should creatives be concerned about mental health issues?
I didn’t know I had anxiety until I published my first book. As a licensed counselor you would think I’d have caught it. How could I recognize it so easily in my clients and not in myself? The truth is, for most of us, it’s a lot easier to see the behaviors of others than to admit we have the same symptoms. I understood the need for specific mental health tips and tools for creatives the week I hit the approve button to publish my first novel, A Time to Heal. I got a dose of what it was like to put my baby out there for the world to criticize. A small taste of what it feels like for a creative to put your work or yourself on display for all to see. Mental health for creatives became a priority for me!
What studies had to say…
Although research results are mixed, there have been studies that would suggest creative individuals are no more likely than anyone else to experience anxiety or any other mental health concerns. However, the same study deems writers to be the exception and were found to be more prone to mental health concerns than other creative groups. Another study conducted in the United States in 2007 sited no significant differences between creatives and non-creatives when it comes to mental health disorders. Again, with the exception of writers, who showed marked differences in terms of coping skills.
What my own experience had to say…
In 2016 my counseling clientele took an interesting shift. I began treating an influx of what I called “undercover creatives”. Of course, I didn’t tell them that’s what I was calling them but it’s exactly what they were! There were writers, singers, bakers, stylists, and such who were struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, and unresolved trauma. Their creative gifts had been covered up by life. As we progressed through the counseling process, the gifts emerged. My clients got better the more they allowed themselves to fall in love again with why God had placed them on the earth. Those creative gifts were never meant to be buried and once they were front and center again, the healing process became a lot less painful.
What I thought was an odd shift in my practice became a new way of working with my clients. In this post I’m going to share the 7-step process I created to help myself and my clients move from anxious to author or from whatever their mental health concern to their gift. From this blog you can expect to learn to recognize your mentally vulnerable spots, identify your support system, and develop your next steps to make sure you’re on the road to creative wholeness.
Are you ready to grab your 7 tips?
1. Vet Yourself Mentally and Emotionally
The vetting process is typically considered when speaking of politics or employment. In vetting a candidate, the goal is to find out what scandals you have in your background and what skeletons you have in their closets. In this blog I’m talking about your mental health and how you want to be able to vet yourself. I want you to get honest about the things in your past that could potentially jump out and grab you at the most inopportune time of your life or career.
How you take care of yourself mentally and emotionally is a big deal. You must be intentional about it. Contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. It’s important to go through a healing process on purpose. You do not want to wait until you’re at the top of your platform or about to reach your ultimate dream goal before you decide to acknowledge any mental health concerns.
Just take a look at some of our favorite creatives as entertainers and current pop culture icons. While mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, the best time for them to rear their ugly heads is not in front of the paparazzi! I’m sure you could name a few celebrities to which this has happened and you don’t want it to be you! Even if your desire is not be that big or well-known, research has already shown there are at least some links between creativity and mental illness in certain creative populations.
Know where you are mentally and emotionally. If you need help, admit it and seek out what you need. Find a therapist, psychiatrist, coach, mentor or whatever type of mental health provider you need. If you find yourself in crisis or simply do not know where else to turn you can dial or text 988 nationwide, 24/7. I teach my clients to say this…”I’m hurting, and I need help so I can heal.”
2. Account for Your Weaknesses
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll define a weakness as a person, place, thing, mindset, or entity with the capability of compromising your creative space. When you’re looking at your weaknesses as it pertains to your mental health, you want to consider where your vulnerable spots are. These are not necessarily things you need to strengthen. They are more so areas where you need to protect yourself.
Weaknesses are often looked at as a lack of a needed or desired skill in some area. When talking about mental health tips and tools for creatives, let’s discuss the ability to identify places where you need to set boundaries. You want to both acknowledge and protect your potential blind spots.
Where are the chinks in your armor? Meaning, what areas in your life need a higher level of protection because it’s a soft spot for you? It’s your Achilles heel. If someone were trying to get under your skin, hurt you, and push your buttons, this would be the area in which they would focus their efforts.
Please do not fool yourself into thinking you don’t have any vulnerabilities because we all do. The 7 tips to improving your mental health as a creative presented in this blog includes knowing where your weaknesses are and not ignoring them. You want to know yourself better than anyone else does so you know when it’s time for you to take action. You are responsible for protecting your peace and your blind spots. That is, of course, unless you have God watching your back! We’ll talk more about Him later. But, even when faith is a major part of your life, there is still a part you have to play.
3. Command Your Sphere of Influence
Commanding, in the context of this blog, is the art of getting the attention of those you intend to have influence over. This is about more than telling people what to do. Before you gain influence over another, you must ensure you know who you are and what you’re here for. As a creative person, you are called to create. Your craft is not simply for you. It should be used to make a positive impact on the world. But, that will also make a positive impact on your own life.
What you do with your gift will make a difference. A mental health tip for you as a creative is to know and understand who you’re here for because you’re not for everyone. If you think you are, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary criticism and rejection. You’re already aware that your creations are personal and special to you even if and when they mean nothing to others. You can bring undue harm to yourself by not knowing who your sphere of influence is.
If you’re not sure, consider what your creative gift is and how you currently use it. If you’re not sharing it with the world yet, why not? That’s what it’s for. It’s not just for you. There are some people who need to be or could be in your sphere of influence but because you have yet to put your work in front of them, you don’t know who they are and they don’t know who you are either.
