Stress is a huge problem for us all. Here’s what I’ve learned and apply to manage stress using my creativity.
As a child I enjoyed art, photography, music and writing. High school was the peak of my musical interest, and I put most of my creative energy into playing guitar, and writing songs. Once I graduated from high school, like most people, I felt an immense pressure to choose what I wanted to do for a living. So I enrolled in a journalism program reasonably convenient to commute to from my parent’s home. After taking all these prerequisites, once I finally got into Journalism 1, I realized that writing articles & news in this format was not right for me. My parents are very conservative working class people with the idea that you must work to pay the bills, and it doesn’t matter what kind of work that is. Perhaps it was teenage hormones at play, or just normal growing pains, but I decided to rebel against the idea that I had to get a “job” that I dislike, just to pay the bills. (Funny here I am more than 10 years later in a job which I would think was perfect back then, and I don’t exactly love it…. but I digress.) Fast forward 1 bachelors degree in Film Production later, plus almost 10 years of experience in media production. Here are 7 ways to manage stress using creativity.
1. You don’t have to be a “tortured” artist.
We see this torture from artists like Michelangelo starving himself in the 15th century all the way until recent, with beloved creative people Robin Williams and Prince. It’s easy to use drugs, alcohol, and other crutches to “enhance” our creativity. Think about it, drugs and/or alcohol usually put us into a state of feeling relaxed, letting go, and being in the moment. We’re too disoriented to be thinking about the future, or the past, and we just focus on what’s directly in front of us. We can be in the moment, and express ourselves without these crutches. Throw away the self-critique. It’s the main source of torture for a lot of artists. Besides, there are plenty of people already judging us, why add to that?
2. Take care of your self. Mind AND Body.
Putting my creativity and my work first, I often neglected to eat, exercise, even stand up from my desk. 2 herniated discs in my low back came to a climax in 2015. I spent the whole year in non-stop pain– constant doctors, multiple prescription medications which only caused me to feel depressed, sad and useless. Something like that really puts life into perspective. I now realize that how I feel physically (and mentally) is more important than the work I create. Taking care of myself includes all natural remedies such as acupuncture, herbs and vitamins as my only form of medicine. My diet was also a big part of the stress I was enduring for many years. Thinking I had IBS, a 2 hour train ride to work and college was not fun. The medication I was taking for various ailments didn’t help that situation either. After switching doctors about a dozen times, I finally found one who asked me to eliminate dairy from my diet for two weeks. After getting rid of the dairy that was making me constantly ill, I am able to see what other food triggers are causing me physical distress. Alcohol is one of those things. It is uncomfortable as a woman not drinking in a social situation, everyone always assumes I’m pregnant, or that something is wrong. That is something I am trying to overcome mentally at this point, because I don’t like people worrying about me. I’m learning how to say no to social pressures, in favor of my own well being. Listen to your body and your mind. Do what’s best for YOU.
3. Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
This is easier said than done, but I promise it does come with age. Here’s what I realize… people are much too self-absorbed to think twice about what you’re doing. This preoccupation takes away from our confidence, puts us in a place of comparing our self to others. You know that “tip” about creating accountability by telling other people what you’re doing before you do it? That’s NONSENSE. No one cares about what you’re doing unless what you’re doing affects and/or benefits them in some way. Telling other people our plans and goals, and caring about what they think about you, leaves us in a dangerous place. We can’t quit (or shift) without feeling guilt, even if it’s not right for us. Also, telling other people what your plans are opens up the conversation to their critique, which is death to creativity. We’re already battling our own internal creative judge Judy’s, why let other people crush your hopes and dreams? Don’t get me wrong… It’s great to have feedback, but solicit feedback strategically from people who are experts in that field. Also, when soliciting feedback, ask specific questions. Otherwise you’ll get a barrage of people’s personal preferences, distracting from whatever help you were asking for in the first place. It’s like asking, “does my butt look big in these jeans?” and getting the response, “No but your hair is a mess!” You will sometimes get unsolicited advice. Those are the people to steer clear of. The vampires that want to suck your creativity away. You’ll know them right away, eager to ask you what you’re doing and offer advice which is often negative, or what they would do. A lot of people do offer unsolicited advice, it’s human nature to want to help other people… but if that advice is coming from a place of control or judgement, RUN in the opposite direction.
