Ten Ways to Stay Creative During Stressful Times

Many of us have more time on our hands than usual these days. My first thought when I started the quarantine routine was, "I'm going to write that short story I've been working on in my head for months!" My second thought was, "I'll just check the news one more time." My third thought was AAAGGGHGHH!! And I wandered into the kitchen to stress bake some cookies, took the dog for a walk, read the news again, watched Spanish football players playing video games in an online tournament, took the dog for another walk. 

Creativity takes more than time, it takes energy, inspiration, some space in the brain to marinate ideas. It's easy to let stress push all all of that out, it's easy to let stress wear you down. So we have to remind ourselves that creativity is often the best weapon against anxiety. 

Here are ten tips to maintain your creativity in times of stress.

1. Find yourself some space. As I write this my teenage son is dilligently homeschooling sitting on the couch behind me listening to loud sweary music. It's time to take my writing offline, grab a pen and a notebook, and find myself a quiet place. We have an attic room nobody uses, we have a shed in the backyard that's quite airy. If you don't have the luxury of physical space, you can always try headphones or earbuds with your favorite inspiring and non-distracting music .

2. Expand your definition of creativity. If you're an artist and you define yourself by the art you create, you might have grown accustomed to thinking of yourself as a painter or a photographer to the point that this becomes your sole focus. But there can be creativity in cooking a good meal or making lego creations and macaroni art with your kids. Let yourself feel rewarded by the small things you create. It's a starting point, true, but the more you create, the more you create.

3. Turn off the news. It's important to stay informed, but when the news is as frightening and confusing as it has been lately, it's best to take it in small doses. Maybe start your day with an update from one or two trusted news sources, (avoid all the misinformation on Facebook and Twitter) and then force yourself not to look again until lunchtime, or dinner time, or however long you can hold off. This is another way to create space in your brain for art.

4. Share your work. Now more than ever our virtual communites are vital. An artist needs an audience. Online groups are sprouting up for people to share their day-to-day creativity: what they're cooking, what they're drawing, the music they're making. Facebook communities devoted to the arts are a true inspiration in troubled times. The comments I've seen are almost entirely supportive and encouraging. When's the last time you saw that online? You can share your sketches, a picture of your studio, a video of yourself dancing while you paint, your worries, your hope, your inspiration. And as ever, share your work with us on Facebook.

5. Feed your brain. The first day of quarantine, I really couldn't persuade myself to start writing a short story, so I read some stories instead. It got me thinking about writing and talking about writing with my Facebook friends and my family. It made me want to write. If you find yourself turning to movies and TV to pass the time, make them good movies and good TV. Make it a movie about a painter or a photographer; anything that will inspire you to create. Take advantage of online tours of thousands of museums, and online artbooks from the Guggenheim Museum.

6. Take advantage of the down times. If you sit down determined to create a masterpiece it can lead to frustration and creative block. But sometimes when you're not fully focused on your art you come up with the best ideas. When you're walking your dog, washing the dishes, or lying awake with stress-induced anxiety you might find yourself figuring out how to finish that painting you were stuck on. Practice using these times to focus on something you want to create rather than anything that worries you.

7. Don't be too hard on yourself. These are unprecedented times. If you need to spend a day in your pajamas watching cartoons and eating chocolate, that's ok. Don't add the guilt of not pursuing your art career to your worries. There will be time. You will find your voice and vision again.

8. Prepare yourself to create. If you don't have the emotional stamina to make art, devote yourself to something more physical and less intellectually challenging. Clean up your studio, learn how to use a new feature of your camera, wash your brushes, work on your artist website.  

9. Submit. Sometimes when I can't bring myself to write, I'll submit stories I've written in the past to magazines or agents. It makes me feel like I'm working on my career, and gives me that jolt of hope that comes from sending your work out there. Here's a list of eleven places to submit artwork online. And ten magazines accepting photography and art submissions.

10. Use your art to explore your anxiety. Keep a plague joural. Photograph the empty streets. Sketch your quarantine environment. These are unusual times, and we'll need a record of them. Use art as a therapy for your fears.