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April 2, 2021

What I learned about Creativity & Burnout from Interviewing 50 Artists.

 

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After nearly a year of dealing with this pandemic, I decided it was time to reach out to my community to discuss the challenges we were all facing.

The biggest challenge being burnout.

As an advocate for mindfulness practices, I was surprised when I realized that I was also burnt out.

I had prepared for the challenges ahead during the pandemic. I created a plan of action for my child’s well-being and schooling, and I time-blocked to give myself time to write. I meditated every day, morning and night. I even found ways to be outside more or take safe adventures hiking.

Still, being self-aware and proactive about the challenges ahead did not set me up for that moment in time when, in fact, I did crumble into a ball of stress.

I crumbled into that ball unconsciously. I argued with family members, I wept over my tea about silly things, and I stopped sleeping and would toss and turn no matter what I did. I had writer’s block and was beginning to feel shameful for binge-watching Netflix instead of working on my book.

Worrying about everyone’s safety and protection had gotten the best of me.

I was burnt out.

Once it happened, once I crumbled into that ball, the mindfulness techniques that I had practiced over the years allowed me to recover quickly from the meltdown. But once I had recovered from my meltdown, I became curious.

How was this pandemic affecting other people’s creativity and stress levels, and how were they handling the burnout?

I reached out to my community.

Many artists were glad to have a conversation about this. It was healing for them to be vulnerable, express their situations, and share how they themselves had adapted to the stress.

Artists come in many shapes and forms. Some being parents, business owners, side hustlers, or hobbyists. Each of them having their own challenges during the pandemic and each of them telling me that they felt burnt out from it—just like I did.

During the interviews, I asked them to just tell their story, their successes or failures with their art during the pandemic, what helped them with the stress, and at the end, I would offer one mindfulness tip for them to try out.

Here is what I found:

Some artists found the pandemic to be a high period of creativity. They dove into their work because they had so much extra time and it was a nice soothing escape from the worries of the pandemic. Making something out of nothing felt inspiring, but once they would stop creating art, their emotions would come pouring in about their health, their job, and their family members. The act of creating had given them a safe haven, but there was no escaping the stress.

Some artists found the pandemic had dried up their creativity. They didn’t have a single extra moment for their art, writing, or business. Every waking moment was dedicated to their children’s schooling or work, and there was no escaping the fact that art show after art show had closed because no one could walk the halls of a gallery without feeling safe.

Many of them cried during our interviews. Some allowed me to share their interviews live on Facebook and Instagram because they felt that their story and vulnerability would help someone else who might hear it.

Even still, each and every single one of the artists that I interviewed was adapting to the pandemic. Their journey through painting, writing, or starting a business had given them the opportunity to explore their individuality, and what they learned from their own creativity is that there was no right answer to how to handle stress for everyone. It had to be handled at the micro-level.

By exploring their creativity, each of these artists developed a sense of awareness that supported them in adapting to the changes of the pandemic. Taking on the path of creativity had allowed them to know how to adjust on an individual level. They gained wisdom, and when they shared their stories, that wisdom was both inspiring and amazing.

I learned that exploring creative endeavors or being a creative leader taught each artist how to express their individuality and become more aware of their needs.

Creativity had made them mindful.

The isolation of the pandemic, the emotional roller coaster of worry about everyone’s health, and the challenges it presented each of us also made us more connected than ever.

It allowed for us to see one another not for what we were creating, where we were going professionally, or what our next goal was, but rather for who we are. The pandemic offered empathy and humanity to each of us. To see one another for our humanity and our need to express our stories, love one another, and feel community.

As I talked with these artists, I found them to be wise teachers. Their stories each unique. Some handling the stress by picking up another hobby, like gardening or puzzles. Some reconnecting with their families or putting down any hopes of starting their own business to answer the call to help hospitals out across the country. Some working overtime hours at their jobs or being crowded in their homes with no space for their creativity, or even a deep breath.

But at the end of our interview, I always offered five minutes of deep breathing and a meditation on gratitude.

I thanked these artists for sharing their stories and what they had learned. But most of all, I wanted to thank them for providing community and a platform to share how each of us is dealing with this pandemic. It’s been a challenge that each of us has learned from, and I am grateful for that.

~

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