4. Stop Judging.
The judgements, awards and critiques of other people are nothing but words constructed as a way of comparing you to someone else. Art is often made to be critiqued, and I love dissecting a good painting or film. However, as the artist, the joy of creativity SHOULD come from the process of creating. Positive feedback is only a perk. If you’re basing your self-worth on what other people think of your work, and if you think you ARE your work… you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I spent 8 years chasing an Emmy Award, the pinnacle of success in my field. How do you think I felt after I won? Not immediately after, but after a few weeks… I felt exactly the same as I did before. In fact it kind of made me feel disappointed that I actually believed it would change me or my circumstances. It didn’t change anything, because awards don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of who you are as a person. Judging is usually a way to measure success. It’s good to have goals, but what’s the bigger goal that all these other goals will accomplish? For most, it’s happiness. There’s no better way to be happy than having gratitude for where you are and what you have right now.
5. Don’t Compare.
Stress is often caused by comparison to others. Other people’s success, achievements, appearance, and what their life looks like from the outside looking in. Most people are not as happy as they portray themselves to be. The best advice I ever heard was this… Don’t compare your inside to other people’s outside. Comparison isn’t always to others though. For me, I often cause myself stress by comparing my current situation to the future-self I had imagined I would be. I’ve heard people often say to “envision your successful future-self, and pretend you’re already there”– but doing that is saying that where I am right now is not okay. It’s spending a lot of time coming up with future plans (which is fine) but not leaving myself room to explore or deviate from that plan. I certainly do feel guilty when I change my mind on something I had thought was a goal of mine, do you? I am not perfect, but I have come a long way. Self-judgement and comparison is the current stress trigger I am battling. The great thing about being creative is using that skill as flexibility. Be open to new experiences, be kind to yourself and accepting of the journey which is life. Being present means not thinking into the future, or harping on the past. The coolest thing about being present is that CREATIVITY LIVES IN THE MOMENT. Each moment is UNIQUE.
6. Your intentions matter.
If I’m truly in the moment, and creating without hesitation, there still is the little problem of my intentions. Creativity can often become work, when we put expectations on ourselves of what we want that work to do for us. For example, my podcast started as something I just enjoy doing. Once others heard about my venture, they started imposing all these pressures on me to monetize it. Monetizing a podcast requires some level of automating the creative process. There “has to be” a weekly schedule, a formula, a plan for how it’s going to make money. This then leads to hiring people to help automate that, because it no longer is something I could spend time doing (because time is money, and if you’re not making money from something…). I was defining my podcast as something to make money, it’s following the rules to “success”. SCREW YOUR RULES! I realized quickly that hiring people to create my podcast for me, was not for me. I was missing out on the process that caused me to start it in the first place. The process includes multiple skills that stretch me creatively, and I was giving that away. So from that experience, I learned that I’d rather do my podcast (and other projects) with the intention of being creative, the intention of learning, and of having fun! If that doesn’t get me to the top of the iTunes charts, and doesn’t make me money, I don’t care. My podcast is a way for me to learn, meet awesome people and tell stories in an interesting format. It’s important to remember why you started doing something. What was your intention? If the intention is to be creative, why muddy that fun activity with the stress of making it a job? I remind myself to enjoy the process of my creative fun stuff, it’s for me. If others like it, great, but it’s the enjoyment of my creative intention, in the moment, that I treasure.
7. Accept Creativity as Work…because who wants a real job anyway?
Making creative storytelling my only source of income has been a source of stress for me over this past 10 years of my creative career. There is always a struggle between what I want to create, and what/when/how/why I am being payed to produce. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert said that true true artists have to have a day job. I disagree. Practicing your craft, even if it’s for money, for a company or boss’ ultimate benefit, is still practicing your craft. You are refining your skills and taste level. You’re mastering the tools needed to create, and getting better at creating in that form. You’re also learning to be flexible in what you create. If you’re like me, you’re pushing the boundaries of how much of yourself you can put into that work, while still completing the assignment. You’re building flexibility, and exercising your creativity by problem-solving. The biggest skill I think this builds, is being able to separate yourself from your work. If we are constantly producing creative work, we eventually learn not to take critique personally. This is helpful in our own creative work, because while it is our work and our creativity, it is not who we are. If someone doesn’t like our painting, that shouldn’t send us into a spiral of distress. That’s not okay. There certainly is art less structured, that’s fine, but you know what your medium is, and your tools. Creating as a job- is similar. Yes, there are creative jobs that suck. Even in my career I do things I dislike and often interact with people I don’t like. Newsflash: this happens at any job. We have to work, in order to live. So why not spend your days practicing your craft? Why not spend your days being creative?
Truly, from the heart…
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