What you have to offer could be the answer to someone’s problem in the world. What if someone is waiting for your creative influence in their lives and because you’re not showing up in the world, their concern is going unanswered. And if you’re wondering how on earth your creative gift could be the answer to someone’s problem, just think about a person younger than you who wants to do what you do but has no one else to look at for inspiration or motivation.
It’s not necessarily that you’re going to make the impact on the world by one piece of creative work. But, what if you sparked an entire generation of up-and-coming creatives because of what you had the courage to do? They become a part of your sphere of influence and now your gift will inspire others long after you’re gone. Think beyond you, creator! When we are able to see past our own pain it often moves us past it.
4. Intentionally Improve Your Coping Skills
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll define coping as the strategies, skills, or mechanisms which are engaged to minimize stress. I prefer to use strategy when working with my clients because it allows us to be proactive. Coping strategies are the skills and tactics put in place to hold us together during the trying times in our lives. Without effective coping strategies, we will set ourselves up to endure unnecessary struggle for extended periods of time.
You can acquire coping strategies, meaning you can learn them. They are collectable. It is never too late to pick up a new strategy. You want to have these in place in order to do better in your life. Understand first that you have to be aware of the fact that you need them and then you will have the wherewithal to seek them out.
Take a survey of the strategies you have and categorize them as positive or negative. If they are non-existent, of course, you will need to put some in place. As for improving your mental health as a creative, how you cope with life experiences has a major impact on your creativity. Sometimes you can and will use a situation in your life as inspiration and sometimes you will be blocked by it.
As I noted earlier, one research study specifically identified coping skills, or lack thereof, as being a concern in writers. It doesn’t mean that other creative groups are immune, but if you’re a writer, like me, you want to ensure that you are intentional about improving your coping strategies.
5. Trust Your Intuition
Believing in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something or someone will be used as our definition of trust for this blog. Building the support system you need to help you attain and sustain the success you desire will require a certain level of trust. A trustworthy person will not look the same for everyone. For a creative person, trust is paramount because you have to put your work in front of people to be evaluated. You have to be sure that if you sign a contract for your creation, you can trust what you’re signing and that one of your most prized possessions is not being exploited. Talk about anxiety inducing!
Much like your coping strategies, your support system can be positive, negative, or non-existent. Examine the people in your life. Put them into the categories they belong in. Understanding who you are will help you understand who is needed. If you are a trustworthy person, then you will know what and who you’re looking for. Be present for yourself so are able to choose the people who are there for you.
6. Set Goals
A structured plan put into place to aid in reaching a desired outcome or goal. Setting and accomplishing goals is important to the success of our lives. I’ve had too many clients who neglected to set goals because of wrong thinking. What do I mean by wrong thinking? An example would be the belief that if something is supposed to happen it will just happen on its own.
A goal is not a dream. A goal is what you set in motion to make your dream come to fruition. As a tip to improve your mental health as a creative, this blog will give you some practical steps in setting a goal. You’re going to use your process to set yourself up for a win!
Here is the 5-step process of goal setting I use with my clients. Take these steps and get started moving toward your dream today!
- Name your goal.
- Write down what your ultimate goal is. Talk about the big picture. Imagine yourself living the life you associate with reaching this goal.
- List your SMART goals. (H3)
- Your SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time framed. These are the smaller, doable goals that will get you to your ultimate end result
- List your plans to accomplish each goal. (H3)
- Go back to each SMART goal you listed and talk about your strategy to accomplish each one.
- List any people or materials you need. (H3)
- You will not likely be able to accomplish your ultimate goal alone. At this point in your process you want to name any people or other resources you will need to be successful.
- Name 4 ways you will celebrate your wins. (H3)
- For each small goal you complete give yourself a moment to celebrate it. That way you build momentum and internal motivation to keep going.
- Set a deadline for each goal. (H3)
- You want to set a specific deadline to reach each goal. Do not try to go for everything at once. You will frustrate yourself. Celebrate after you hit your deadline for each small goal.
7. Faith integration
This piece of the blog comes with a warning because it may be offensive to some. Not everyone believes the same way about how faith, spirituality, and mental health intertwine. Some may even believe they have nothing to do with one another. In my work and in my life, I believe that faith and mental health are not mutually exclusive. Meaning, they work hand-in-hand.
We will define spirituality as your belief in something greater and beyond yourself. If you are a follower of Christ, like me, your faith is in Jesus. Whether you believe in God is not the point here. Whatever your core belief system is takes priority. It’s what grounds you and anchors you in life. It’s what you lean on in times of struggle. It’s your foundation. Whatever you have faith in is what you want to focus on.
Why am I bringing faith in as a tip to improve mental health for creatives? Because whether you believe it or not, what you believe in is at the core of your mental health. As a creator, you understand that life is not all about you. If you only created beauty for yourself to enjoy, what good would that be or do? What you have faith in and believe in at your core, is your “why” for everything you create.
Improving your mental health in any profession is important. For creatives, it’s imperative. The studies are being done but the results are mixed when it comes to creatives and mental health. At the least, creatives struggle with mental illness and diagnoses at about the same rates as others. At worst, some creative groups might be a bit more prone to certain disorders.
No matter what past, present, or future findings report, we want to get proactive about our mental health. The 7 tips I’ve outlined in this blog will help you get on the road to doing just that! If you need additional resources, check out Psychology Today. If you’re in crisis you can dial or text 988 at any time, nationwide.