by Chantelle Sukhu
One in five Canadians experiences mental health issues in any given year. This year in particular, we’ve experienced events that have not only changed our daily routines but also how we look at the world.
During these challenging times, content creators are being asked to exercise a high degree of emotional intelligence while ensuring that their pieces are relevant, memorable, personalized and can perform well. This balancing act can start to take a toll on your mental well-being, especially if you’re directly impacted by the subject you’re writing about.
As a collective of content practitioners, freelancers and marketers, it’s crucial that we bring awareness to the different issues that may affect our community. Now more than ever, we need to pause and acknowledge elements that may affect our mental health as writers,* either as part of the current climate or in general as part of the craft.
Below, you’ll find five factors that could be signal for you to take a step back:
1. Emotional burnout
You may be in a position where your role is to deliver content on heavy topics, either as a third party or as a member of the community impacted. You might start to feel drained or overwhelmed as you communicate on behalf of the people you’re representing.
Psychotherapist Jelum Raval says you could be experiencing ‘burnout’ as you continually use a great amount of emotional energy to create these pieces. She asks writers to think of their emotional energy like a ‘cup.’ Every time you sit down to write, you’re ‘pouring’ from your cup.
You don’t have an infinite amount of emotional energy, so it’s important that you give yourself space to process your feelings and ‘refill’ your cup before diving into writing again. Raval recommends having an emotional practice to refill your cup, like a relaxation activity, or connect with people that will act as your emotional chargers. Also, lean on your colleagues to take over a piece if you need a break or ask for an extension.
2. Sleep troubles
Some of us can relate to wordsmithing in the dead of night, perhaps as a way to find peace and quiet or to meet a deadline. Others could end up in their beds on time but have trouble falling asleep as thoughts circulate their mind.
Regardless of the scenario, our sleep quality and duration can affect our mood or acuteness the next day. One-off nights aren’t a cause for worry, but troubles falling or staying asleep several nights per week can start to affect your mental health or lead to insomnia.
The Canadian Sleep Society recommends several helpful tips to reorganize your behaviours around sleep. From a writing perspective, try not to write directly before bedtime or plan an activity to help you relax after your writing session. If you are staying up late to write, try to practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine or using your bedroom as an office.
3. Performance anxiety
Anxiety from writing is more common than you think. Did your heart race when you hit the publish button on your first online post? Were you nervous about joining a new company with distinguished writers? Do you feel worried when checking your analytics for a post?
Whether you’re writing for digital, print or performance, all writing is consumed by an audience. With that knowledge, some of us may feel ‘performance anxiety’ associated with our pieces (also known as ‘social anxiety’).
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says feelings of anxiety are very natural and can range from mild discomfort to panic. There are many strategies online to overcome performance anxiety, such as meditation, breathing exercises or making use of mindfulness apps. However, when anxiety is frequent, intense and interferes with your daily activities, it might be a sign to ask for help from your healthcare practitioner or seek therapy.
Writing, by nature, is a very solo activity. Even if you’re working with many contributors, the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is still done by an individual. During the COVID-19 lockdown, feelings of isolation have been amplified.
Previously, you may have squatted at your local coffee shop or huddled in your favourite meeting room with colleagues. Even as places start to open up, routines have dramatically shifted. Collaborative spaces are limited and most companies are still operating completely remote.
If you’re feeling the effects of isolation or adapting to a more solo routine, check out these coping tactics CAMH has put together. Try to adjust your working environment by switching up where you write or recreating a familiar ritual like mixing your favourite signature coffee or tea before you start writing. Stay connected to your colleagues or community by sharing what you’re writing about and asking for support if you’re feeling lonely.
We can all relate to an experience we’ve had with writing that didn’t go so well. One bad experience can lead you down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and self-criticism. Raval says that these waves of emotions are normal and healthy, and are relatable to any profession. Feedback (either from your boss, a publisher or your audience) contributes to our validation and sense of personal accomplishment, in addition to being a source of motivation.
When we encounter an unfavourable event, it’s important not to catastrophize: the act of generalizing a negative experience to our self-worth (e.g., I’m the world’s worst writer). Instead, Raval invites writers to think about what they’ve learned from the situation, accept that it’s normal to want the best outcome and remind yourself why you value writing in your life.
The factors above are meant to guide you in recognizing when your mental health may be suffering. It’s important to note that these factors are not mutually exclusive to writers, nor is every writer affected by them. Mental health is a broad spectrum and individuals can be affected by many different causes unrelated to their writing.
Regardless of where you are in your mental health journey, remember to be kind and patient with yourself. When we nurture ourselves, we nurture our content - which means we can be of better service to our team members, customers or the community we’re passionate about helping.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact 911 immediately or present to your nearest emergency department.
* In this article, the word “writer(s)” is used synonymously with “content creator(s)” and can encompass many job titles.
About the author
Chantelle Sukhu is a Communications Manager at TELUS Digital. She uses her skills in content strategy, marketing, and UX writing to transform digital content for a 100-year-old telco. Prior to working in tech, Chantelle gained experience in medical technology and public health, working at companies such as General Electric Healthcare and the Ontario College of Family Physicians. With a B.A. in Health Studies, she uses her passion for writing to drive meaningful conversations about mental health in the tech community. In her spare time, you can catch her blogging, biking or stirring up a good cocktail.