Mental Health / alternative careers

I'm an anxious writer: Managing mental health as a creative professional

. 6 min read . Written by Muskan Miglani
I'm an anxious writer: Managing mental health as a creative professional

I am a writer and I have a love-hate relationship with my profession. Here’s why: I love that I get to be creative at my job, but I hate that all my creativity is centred around  my job. Let’s make it simpler.

I have been writing since the beginning of my early teens. I write when I’m tired from a long day, or when I’m really happy about an academic achievement, or when I’m unable to deal with my feelings, or when the world seems overwhelmingly huge and I, a tiny part of it. So, basically, writing is my release. It lets me be me when I’m not so sure of myself.

Why do I hate it as my job? Well, it’s because I have nowhere to go when my creative release is what tires me.

What do you turn to when your one favourite thing doesn’t seem so favourable anymore?

This is not just the case with me; it’s something that my fellow writers, designers, dancers, and artists have felt. Everyone gets tired of their creative mindfulness.

For starters, creativity and mental health are directly linked. According to an array of studies and experiments conducted worldwide, creative activities can help improve one’s mental health significantly.

When we sit down to do a creative task, our brain and body get in the flow of working on it. It’s like when you listen to a song while painting and you can feel your creative juices flowing.

The creative flow enables you to streamline and centre your thoughts towards one single activity, thus giving it a rest from bombarding thoughts and distractions.

Very similar to meditation, a creative activity basically slows your brain down and literally lets you live only in the moment.

That thrill you get when you finish the activity? That’s your body recharging itself with happy hormones including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

How does mental health affect creativity?

While creative activity has such a reinforcing effect on mental health, why creative individuals suffer from mental health issues is a real question. Contrary to popular belief, creative jobs are real jobs with tight timelines, nosy clients, bossy managers, annoying colleagues, low pay, and high pressure. But, there’s more than just meets the eye. A creative job also has the following:

1.       Creative block

Every so often a creative professional can experience something known as a creative block. No, it’s not just an artist throwing a tantrum or trying to get out of work.

Creative blocks are real. They stop you from conceptualising or inventing, hindering your creative processes.

A creative block can arise from personal stress, being tired of long or mechanical work processes, or even without reason. If someone’s working on a strict schedule, a creative block can prevent them from delivering on time, aggravating stress and creating work-life imbalance.

2.       Lack of appreciation

As a creative writer, I can contend that I’m fueled by positive feedback. When an artist presents their work, they essentially present a part of themselves to the world. It is an expression of their self. So, when they’re constantly encountered with negative remarks, self-doubt sets in.

It’s a creative trait to be critical of one’s work, but when that same criticism is shoved into our faces without a break, even the best of us can get demotivated.

3.       Inconsistent workflow

For a part-time or freelance creative professional, finding consistent work can become a real issue. While there are so many websites, apps, and organisations that aid the process, creative differences, clashing timelines, or even low pay can become major roadblocks.

For freelancers, especially, a single assignment might require several rounds of rework.

A communication gap from the client can lead to a line of frustrating edits and unnecessary changes.

4.       Low pay

If you haven’t cribbed about how inadequately paid you are compared to your friends with conventional jobs, you’re not a true creative professional!

It’s not a surprise that people in creative jobs get paid much less than they deserve. One of the prime reasons for this is that our job is not considered one at all. It borders on a hobby.

When a writer spends days perfecting a copy, or a knitter labours over one garment, all the client sees is the product; and that is what they want to pay for.

5.       Irregular working patterns

One of the hallmarks of a creative profession is how irregular the working hours can be. If you’re someone who sets to work when inspiration strikes, you’re no stranger to sleepless nights and coffee refuels.

What we fail to recognise though, is that irregular working hours can hamper your physical as well as mental health.

Once the circadian rhythm (biological clock) of the body is interrupted, our body becomes more prone to diseases.

This also makes us more vulnerable to hormone imbalance, leading to stress-induced anxiety or depression.

How to manage your mental health and creativity

Since we’ve established that mental health and creativity are tied together in a funny knot, it’s clear that bad mental health can become a true impediment to your professional commitments. Not just that, it also affects our personal life, physical health, growth potential, as well as other interpersonal relationships. Taking care of your mental health is a long journey, and here are a few ways we think you can start yours:

1.       Therapy

In a country where mental health conversations are hushed in every corner, talking openly about going to therapy seems a little far-fetched.

If you’ve taken the first step towards recognising that you need help, you’re already on the road to healing.

Therapy isn’t just about addressing your deep-rooted trauma or taking pharmacological help to boost your mental health. It helps you identify and resolve any emotional or mental turbulence you might be encountering. It helps re-evaluate your life, and aids you by nudging you in a direction that is healthy and fulfilling.

2.       Mindless creativity

While creativity can have a positive effect on your mental health, employing it might seem a little ironic for a creative professional. The key, however, is to engage in mindless creativity. If you’re a writer, you can engage in something as simple as filling up a colouring book. If you’re an artist, gardening might be your outlet.

The premise is simple – pick something mundane and mindless to indulge you.

3.       Don’t step back

For a lot of individuals going through emotional or mental stress, distancing themselves from their friends and family seems like a very tempting option.

Once we start to isolate physically, we also isolate emotionally.

That prevents us from being able to call for the support we might need in a moment of anxiety or panic.

If you’re facing any form of stress, try to communicate it to the people around you. If you find it hard to express your thoughts to a loved one, try and engage in a support group or with like-minded professionals.

4.       Journaling

Remember the ‘dear diary’ lessons you got from your 5th class teacher? Well, put them to use now. Journaling is a very healthy way of expressing, understanding, and organising your thoughts.

Once you pen down your emotions, you get a better grasp of what is actually tugging at your mental health.

Journaling your work and achievements, or even your mental health recovery journey will give you an innate sense of accomplishment. This accomplishment, very similar to the aforementioned thrill, gives you a hormonal boost, inducing happiness.

5.       Physical activity

When I didn’t know better, I would proudly claim that I laze around the house because my profession allows me to. But since the pandemic started taking a toll on my mental health, I realised I wasn’t so immune to the stresses of an imbalanced work life either. Working out helped!

According to several American studies, physical activity enhances the level of feel-good hormones in the body. If working out at the gym seems too much, you can start with 40-minute walks twice a day. Taking up a dance class, or going for an evening swim are equally helpful. Just move your lazy bum!

6.       Take a break

When life seems to be moving too fast for your own good, take a pause. May be you're closing in on a burnout.

We live in so much chaos that taking a break almost seems criminal. Well, so we’ve been designed, thanks to capitalism.

One of the best things about being in a creative job is that you get to work when you want. So when your head gets too loud, take a few days off. Go visit your parents, catch up with friends, or simply spend time honing a new skill. Make time for yourself; there’s only one you!

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