Fortunately, we are beginning to find ourselves in a world where it’s okay to open up a little more about mental health. It’s great! It’s the age of empathy and humility now, and I think once we begin to empathize properly with each other, we’ll be in a much better place. We’ve all got the same prehistoric brain, and it’s surprising how you can begin to essentially ‘re-program’ your thoughts.
I’ve most certainly had my battles with mental health and I think it’s pretty rife in the creative industry (and everywhere else probably). I had times where I was self-loathing, felt really unsuccessful and hated what I did (I’m so stoked on what I do). Admittedly, at times I was probably a tricky person to be around and work with. I even considered career changes—not really sure why though. Fortunately, with a bit of introspection and some commitment, this is something you can turn around.
I’m going to share a few things that I’ve found work especially well for me, and that I have tested pretty thoroughly over a the past 6 weeks. You’ll also see the cosmic-hippie side of me, which wants to help you.
I cannot say enough about how important this is. Just half an hour of aerobic activity every day will kick you into gear. Plus, you might even score that awesome ‘runners high’. Ride those good endorphins into the rest of your day!
A study in Finland found that, in a healthy brain, the hippocampus constantly generates neurons to replenish itself, and sustained aerobic activity may be the key to growing an abundance of new cells.
Download the Headspace app. It’s free (to a point, but trust me, you’ll pay for it) and will help you tame those rushing thoughts. Even if they are good ones, and you’re really feeling the ideas flowing, meditation teaches you how to home-in on one thought concentrate. Not to mention the ability to manage anxiety, external and internal performance pressure, and depression/unhappiness. I’m an advocate. 100%. Plus, you’ll appreciate the fun UI and animations they have.
Visualization is another technique within meditation that has been observed extensively in the elite sports world—to an extent to which there are measurable results. Interesting reading here.
This practice stems from meditation, and it’s relatively easy to learn. I’m absolutely certain it helps you be a better creative by potentially pulling cues from your environment. Watch how the clouds move, how light falls and is scattered by trees, or perhaps admire the gradients in the sky at dawn/dusk. Become aware of everyday sounds and these can become somewhat musical.
Bonobo uses a lot of found/raw audio samples in his music. If you ever get the downtime while you’re waiting for your mate to go to the dunny (Australian slang for toilet) when you’re sitting at the coffee shop or a bar, resist the urge to look at your phone and observe your surroundings instead.
Productive Habits and Routine
Our role as creatives can sometimes lead to being on the road (it’s one of the reasons we do it, right?) and falling out of routine. Routine can extend past “oh, I need to get up at 6am, stretch at 6:07am, coffee at 6:30am,” I set reminders to ping on my phone daily with things like “check posture” and “fill water bottle.” I picked this one up from a good mate of mine who’s a teacher. It works because, unfortunately and fortunately, we’re so reliant on our phones—we always seem to need to know what a notification might tell us.
We’re creatures of habit. Habits = less distraction and a much more focussed mind. Get these down-pat and you’ll be able to work anywhere. I haven’t used any habit tracking apps, but I find you can get the reminders on your iPhone to work pretty well for you.
I write a little review of every day. Doesn’t take more than 10 minutes AND it’ll get you off a screen. I’ll date it in the morning, add a few “to-do’s” and leave space for any ideas I might have. Before bed, I’ll do a quick review of how I approached my day (or how it approached me). Two columns: “what I did well” and “what I didn’t do so well.” This keeps that process of introspection developing every day. If the same thing keeps popping up in your “not so well” column, it’ll gently help you address the problem in the context of your day-to-day.
Another exercise I do less frequently is “high and low tide.” Low tide: things that make me feel drained. High tide: things that fill me. It’s easy and I’ll leave it up to your interpretation. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.
I’ll use my journal to goal set, too. I just set a few achievable and measurable goals for every 3-month period that relate to a larger, yearly achievement. For instance, save $xxxx, go camping/go on a surf trip with mates, run X-distance at X-time, have trained at least 4 days a week for 3 months, take a photo every day, or learn another language. Less measurable goals are good too, but become tricky to track.
