Self Care For Creative People

I don’t know about you other creative types, but my creativity really relies on my life being as balanced and healthy as possible. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, burned out, stressed, and so on, my inspiration and motivation become a lot harder to access and translate into something tangible – or as tangible as a song can be. So I’m learning that it’s really important for me to have strategies to manage those feelings in order to stay open to inspiration and to keep creating.

All of the more general self care suggestions – like taking care of your physical and mental health (eating and sleeping well, spending time outside, exercising, socialise, talk to someone if you’re going through a difficult time, doing things simply for fun, and so on) – still apply but I wanted to create a list aimed more specifically at creative people or people that have creative jobs. I’m coming at this list as a songwriter but hopefully it’ll be applicable to all sorts of creative people and creative pursuits.

Create a schedule – We’ve all had those wonderful moments where inspiration has struck and we just have to write or draw or sing the thing right then and there but most people creating on a consistent basis know that it’s about much more than the lightning strikes of inspiration. It’s about putting in the work. But it’s very easy to get carried away and just work for hours and hours on end so, to avoid getting burnt out, it’s important to set working hours (with breaks!) and try to stick to them. Planning what you want to achieve each day can also be a useful tool. It’s not an approach that works for everyone but it’s definitely worth trying (and I mean really trying) because there’re so many variables that you can tweak. For example, what time of day are you most creative? What time of day are you most productive? Do you work better in long or short stints? All of these things need to be considered and potentially experimented with when creating a schedule for yourself.

Organise all your creative projects – It’s not the most glamorous of tasks but creating some sort of order to your projects can be really helpful. I’m all for exhilarating chaos when it comes to imagining and experimenting but when you take a step back and look at the different things you’re working on, I think a sense of order and clarity can help you be more productive, help you focus, and also switch off when you need some space to breathe. Plus it can save you hours when you just want to find that one specific thing to add to whatever you’re working on. And who knows what you’ll find in the process: a project you loved but had to sideline because of other commitments, an idea that you loved but forgot about because you were in the middle of working on something else… who knows what you’ll find?

Consume different types of media – Watching films and TV shows, listening to music and podcasts, reading books, going to see art and installations… it all feeds our creative brains and you never know what will spark your next idea. I’ve fallen in love with writing from the point of view of fictional characters during the pandemic as a result of watching more films and TV series; I used to find it really uncomfortable but now I love the challenge it presents.

Learn about another creative – Whether they work in your field or another, learning about another creative – what inspired them, how they approached their work, etc – and trying out their practices and methods could inspire a new piece of work or even an evolution in your own creative approach. Big or small, it could create some really interesting, fresh, and inspiring results.

Try a different creative pursuit – Sometimes trying a different form of art can just shake things up a bit and refresh your approach to your primary form of creativity, if you have one that is. But it can just get you looking at things differently. It doesn’t have to be wildly different to what you do normally – I write poetry when I get stuck writing songs because it feels less restrictive – but it can just get your brain looking at what you do from a new angle or, if you want to be more ambitious and try something completely new, it can change the way you look at your art and turn your approach on its head.

Make sure to move – If your form of creativity is very stationary, movement and exercise are important to build into your day, even if it’s just a few circuits of the room you’re working in. It keeps the blood flowing and your muscles from getting stiff but it also – especially if you’re going somewhere to exercise like the park, the gym, or a pool – gets us out of our heads, breaking any loops or unhelpful thought processes. And, more often than not, our brains keep working in the background and it’s quite possible that a new idea will pop up while we’re taking a break.

Disconnect for a bit – Turn off your phone. Turn off your laptop. Get away from the internet. Get lost in your own little world for a bit where the only voice that matters is yours, where there aren’t any critics or competition. Recenter yourself. Make sure you love what you’re working on and that you know why you’re making it. You’ll want (and need) to talk to other people later but make sure you’re solid in yourself first.

Engage in opposite action – I learned the technique of taking opposite action very early on in therapy. Sometimes, to avoid feeling stuck or anxious or depressed, we have to do the opposite of what we feel like doing and break the cycle: go out if we feel like staying in, take some time alone if we like to always be busy, write or draw or dance anyway even if you don’t feel like it, and so on. As I said, my creativity is very closely linked with my mental health so the better I take care of my mental health, the more creative I feel able to be.

