When life is tough, we all have different ways that we cope.

When the things start to go wrong, how is it that each of us are able to manage the way we react?

The world can be a beautiful place filled with the most amazing wonders but, in the blink of an eye, can become the stuff of nightmares. Stress can build and as each day passes we can feel more and more crushed by the problems we face until, at some point, we could finally snap under the weight.

The human mind has the ability to bend and manipulate as all manner of stresses and sorrows attack it and it’s here that I want to examine the power of the written word.

When you have a terrible time, how do you cope? What are the things that you employ to help defend yourself, to protect yourself and to push back? We all do it. We come under attack from the external trials and tribulations of the world and following day after day of fighting against them, we get to the point of wanting to put the tools down and have a break from the fight. Helping to unwind your mind after a tough day has been called ‘fire watching’ from hundreds of years ago where a person would do just that, watch that fire burn and crackle. Just not having to think on anything and let your mind wander around the pretty shapes and colours gives you the chance to not actively be driving your mind, rather you’re just coasting down the road making the most of the scenery.

A great many people turn to drink, turn to exercise, take a holiday, make snap shopping choices, focus on work or dive into their hobby. I have two things that help turn my mind off. Watching the nonsense videos on YouTube and books.

Watching the contents of YouTube is great. Cat videos and people falling off or into all kinds of things just makes me smile. There’s never any complex narrative to try to wrestle with and there isn’t any need to expend energy on any kind of comprehension of what’s taking place. I can sit and ‘fire watch’ happy in the knowledge that my mind is on autopilot. I’m watching lots of YouTube at the moment.

The situation with books is very different.

Books offer the chance to challenge the mind to keep pace with the story. Rather than just existing, floating in the shallows but not venturing further, stories give you the chance to truly leave your troubles on the shore and escape. When you crack open a book, you’re no longer in the world where job or money worries, family concerns or health issues can get you. Now you’re flying through space, you’re casting magic spells, you’re hunting for the deranged serial killer and the reality just falls away.

I also use writing as a way to get myself through issues. By throwing myself into the worlds I write about, I can slam the door on the brutality of whatever is trying to rip me apart. In any book you read, the world has been laid out for you to explore but when I write, I grasp the added delight of shutting myself away in truly a world of my creation.

We all have our coping mechanisms when the darkness closes in. Whatever it is you do to help keep you ploughing forwards, no matter how small, can be a keystone in keeping everything together. When there’s something awful afoot, I need to close the world away for a while and that time spent in another world, even if just for a short period, can be a lifesaver.

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