Catching the Overwhelm before it Catches You
Working hard in the arts is important, but equally important is knowing when to stop. Those times of rest to recharge helps prevent illness and prolonged periods away from projects.
Here’s my top tips for staying with it:
Take some time before you start the project to think about you:
Before any project we spend a great deal of time making proposals, time lines, budgets, but when do we make time to think about our needs?
• Making a list of things you enjoy outside of the project that you can come back to. This allows you to have a grounding list of things to do when you need a break. This is different for everyone ranging from swimming or meditation to a Netflix brain turn off (letting someone else entertain you).
• Pop in some time off during the schedule, be that an evening, a whole day or just taking time for lunch. We all know projects can get behind, but remember all batteries need recharging at some point and no one is super human.
• Take time to think about what usually happens when you begin to feel overwhelm in the body and in the mind. Do you begin to talk fast, can you feel your heart beat a little quicker, do you find it difficult to go to sleep or do you wake in the middle of the night? Being able to catch these important signs when in the project allows you to reframe the need for those emails at midnight.
What ever it may be for you, making these list in the calm before the storm allows you to catch yourself before its too late.
In at the Deep End:
Once in the project never underestimate:
A good support network: not just on the project but in life. We know the importance of surrounding yourself with a good team at work, but ensuring you are able to meet with people totally unconnected will also help. Just talking about something different can be such a relief to the nervous system.
Laughter: by its very nature makes you feel safe. There is a science behind it…..when we laugh we are vulnerable (think open mouth, throat exposed) so to laugh lets us know we are ok where we are.
Let go: The perfectionism has a definite time and place. Remember that only you will see those little niggling things that are not quite right….step back and look at the whole picture rather than obsessing about one area.
Delegate: This is not always possible dependent on your team - particularly if you are your team - can you delegate to yourself? Writing a to-do list allows you to get those wonderfully satisfying ticks as you go down the list.
Breath…..just Breath…..like laughter it helps us know we are safe. You may have heard people refer to it as activating the parasympathetic system (rest and digest) in the body. Simply put, when our body is in panic our breath becomes short, sharp or laboured. Slowing down the breath or increasing the amount of breath taken in can reduce any panic felt in that moment. Taking 3 deep breaths is a simple one but there are many more breathing techniques which can help slow you down.
Unplug: For some people this is meditation, taking a moment to unplug and focus on your breath, a small candle, or use a guided meditation. For others its watching Cat Memes, what ever it takes just to stop thinking for 5 minutes will allow the nervous system to rest.
Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese art of Forest Bathing. Spending time within nature reduces stress and fosters a sense of wellbeing. Not convinced/no time....just spend a moment looking at a tree or a plant take it all in and reconnect with the universe outside of the project.
Pet Therapy: Stroking a pet is a brilliant stress reduction technique. Not got one....ask a friend if you can pop round and then steal theirs (do try to give them back though...). Allergies or phobia’s - grab a 20 second hug from someone you trust instead (20 seconds is allegedly the time you need to soften into all hugs and truly take a moment being held - ahhhhhh)
All of you: Remember you are not just a mind but a whole body. If you are stressed the body tenses, the heart rate increases, the breath becomes shallow, we can then find it difficult to focus the mind. Finding a way to stretch, run, dance, move, whatever it takes to come back into the whole of you.
Supervision/Therapy: A supervisor is someone that can objectively look at your work and the impact on of your work on yourself and others. A therapist can help refocus your outlook on life. Just having someone who can listen in a non-judgemental way, who is not attached to the work or your life, can be hugely beneficial. It also means that there is support on some of the decisions you are making so you feel less alone. Remember if your going for ACE funding these can run as part of your access funds.
And remember stopping is not a sign of weakness. You are not being lazy.
Nikki Disney works as a creative therapist and wellbeing practitioner in the arts. Having been in various roles in the industry she knows only too well what the pressure of work in the arts can impact on wellbeing and is an advocate of support for artists and companies to support wellbeing in the arts.