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The Stress Release Valve

Whenever I’m highly productive, I get to a point where I’m tempted to quit.

Seems silly, doesn’t it? When I’m not productive, I cycle through a wide range of negative emotions: guilt, sadness, low self-worth, you name it. Why am I so lazy? Why can’t I live up to my full potential?
Then something clicks, and I’ll start writing again. Or exercising. Or keeping a decent house–whatever has been nagging me and bothering me for some time.
Following the Seinfeld method has been awesome for my productivity. I’m writing fiction, marketing my fiction and freelance work, cleaning, and exercising five days a week. I’ve lasted an entire month without breaking the chain, and see no reason to stop.
But adding so many things to an already full schedule comes at a price. When I considered taking on the Seinfeld method, I thought it would be challenging–but doable–to replace three hours of “fooling around” with being productive. 
It was a worthy goal, but I’ve learned something important. That “fooling around” during the day? It could also be called “taking a break.” And if you’re going to function at a high level, you need to take breaks. Breaks keep you from going stark raving mad. Maybe I didn’t need three hours worth of breaks, but I definitely needed some.
I also realized that a lot of things were going to have to change if I wanted to stay this productive. I’m a natural night owl, but staying up until four in the morning wasn’t going to fly anymore. It made me a zombie the next day.
My eating habits will need to improve as well. But even with healthy food and rest breaks and sleep, being this busy leads to stress. And that stress has to get released. If you don’t find a productive way to release it, it will find an ugly way–trust me on that.
It seems oddly counterproductive to add something else to an already crazy schedule, but when you’re too busy to take care of yourself is exactly when you need it most.
So I returned to my own personal stress release valve–muay thai. 
I’ve been exercising five days a week with the Seinfeld plan, but nothing is the same as martial arts. A muay thai class takes your brain, your heart, your lungs, and your entire physical and emotional being and works them until you have nothing left.
As soon as I walk into the dojo, I’m surrounded by friendly people who are genuinely happy to see me. I get an incredible workout that completely exhausts me. I also have a lot of fun, even though it’s a gruelling test of willpower and endurance. And afterward, I’m able to bask in a huge sense of accomplishment. Four great sources of stress relief in a single class!
I didn’t want to go to kickboxing. I was tired, the weather was dreary, and I had a ton of work to do. But I had to go. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you want to quit is take a break.
How about you? Do you think breaks are important? What’s your personal stress release valve?
 The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
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34 Comments

  1. Stephanie Faris

    It’s funny you mention that–I was assigned to write an article for one of my clients advising classical musicians on recovering from a bad audition. One of the first things that came to mind was that a break was essential. Sometimes doing anything but writing for a while can make us come back that much stronger. It’s just important that you do it as a rejuvenation technique rather than just to procrastinate!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for your comment, Stephanie! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels this way. I agree–procrastinating is not the same as taking an intentional breather. I still managed to cross off everything on my list, including writing, but our breaks need to be as intentional as the rest of our “to-dos.”

      Reply
  2. Diane Burton

    Taking breaks are essential. Getting back to the project is more so. Great post. Best wishes.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      The retirees I know are the busiest people in the planet. It seems like the things we have to do expand to fill any available space. 🙂

      I’ve “retired” from working for other people, but working for myself is just as hectic…and has to be if I want to succeed in my goals.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  3. Melissa

    Breaks are definitely important… as long as they’re not simply one procrastinating doing the work. That’s the root of the matter, isn’t it? LOL

    Thanks for visiting my blog. 🙂
    IWSG #224 until Alex culls the list again.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I think breaks and procrastination go hand in hand. If one doesn’t take a break, they will procrastinate…guaranteed. It’s the mind’s way of saying, “Enough of this! I need a break.”

      Thanks for commenting. Alex culls the list? Interesting…I did not know that.

      Reply
  4. Lucinda W.

    Breaks are important to keep the energy level up. I like to read to destress, and reading is necessary for learning how to write well.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hello Lucinda,

      Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting! I love to read as well. It’s an addiction for me. And you’re right about it being necessary for writers. I know a few people who have never read a book in their lives but planned to write them. All I could think was, “good luck.”

      Reply
  5. Samantha Dunaway Bryant

    I use a tool like your Seinfeld Secret. It’s called Magic Spreadsheet. Basically, it’s a gamification system that awards you points for meeting a minimum number of daily words. I’ve now been writing daily for just over a year. I’ve only missed one day since I began and I’ve written over 300,000 words, including finishing two books (not yet published).

    Process is very individual, but tracking my progress was really motivating for me.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Congrats on your progress, Samantha! That’s awesome. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you.

      For me, personally, holding to a daily word count wasn’t helpful. I realized this while participating in NaNoWriMo–I became so obsessed with how many words I was writing that the quality wasn’t as important, and I felt depressed if I fell behind. Some days I need to spend on research, which is just as important for my books.

      One thing I’ve learned is that each writer’s process is very individual. What works for one definitely won’t work for all.

      Reply
  6. Chrys Fey

    I really need to look more into this Seinfeld Method. I think I tend to overwork myself and not take enough breaks. But yes, breaks are extremely important. We need to let our batteries recharge, and if we work too much without giving ourselves time to rest, we can make ourselves sick which is never a good thing!

