Stop! Breathe; Face Your Demons.
As creative artists, we frequently find ourselves in conditions where we’ve committed to too many duties and have to deal with the overwhelm that comes with it. Harnessing the culture in art and design can be a game-changer for any creative, but how do you survive as a creative or use art to elevate when you’re mentally checked out? When you’re in that moment, how’re you ever going to make it end when you feel like you can’t foresee a way to take up all your responsibilities at once, and also come out on the other side so you can capitalize on opportunities or make better choices.
Trying to balance being a full-time designer with two jobs and learning as an undergraduate student, I’ve realized that “Work/Life Balance” really is a slippery slope, close to being a confusing scam. We’ve been told that we need to have it, and we fight so hard to attain an acceptable level of that balance. From time blocking, to task tracking, to creativity hacks, to even living off caffeine and energy drinks, but in reality, there’s only so much we can control, and we can’t be sure of how to tip the scales to ensure balance. Sometimes, personal issues sip into our lives, and we can’t stop them from affecting our work or creativity.
If it’s not a hard yes, then it should be a no. It truly is challenging to say no in some situations, especially as a creative or in the workplace; you don’t want to seem lazy or seem like you don’t appreciate the opportunity, which comes with guilt. On the other hand, saying no is a way to take charge of your experience; it can also give you a sense of control instead of fantasizing about inventing more time in the day, but for this to work, you need to understand your environment and know how to work around it and be intentional about the tradeoffs.
“Sometimes you have too much on your plate, or you’re not interested in taking on a project you’ve been asked to work on. You might not have a choice in the matter, but if you do, how do you turn down the opportunity in a way that won’t offend the person offering? How can you avoid being labeled “not a team player” or “difficult to work with”?” (Knight, 2015)
If you’re looking for mental models that you can use to harness the strength to say no, freelance journalist Rebecca Knight shares some insights and case studies in this article How to Say No to Taking on More Work
You’ve stopped, you’ve said no, you’ve put your needs first, and prioritized your mental health over creative burnout as an artist. What do you do with all this free time? Breathe. Give gratitude. Allow yourself to be proud of your achievements, no matter how irrelevant they may seem at the time. Gratitude could come in levels, and that’s why you should celebrate every win. Grateful for your past accomplishments, for life, for energy, for the universe, and for whatever you believe in, tap into that if you can because it’s part of your creative system.
Creatives face a lot of imposter syndrome because we’re not slowing down to evaluate where we’re at and how much we’ve grown and achieved. When you’re not looking at it from that lens, you’re going to miss how much you’ve developed, and it’s going to make it more challenging to move into the future. When you make that switch, you can start having a different appreciation for yourself. Another level of gratitude that I’m discovering is gratitude to people, those around you, your loved ones, and your family. The ability to slow down and be present helps us to breathe in the moments. It gives us a sense of happiness and shows us light in the little things that wouldn’t have seemed important.
This wouldn’t mean that we’ve completely ignored all the negatives, but it’s a way to achieve that balance and take a step back to refuel your excitement as a creative and harness the ability to keep creating impact through art. “The idea of the tortured artist is as old as art itself, where is the line between creativity and mental health” this video by Seeker shares how creativity and mental health could be linked;
Face Your Demons
“Every person gets to fight some demon. In movies and myths, they often represent demons as ugly-looking creatures, intending to cause affliction and pain on their target and whoever gets in its way. Abstract feelings can also be demons. Not all monsters come in ugly forms. Identifying and slaying these demons become more burdensome because the target, in most cases, has connections with their other conditions. Relating these demons to our everyday lives — At some point, life comes at us in terrible ways that have us fighting hard for our freedom. It gets even worse when we realize we have no strength in us to fight.” (Nwenyi, 2021)
Burnout, Imposter Syndrome, Personal issues that affect emotional and mental health can also be forms of demons that artists have to fight. There’s no way to avoid or prevent some of these issues entirely as an artist; the best thing we can do is recover and prepare and take responsibility. In situations where I can’t practice my framework, This is how I ignite my creativity and take responsibility for the actions I’m taking to progress:
- Take 1-2 days off work. On my days off, I try to avoid all tech so I’m not triggered back into burnout.
- Going for a walk in nature. I like taking hikes by the water or in a woody area.
- TV marathon. Watching a TV show or film helps me take my mind off things.
- Talk to a therapist. Sometimes I need professional advice on an emotion I’m dealing with.
- Play a video game. It’s a similar feeling to TV, and it’s immersive and relaxing.
- Journaling. It helps me understand what areas of my life can cause burnout and stress to keep an eye out for symptoms.
Art by Bea Vaquero
Framework of Intentionality
To save the creativity in artists, that inspires using art and design to visualize value, create opportunities, and solve challenges. I advise artists and creatives to tap into what I’m calling the framework of intentionality – Stop; slow down, Breathe; show gratitude, Face Your Demons; take responsibility.
Knight, R. (2015). How to Say No to Taking on More Work. Retrieved 29 March 2021, from https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-to-say-no-to-taking-on-more-work
Fleck, R. (2019). Curb creative burnout: 8 techniques designers swear by. Retrieved 29 March 2021, from https://dribbble.com/stories/2019/09/11/survive-creative-burnout-8-techniques-for-designers
Nwenyi, L. (2021). Battling emotional demons. Retrieved 29 March 2021, from https://lulunwenyi.medium.com/battling-emotional-demons-11f082a6c5cb