As we edge out of quarantine and into summer, I’ve been thinking on the connection between the mind and the body. Have you ever taken the time to notice how your physical body and health directly relate to how efficiently your mind works?
Whether we’re brainstorming, writing, or editing, we rely on our minds, and when our brains aren’t functioning, neither are we.
Whether the cause is social unrest, health concerns, economic troubles, or some other issue, right now, most of us are stressed over something. And too often, our response is to hunker down and wait for it all to blow over. We end up camped out on the couch covered in Cheetos dust, chocolate smears, and ice cream splotches while we binge the next Netflix series.
That’s a natural impulse, but it’s not a productive one. Eventually, we wake up weeks later to realize that we haven’t made any progress on our goals, and when we sit down to finally work on that writing or editing project, our brains refuse to cooperate.
You wouldn’t stand up off your couch after all that and straightaway run a marathon. Well, we sometimes forget that our brain is a part of the body too. If your muscles and lungs aren’t working efficiently, neither is your mind.
Have you ever tried to concentrate on something while down with the flu? It’s the same thing.
If we want to be the best writer or editor we can be, we have to take care of the tools of our trade. And while people are inventing amazing new software and computers every day, our minds are still the single most important tool we have.
You wouldn’t drip ketchup and soda on your keyboard every day and expect it to keep functioning, would you?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on medical care, specific conditions, and fad diets. Everyone’s body and medical conditions are unique to them. But there are three key areas of health that we all share: diet, exercise, and rest.
I’m not talking about Atkins or Keto or any specific diets and eating regimens. You decide for yourself and your body type and chemistry what works best for you.
I’m talking about basic nutrition and balance.
No matter how many times they change the food pyramid or tweak daily recommended calorie intakes, we all know and understand the basic ideas. Real food = good. Excessive amounts of fats, sugars, and processed items = bad.
We try to jump through fancy hoops and cheat the system, but we all know, deep down, that eating fast food three times a day and drinking soda with every meal isn’t good for us, whether or not we throw away the bun from that greasy burger.
There are enough lifestyle experts out there who can give you tips on how to curb a junk-food addiction or reset your attitudes on healthy eating that I’m not going to go into specifics on what you should and shouldn’t eat and in what quantities. I don’t play those games in my own life, so I’ll just outline my own food-related habits and let you decide for yourself what works best for you.
I try to eat real food—food that didn’t require a laboratory or a chemist to construct. If I can’t see the base components or make it in my own kitchen, it’s a luxury, a splurge, not a base component of my daily diet.
That means a lot of fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats. It can come from a can or the freezer, as long as it’s still recognizable as food.
I also have a busy schedule, so I do a lot of cooking on my day off and either freeze leftovers or eat the same thing for the next week.
I also rarely eat out or get takeout. This is partly because restaurant food is rarely a healthy option. But it’s also because eating out is expensive, and I can buy a lot of high-quality food for what I would spend on a single meal at a restaurant.
I admit I’m a bit of a food snob. The bottom line is that our bodies can only handle so many calories in a day and stay healthy. Why would I waste those calories on mediocre or barely edible food that makes me feel horrible in the long run? Some things just aren’t worth the calories!
For the price of a box of mediocre snack cakes, I can bake several dozen cookies, freeze them, and have a couple of fresh cookies every day for weeks.
I drink as much water as I can. And if it contains sugar, I don’t count it as water.
Everyone has their own idea of how much water you should drink every day, and they may be right. And yes, the more water you put in your body, the more has to leave your body, but you will eventually acclimate to the change. And every time it leaves your body, it’s taking the bad things with it.
Remember this. The vast majority of your body is water, and most of the essential processes require water to function. Also, when we’re dehydrated, our bodies often interpret thirst as hunger, and we end up eating when we don’t need to.
I don’t obsess over my food and water consumption, but I do try to be intentional about it. I try to always have tea or water at hand, and I pack fresh fruits and vegetable in my lunch every day, because if it’s not on hand, I won’t eat or drink it.
You decide what eating and drinking habits work for you, but pay attention to how what you eat and drink makes you feel, not just immediately but hours or days later.
Remember: we are what we eat!
There are two basic categories of exercise: active, aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping and sweat flowing and meditative, stretching exercise that centers the mind and keeps the body from being damaged by the more strenuous activities and daily life.
For me, active exercise looks like cycling or attending a kickboxing class. For you, it may be lifting weights or CrossFit. I find that joining a class keeps me accountable and makes me more likely to stick with it. Whatever works for you.
We need these forms of exercise, preferably including exercises that work the whole body: muscles, joints, heart, and lungs.
Not only do they keep our bodies strong and functioning properly, but they also increase blood flow to the brain. And for writers and editors, our brains are essential to our craft.
I’ve been doing yoga for several years now and recently even started teaching a few classes every week. When you’re teaching the class, you can’t just decide you don’t feel like it today.
Maybe you prefer tai chi or some other gentle workout. Yoga is just my personal preference.
Don’t get me wrong; yoga is definitely a workout. But it focuses on meditation, mobility, stretching, and strengthening the smaller supporting muscles rather than the more powerful ones used for movement.
Writing and editing often involve a lot of time sitting in one position, and having strong biceps won’t keep your spine in alignment. We have a different set of muscles for keeping our bones and joints in their proper places, and keeping those muscles in shape takes a different kind of exercise.
Take note of the meditation element. Have you ever sat down to stare at a blank page, only to discover that your mind is blank as well? Most of my best ideas come to me when I’m doing some easy routine task that requires my body but not my mind.
Maybe it’s time to try it. Don’t skip out on the relaxation and meditation at the end and see what happens.
This is the part I struggle with most.
There are just so many things to do during the day that I have trouble wrapping them all up in time to give myself time to unwind and read for pleasure in the evening before bed. And I do need that time, unless I want to lie awake for hours staring into the dark and counting down how long I have before the alarm rings if I get to sleep right then.
But rest is vital for the functioning of both the mind and the body. Rest is the time when your body repairs itself and catches up on routine maintenance.
What happens if you neglect routine maintenance and minor repairs on your car? Eventually, the car stops working. But you can’t just buy a new body when the one you have quits.
Sure, you could get one more thing done, but that one more thing is usually followed by one more. Guess what—there will always be one more thing.
One of the (many) reasons I hate cleaning the house–apart from the fact that it’s just going to get dirty again—is my inability to do just one thing. I start by vacuuming. Then, I notice that the plants need to be watered. Then, the shelves need to be dusted. Then, the laundry needs to be done. And the sheets changed on the bed. And on and on.
Chores can all be done tomorrow or the next day or next week, but we can’t make up for lost sleep. There have been numerous studies done on sleep, and the consensus seems to be that two hours one night and fourteen the next doesn’t average out to eight hours per night.
And that’s even if we manage to make it up the next night, which I, at least, never manage to do.
Consider this, too. If you’re rested, you are more efficient, and you finish tasks more quickly, meaning you could potentially get more done and spend less time doing it.
I’m not going to tell you how many hours you need each night to function well or how long before bedtime you need to cut yourself off from phone, computer, and television screens. You know and have lived with your body longer than I have.
I just urge you to actually try getting the rest you need. Set up a schedule for your rest for the next week and see what happens.
The same goes for food and exercise. Let’s try making a change in one or all of these areas for the next week. Then, maybe extend it to the next month. And see what happens with our productivity and creativity
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.