways. We should also limit processed and low-nutrient food and avoid dieting; both can damage our work and wellness.

3. Balance rest with activity. When we’re ill, easing up on all activity is important. If you’re up against a deadline or have other obstacles tinkering with your rest, short breaks are better than none. Ask for more time or for help. (We may seem super-human, but…) Even when we aren’t sick, working our typing fingers into the grindstone 24/7 does little to help our work quality or health. When we’re well enough, routine exercise is important.

4. Breathe. Stress and illness can cause our bodies to tense up, disrupting breathing. Regardless of ailments, we women often suck our bellies in, attempting to appear thinner. This makes proper breathing near impossible. Pausing to inhale and exhale slowly—using our diaphragm, not our chest or shoulders—can help reduce stress, increase energy levels and enhance healing. Breathing exercises can also help.

5. Seek support. As writers, many of us are used to going it alone. We not only run the ship, but build it, clean it, repair it, renovate it, market it, Tweet about it and—you get the picture. Learning to rely on others and cutting ourselves some slack may not come naturally, but it can be lifesaving, particularly when we’re down and out. There’s no shame in asking, and plentiful reward in self-care.

Do you work or rest your way through illness? Which of these tips have you mastered? Which are works-in-progress? Happy to put on my nutritionist cap if you have food-related questions. (Yep, I love you that much!)