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How common are mental health challenges for artists?

The below piece about When We Met Podcast is written by Shubhangi Singh and you can connect with her on Instagram for any questions or to share your opinion about the piece. You can also listen to When We Met podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Hubhopper, Gaana, Anchor or any other podcast app or even watch it on Platform For Artists's YouTube channel.

How many times have you felt the overwhelming wave of stress and anxiety of constantly checking your phone to see if a client has sent you any message or looking at the insights section of your social media pages? Or the sleepless nights you have been through due to overworking and exhausting yourself in the name of hustling hard – too many times than you can count, right?

Artists are Masochists.

It is often seen that for artists their art is an extension of their lives, their story, their pain and experiences. Some of the greatest artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath etc have derived their art by suffering and coping up with their mental health struggles which profoundly reflects onto their work. Thinking about this, I often wonder that must artists die in order for their art to live? Is it necessary to go through mental health struggles for creativity to thrive? While on a quest to find answers I came across a research paper about the stigma of madness and “craziness” attached to us artists, there are no great geniuses without some touch of madness and mental breakdowns which unleash the required creativity. As a result, this stigma has romanticised the connection between mental illness and creativity.

In the first episode of season 3 of When We Met podcast by Platform For Artists, we are here to tell you that you can lead a peaceful life and still have hopes of sustaining into this creative world with a better Mental Health.

In this grim time of isolation and the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs, paid gigs, freelancing clients, shutdown of small business which as a result, has brought a great amount of stress and uncertainty in our minds. You might have already had couple of breakdowns or felt the problem of creative burnout, and maybe you still do. As a writer myself, I have faced anxiety over not being consistent enough and creative every day. We are so attached to our work and with our art that we forget when to draw a line of overworking and putting ourself under immense pressure to be productive and creative at all times. Maybe sky is the limit and you don’t have to be limitless always.

Amidst all of this we seldom realise the importance of taking care of our mental health. Here are some common problems artists face and how we can be better at handling them.

Creative Burnout

The constant urge of being up to date with all the trends and generating content around it like a robotic machine might get you results in a shorter time but after a while it will burn you out ultimately creating a problem of creative burnout. When you feel that your mind and body is giving up constantly, the first thing you do is listen to your body. Take a breather. Taking a break does not mean that you don’t love doing that particular thing but it simply means that you respect it and want to pause so that you can be better at what you do with a relaxed mind.

Social media and creative individuals are normalising the circumstantial pressure to believe that the inability to create something new is an abnormality when every other individual is creating content at a breakneck speed. We are forgetting that creative processes are lengthy and cannot happen every single day – says Tuheena Raj, a writer and poet.

Self-Doubt and Comparison

Artists share their life experiences into their art. Whether it is a piece of writing, a song, or any other form of art, we as an audience go and connect it to the artist in terms of what they were feeling when they made that artwork. It becomes extremely tough to not judge yourselves with others when you are in the public domain. You often see other people’s work and define standard to your work further degrading it and start self-doubting yourself. This creates an inferiority complex or even imposter syndrome. One of the things which I have been doing to avoid comparing myself to others is to unfollow people from all social media accounts who create that feeling into me. If you think that whomever you follow doesn’t add value to you or your work then mute them if you can’t unfollow them. It makes a lot of difference into making the internet a safer and positive space for you where there are a lot of political debates going on.

Hustle Culture

Hustling hard or not hustling enough are some of the common terms we have come across and casually used. The cognitive need to side hustle or doing “too much” has romanticised hustle culture. As we scroll through social media, how many times have we seen people putting up stories of them working on their laptops at 3 am captioning it as “hustle hard”. While you tap through these stories you think that maybe you are not doing enough work. Upon googling the meaning of hustle, I found its definition to be – force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specific direction or something obtained by forceful action or persuasion. This definition in the dictionary had me thinking that why have we normalised hustling? It is not wrong to want great achievements in life and work towards it and as we all know – nothing happens overnight but at the same time nothing should happen at the cost of your mental peace.

Ever since the lockdown started, we have lost track of our work hours and our home is our workplace too which further makes it excruciating to see yourself working at 1 am or 2 am. The problem with hustle culture is that it doesn’t normalise slowing down and failed attempts. One must not forget that until and unless you won’t have unproductive days you won’t realise the days which are productive.

Sleeping Patterns

Artistic creativity has long been associated with bad sleep. It is termed as “artists are night owls”. The belief that sleepless nights sparks creative ideas makes us feel that we must be awake during the night to brainstorm ideas and to some it is a reflex to be awake late at night. The working mentality of the creative industries isn’t exactly known for its capacity for an off switch and for freelancers the case is even worse. The same mind that produces creative ideas may also have trouble getting quiet when sleep is wanted.

Sleeplessness is a widespread problem. As per Mathew Walker, a neuroscience scientist, “Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic” or in more direct and simple terms – the shorter you sleep, the shorter is your life. But how do we avoid this sleeplessness in an excuse to liberate our creative juices? By changing your time graph. What I exactly mean by that is change your time patterns when you create the most. If you have a habit of staying up late and working on your art, then shift that time to early morning. It will surely take a lot of days to get into a comfortable zone of this change but with time your reflex will itself change as you will train your mind and body to work in that way. Practice does not make you perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection.

Art into Therapy

Art for many is a coping mechanism. When I write anything, I feel empowered and at peace for being able to express myself through metaphors, proses and verses. For decades, art has proven to be a popular self-practiced method of soothing your mind and keeping it at relaxation. Art into therapy is now widely known and practiced by many people but the question which often my mind throws at me is – how can those – for whom art is their profession practice art therapy stress-free? When I researched about it, I found that Art therapy can be defined in many ways, but the simplest way to define it is an application of the visual arts in a therapeutic context. You don’t necessarily have to see a therapist in order to experience some of the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression. What I personally do is practice journaling even while I professionally write. When I sit down and write in my journal, I make sure to not put any pressure and expectations from myself during that time. The most important aspect of art therapy is that you should try it only if you want to. The process of art therapy can make you realise so much about yourself that it is often revealing and painful so if you feel you are not ready for it, it’s okay take your time.

Benefits of art therapy are cognitive and continuous. When you do something new, for example, pick a new hobby, you start it without any pressure to be a perfectionist and that gives you a chance to acknowledge and recognise feelings that have been lurking in your subconscious. It can also be a stress reliever for you both mentally and physically.

In this world where numbers and data define our hard work and effort, we often neglect the well being of our mind which was all along the one doing the hard work. Hustle and overworking have been normalised so much that taking a break or even a gap year seems like a distant dream and even after all of this when you do decide to take a break you are tagged as someone who is not serious towards his/her work.

Whenever you second guess the decisions you took for your mental well-being always remember that if you're not in a good mental state, you won't be able to be the best artist you can be or the best human you can be, take care.

You can listen to this topic on When We Met podcast hosted by Pawan Rochwani on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Hubhopper, Gaana, Anchor or any other podcast app or even watch it on Platform For Artists's YouTube channel.

For any questions or suggestions for the podcast show or to be a guest contributor to the site, please write to us on hello@pfaindia.com

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