It’s really hard being a happy creative. For the past few months, it’s been nearly impossible for me. During the first six months of this year I’ve been experimenting quite a lot when it comes to creating. I have made some things I’m really proud of, and I’ve learned a lot, but the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to constantly create something completely new has been really bad for my mental health.
At the start of the summer, I was in a pretty bad state, but I didn’t even realise it. I thought I was just doing what I was “supposed” to do, that I was being a successful creative who kept pushing my limits and thinking of new things. I started to lose interest in creating, but kept pushing, I experimented with acrylic paint and pushed myself until I was exhausted, sitting in front of the canvas crying with the brush still in my hand. I still want to learn the things I was on my way to learn during that time, but I need to take a step back and take it easy until I’ve learned how to pace myself better.
I’ve also learnt how important it is to identify why you are driven to do something. My drive to push forward came from a bad place, which meant it brought a bunch of negative energy with it. And with negative energy comes negative thoughts, and more tears. The reason I even decided to create in new ways was that I was panicking about my work growing stale, I had this idea that people thought what I made was boring, and that I wasn’t “enough”. I felt like a fraud, and out of fear of someone realising what a fraud I was, I stressed into several new techniques at once, desperate to learn something new and prove my worth.
I’m writing about this as if it is a thing of the past now, but really I’m still in the middle of it. I’ve just had a bunch of realisations these past few weeks – the most important one being that things need to change.
So here’s my main tip for being a happy creative, whether you’re in a bad place or not: take breaks.
It wasn’t until my mum sat me down and told me I need some kind of “vacation” (more of a staycation really because I’ve spent most of this horrible heatwave of a summer at home!) that I realised how tired, stressed and sad I was. I had been constantly pushing for a next step for months, and haven’t had a proper break from my “art career” (it isn’t really a career, but you know what I mean) for 2 years maybe? While pushing forward, experimenting and trying new things all sound really great, it is important to remember that there can be too much of a good thing. Breaks are important, even if you’re making things “for fun”. Creative work takes energy, and if we never replenish that well of creative energy we will definitely burn out.
But taking a break is harder than you might anticipate, especially if you’ve made your brain believe that productivity is the only thing to care about. I’ve written a list of tips for taking a break, but it might mostly be applicable for those who (like me) don’t rely on creativity for income. If you do, you might need think in another way, but I hope you can still get some ideas.
How to Take a Break
1. Replace the activity of making things with other fun activities
I wish I had written a list of fun activities for me to entertain myself with during my break, but I didn’t, so I’m telling you that maybe you should. It means you don’t have to come up with fun things to do every time you need to relax.
For me, sitting outside and reading was a good way to calm my brain down, but when I needed something else I’d play The Sims. Or just go for a walk. Whatever makes you feel good – do it. I also practiced embracing boredom, which WAS SO HARD. Ugh.
2. Uninstall social media apps
I think it’s really down to social media and the internet (two things that I love dearly) that our idea of success today is built on an expectation to produce and potentially even finish (!) new things every single day. I know it works for some people – 3D-artist Beeple has made a new render every single day for 11 years – but if it doesn’t work for you that is fine too.
For me, checking social media and seeing what others had created made me feel stressed about how I should be productive too. An important step for me was consequently spending less time on Instagram, because that was the social media that made me feel most stressed. I uninstalled the app a few times, but found it impractical due to me communicating with a couple of friends through DMs, so an effective way to make me spend less time on Instagram was just to move the icon from the front screen, so I had to search through a bunch of other apps to even open it, giving me time to realise that I didn’t actually have a purpose for opening it at all.
Also, if you usually have a schedule for how often to blog/post on Instagram/whatever – ignore it for a while. It might not be optimal for follower count and so on, but your health and joy is more important.
3. Remind yourself that it is important to spend time not being productive
For me, this was the hardest part. Since mum was my support through this, I talked a lot to her about it. For the first week and a half I for real felt uncomfortable and stressed all day because I wasn’t being productive. I had told myself that productivity was the most important thing in my life for such a long time, that when I ignored it completely it really screwed my brain up. Take the break before you get to that point, pro tip.
4. Be kind to yourself, and don’t blame yourself if your break isn’t perfect
I actually “failed” at relaxing quite a few times, and went back to making art, posting to Instagram or trying to write a blog post (safe to say I failed at the last one). I started stressing about losing the progress I had made with follower count the past few years, and convinced myself I “had to” be productive. I didn’t have to, but I did it, and afterwards I didn’t feel too great, but I just went back to my break without blaming myself or thinking that I had “failed” at taking a break.
5. Don’t go back until you’re ready
This was tricky for me, after two weeks or so I started talking about how I was going to “ease myself into it”. Mum just said “if you feel like you need techniques and tactics to be able to go back, you’re not ready”. And she was right, I tried a few times along the way, but got really bad anxiety every time I tried to make something, so I just said I’d take a break for another week and see how I felt then. I’ve only just started making things again.
Take your time
Going back to what I said about social media, I like to imagine how artists in the early 1900s and earlier could take breaks for years at a time without being any less successful. I don’t 100% know if that’s true (my art history knowledge is failing me!) but I have a hard time believing they felt a need to take pretty pictures of their studio every single day, and they were still great artists.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to go back to what I was before, maybe I’ll take it easy for a few months (or years!) now. My new uni courses start in less than a month, so I’m going to try to focus on those. Writing this blog post is actually me testing if I’m ready for blogging (because I’m really excited about blogging), so we’ll see what happens.
Anyway, I hope this post was useful for some of you, and that you remember to take breaks!!! They don’t have to be for weeks, it could just be enough to take a break for an hour in the middle of an art session. Just remember to take care of yourselves!
This blog post is part of the Gesso Blogging Challenge. Read more about the new community and the blogging challenge (both for creative bloggers!) here.