“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”
It’s a time filled with joy and jam-packed with stress. The pressure’s on to find that perfect gift, attend party after party, and make merry with family both near and far. If you’re a writer querying agents or editors this holiday season, your stress level may be over the top.
Fear not! There’s hope for maintaining a sense of calm while querying on this holiday season. The trick is to S.T.O.P. Literally.
S.T.O.P. is a mindfulness technique I learned from yoga instructor Pernille Smaal, who trained at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. S.T.O.P. encourages us to stop what we’re doing and re-engage with the present moment instead of planning for the future or reliving the past. It’s guaranteed to calm you down, and it only takes a minute.
Here’s how the technique works. Let’s say you’re typing away on your latest novel when you receive an email from an agent or editor you’ve queried. Is it the offer of representation/publication you’ve longed for? Nope, it’s a rejection with some not-so-nice feedback about your writing. AHHHHHH!
If you’re like me, this happens:
- A flood of emotions — embarrassment, anger, disappointment.
- A physical response —My shoulders tense up. I clench my jaw. I can feel a headache coming on.
- A cascade of negative self talk, including, “This book will never be published.” “I’m a fraud.” “Why did I ever think I could become a published author?” “I have no talent.”
- An inability to get back to work, as those negative thoughts keep coursing through my brain.
Now imagine, glancing up and seeing post-it note on your computer screen reminding you to S.T.O.P.
- Stop – Drop what you’re doing. Stop typing. Stop making your holiday “to do” list. Leave the living room filled with relatives and retreat to the bathroom. Disengage from whatever is going on.
- Take a breath – Slowly take a deep breath in and out. Observe your breath as you do so. Focusing on breath calms you and helps you re-engage with your body instead of your thoughts. If you can, breathe in and out slowly for four counts. In – one; out – two; in – three; out – four.
- Observe – Observe your thoughts and feelings. Are you planning? Reliving? Worrying? Research shows that labeling thoughts and emotions is a stress buster. Observing emotions in a detached way helps us remember our emotions aren’t reality, and they won’t last forever.
Next, observe your body. How does it feel? Are you carrying your emotions in your tense shoulders or clenched jaw or a tight feeling in your chest?
Finally observe your surroundings. What do you hear, see, feel, and smell around you? Again, this takes you out of your head and reconnects you with the present moment.
- Proceed – Now move on in a positive way. Get back to work on your next novel, which is going to be even better than the last. Tackle that to-do list with a renewed sense of what the holiday season is all about (and maybe agree that not everything has to “get done” or “be perfect”). Rejoin the family but only after a walk around the block or a few minutes alone reading your favorite novel. Set boundaries and do what you need to do to keep yourself sane.
Here’s the wonderful thing about mindfulness: it’s a habit. The more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
So this holiday season, I encourage you to place a few post-it notes around the house: on your computer, the bathroom mirror, your dashboard, and anywhere else you need a reminder to S.T.O.P. and reconnect with the present.
Happy holidays, and I’ll see you all next year!
Do you have any tips for helping your fellow writers survive the holidays? We’d love for you to share them below.