Artists and creative people work hard to balance our external and internal lives. Outside we're hustling to pay our bills, fulfill our responsibilities to loved ones, and make progress on whatever creative project is obsessing us. Inside we're engaged with the many ideas, dreams, and visions that drive our creative work, and shape the way we exist in the world. There is a strange dichotomy at work in the soul of a creative person, whereby we are absolutely compelled to create by powerful forces that feel as real as the outside world we live in, yet they are completely invisible to others. This process can be so engaging that we sometimes feel like we've crossed an ocean and climbed a mountain in a single day, though in fact what we actually did was sit at our workspace, bent over a project, making small and deliberate changes to it. After this kind of dedicated devotion, the outside world can feel flat, and we might struggle to feel connected to anyone or anything in it. We have to pull ourselves out of it and move on with our day, juggling all the aspects of our existence related to our survival and community connection, while our inner life continues to spin. With so much going on, and so much at stake, we are highly prone to exhaustion and burnout.
In a previous post I mentioned the importance of establishing and maintaining a baseline of health and wellness. This baseline can act as a protective boundary, remedy, and guide if we stay in touch with our needs and tend to them regularly. Here are 10 health and wellness tips specifically for artists, so we can re-charge, re-boot, and emerge better than ever:
Walk around your neighborhood without music in your ears
- Re-orient your hearing by leaving your music player and/or phone at home. Walk at a leisurely pace. Listen to the sounds of your neighborhood. Breathe deeply and look around you. Notice tiny moments of beauty and calm. Observe the weather and enjoy the season. Feel yourself present in your body, in your home, in this moment. Refresh your total awareness and get your mind and body back in the same place. Now you can day dream and let your thoughts wander as you think and dream about your creative projects.
Take a power nap
- Stop reading this and go lie down. Set a timer for 20 minutes (not more than 25). Get comfortable, close your eyes, slow your breathing. Make sure the room is dark, cool, and quiet enough to prevent the outside world from interfering. If your mind is racing, breathe in for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. Napping gives your entire system time to re-boot. Nap well, and wake up calm and refreshed.
Do some dedicated emotional releasing
- Laughter, crying, both at the same time. Yelling, sobbing, shaking or anything that promotes release of pent-up emotional forces. Artists have complex inner lives that often clash with the outside world. Our sensitivity is our strength, but it can cause problems if we don't honor it by staying on top of our emotions. The only goal is freedom from fear, so no need to turn this into a chore. Emotional clearing can be done in private, or with a therapist, lover, or trusted friend, as long as they can give you the space to let it all go. Trust that this activity is part of your wellness regime, and go for it.
Read for pleasure
- Reading is a kind of cranial sorcery. Our brains conjure up vivid images that appear in front of us, as real as the page they are printed on. The true magic is that these images, no matter how much detail the author uses to describe them, are unique to each of us. Reading provokes imagination and improves concentration, two elements that creative people need in abundance. Read a gripping fiction book, and not on a Kindle! Hold the book in your hands, turn the pages, and feel its magic working on your thirsty brain.
Clean and declutter your living space
- Out with the old and in with the new. Artists need fresh energy and inspiration to do our best work. Cleaning and straightening our living space is a potent way to honor ourselves and our place in the world. If the KonMari Method isn't your thing, just take out all the trash and recycling, clean some surfaces, and de-clutter a closet or two. Open curtains and windows, and let some fresh air circulate. Water all your plants. Light candles and put out some flowers. Arrange some beautiful things on a mantle or windowsill. Burn some sage or incense. Sit back in your space and enjoy the vibe.
Get some acupuncture
- An arcane and mysterious healing art from China. No one knows exactly how it works, but the results are so effective that acupuncture is now covered by most American insurance plans (although usually only for a few sessions). Community acupuncture is low-cost and just as effective. Tell your acupuncturist what part of your body is bothering you, or if your immunity is low. He or she will then apply tiny needles (you'll barely feel them!) to specific points along your hands, feet, face, and sometimes torso while you recline and relax, breathing deeply, for 30-60 minutes. Afterward, most people feel a noticeable improvement that continues for days, and will keep improving with further sessions. Still not convinced? A former junkie once told me, "the dreamy, creamy sleep you feel during an acupuncture session is the closest thing you can get to a heroin high." AUTHOR'S NOTE: Disclaimer: Do your own research about acupuncture, and consult your doctor before trying acupuncture.
Express gratitude to everyone in your life
- Feeling downhearted and blue? Get yourself in a state of gratitude, and put it into action. Go to every person that you love and care about. Use words, be present, and maintain eye contact. Acknowledge the awesomeness of the person sitting across from you, and specifically call out why they mean so much to you. Spend an entire day on this activity and watch how it transforms your perspective: you are blessed, lucky, and ready to take on the rest of your life.
- Creative people can work with an intensity and focus that obliterates concern for everything except what's right in front of us. There are good and bad things about this kind of concentration. On the one hand it enables us to synthesize staggering amounts of ideas, experiments, dreams, and passions that translate as huge leaps forward in our work. On the other hand we sometimes (often) forget to take care of our physical needs when we're in this state, and end up utterly wiped out. Plan to snack before you actually need to do it, and chose whole foods like nuts, vegetables, fruit, seeds, and grains that can balance blood sugar and sustain your energy. Pack them in your bag and put them next to you while you work. Set a timer and chow down when it rings. Feed your body, feed your art.
Take a complete media break
- Step away for an entire day. Trust that your friends, acquaintances, crushes, and media stars will be OK on their own for 24 hours, and that the news will still be happening tomorrow. If you're feeling brave, don't text, email, or call anyone during that time. Check in with yourself every time you have the urge to check social media: what do you need, want, think, dream in this moment? Perform each task in your day mindfully, and breathe deeply. Enjoy the gentle calm (and laser-focus!) that returns to your daily routine, and sleep deeply at night.
- The science is conclusive: meditation is magic. Take 10-30 minutes in your morning and sit still, eyes closed, breathing deeply and calming your mind (or you can do a guided meditation). Don't judge your thoughts no matter how anxious, fidgety, bored, or spaced-out they might be. Just keep returning to deep breathing and stillness. The ability meditate is a kind of super-power. Many regular meditators report that its effects spread through every area of their lives, rendering them much more calm under stressful circumstances, and enabling them to be fully present and enjoy life in a deeper and more meaningful way. Best of all: it's completely free.