I’m not just talking about those of us who earn all or part of our income through creative outlets, I’m talking about all of us. Do you painstakingly choose colors for a new project? That’s creative. Do you spend hours cutting out tiny little shapes for papercraft? CREATIVE, AND A BIT MAD. Fancy bullet journal? Creative. And so on. I’m talking to all of us.
Studies have shown that creative folks tend to be more empathetic, which means some of us are highly emotionally influenced by our surroundings. In today’s current sociopolitical climate, that’s not easy. We’re bombarded from the first moment we blearily look at our phones in the morning, until we (finally) drift off at night (if we manage to do that at all.).
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.”
— Pearl S. Buck
I was always labeled as “too sensitive” as a child, gravely wounded by any perceived slight. Part of that was emotional immaturity, but an amount of that stuck with me through to adulthood. Now my sensitivity isn’t so much inwardly focused as a deep pain caused by witnessing the pain of others in the world. Both countries I have called home for extended periods of time seem to be in freefall: one has a terrifyingly inept leader, and the other is caught in a media civil war with dog whistle racism at its core. I can’t seem to escape huge black block letters splashed across every front page, “IMMIGRANTS CAUSE HUGE STRAIN ON ECONOMY.” It’s not true, of course, but as an immigrant with many immigrant friends, it’s taxing. It’s almost as if humans aren’t meant to endure prolonged periods of strain and stress without side effects like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
I found myself huddled under a blanket last week, trying to get out of a social engagement with a lovely and trusted friend, because I had just reached my limit for the day/week/month/year. When anxiety strikes, it makes me feel powerless, nothing more than another victim of the big system we all play a part in. My wife sat next to me and said, “Listen, you’re like a big powerful engine. You do everything at the same time, and it’s awesome to watch – but even big powerful engines need a tune-up sometimes, a few days in the shop to get back to normal strength.”
It really resonated with me, and made me think about how no, we aren’t all robots who can just keep working on no sleep, 12-14 hour days trying to keep up, and not suffer the consequences. We’re fleshy meat sacks and we need sleep, and nourishment, and ‘time in the shop,’ whether that’s a staycation, a night at the movies, or a weekend wearing your rattiest (but comfiest) pajamas, playing video games, and eating leftover takeout.
If this post is touching a raw nerve, then I recommend the following:
- Turn your phone on “do not disturb.” No one needs 50 billion notifications from Facebook’s “you have memories to review today,” Twitter’s “you may have missed,” or Instagram’s “XXX people haven’t heard from you lately, publish a post now!” If you’re a parent or have other responsibilities, most phones allow you to set certain contacts to be able to bypass your do not disturb setting.
2. Take a day off from the news. You probably can’t do anything about it anyway, not right now. Don’t open a new tab, don’t engage, just stop. There’s so much negativity floating around lately that it can feel like a literal deluge of shit, and that’s not good for anyone’s mental health.
3. Do something nice for someone else. Being kind can make you feel like a superhero, and it does wonders for your mental state. Volunteer at an animal shelter, clean up a local park, donate to a good cause, or sign up on Patreon to support the artists, poets, and musicians you love. Send a friend a care package, bake some bread for a neighbor. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost money, you just need to do it with a full heart.
4. Go for a walk. To the park, through the woods, with the dog, doesn’t matter. Fresh air and new scenery can give you a lot of perspective and plenty of peace.