Five Super Simple Creative Self Care Tips
In which I woke up one day and couldn’t walk in a straight line…
If you are in the creative game for the long-haul, it’s so important to establish a self care routine for your creative health and well-being. These simple creative self care tips will help you to overcome the overwhelm and as a happy consequence, help you to generate new ideas.
When you don’t have a creative self care routine, burnout will have you flat on your back in no time. Which means you won’t be able to create anything at all!
You know that you need things to change. You can feel it in the half-sleep before waking. You drift off each night with something nudging at the back of your brain. But you’re too tired, or too driven, or too creatively stuck to notice that you need to do something about it before ‘it’ does something to you.
That ‘something’ might manifest itself the next morning, when you wake up to a full blown migraine.
Or you might wake up to discover that you’re too exhausted to move.
Or, as happened to me last year, you feel a bit dizzy one afternoon and when you try to stand up, you realise that you can’t walk in a straight line. Literally.
I had to think long and hard about the importance of creative self-care after that last experience had me in hospital twice with every test imaginable run on my poor exhausted self.
But all the tests came back normal, which was strange. No one knew what was going on. Until little by little the truth script in my head began to play louder than the denial script that had been playing. I decided to be honest with myself and to admit that the reason I couldn’t walk in a straight line was simple: everything about my life was out of balance. I had literally lost my equilibrium. There was no doubt I was ‘stressed’, yes, (what they eventually put it down to) but I was also utterly, crazily out of balance with all the things that I held most dear.
Those of us who have chosen to stand on the creative shore, as I call it, are capable of great things. We are also prone to frequent burnout.
And that’s where I was. Burnoutland.
It’s an amazing thing, the mind. Well, not just the mind, the body, too.
If I look back on the oh-too-many times I’ve had to make an emergency stop and take stock, every one of those times happened because my body said: ‘Uh-huh. No mate, not playing. Not going any further til you give me some love‘.
And my body’s clever. It’s got lots of little ways of saying ‘No’ before it moves on to the big guns.
If things are just a little out of balance, I’ll get a bit of a headache.
If there’s more of an inner tug-of-war for time going on between my creativity and everything else needing attention, it’s more likely to turn into a ‘lay-me-down-in-a-dark-room-and-shoot-me’ migraine.
And if, as happened this last time, I’m in full-blown denial – well, I’m just not allowed to walk in a straight line until I show my best creative self some respect.
What are the signs of Creative Burnout?
Creative exhaustion, or burnout, creeps up on us. Often it happens before we realise it’s happening. Burnout operates by stealth and it’s as well to be aware of some of the warning signs.
Symptoms of Creative Burnout
Before we look at some simple tips to deal with creative burnout, look at the ten symptoms below. I’ve had first-hand experience of all of these before a ‘stop now’ moment.
So take note before things get out of hand!
- Feeling exhausted all the time – but at the same time being unable to relax.
- Being unable to think straight or plan. Or, conversely, having so much on your to-do list that just looking at it stresses you out.
- Being unable to contemplate creative work, even though that’s the thing you want to do most in the world.
- Having a sense of hopelessness about your creative output: what does it matter anyway?
- Overworking. Coming up with countless reasons as to why you can’t stop or take time off.
- Waking up with a nagging feeling of unidentified anxiety, which you ignore.
- Sleeping poorly. Going to bed too late. Waking up very early. Not letting yourself lie-in. And other sleep issues, like insomnia.
- Having one particular worry (money, childcare, relationship etc) over a long period of time which you feel increasingly powerless to solve.
- Eating badly. Eating for comfort rather than health. Not eating. Over-eating.
- Letting exercise go, even though you know it’s one of the things that most revives you.
These are the symptoms that have popped up frequently in my own creative life over the years. Medium writer Nathalie Sejean gives her own account of burning out in her story, ‘Creative Burnout is Not a Myth’, and how starting a daily creative challenge was a good antidote for her.
For a more comprehensive list of signs of stress and burnout, and the differences between them, have a read of this article from HelpGuide.org about Burnout Prevention and Treatment.
Please be aware that I’m not a doctor, just a sensitive creative person who knows what it feels like to live the life creative, and has experienced most of its pitfalls. If you are concerned about your health, either physical or mental, I do urge you to go and talk to you doctor, as I did (many times!) over the years.
So take care of yourself!
