Anxiety and Writing by Pamela Mytroen

Do you ever feel too unsettled to write? Is this just an excuse or is anxiety a silent enemy?

Last year I couldn’t wait to begin teaching English to my immigrant students. I was expected to write my own curriculum,  my own tests, and to be evaluated on them by both the students and the coordinator. I had reams of administrative duties and paperwork in addition. As much as I loved teaching, I discovered after a few weeks that I had fallen into a destructive pattern: not sleeping well. I was so stressed about the lessons being up to par, about the responsibility of caring for my students and “making” them learn, that I could not let go mentally. Their needs and my responsibilities were constantly on my mind, every day and night. I justified long coffee and snack breaks to help me relax. But it didn’t work. I even took a 10-day holiday with my husband and still didn’t feel refreshed.

Over the summer I dreaded September and its new year of teaching English again. This was so unlike me! I have taught for a few years and it has always been an absolute joy. I started again in September, resisting, however, and finally, at the end of the month, realized what my problem was … stress! Stress, for me, causes anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, caused negative patterns whereby I did not do any writing last year except those assignments with deadlines. I couldn’t focus or get interested in any of my own writing projects. This revelation took a full year to come to light, but I’m glad it came!

I’m making changes this year. I am “letting go” of the constant lesson planning, of the worries that I’m not good enough and that I’m responsible for my students. I have to let them learn or not learn. On days that I teach, I am taking breaks from lesson planning to get some exercise, visit a friend, do something I enjoy, such as baking, or do some writing. I’ve made a weekly writing schedule.

Letting go is partly physical – taking breaks from stressful situations – but is also emotional. I am being easier on myself this year by planning simpler lessons and relying more on prepackaged resources rather than creating my own “perfectly adapted to my class” resources. I am also drawing a line between my work life and my personal life –  I allow myself to stop thinking about my responsibilities. I allow myself to fail. I allow myself to not get personally involved as much with my students. All of these “letting go” situations have opened up the time and the emotional freedom to pour myself into writing.

Do you find that you cannot focus or are not interested in your writing? Maybe the stress of life is robbing you of that emotional freedom. See if you can let go mentally and emotionally and get your writing life back again!

If Pam Mytroen could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.

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5 comments

  1. Sharon Espeseth says:

    I can relate, Pam, and one thing that comes to mind is striving for perfection, which just isn’t doable. Years ago, a friend of mine who knew my perfectionist leanings told me, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” Now, this friend wasn’t telling me to throw things together as haphazardly as possible, he was telling me to do my “comfortable best.” If a task is worth doing, such as teaching or writing are, it’s worth doing but not to the extent of harming ourselves. Yes, I’ve been there and done what you were trying to do, Pam. I admire your continuing to teach ESL, which is such a valuable job–which I am sure you do well. Here is the way Eugene Peterson translates Mark 12:29-31 in The Message: “. . . The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

  2. Pamela Mytroen says:

    Thank you Sharon. I never thought of the twist in that quote you shared – “Anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing poorly.” I know what you mean and I will remember that! Thanks!
    Pam

  3. Alan Anderson says:

    Hi Pam! I wonder if our peeps, our fellow storytellers, are hard on themselves by nature? While reading your article I had compassion on you. A number of years ago before my children flew the nest, I had a period of burnout & depression. This lasted for two years. I had to learn the hard way to slow things down.

    I’m happy for you that you can now step back a bit for your own sake. Letting go can be therapeutic for us. I’m in the process of listing projects I am involved with or trying to give attention. I decided to only keep a few of them. The rest can go bye-bye.

    I’m so proud of you in letting go of things coming between you and your writing. Take things easy, Pam. Be gentle with yourself. 🙂

  4. Pamela Mytroen says:

    Thank you Alan. I need to hear that. I tend to be OCD and didn’t realize how bad it was till I started teaching. I need to keep on letting go emotionally.

  5. Tracy Krauss says:

    I’ve been there, believe me! It is far too easy to become hard on ourselves and not separate our work life from ‘real’ life. I hope you are finding ways to make it better this year. God bless.

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