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Self Care Tips and Activities for Every Creative

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Carving out a self care practice is a must for any serious professional – and some may say that it’s especially more so, if your work is creative.

In an era where ‘busyness’ is often held up like a badge of honor, the risk of burnout is gaining mounting attention. According to Harvard Business review, as much as 1 in 5 engaged employees are at risk of burnout.

And other studies have postulated that those who have creative jobs are even more at risk. For instance, an Icelandic study suggested that artistic individuals may be more at risk for mental health issues. While the findings of the study are under healthy debate, the fact that the research was undertaken at all points to real and ongoing curiosity over the existence of a link between creativity and struggle.

According to Nova Browning Rutherford, life coach, mindfulness facilitator and wellness expert, attuning to the signs and symptoms of burnout, while integrating self care and mindfulness into your life is key to staying engaged, productive and happy.

In this Q&A Nova shares why self care for creatives is important, what to watch out for, how to integrate self care into your life, and more.

Q. You frequently speak on the topic of ‘self care for creatives.’ Why is this important – and why for creatives in particular?

A. I’m passionate about this topic as a creative myself.

Self care, which is the acknowledgement and care for one’s essence, is the most preventative tool I have in my ‘kit.’ It’s simple in theory, but difficult in practice.

Prior to embarking on my own self care journey, I suffered from years of insecurity, doubt, anxiety, PTSD, depression, burnout, all while working a ‘dream-job’ in entertainment.

I was 19 when I started at Canada’s first commercial urban radio station. From there, I moved to major [record] labels, indie labels, tour management, artist management, iconic estates, and talent and media relations in both Toronto and in Hollywood.

If I were to describe one of those work days, it would have sounded like morning-to-night-awesomeness to the average person, but a step behind the curtain into ‘creative industry land’ revealed a sea of folks who live an unsustainable #nodaysoff lifestyle of work that was either filled with an adrenaline-pumping ‘due yesterday’ urgency, or a limbo of ‘hurry-up and wait’ anxiety.

I saw colleagues, brilliant and highly-sensitive artists and creatives, have strokes and heart attacks in their 30’s and 40’s. Successful marriages were invisible. The sacrifice of a creative career was obvious. And I had to ask myself – did it have to be that way?

It was when I was in Hollywood, working with a superstar who was mid-meltdown, that I realized a bigger mission for my life, which was to ‘influence the influencer.’ To take care of the artist, and those surrounding them, knowing that it will change their art. Change the art, change the impact.

So why am I passionate about creatives and why self care? The bad news is, I’ve been there.

But the good news is, I’ve been there!

Q. Can you describe your typical, high-achieving creative? What kinds of challenges do they face?

The creative I have in mind is a public-facing ambivert. Team lead. Frontman. Director. Someone comfortable with ‘working the room’ but feels drained afterwards.

This highly-sensitive person isn’t a crybaby, but one who goes on gut instinct, feels the vibe, and wisely trusts their intuition – eventually. They are a natural but reluctant leader, plagued with imposter syndrome.

Despite impressive successes, they are waiting to be revealed as a fraud. Their creative passion has begun to fade into routine and it is difficult to ‘be a fan.’ The dream job is still surreal, but it is starting to feel more like work. Resentment, obligation and reactivity have replaced care and patience.

The veil of temporary happiness – clothes, cars, schmancy dinners and a top-shelf lifestyle – is starting to wear thin. Love and creative passion remain, but a reset is needed.

Ring a bell?

Q. What is burnout and how can we recognize it?

Burnout is chronic stress that leaves you physically exhausted and mentally useless.

Anyone thrust into a ‘new normal’, new children, new pet, new responsibilities, may have a period of adjustment where you feel you’re playing catch up. But when months, even years have gone by at an unsustainable pace and you continue to react to the stressors in your life, burnout will hit, and it’s a hard bottom.

If you think you may be headed towards or currently experiencing burnout, check your physical environment, attitude and performance. When daily function in these areas are hindered, take that as a big red flag.

Here are some of the key physical and mental signs of burnout to watch out for:

12 Physical and Mental Signs of Burnout

Physical Signs of Burnout

  1. A long sleep feels like a blink, providing no relief.
  2. Falling asleep or staying asleep is a serious problem.
  3. You hit the bed in a collapse instead of easing into restorative rest.
  4. Low immunity – coughs, colds or runny noses seem to hang around.
  5. Tension in your jaw, neck and shoulders.
  6. Regular migraine headaches.
  7. That empty pit in your stomach.

