Last week, I wrote about things I wish I'd known 20 years ago, and one of those things was dreams can actually come true. The trouble is, dreams coming true isn't always a dream-come-true. Here, let me explain...
I've been working for myself since 2012, and while my ideal gig is writing and creating, like most creatives in today's world, I make my income from a variety of (inconsistent...) sources. For the past few years, I've been lucky. New revenue streams have always been coming in whenever old ones were going out. (For example, after publishing a book, I'd get a big design project. Or, after quitting a part-time gig that wasn't working, I'd sign a new book deal.) But, toward the end of last year, a bunch of things were wrapping up... and, for the first time, no new things were coming in.
For months, I've been telling myself it will work out. I'm chasing after new design work, presenting new book ideas to my publisher, applying for part-time work, and brainstorming ways to make extra money until the next project comes along. Through it all, I've done my best to make the most of where I am, but, I'll be honest, as time ticks on, panic threatens to overtake positivity. As tempting as it sometimes is to sink into that doom-and-gloom mentality, I've been refusing to let panic win, using all the skills I've learned over the past eight years to stay productive, proactive, and positive.
It's a daily challenge, and I've hesitated to write about it because the last thing I'm trying to do is sound like I'm complaining. This week, as I faced the worst bout of panic yet, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn't alone. Maybe other people out there were panicking about something too, and maybe I could help by sharing my tactics for coping (after all, sharing this kind of advice is what I do for a living!). So, here they are — my tips for coping with panic. Even if you're not in the same situation I'm in, if you're going through a tough time (or even a tough day!), these tips might help you, too.
GRATITUDE REALLY DOES WORK.
I know it's cliche — the whole gratitude journal concept — but, I swear, it's one of the things that's keeping me sane right now. I've been using my Every Day Matters diary not as a planner, but as a gratitude journal. Every day, I fill out all of the lines with things I'm thankful for. Every time I find my mind wandering to the dark places, I challenge that negativity with gratitude. Yes, I might be in big financial trouble. BUT! I'm so fortunate in so many ways. I'm able to move around, to breathe. I have skills and talents I can use to find new ways of making money. I have wonderful, supportive family and friends. Yes, I might be lacking in one (pretty important...) area of my life, but I've found that, as soon as I focus on what I do have instead of what I don't, I feel a million times better. Gratitude doesn't change the situation, but it reframes it. Honestly, if you're struggling with anything, I highly recommend pausing and listing a few things you're thankful for. (I know, I know, it's cringingly cliche, but it's seriously life-changing!)
NEGATIVE SELF-TALK SERVES NO PURPOSE.
Knowing the value of positive self-talk is another thing that saves me on a daily basis. Instead of thinking, “I’m such a terrible person. I got myself into this mess," (which is tempting to think!), I think, “This is a terrible situation. I got myself here, so there are definitely things I need to do differently in the future, but what can I do right now to make it a little better?” See, when I frame it this way, it's both more positive and more productive. If you allow yourself into the really dark place of thinking you're a bad person, it becomes nearly impossible to take positive action because you've labelled yourself as the kind of person who is bad, rather than the kind of person who is in a bad situation, but who has the potential to transform it into a good situation. How you talk about (and to) yourself is so much more important than many realize. Pay attention to what you're saying to yourself, and do what you can to reframe it so you're not putting yourself down because, if you're always putting yourself down, it's going to be way harder to lift yourself up out of a bad situation.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO.
And, speaking of lifting yourself out of a bad situation, it's essential to focus your energy and attention on what you can do, not on what you can't. In my situation, it's been so tempting to think to myself, "No matter what I do, I can't seem to make enough money!" But that can't attitude doesn't help at all; it just makes me feel helpless. So, instead of dwelling on that, I've been doing my best to focus on what I can do. I've been using all of the skills and ideas I can think of to make money. Here are some of the things I've tried: selling things I love but no longer use on eBay; listing some of my fancy jewelry in my Etsy shop; seeking out sponsorships for my blog posts (Barkley scored an awesome one next week!); selling e-books and thinking of new ideas for cool ones; putting my pins and stickers on sale; cashing in my coins (a small thing, but, hey, money is money!); taking on odd jobs for friends and family; making use of the ideas I wrote about in my Penny Pinching e-book; and reaching out to people I've worked with before to find new design projects.
These ideas are very specific to my situation, but the point is that there are lots of ideas out there. If you're in a panicky state, focusing on what you can do — and thinking outside of the box — not only could lead to a solution, but it also gives you a sense of purpose, which is vital for making sure you don't lose your mind. In addition to doing all of these things, I'm working on a new project that I'm SO excited about (it'll be ready soon so stay tuned!), and it's really been helping me to cope. I'm hopeful that it will end up being a new source of income, but even if it's not, having a project I'm passionate about keeps me from falling into the abyss of anxiety.
ACCOUNTABILITY (INTERNAL + EXTERNAL!) IS KEY.