Give yourself permission to let go – Sometimes a project just isn’t meant to be. Maybe it just won’t translate into something tangible or maybe it just isn’t ending up the way you intend it to but sometimes, you have to let a project go. It’s tempting to want to obsess over a piece of work until it’s perfect but as we all know, perfect doesn’t really exist. Sometimes a project just needs more time, to go on the back-burner for a bit, but sometimes giving up is the right thing. It allows us to move onto something new.

Take a break from creating – Sometimes we get burned out, sometimes life gets in the way… whatever the reason, sometimes we have to take a break from creating. But if that’s the case, it’s important to remember that our ability to create doesn’t vanish, as much as it may feel like that sometimes. It’s a skill we nurture and practice and taking a break for a little bit won’t cause it to disappear. But consistently creating can be emotionally and physically taxing so taking a break isn’t a bad thing; we all need to recharge now and then. And no doubt your brain will keep working on things in your subconscious.

Try not to beat yourself up – This is definitely easier said than done, I know, but try to be kind to yourself while you’re creating and especially when you’re struggling to create. The beautiful thing about creating things is that you never know what’s going to happen next and while that can be scary, it can also be freeing. Try to let it be freeing.

I’m definitely not perfect when it comes to self care. I can get really fixated on a project and forget to look after myself and my ongoing struggle with my mental health can result in me pushing myself far too hard but I’m learning and I’m trying, which is one of the reasons for this post. I want to be better; I want to be more creative and more productive and to go about it in a way that doesn’t put me under ridiculous amounts of pressure or cause me distressing levels of anxiety. But self care is a tool box of sorts and hopefully with each skill I learn, I add to that tool box and become better at managing my life as a creative person.

Another resource (x)

How I Improved My Social Skills

Since I wasn’t diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until I was 20, that meant two decades of struggling and struggling particularly when it came to social skills. But despite finding socialising awkward and stressful, no one ever thought much of it. At most, I was labelled extremely shy. The idea that I was autistic simply did not exist – I didn’t behave according to the stereotype so it was just never considered. But still I struggled. So I thought I’d share how I coped with that and what strategies I employed to make socialising easier. Hopefully they’ll be helpful to some of you. Having said this, these are very specific to my experience, the areas in which I function better, and the areas I find more difficult so they won’t necessarily apply to everyone. But I thought I’d share them just in case, just in case one person finds one example helpful.

As I said, I found social skills very difficult to make sense of as a child and teenager. I found it difficult to process and participate in conversations, for example, making friendships and school relationships potential minefields. So, to compensate, I paid great attention to how other people behaved and interacted, analysing and cataloguing it until I had somewhat of an internal database to draw from. Having said that, I don’t think it’s as simple as just copying other people, at least not for everybody; for me, I think the fact that I’ve always done a lot of writing has had a significant impact on my speaking abilities: it taught me a lot about language, about the flow of words, etc. In a sense, it was like practicing social interaction by myself.

There is definitely an element of ‘masking’ (artificially ‘performing’ social behaviour that is deemed to be more ‘neurotypical’ or hiding behaviour that might be viewed as socially unacceptable) when around people but that’s something I want to talk about in a separate, more in depth post. This is not a post that will teach you to mask (something that can be helpful in certain circumstances but become detrimental over extended periods of time); it’s a post containing some tips and tricks that, over the years, I’ve found to be helpful in make socialising less stressful.

Diagnosed as a teenager and older, it can be very difficult to find support and strategies as most of the information is dedicated to young autistic children and the parents of autistic children. So, for those of us diagnosed later, we’re forced to learn how to cope in social situations by ourselves. These are some of the things I personally did to improve my social skills…