    My stress release valve is listening to music and reading. 🙂

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Those are good release valves, Chrys. I’m glad you have embraced the importance of taking these little breaks. I’ve already noticed in the comments that breaks are often confused with procrastinating–we’re always so guilty when we’re not being productive, but no one can be productive 24/7.

      Thanks for visiting!

      Reply
  7. debi o'neille

    Yes, I believe breaks rejuvenate us. I like to paint or read when I’m on break, and I love going for walks when the weather allows. I work hard during the day, so I usually devote evening hours to family, and I love that.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      That sounds wonderful, Debi. It sounds like you have a great stress release system in place. I try to keep my evenings free too, but I’m not always successful.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  8. E.E. Giorgi

    oh, cool, my main character in my new novel does muay thai, I’ll have to come to you for questions ! I don’t do that (though I read a lot about it because I find it super cool and I think it makes a sassy heroine), but I agree that any type of physical activity can be a great stress release! great meeting you!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Great meeting you too, E.E. Thanks for visiting my blog! I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about muay thai. I’m super passionate about it. If you search my blog for the words “muay thai”, I’ve written tons of posts about my experience, including a blow-by-blow about what it’s like to train for a fight and step into the ring.

      Reply
  9. Julie Musil

    I think breaks are sooooo important! As a matter of fact, it’s usually during breaks that I have my best ideas. Like, if I’m just hiking or doing dishes or dusting, my mind wanders to good places. I’m glad you’ve found your stress relief!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Julie! I find the same to be true for me. I get so many good ideas when in the bath that I actually bought bath crayons so I could jot stuff down on the walls of the tub to make sure I didn’t forget. 🙂

      Welcome to my blog! I hope to see you back soon.

      Reply
  10. Rachna Chhabria

    Hi Holli, breaks are important to keep the monotony and boredom at bay. My stress release valve is reading books, working out and listening to music. Looks like the Seinfield Method is working well for you.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Very well, Rachna! It’s killing me, but I love it. 🙂 Glad to hear you’re taking those breaks. You have some great ways of unwinding. Never could understand people who don’t like to read.

      Reply
  11. Heather M. Gardner

    Wow. I’m so impressed and a bit jealous. You did more in this post than I’ve done this week!

    Great job.

    Thank you for your support.
    Heather

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Heather. And I’ve got the limp to show for it! (I’m paying the penalty for not going to muay thai for awhile.)

      Reply
  12. Rebecca Douglass

    I was reading this and thinking “but I’m TOO good at taking breaks!” Then I read your comment that failing to take breaks and rejuvenate will lead to procrastination. I think that’s where I am. I’m exhausted, so I’m horribly prone to distractions (and working at home provides plenty of those, doesn’t it?).

    About the only thing I’m really disciplined at is exercise.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I used to think the same thing, Rebecca. I’d have people tell me I needed to take intentional breaks, and I’d think they were crazy. I was great at taking breaks! But there’s a huge difference between procrastinating and consciously taking sometime for yourself. Somehow, procrastination doesn’t make us feel rejuvenated.

      Congrats on the exercise! I’ve been struggling with that one…or at least, certain types of exercise.

      Reply
    • Rebecca Douglass

      I’ve been prioritizing exercise for a couple of decades now. I start to freak out if I can’t get any.

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I can relate to that. Without even noticing it, my personality starts to change, until something makes me go, “Whoa! I really need to get back to the gym.”

      Reply
  13. VR Barkowski

    I don’t take enough breaks. Even when I was working a 9-to-5 and breaks were required, it was difficult for me to pull myself away from work. Truth is, I consider my need to ride the momentum to be a personal flaw.

    VR Barkowski

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for your comment! Do you ever burn out as a result? If not, maybe you don’t need breaks, although they can make life more enjoyable.

      I fell out of the habit of taking breaks at one of my last office jobs. I never felt I could leave my desk for that long. In the end, I regretted this. I missed important time with some really special people whom I rarely get to see now. I wish I’d taken the time to chat with them while I still could.

      Reply
  14. Tui Snider

    Breaks are so important! That said, I quit taking them while getting my self-published book together. For 4 months, I barely slept.

    Once it was released, there was still so much to do, but for a few weeks, I could barely function. I was dragging along, feeling fatigued and brain-fogged. It caught up to me in one big swoosh, and I felt awful.

    Anyway, lesson learned. Again!

    It snuck up on me this time because I was doing something fun – writing. In the past, I’ve run myself into the ground by working a stressful icky day job on top of everything else.

    So now I know that even fun and excitement must be taken in balance. Also, I’m one of those people who need 8 hours of sleep per night… As much as I’d love to be one of those people who only need 5, or whatever.

    I now have a screen-time curfew. I’m sleeping more, and I feel so much better!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I’ve done the same thing, Tui. Way too many times! It can be challenging to take breaks when we’re really busy, but that’s when we need them most. I wish I needed less sleep too.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  15. Michelle D. Argyle

    Breaks are SO important! I remember when I started being more consistent and I wasn’t giving myself breaks. I have a kid on top of everything, and a hubby to take care of who works just as hard as I do, so I have to remember that all my housework and food prep and spending time with my family is something I have to think of as “work”, in a sense, and something I need to be careful about overdoing, as well.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Oh for sure, Michelle! Cooking and cleaning definitely aren’t what I’d consider a break. Sometimes it’s really hard to take the time we need, but I believe it will end up saving us time in the long run.

      Reply

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