It’s mid-November, and only one week left to the National Novel Writing Month, 50,000-word book-in-a-month challenge. While I’ve recused myself from the typing frenzy this year, I’ve been in your shoes. The month threatens to come to a close and you are still thousands of words behind schedule. Will you make it? It means a lot of midnight oil burning, and very frayed nerves. Why do we do it? Are we masochists? There is certainly no monetary prize at the 50,000-word red tape mark. Just a digital badge. But despite all odds, we want that little sticker badge on our NaNo page saying we were winners for this year.
But a challenge such as NaNo takes its toll. I don’t know about everyone else, but nearly every year right at the tail end of the month, I would end up with a bug very nearing the flu. It stopped me several years in a row from attaining NaNoWriMo winner status. After coming 42,000 words close to the finish mark, it’s not easy to give up. A better woman than I would push past the point of no return. But I knew my limits.
So, how can you avoid a similar NaNoWriMo Homestretch Backlash?
1) Avoid Coffee!
Okay, I just scared most of my NaNo readers, who have probably already surfed on to better Internet pastures. If you are still reading, then you are made of tough stuff. I applaud you. While coffee is nearly as essential a tool for most NaNo participants as a computer or paper and pen, it can do more harm than good in the long run.
Constant caffeine stimulation despite a tired body can kick the body into a state of high stress, or “fight or flight” mode. This means the body switches operating systems from the parasympathetic to the sympathetic nervous system to help the body deal with the perceived threat. Think about it: If you had a bear chasing you, wouldn’t you want only the essentials to help you to survive the encounter to be working for you? That’s what the sympathetic nervous system does. It siphons off energy for digestion, shuts down the salivary and lacrimal (tear duct) glands resulting in dry mouth and eyes, and dilates pupils, and decreases the bulging of one’s eye lenses, which prevents the eye from being able to adjust to up close vision, among other “shutdown” procedures. Being in a constant state of high stress also dramatically increases the risk for chronic high blood pressure, which can over time damage your arteries, heart, and brain, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you do insist on the occasional cup of joe, make sure to increase your intake of water – whether it’s from the tap or in the form of herbal tea. Coffee is a natural diuretic, which means that it quickly increases your urine output and can easily dehydrate you.
And a healthy diet is also extremely vital for health and the immune system when under stress. Eating healthier refers to consuming whole foods (anything that you recognize as food that came off of a plant or tree). And warm foods and herbal teas help to keep the body’s temperature at status quo during these cold months.
A multivitamin may also not be a bad idea this time of year. Vitamins are predominantly co-factors in chemical reactions in our bodies. Remaining in chronic sympathetic mode decreases our digestive duties, and therefore nutrient uptake. And it doesn’t take long for our bodies to start showing the repercussions due to a repressed immune system. Adding a multivitamin will help introduce ready-to-assimilate vitamins, so that our bodies can operate as usual.
2) Adrenal Support
The adrenal glands rest right on top of our kidneys, and have so much to do with our immune system health. They are responsible for secreting hormones to help our bodies deal with short time stress. But the longer our bodies are under siege by lack of sleep, stressful deadlines, and five cups of coffee each day, the adrenals begin to burn out. It’s called adrenal fatigue, and can gravely affect our body’s stress coping mechanisms, including immune response. Most Americans are constantly in a state of adrenal fatigue, and should be taking support supplements. These can be ashwagandha root, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, cordyceps, ginseng, glycyyrrhiza, rehmannia root, rhodiola, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and Vitamin C. Consult your primary care physician or natropathic doctor for dosage or for the right supplement for you.
But long-term abuse of the adrenals is not recommended. Try to find the time to fit in rest and relaxation in between bouts of writing and work. Your body will thank you.
3) Sleep more!
This may seem like a no-brainer, or perhaps may not even appear as an issue for most people. But believe it or not, sleep has a MAJOR effect on one’s immune system function. Consistent lack of sleep stresses the body, and throws a lot of body systems into a tizzy. So when your body is telling you that you are nearing the head-bobbing stage (next up, hallucinations!), do it a favor and throw some Zzzzz’s at it. It does a body good. Here are some other less than palatable effects of lack of sleep.
4) Time management/morning writing routine
While many NaNo writers have day jobs and tend to rely on our evenings to shoehorn 1,667 or more words each night, sometimes that can be harder than it sounds. We have obligations, families, projects, pets. Emergencies come up. NaNo sometimes gets pushed back a day or two, and we’re stuck playing catchup until deep into the night.
Believe it or not, nighttime hours are not the human being’s natural waking time. Our bodies evolved to produce melatonin and serotonin based on the amount of light we are being exposed to, called the Circadian Rhythm. When the sun sets, the body responds to darkness by producing serotonin and releasing melatonin to start the sleep cycle. Serotonin kicks off sleep while melatonin regulates your sleep pattern and helps to reduce body stresses. Sleep is magical!
So allowing your body to naturally follow its sleep pattern and wake up with the early birds, allows your body to deal with the stresses you put it through during the day, and wake up refreshed. You can then get in an extra hour or two of hardcore writing before work, and then a little less on your plate for when you come home in the evening.
Ensuring a good night’s sleep also takes into account good food. Melatonin is derived from serotonin in the body, and serotonin is manufactured from the amino acid tryptophan that we can only find in our food. Tryptophan can be found in foods like cottage cheese, brown rice, avocados, bananas, walnuts, tomatoes, soy protein, meat and turkey, and starchy carbohydrates like bread, pasta, carrots and potatoes. And again, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is also vital to making serotonin, found in sunflower seeds, toasted wheat germ, fresh fish like tuna, salmon, trout and mackerel, walnuts, and dried beans like soy, lentils, and lima, avocados, brown rice, spinach, kale, turnip greens, sweet peppers, potatoes, prunes, and raisins.
And getting away from the computer screen at least two or three hours before bedtime is advised. The light from the computer messes with the S/M levels, as well, and can delay sleep. So when you’re tossing and turning after a night on the computer, that isn’t an excuse to get back on the computer to throw down another couple hundred words, or surf Facebook, or even update your word count. Keep away from all electronic device screens, and snuff out as many lights in the bedroom as possible. That even includes nightlights. The less light that your body is exposed to, the more your natural Circadian Sleep Rhythm will rock you off to dreamland.
5) Stand more, sit less
If you have a desk job, and then sit all night at a computer at home pecking away at your NaNo word goal, you could be rolling down a very bad hill of health risks. According to Health Magazine, “Sitting all day can flatten out the curve of the lower back, for instance, and can put a strain on the upper body, shoulders, and arms,” and can lead to increased risks in developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
You can perhaps buy one of those big inflated sitting balls, but standing helps you burn calories.
And it also helps with blood circulation. The farther the blood travels away from the heart and slinks over from oxygenated arteries to oxygen-deficient veins, the more non-existent any pumping action is. The only way that our bodies have evolved to provide venous return of blood to our heart for re-oxidation is through the pumping action of our muscles as we walk or move around. It is for this reason that if we are sitting for hours at a time, blood pools in our feet. Hence, blood flow is hampered and therefore the longer it takes for nutrients and oxygen to get to our tissues.
So find a place you can set your laptop down and comfortably stand for a while to type. If you need to rest, sit for a few minutes to rest, and get back up on those feet. Alternate. Taking two-minute breaks now and then to move around or strike a yoga pose or three is also a good habit to integrate into the NaNo ritual.
A fatigue mat might be a good investment, as well, so that your knees also get a rest.