Managing Writer Stress – Breathing

Author, Kerry Schafer

By Kerry Schafer

The writing life is hard.

Don't get me wrong - I love to write, and I'm full of gratitude every day that I'm lucky enough to be a writer. Well, okay most days I'm grateful. There are times when I want to shout "what did I ever do to you??" at all the powers that be. Because as you've probably already noticed, sprinkled liberally throughout the wonderful life of a writer are moments of angst and sometimes outright terror.

Give yourself one stress point for each item below that has ever happened to you:

  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to computer malfunction
  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to human malfunction
  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to a feline with evil intent
  • Faced a completely unreasonable deadline (bonus points if author procrastination created the problem in the first place)
  • Realized pages of your manuscript needed to be trashed
  • Realized your entire manuscript was too horrible for even a mother to love
  • Realized you really have no affinity for words and should have been a bee keeper or an accountant or maybe a mastodon hunter in a pre-book time period
  • Submitted a query to an agent
  • Clicked send on an email query to an agent before it was ready to go (as in - wrong agent name, horrible and possibly obscene typo, forgot to paste in sample)
  • Had an agent submit a proposal to a publisher
  • Sent in revisions or edits to your editor (or your agent, your critique group, or former best friend)
  • Realized your book was about to be published and people were actually going to read it
  • Endured a bad review

How did you do? If you've been writing long, chances are you'll recognize at least a few of the moments on the list.

So how does one cope with all of this stress, other than drinking constantly or going on some sort of insane rampage?

There are a lot of different ways to calm a case of the nerves, the easiest of which is readily available and easily carried with you whenever you leave the house. It's something you already do (yes, if you are alive and reading, you perform this action many times a day.)

If you guessed breathing, you're right. Wait! Don't pooh pooh this and click away to a different article just yet. The whole "just breathe" cliche is not a cliche at all. The breath is intimately connected to the nervous system, and how you breathe has a direct effect on the level of tension in your body.

For starters, let's stop to notice how you are breathing at this moment.

Challenge Number One: Take one minute to explore your own breathing patterns. Close your eyes and just focus on your breath. Don't try to change your breathing right now - this is an observation task only. Note the rise and fall of your chest with every breath. Pay attention to rhythm and depth. While you're at it, notice how much tension you carry in your shoulders, your chest wall, and your belly. Ready? Go. We'll be here when you get back.

What did you notice? If you're feeling relaxed, chances are your breaths are deeper and slower. If you're feeling stressed, they tend to be more shallow. They might be rapid or you might notice that you're actually holding your breath. People do this a lot when they're anxious and guess what - the brain really needs oxygen to help you sort things out.

Challenge Number TwoClose your eyes again and return your focus to your breath. This time, see if you can deepen each inhalation, as though you're breathing into your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose, filling yourself up like a balloon, and then breath out with your lips slightly pursed. (If you've ever been a singer or played a wind instrument, you probably already know how to do this) If you find it difficult, place one hand on your belly so that the palm is centered over your belly button  - see if you can make your hand move when you inhale. 

How did you do? Is this easy for you, or difficult? It can be surprisingly helpful to stop at intervals throughout the day and take three slow, deep breaths. I've known people who set chimes on their phone to remind them to do this simple thing, and I'm told there's even an app for that, although I couldn't find it.

Bonus Tip: If you find it difficult to draw that deep breath, or just need a little extra relaxation, try this. Think of a smell that you love: fresh bread baking, the scent of the ocean, a pine forest, whatever works for you. Now imagine you are breathing in that fragrance. Did your breath automatically deepen?

Next Time: Managing Writer Stress: Body Scan for Deeper Relaxation


Kerry Schafer's first novel, Between, was published in February 2012  and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website,, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Kerry Schafer

Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and (as Kerry Anne King) women’s fiction that explores the nooks and crannies of family and forgiveness. More about Kerry on her website.

9 thoughts on “Managing Writer Stress – Breathing

  1. Hi Kerry. I’m so glad you’ll be one of the regular RMFW Blog contributors. I’ve had to do a lot of these breathing exercises lately, and I discovered last week that baking chocolate chip cookies helps the process a lot. Good post with great advice!

    • Aha! You are the chocolate instigator! I worked down the comments backwards I see. 🙂 Thanks for the opportunity to blog on the site. I’m looking forward to it.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with Pat on the chocolate and meditative breathing combination. I have, with the last twenty days, started practicing meditation and breathing in the morning. It has really helped with my stress. I look forward to your future posts and helpful tips!

    • Julie – cool! I’ve slipped up on my practice badly, but I always have access to just modifying my breathing. Even that little bit makes a difference. Also – I am now craving chocolate.

  3. When I saw the title of this post in my email I had to come over and read because I was in the middle of a panic attack. First off thanks for making me laugh. And thanks for reminding me to breath. I think my heart rate is finally slowing. Only one problem with the bonus tip. I now want to bake some chocolate chip cookies.

    • Mmmm. Chocolate chip cookies. (inserts subliminal message to share). So glad I could instill a little laughter in your day, and I hope things settle down for you. Regular practice of mindful breathing can actually decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.

  4. Oh dear, yes, yes, yes – all of that and more! Thanks for the breathing tips – I need to relax! I keep telling myself, if I put the pen and paper and definitely the computer away and just concentrated on repainting the living room, I’d be so much happier,

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