My longtime friend called me frustrated the other day. It wasn't one of those specific frustrations that you can blame on one thing. It was worse; a general frustration with life. She and I have always been able to commiserate on things like this. For some reason, we tend to share similar woes at almost the same time, so we lean on each other for support. I usually resort to my dry sarcasm to make her laugh and lighten my own mood. I rely on it to try to remind myself that the things that I worry about now will soon be distant memories. Which, of course, is easier said than done.
My friend chuckled, but it was one of those strained laughs that told me that my usual humor tactic was not going to have its same effect this time. This particular chagrin was deep; it carried the weight of several concerns rolled into one. We all have these moments. Your job is unsatisfying. Your efforts to move up at your company or find a new job are seemingly in vain. Your weight loss plan is not going as well as you had hoped. You're worried that you'll be single forever. Your kids are driving you crazy. Trying to make ends meet financially is proving harder and harder each day. The list goes on and on, and it can be overwhelming at times. Left unaddressed, these grievances could spill into other aspects of your life and even dampen your mood and alter your personality. This is what was happening with my friend.
Believe me, I've definitely been there before. In fact, if I stop to think about it too much I find myself going to that place again. That's why I suggested to my friend what has worked for me--finding an outlet, something she can do take her mind off her worries. You'd be surprised by how much refocusing your energy could help you approach your burdens in a different, more productive way. It could be something simple and cheap, like starting a book club. Or, if you have a little extra money, taking a kickboxing class.
For me, it's writing. It's always something I've done, even as a child writing in my journal every day. People used to always buy me journals with beautiful covers growing up because they knew that writing was a retreat for me, something I'd use to escape. That passion evolved into getting a journalism degree and writing for magazines.
But never did it mean as much to me as it did nearly five years ago, when I found myself unemployed, struggling to pay rent and desperately trying to find hope in my situation. I was so worried about everything. Will unemployment be enough to pay my bills? How long will it take me to find a new job? With the changing job market at the time (and still today), how can my seemingly very specific skills translate to another industry? On top of all that, I was terrified of becoming a failure, especially after all the work I had done to make it even that far.
Though running usually helped lift my spirits and re-energize me, I still couldn't couldn't get my worries out of my head. Then I did what I always turned to--writing. I started blogging about something that was simply a hobby of mine--watching movies. I was basically keeping a journal of all the movies I had watched, with commentary about how I felt about the movie. Since I wasn't working, I had a lot of time to watch a lot of movies (not just in the theater, but also on TV). I was shocked when I started getting comments on my blog. I really was only writing to keep myself from completing breaking down. It was therapeutic, and I genuinely thought it was fun. It was a bonus for me that other people appreciated it and offered their thoughts. That opened me up to a large community of other film bloggers, and bloggers from across the spectrum who write about other subjects.
So not only was I finding solace in my hobby (which has really evolved into something much more significant), but I was meeting all these cool people in the process. These new friendships also helped get me out of my funk and tackle my challenges with a whole new outlook. Even today, when I'm feeling down, I turn to my writing, prepping my radio show and coming up with story ideas. It's helped make me become a better writer and a better person.
If you're feeling overwhelmed or stifled in any area of your life, try coming up with other things on which to direct your attention. It can even be painting your nails, carving out time to check out that new comic book you've been eying or trying indoor rock climbing for the first time (Groupon.com has some great deals). Setting aside a few minutes to call a friend for a great laugh (you'd be surprised by how much a laugh can alleviate stress) is so underrated. Also, volunteering your time for your favorite charity could give you a new lens on life. Know that you don't always have to be a superhero. We all fall down sometimes. It's how you get back up that sets you apart.
Candice Frederick is a former editor for Essence Magazine and a NABJ Award recipient. She writes the film blog Reel Talk and serves as co-host of “Cinema in Noir”.