When you're struggling with anxiety or panic, it can be really tempting to just stay in bed, to give in to destructive behaviors, to isolate yourself to avoid facing your situation. But this is a slippery slope, and the more you avoid accountability (external or internal), the harder it'll be to make positive, productive progress. So lately I've been doing the best I can to make myself accountable, both to myself and to others. When it comes to internal accountability, I do whatever I can do make it easier for myself to be productive. For example, I've started tracking how I spend my time (with my awesome new Erin Condren planner!), and this has been an awesome progress. It sounds like it would be a waste of time, writing down everything you do all day, but it's actually made me so much more productive and helps me stay accountable to myself. In terms of external accountability, I'm fortunate to have friends and family checking in and asking how I'm doing. I highly recommend having some sort of accountability partner, a friend or colleague or whatever, who will check in on you. It sounds like a small thing, but knowing I'll have someone to talk to about my progress actually makes me want to get more done so I'll have more to share!
CELEBRATE THE LITTLE WINS.
Celebrating sounds like the last thing you want to do when you're struggling, but I've found it to be an incredibly important aspect of self-love. When you're having a really difficult time, everything seems more difficult, and I've found it really helpful to encourage and applaud myself even for the small things. Did I eat three healthy meals today? Yay! (This is an extra yay! for me because when I'm stressed I often stop eating, so I make sure to give myself bonus points for food consumption.) Did I cross a bunch of things, however small, off my to-do list? Go me! Did I reach out to a potential new client via email? Nice work! These are the kinds of little wins I try to celebrate every day.
It might sound ridiculous to say “Good job!” to yourself just for getting out of bed and getting dressed, but overcoming a challenge is something to be proud of, regardless of the accomplishment. After all, everything is relative. For example, you might congratulate yourself for getting a promotion after working hard for years; someone else might be proud to have braved a war-torn city street to pick up medication for a loved one; somewhere else, someone might be showering for the first time in a week. These accomplishments are all incredibly different, but all of them are the same in one way: that person overcame a challenge. And anytime you do that, regardless of whether others might consider it a real challenge, is worth acknowledging and celebrating.
KEEP IN MIND: NOTHING IS FOREVER.
Things might be bad — even bad as they’ve ever been— but remind yourself: this isn’t forever. Change is an inevitable part of life and, regardless of your current situation, you won't always be in it. Whatever is causing you to feel panic right now will, at some point, in some way, resolve itself. It can be hard to remember this when you're in the thick of it (especially anxiety is something you excel at, like me!), but it's important. (Also, if you're in an amazingly great situation right now, keep this in mind, too. It'll help you enjoy and celebrate where you are even more!)
I keep reminding myself that the reason I started Positively Present back in 2009 is because I was in a really low point in my life. I was struggling in my career, in my relationships, with learning how to love myself, and it felt like everything was a disaster. Something amazing came out of it that changed my life (and the lives of people around the world!), so, when I'm having a particularly down day, I do my best to keep that in mind. You never know what's right around the corner, and reminding yourself that your current situation isn't your forever situation is one of the best ways to cope with extremely tough times.
If I'm honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted to write this post. In our world of picture perfect social media, it's hard to admit that things aren't always so great. But, as I was on the verge of deleting it, it occurred to me that there must be people out there right now who're also feel panicky and don't know what to do, and maybe they could read what I wrote and feel a little bit inspired (or at least less alone). I'm not always perfectly positively present, but these tactics have helped to keep me moving forward, and it almost seemed selfish (and a little bit egotistical) not to share my current struggles.
Also, I've been thinking a lot lately about honesty — how honest we are with ourselves and how honest we are with others (especially when it comes to what we post on social media). The truth can be really tough sometimes, and, in the past, I've been the kind of person who would try to run from it or cover it up. But the more honest I am (especially with myself), the quicker I'm am to tackle (and ultimately overcome) difficulties. So, what I'm really trying to do with this post is be honest. If you're here, reading this, following along with my journey to live a more positive, present life, I want to be honest with you. I want you to know that being a freelancing creative writer + designer isn't all drawing pretty pictures and signing book deals. It's hard, and, at times like this, a teeny bit terrifying. And I think it's important for you to see this side of things not because I want to bring you down, but because it can be all too easy to think that someone is positive because things are easy in her life, rather than to see that she's positive despite things not being easy.
The important thing I want readers to take away from visiting this site isn't that a positively present attitude will help you create a picture perfect life, but that a positively present attitude is what makes real life — the amazing, terrible, astounding, and beautiful bits of real life — more bearable. Positivity isn't about simply smiling when the sun is out; it's also about standing in the pouring rain, knowing that, at some point, those clouds will clear so you might as well try to make the most of the storm.
Here are a few more things I thought of after I wrote this that might help...
- Read a book about another's struggles (I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale)
- Do some soul-searching (maybe with Finding Yourself or Loving Yourself)
- Treat your body with kindness (I've been on a big Yoga with Adriene kick!)
- Help someone else (it feels really good and it gives you a sense of purpose)
LOVE MY WORK + WANT TO HELP?
Here are a few things you can do to support Positively Present!
- Purchase a book or e-book (a win for both of us!)
- Check out my Etsy shop for pins, stickers, + vintage jewelry
- Hire me to draw or design or something for you
- Tell someone you know about my work (learn more here)
- Pick up some pretty digital goods on Creative Market
- Ask your company to sponsor a blog post (email me!)
- Let me know what you want me to create for you