Of course, we’ve all probably experienced one or two symptoms from the above list to some degree, at some point in our lives. And if that degree is low-level, we can probably put the symptoms down to a fairly typical amount of stress.
It’s when these and other symptoms begin to rule your day that it’s time to take immediate stock.
My wish for you is that you won’t ever have to stand up one day to discover that you can’t walk in a straight line…
To that end, I offer a simple daily system of creative self-care as a starting point for your own self care practice.
Five Super Simple Creative Self Care Tips
I[/dropcap’ve come to believe that those of us who identify as people to whom creativity is important, if not central, to their lives need forms of self care that are a tiny bit different to an everyday plan for well-being.
Over many years of living a creative life, I have found five key ways to stave off creative burnout and bolster my creativity. It’s a win-win cycle of course, because if you are giving to your creative self, the chances are that you will be more in touch with your day-to-day state.
You will also be happier and therefore less likely to get to the point where burnout bites.
All of these tips are easy to do, take little time and will reward you with a greater sense of well-being. Wonderfully, my experience is that they will also reward you with increased productivity and more creative ideas.
Creative Self Care Tip 1: REST
Yes, I know that resting feels like the most difficult thing in the world when your world is in overwhelm and you’re behind with everything anyway.
Taking time out of your working day to rest feels counter-productive, right?
But in fact building small, quiet moments of intentional rest into your day is essential for getting your creative mojo back. And not only that, I can guarantee you that more rest = greater productivity when you resume work again
In his book, Rest: Why you get more done when you work less (*affiliate link* – thank you) a comprehensive study of the effects of rest on creativity, author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang discovers through studying the lives of dozens of our most super creative writers, scientists, artists and thinkers that ‘deliberate rest stimulates and sustains creativity’:
If you recognize that work and rest are two sides of the same coin, that you can get more from rest by getting better at it and that by giving it a place in your life you’ll stand a better chance of living the life you want, you’ll be able to do your job, and your life’s work, better.
So how do you get more rest into your day?
Well, funnily enough, one of the ways I do it is right at the beginning of my day, almost as soon as I’ve got out of bed.
I take myself into my workspace, which happens to be carpeted, cosy and small, put on my headphones and as the first act of my day after brushing my teeth, I meditate for five minutes to the Headspace app.
Headspace is one of my top recommended tools for your creative self-care. I will be writing about the further benefits of meditation on creativity soon. For now, suffice to say that even as a complete beginner you will benefit from day one.
The Headspace app gives the newcomer a free 10 day Basics course, in which you can choose to meditate for 3, 5 or 10 minutes each time. So in effect it offers 30 short free meditations. You can sign up for great motivating quotes which will appear on your phone daily, too, without paying a thing. If you get hooked, you can subscribe for their many many other guided meditations, but for now the Basics course is all you need.
So use meditation as rest. Use it to take a quick break in your day, or to transition from one part of your day to another. Very soon, this gentle training of the mind using breath will help you to distance yourself from your most troubling thoughts, and to find an acceptance and calm which will help you to come back to a place of balance.
Or, rest the old-fashioned way!
Another way to rest, of course, is the old-fashioned way: just lie down and take a nap!
I recommend lying down and taking a nap for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. This can easily be slotted into your working day, but I do find I have to schedule it in and decide ahead of time when I’m going to take the nap, otherwise it’s unlikely it will happen.
Also, it’s a good thing to use napping as a ‘reward’ to break up the day.
You may have heard of Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life (*affiliate link* – thank you). Huffington, who has had her own hard journey with creative burnout — which led to a transformative revisioning of her own life before writing about her discoveries to help others — extols the virtues of the power nap.
Huffington writes about the incredible health benefits that can be had from incorporating sleep into work: naps boost our immune system, lower our blood pressure and improve our memory and ability to perform complex tasks.
So rest already!
Creative Self Care Tip 2: WALK
Now that you’re rested, I want you to put on your trainers and walk.
I’m not sure this blog would ever have been launched were it not for my creativity walks. They weren’t long, they weren’t particularly scenic, but I took them every day. I walked after breakfast, before I began work. And I walked during the day when I was frustrated, out of ideas and stuck.
It was extraordinary how every time without fail the ideas would begin to flow again. After a walk, I feel energised, more in control and ready to go forward.
Kenneth Grahame on Walking
I’m so enamoured of this super simple tip that I’ll be devoting a post to it all of its own. But for now, read this glorious summary from children’s author Kenneth Grahame (of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ fame) on the benefits of walking:
Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking – a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree – is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe – certainly creative and suprasensitive, until at last really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it.