Mental Signs of Burnout

8. The lights are on but nobody’s home. You’re forgetful and can’t concentrate.
9. You feel anxious, and wound tight.
10. Beyond irritable, you feel angry – argumentative, pessimistic, trapped, detached and looking for ways to escape your life, be it through substances, food, or even social media.
11. Resentment is attached to daily activities. You feel a loss of enjoyment in the things, even people, you once loved. This is fertile ground for anxiety and depression.
12. Presenteeism: Defined as ‘employees being physically present, but due to unaddressed physical or emotional issues, they are distracted to the point of reduced productivity.

Q. Yikes. What self care tips can you recommend to help us avoid burnout?

Self care and mindfulness are key. And escapism and avoidance are not self care.

We all need an escape. Time to blow off steam and binge watch shows can give you the breathing room to tackle a challenge later. However, when responsibilities are impacted, or when the ‘feel good’ feeling stops, it’s time for a new coping tool.

Remember, it’s not what you do or don’t do, but why.

And remember that avoiding short-term discomfort (like having difficult conversations, setting or adhering to budgets, saying ‘no,’ etc.) will actually cause more stress! That pesky problem will linger in the back of your mind, slowly and ultimately spoiling your fun.

Facing a challenge head on, getting it over and done with is a way to care and protect yourself from future headaches.

Q. Let’s dive into self care tips and mindfulness. How can we incorporate these activities into our lives?

The practice of mindfulness is essentially noticing. Notice the physical fatigue, notice the way you speak about yourself and others, notice the uncomfortable part of the process, notice the chaotic environment, notice the trigger that sends you spinning every single time.

The moment we notice, that’s when we can take a beat, take a breath, and work on responding instead of reacting.

Examples of Self Care Activities

  1. Social Connection (friends brunch, games night, dancing, batch cooking)
  2. Family Time (date-nights, adventures with young children, dignified support of the elderly, one-on-one time with kids or siblings)
  3. Alone Time (half day of reflection, fellowship, goal-setting)
  4. Pampering (mani-pedi, massage, hair-cuts, seasonal shopping/purging).

Do one of these activities from any category or more once a week on a set day. If you wait for a ‘better time,’ it will never come. It is easier to work around your self care schedule than to work it in.

Q. Do you have any other self care tips?

Definitely.

Make time for an ‘Hour of Power’

  • 20 minute shower/bath with lux products (Epsom salt!!)
  • 20 minutes to be quiet. eat/read/close eyes/listen to music. Pick one.
  • 20 minutes outdoors if possible to recharge or decompress.
  • And a 20 minute nap is all you need to feel fresh. More than that, you wake up groggy.

Studies show that 30 minutes walking in the forest improves focus by 20% and creativity by 60%. Find a trail. Make it yours.

Use Your Benefits and Take Time Off

If you have an employer who grants you benefits, or you have secured your own plan privately (like many entrepreneurs do), then get on the phone with your insurance provider, determine your balance and use up every single cent. Book your appointments in advance for the remainder of the year (all massage, all dentist, all chiro, etc).

Take Vacation Paid vacation days, personal days, sick days – use them.

Any skill upgrades or retirement savings matching programs – use them.

Many employers cover therapy and will offer a stipend for spouses or dependents in need. Use them. These ‘benefits’ are already paid for by you with your time and dedication to the company or your career, and your time away from loved ones.

Often these benefits are your employer’s way of reinvesting in you to ensure productivity. Show self-respect and appreciation by using all of it!

About Nova Browning Rutherford

A photo of Nova Browning Rutherford

Nova lectures on the importance of mental health, social and emotional intelligence in the academic, public and private sectors from coast to coast. Fans of the internationally syndicated talk show, CTV’s “The Social,” will recognize Nova as their trusted life coach and wellness expert.

Her career focus is Personal Development in the areas of mindfulness integration, understanding secular meditation, and prioritizing self-care.

Prior to her wellness work, Nova worked behind the scenes in Hollywood entertainment, supporting the Marketing and PR campaigns of superstar celebrities.

Nova’s roller-coaster life experience has been profiled in outlets like Huffington Post, The Globe And Mail, Chatelaine, CBC, CTV, and the Oprah Winfrey Network.

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