  • Eye contact – I’m still not very good at eye contact because it makes me feel so vulnerable and overwhelmed, like the other person can see what’s going on behind my eyes or like I’ll be able to see all that’s going on behind theirs. So mostly I rely on short bursts before looking at something ‘relevant’: my drink if we’re at a cafe or the ground if we’re walking, for example. But if I really do need to make eye contact with someone for longer than feels comfortable, I use the strategy of looking at a particular feature on their face so it still looks like I’m looking at them. I want to make that connection that eye contact creates (and I want that for the other person too) but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming and this seems to be the next best option.
  • Making conversation with people – I find meeting new people really hard: they don’t know anything about me and I don’t know anything about them. How do you understand someone when you don’t know what makes them who they are? But then I also feel kind of suffocated by all of that information. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty overwhelming situation. So, as a teenager, I started developing a script for starting conversations, a way of breaking the ice that proved to work well. I tell the person I want to talk to something I like about what they’re wearing or doing (if they’re drawing, for example) and ask them a question about it. As human beings, we like to talk about things that matter to us or that we’re passionate about and most of the time, this method sparks the beginning of a conversation, which makes continued interaction easier as you now have a positive foundation.
  • Official conversations with unknown people – I find conversations with, for example, people in authority positions pretty challenging so I’ll often spend time beforehand, running through possible different branches of the conversation, ordering my thoughts in areas that are likely to come up, and generally making sure I’m clear about the information I want to get across and/or the questions I want to ask. That preparation makes the conversations easier and less overwhelming and ultimately lead to a more positive outcome. I (or my Mum) have, in the past, contacted whoever it is that I need to speak with to find out what sort of information is likely to come up if I’m unsure so that I can prepare and most have willingly laid out how the appointment or meeting etc will likely take place.
  • Allow yourself to take a backseat in conversations – It’s perfectly okay to not be an active participant in social interactions all of the time; it’s okay to be a part of conversations without being (one of) the main contributors. If the topic being discussed is confusing or emotionally charged or you’re feeling drained, there’s no rule that says you have to engage. It’s perfectly fine to sit out for a bit of the conversation and rejoin when you feel comfortable or like you have something to offer.
  • Disclose your Autism if you feel comfortable doing so – I can only speak from my experience but I’ve found that people are a lot more likely to overlook my social stumbles or support me through social interactions if they understand the basis of them, as well as making sure they’re clear about what they’re saying and the emotions behind it. I’ve also found it can strengthen friendships to share about your Autism but this is obviously a judgement call and a very personal one at that.
  • Let people in – Similar to the above point, sharing your way or the ways you’ve developed to communicate can be really important and create a really strong connection within a friendship. So, if you’ve developed your own way of describing things (the way I talk about production in music and how a song can have too much of a particular colour, for example), explain it to them if they ask what you’re talking about. Sharing things like this can add something special to a friendship, or any kind of relationship.

I spent the majority of my life stumbling awkwardly through social interactions but once I discovered that it was due to being autistic, I felt a lot less self conscious about it because I understood where it was coming from. And while I can’t and don’t intend to speak for anyone but myself, I’ve had very few negative reactions to disclosing my ASD in social situations. The majority of people are, at most, curious and want to understand; many people barely react. But the fact that many of the people I talk to know that I struggle socially and may mess up (and sometimes fall spectacularly on my face) is comforting. I don’t have to worry about what they’ll think of me. I’m still me, whether I’m articulate or flat on my face.

Staying Creative in Lockdown

During the first lockdown, I really struggled to be creative but eventually, I accepted it (as much as I could) because the pandemic was new and scary and I was just trying to take things day by day. The pandemic is, of course, still scary and disruptive, at the very least. But I’m back at university now and I need to be productive and creative and write songs so I thought I’d try and create a list of things that might help with that. And hopefully they’ll help you too. There may be a songwriting slant to these ideas but I do want to try and make sure that they’re applicable to as many creative disciplines as possible.