[Thanks to Maria Popova’s marvellous Brain Pickings’ post about Walking as Creative Fuel for the above].
Very often as creative people we can feel blocked or stuck in our lives. Daily walks are the best way I know to unblock your creativity and bring you back into a sense of flow.
My recommendations for walking for creative self-care:
- Walk for no less than 15 but no more than 30 minutes. This is about re-adjusting your day and assumes you’re busy. It’s a quick, super simple fix.
- Do not take your mobile/cell phone. If you really must (if it doubles as your pedometer, for example), be sure to switch it to ‘Do Not Disturb’.
- Try to find a route you can do immediately, straight from your front door. Don’t complicate things by driving to a starting point.
- Always go the same way (like round the block, which is what I do) so that once the walk becomes familiar you can do it on auto-pilot. I’ve found this is how new ideas come best, when you’re not using your brain to navigate your walk.
- Take the walk at least once a day, preferably more. Two or three times is good: think of your walks as punctuation.
Creative Self Care Tip 3: SIT
Okay, that may seem odd, especially after the walking tip.
No, what I mean by ‘sit’ is, find a sacred place and sit in silence there. And by ‘sacred place’, please take this to mean any place that is sacred to you. It might, of course, mean a church or other hallowed space. It could mean under the tree at the end of your garden. Or it could even mean your child’s bedroom when they’re out at school (that’s certainly a comforting place for me).
But sit, and sit mindfully, intentionally with yourself.
Switch off your mobile/cell phone. In fact, don’t even take it into your sacred place.
Spend time in that space, just sitting in silence. Breathe. You may get a sense of where you are with yourself but don’t try to come up with solutions. It can be a challenging practice, because letting go and ‘just ‘be-ing’ runs counter to our tendency to do all the time. But great insight and renewal can be found in taking a conscious pause.
It’s easier to feel your intuition and listen to your heart when you sit in, and with, silence.
Creative Self Care Tip 4: WRITE
Much has been written about the benefits of writing for well-being. My own experience is that this healing craft has been my friend and companion all my adult life, and through much of my childhood.
Creatively speaking, being in touch with your thoughts on paper is one of the simplest, most beneficial exercises you can work into your day. And you can do it in next to no time.
Start tomorrow. Choose a notebook you already have, or go out and buy one specially for the task. Make this your creative notebook and treat it with love. It will reward you ten-fold.
Writing as self care: try this
You could follow veteran creativity maven Julia Cameron’s advice in ‘The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self‘ (*affiliate link* – thank you) and try writing three fullscap pages every morning as your first act of the day. She calls this the Morning Pages (and although her recommendation is to write early in your day, in order to ‘livestream’ your thoughts, it can be done at other times, too — it’s worth experimenting to find out what works best for you).
Or use your notebook to write down three observations about your day, before you go to bed. Three points of gratitude. Three conversations. Three things observed.
Or you could simply commit to writing in your journal every day, at a time to suit you.
If you’d like more guidance, Jackee Holder is an expert in creative journalling — take a look at her heart-filled work.
But as with all these writing tips for creative self care, however you choose to write, the secret is to do it consistently.
- Write as if your creative life depended upon it: in many ways it does.
- Write as if there is no-one reading over your shoulder (there isn’t and shouldn’t ever be – write your words for your eyes only, until you choose to share them – which may be never).
- And write your best words or your worst, it doesn’t matter, as long as you write.
I have kept some sort of diary or writing journal all my adult life. The oddly matched collection of notebooks and sketchbooks and diaries I have amassed is quite something. They are one of my most treasured possessions. These notebooks give me a way into my creative self. They are a font of truth and ideas. At the worst times they put life into perspective. Looking back, you realise that ‘this too shall pass’, because it invariably does. And if it doesn’t, look, you’ve survived.
So take up your notebook and write. Write for you.
Creative Self Care Tip 5: TALK TO A FRIEND
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t do it all alone, even when you are alone – that is, without a life partner.
I spent six years of my seven and a half years as a single mother running WOW, the magazine I founded. About a year and a half from the end of its life, I hit a brick wall. Everything about the magazine was down to me, except its print and design. The burden of meeting the self-imposed monthly deadline was great. There were 65 deadlines in all. It was around deadline number 50 that I went to the doctor in tears. I could barely get up in the morning to get my daughter to school, let alone make a magazine.