A good tip is to get a pocket-sized journal—it’s much less intimating than a giant blank page and I feel so much more accomplished when I’m filling multiple pages.
Create some new neural pathways and challenge yourself regularly. It’s good for you. I mentioned physical exercise? Now, how about exercising your brain and building that neuroplasticity! I’ll spend at least half an hour every day teaching myself a new skill or refining one I already have. I’ve played drums pretty well my whole life—I find hitting things for half an hour and challenging myself with technically difficult exercises every day helps.
Language is a great one and you’ll only reap benefits. It’s never a waste of time. Like cooking? Learn how to master your knife skills! There’s so much to learn, and the best part is sharing your learnings with others. Helping and teaching feels really, really great and will stoke people out.
This is a huge one. Make absolute-freaking-sure you’re getting at least 8 hours. There is so much study into how sleep deprivation affects performance. If you’re sleep deprived, you’re robbing your body of its ability to rest, regenerate and balance out your chemistry. Go to bed early. You’ll nail that brief tomorrow when you’re rested and mentally sharper.
You’ll feel so much better, and the benefits extend into your relationships and personal life. Nobody wants to hang around a tweaked-out, coffee-reliant, irrationally thinking grump! Ugh! I’ve made some very dumb decisions in the past which I can trace directly to being sleep deprived.
When I was studying, I put way too much pressure on myself to do well, clocking in massive days and letting sleep fall far down my priority list. As a result, I developed depression, anxiety and became listless. Things became harder. A remedial acupuncturist I visited about stress headaches simply told me to sleep more. It worked.
Don’t let this notion of “oh I worked so hard I’m only on 2 hours sleep today” seem like a badge of honor. Burning yourself out now will only cause problems down the road. Here, read about cortisol. It’s bad and it will kill you. Plus, loading yourself up with a couple of double-shots will only exacerbate stress. Which leads me to my next couple of points…
Off-Screen Time and Melatonin Production
45 minutes before bed: no screens. None. Nup. Read a book. Hug your partner. Meditate. Stretch. It all feels good and will help your body generate melatonin, the sleep chemical! If I have to work late on my computer for whatever reason, I use F.Lux to filter out some of the blue light.
Drink Less Coffee
Allpress do a good decaf. I love the ritual and the process of making coffee every morning, but having not touched a drop for 6 weeks after going cold turkey has seen some results for me. No more headaches, waking up feeling foggy or dependance!
Caffeine has a chemical half-life of about 7-8hrs, so that’s something to remember when approaching your arvo java, too. Stop caring about the jerks telling you it’s not the same—you’re putting yourself first here, remember? I’m not saying cut it out completely, just drink less.
Doing Things You Love and Saying ‘Yes’ to Things
I think you know what to do. Make the time. I make sure I go surfing. If I don’t surf, I feel weird. I know not everybody has the luxury of being next to the ocean though. As I mentioned before, exercise and doing things you love release good chemicals.
Get into the habit of pushing yourself a little out of your comfort zone, too. A friend of mine got me into this notion of saying ‘yes’ to things I probably wouldn’t otherwise do because I’m not hugely interested or perhaps even fearful. Mark Matthews is a great bloke to listen to on this, he talks a whole bunch about overcoming fear. Rightly so, given some of the heavy water he gets involved with.
Do this as long as it isn’t super risky or detrimental to you in any way.
Be a Mate
Spend time with your friends and stay in touch with people. They’ll throw fuel into your furnace to keep you going, m8. Be inflating, too. Bursting people’s balloons sucks. Let people know how good they are. Practice empathy and humility with them. When your’e down, they’ll have your back.
About the author: Brandon Rooney is a photographer, designer and director based on the gold coast of Australia. To see more of his work, check out his website or give him a follow on Instagram. This article was also published here, and is being republished with permission..