  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – We all know that it’s difficult to be productive and focussed if you’re physically struggling. So try and make sure you’re getting enough sleep, food, exercise, and water. They may not be actively involved in the creative process but it’s a lot harder to engage in anything when your body isn’t functioning properly.
  • CREATE A SCHEDULE WITH ALLOTTED TIME FOR YOUR CREATIVE PURSUIT – Some people work really well to a tight schedule and if you’re one of them, set yourself a specific amount of time at a particular point in the day to work on your creative project. If you’re not a strict timetable person, perhaps try it out but with a looser approach. Think about the time of day when you usually feel most creative and productive and each day, sit down and try to work on your project or skill. It doesn’t have to be for a pre-set period of time, it’s just about giving yourself a regular prompt so that the time doesn’t just pass you by.
  • SET YOURSELF LITTLE GOALS – Setting yourself small goals that are relatively easy to achieve is a good, gentle way of getting out of that ‘stuck’ place and back into a creative mindset. That sense of achievement can really help with your motivation and so it’s easier to keep going and keep creating. And over time, those goals can get bigger and they won’t feel impossible to achieve.
  • CHALLENGE YOURSELF WITH PROMPTS OR CHALLENGES – Sometimes our thinking gets stuck in repetitive patterns and shaking things up with a challenge or a prompt (here, here, and here are some good ones for songwriters) can divert our thinking and inspire new thoughts and ideas to pursue. I often find with challenges (thirty day challenges, for example, with a prompt every day) that the majority of things I produce don’t go further than the day of their creation but then I’m really proud of a handful of the raw pieces that I go on to turn into songs, poetry, etc that I never would’ve thought to write otherwise.
  • COLLABORATE – A second voice in the process can, again, push you in a different direction, away from the paths you would naturally take and into new creative territory. Another person can act as a sounding board, challenge your ideas and thought processes, provide insight that you might not have considered working alone, and offer encouragement if you lose confidence. Working with another person can be really scary to start with but it can be really galvanising. And working with someone you really click with creatively can result in the most amazing art.
  • TRY LEARNING FROM THOSE WHO PRACTICE YOUR CRAFT – We all practice our craft uniquely, from the slightest difference to a completely different approach. Reading up (or watching documentaries, interviews, etc) into how different people work can give you an insight into different approaches, as well as a new perspective on your own. Both looking into those who work similarly to you and those who work differently can be helpful; I think it just depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re feeling restricted by.
  • TRY AN ONLINE COURSE (IF YOU HAVE THE TIME/FUNDS) – Having a structure with assignments and guidance can be really motivating and just get you into the groove of creating again if you’ve gotten stuck. Sometimes your own internal motivation isn’t quite enough and you need some outside pressure to kickstart your creative engine again. There are plenty of courses (especially online, what with the pandemic preventing face to face courses at the present moment) and classes that are designed with particular creative pursuits in mind. And, of course, if you’re looking for a more personalised, self paced approach, YouTube is full of videos with advice on just about everything.
  • READ OR WATCH SOMETHING NEW – I’ve recently become a big fan of this as a source of inspiration. Many of us use our real life experiences when creating but that has been much more difficult since the pandemic began and our lives shrunk down into these tiny bubbles. Fiction can inspire all sorts of new ideas, whether they spark old thoughts or memories to re-explore, provide an escape into a different life, or trigger a whole new project through a specific moment or sentence. There’s so much potential inspiration right there waiting. And even if you don’t get a specific idea from watching a new movie, for example, there’s so much to learn from the pacing, colouring, atmosphere of a scene that you can apply to your artistic discipline, even if it isn’t a visual one.
  • TRY SOMETHING NEW – Trying something new is scientifically proven to increase your creativity because it presents new challenges that stimulate our creative brain. Just within your discipline, a new project or style presents you with new challenges for you to explore and overcome, forcing you to problem solve and expand your thinking. You could go even further by trying a completely new creative discipline or hobby and see where it leads you and what ideas it sparks.
  • CHANGE UP WHO YOU’RE FOLLOWING ON SOCIAL MEDIA – Most of us look at social media everyday and if the things you’re seeing are triggering negative emotions, it could be helpful to unfollow them and remove that influence from your life. And try looking for new people to follow, people who post content that makes you feel good, inspires you, and motivates you; a specific post or just the influx of new, different content could inspire new creative ideas.

So hopefully some of these tips are somewhat helpful to all of us. Being creative and making art, as a career or for the sheer enjoyment, are more important than ever in these difficult times. So even when it gets hard, don’t give up. Try something new, look for inspiration elsewhere, or take a break. Do whatever you need to do to support your ability to create.

EXTRA NOTE: Here are several articles that I read while writing this post that I found to be really interesting and potentially useful resources: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)