Of course, I know now that I was experiencing a moment of creative burnout. But I couldn’t name it to the doc or to myself at the time. He declared me depressed and prescribed a course of Prozac.
I remember sitting in my car, considering the little box of pills.
Then I called my best friend and talked. And when I got home, I put the pills in a cupboard, went to my computer and wrote an email. I wrote to my closest circle of girlfriends and told them where I was at, too. I asked for their help and the response was quick and heartfelt. It came in kind words and calls and small acts of care. And, of course, almost immediately I began to feel better.
The next day I went to the health food shop. I talked to the assistant about what I could do to aid my mood. I also committed to a daily walk. Three weeks later, the doctor was surprised to see me return with a bounce in my step.
Don’t suffer in silence
So. Please don’t try to bear the burden of your sensitivity alone. Don’t suffer in silence.
Ask for help. People love to be asked for help. Community is all. Find yours, nurture it and when you need it, ask your community to nurture you in return.
If there is just one key person who is willing to listen to you with love, that’s just fine. Try asking them to be there for you to talk to once a week, say. Be clear that you are asking them to support you through a certain state of mind. If you are able, offer to split the conversation and offer talking support in return.
Added thought: I’m not an advocate of baring all to your Facebook friends, and that’s not what I’m suggesting here. Although this is a common thing to do, and the response is indeed usually immediate, you will be opening yourself up to quick, unconsidered responses. This might give you a quick ‘fix’ but it isn’t the same as talking face to face, or asking your closest community of friends for support.
The Benefits of Simple Creative Self Care
Slowly but surely, when you apply some or all of these simple creative self care tips into your creative practice on a regular (preferably daily) basis, you will find that your sense of perspective will begin to return.
Another welcome returnee will be your sense of humour — which can be all too easy to lose when you’re out of creative balance.
Other benefits include greater productivity and – this is the brilliant thing! – more creative ideas.
Almost without trying you will find that this will happen when you start to build regular, intentional ‘pauses’ into your day.
Meditation, walking, napping, sitting in silence, talking to a trusted friend – it doesn’t matter which. Your brain will simply be delighted to be given more space to generate ideas.
I know that mine was – and is!
I remember sitting down to watch the Headspace app’s funny, quirky animations for the first time. What a sense of relief! I felt like I’d finally ‘landed’, finding as I had something to ground me in the simplest way each morning.
And now when I find myself yawning and unable to concentrate at four in the afternoon, I’m not frightened to lose time by curling up for a nap. I set the alarm for twenty minutes’ time, then turn down the ‘phone and allow my brain to re-charge.
The simplest things are often the most effective. All these tips have made a deep impact on my creative life, which is why I offer them to you here.
Summary: 5 Simple Creative Self Care Tips
- Build deliberate rests into your day in the form of meditation or naps.
- Start daily walks for stimulating creativity and coming up with ideas.
- Find time to sit for five or ten minutes in silence with yourself, every day.
- Write regularly in your creative notebook.
- Don’t bear the burden of your difficult times alone. Make space and time to talk to a friend.
Begin with just one small change, do it every day for a week, and see how you go.
Use your creative notebook to reflect on any changes. Be kind to yourself. Take care.
If you have a brilliant tip that work for you and would help others, please take a moment to leave a Comment below.
Interested to know more about Simple Creative Self Care Tips?
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- Read another creative person’s take on burnout: ‘Creative Burnout is Not a Myth‘ by Natalie Sejean.
- For more about the effects of rest on the creative practice of artists of all disciplines, take a look at ‘Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less’ by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.
- Also see Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life’, which advises on a whole new way of looking at how we organise our life and work for greater happiness and wellbeing.
- For more on mindful walking, read ‘Walk: The path to a more mindful life‘ by Sholto Radford. A delightful little hardback packed full of wise words.
- For more on journaling and writing for well-being, see ‘49 Ways to Write Yourself Well‘ and other works by creativity expert, trainer and writer Jackee Holder
- If you’re looking for motivation to write, you need ‘The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life‘ by Julia Cameron. It’s packed with excellent exercises to get you writing in no time.
- Several of the books mentioned in this post are on my list of 12 Brilliant Books for Creative Minds.
- If you’d like to learn more about setting creative rituals and good creative habits for yourself to establish a healthy creative practice, I talk more about this in my online Find Your Creative Heart Creativity Course.