Taking care of ourselves is essential at all times. Unfortunately, it’s easy to let our good habits fall by the wayside. Yet as creatives — artists, writers, performers, and other types of innovators — we need to have some way to take breaks, stay grounded, and give ourselves the support and encouragement we need.
I wrote this post with creators in mind, but self care is for everyone. And with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize how we’re feeling now and year-round. Paying attention to what’s going on for us mentally, physically, and emotionally is an excellent start.
If you already have these practices, this post will give you evidence that you’re on the right track. And if you’re not sure where to begin, here are some ideas to get you started. As a disclaimer, the advice in this post is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or condition, so if you have questions, please talk to a doctor or other professional.
Here are a few ways you can get started on practices for mind, body, and spirit (and why experts say you should, too):
Mind: Thoughts Become Things
Ever heard the phrase “thoughts become things”? Whatever we’re putting our attention on plays a role in shaping our reality. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what we’re thinking and saying both to ourselves and about ourselves.
Positive thinking may seem a bit too cheery to some. But studies have shown that affirmations, or positive thoughts, can essentially rewire the brain. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied the effects of affirmations and found that using these techniques can produce cognitive benefits.
From an article in The Cut about the University of Pennsylvania study (emphasis mine):
There are three main psychological explanations for why self-affirmation is beneficial: First, it’s simply enjoyable to dwell on what we value; second, when we’re feeling threatened by a particular criticism or failure, the technique reminds us of those things we value about ourselves more broadly, that are separate from the threatened aspect; third, by broadening the basis of our self-worth, it can help us regulate our emotions….
The researchers looked for and found neural evidence to back up the first two of the hypotheses for why self-affirmation works — the notion that it’s beneficial because it’s rewarding and pleasurable, and that it works because it acts as a defense mechanism by reminding us of the things in life that we cherish, thereby broadening the foundation of our self-worth. Specifically, participants in the self-affirmation condition exhibited greater activation in parts of the brain that are known to be involved in expecting and receiving reward (the ventral striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex) than did those in the control group….
The study concluded: “We find novel evidence that a future frame may act synergistically with value-based self-affirmations to bolster a sense of self prior to threat exposure.” In other words, using affirmations can improve your self esteem in the present moment and boost your self worth so that you feel more calm when stressful situations arise.
Pick at least one affirmation that speaks to you. Once you’ve made your selection(s), write the affirmation down on a Post-It Note, in a day planner, or on a chalk/dry erase board in your home. The important thing is that you will see this affirmation each day and be able to repeat it to yourself often.
Need some inspiration? Louise L. Hay, founder of the Hay House publishing company, taught affirmations as a way of helping others change their minds any time and, therefore, change their lives. This list contains 101 of her top affirmations. You’ll also find several lists if you Google “positive affirmations.”
Body: Nourish Yourself
We are not just brains in vats, no matter what you might have believed after watching The Matrix. As creators, it’s easy to live in our heads. Yet we also need to remember to attend to the needs of our bodies from time to time.
I’m no athlete or gym rat. But I can confirm that when I do something that gets me up and moving — even to stretch for a bit — I always feel better. I especially like to go for walks in the woods, which usually leads to some kind of creative inspiration.
The benefits of physical activity have been studied extensively, so I won’t go over that much here. If you’re not already doing something to work out regularly, get moving! Put on some music and dance. Do some yoga. Go for a walk in nature. Do something to help you feel good physically.
If movement isn’t available to you, however, find a practice that will help you feel good in your body. That might mean giving yourself the rest you need to feel refreshed. Lying in savasana or even sitting in a comfortable position and repeating your affirmations to yourself can have positive benefits for mind, body, and spirit. Sleep is also good for you and has been shown to boost cognitive performance, so if you need to, take a nap.
We can also nourish our bodies with food and drink. Focus on eating food that makes you feel good, whatever that happens to be. We’re heading into summer in the northern hemisphere, so make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water! (Staying hydrated is important every season, of course.)
Spirit: Slow Down and Listen
Whatever the term spirit means to you — soul, emotional well-being, creative inspiration — it’s just as important, if not more so, to nourish this part of ourselves. One way to do that is though meditation.
If you’re like me, you may be kind of resistant to the idea of just sitting quietly. I always thought that meditation meant that you had to “clear your mind,” but it doesn’t have to work that way. Instead, meditation encourages us to let go of our thoughts when they come up (because they will).
And just as with positive psychology and physical activity, meditation also has scientific benefits for the mind and body. A study from Stanford University showed that loving-kindness meditation helped people increase feelings of social connection. This method involves visualizing your loved ones and then directing the positive feelings you would give to and receive from them to other people — even strangers. As our social lives have shifted in recent months, it’s important that we still feel a sense of connection even when our friends and loved ones aren’t here with us physically.
A loving-kindness meditation is one potential strategy to help boost your mood. Another visualization I like to use is a gratitude meditation. This is where I imagine the people in my life who I am grateful for moving past me one by one, as if on a train. It’s a powerful reminder of the people who care about you, especially if you’re feeling alone right now.
A few other meditation ideas:
- Try Jessica Snow’s lush, magical guided meditations (start with The Field)
- Wind down for the evening with Gala Darling’s rainbow meditation
- Search YouTube for Tibetan singing bowl sound baths, binaural beats, and frequencies (528 Hz, 432 Hz, etc.) to find relaxing sounds to use in your meditation
If you’re new to meditation, try it for just a couple minutes a day. Even a minute or two of slow, steady breaths can help you slow down racing thoughts and gain a new perspective.
Build your self-care toolkit
Self-care may be something of a buzzword these days. But from my experience, it’s a necessity. I need to take care of myself to recharge, and I also need it to keep my energy levels up when I’m deep into a project or up against a deadline. Over the years, I’ve become more adept at keeping up my own self care practices.
Looking for more self-care for creatives?
The Muse Manifesto is a digital magazine for anyone daring to live a creative life. The inaugural Winter 2022 issue is centered around making the new year your boldest and most creative year. It includes nearly 70 pages of reflection exercises, rituals, and new routines to implement in 2022.