As I've written about before, one of the biggest obstacles to my creativity is dealing with heavy emotions like anxiety. As a result, I've probably spent more energy on figuring out how to feel better than I have on anything else. If you're a creative person, and especially if you're struggling to tap into your creativity, you probably find that your emotions can get in the way as well. A few weeks ago I wrote about what to do when creativity makes you feel bad. Today I'm sharing what I do when negativity and anxiety take hold. I spent years feeling like I wasn't making any progress when it came to my moods. I would try something with some success and then forget about it, or I would keep trying things that just didn't work at all. Eventually I figured out a system - a way to keep track of what helps - that makes it clear what I need to do and not do. I started by thinking about how I wanted to feel, and every week I came up with strategies to try. Every day I wrote down 3 things that I did that made me feel good that day - not things that happened to me or that someone did for me, but things that I did - and at the end of the week I wrote down whether my strategies worked or not.
After about a year and a half of working on this, I have developed a few really solid strategies. I'm sharing them, not because I think they'll magically make you feel better, but to give you an idea of somewhere to start. As with anything, you need to experiment to figure out what works for you and then do that.
Recently I realized that though I have all these great tools, I often forget to use them when I'm feeling really stressed. Matt and I figured that it would be good for me to have them written down somewhere that would be with me at all times, so that I could pull it out as soon as my mood starts to go south. I put the list on my phone and called it my Emergency Self Care kit. Sometimes just looking at the list helps me feel better, because it reminds me that feeling good is an option, and snaps me out of whatever negative spiral I'm in. Sometimes I'll try 4 or 5 things that won't help but the 6th will do it. It's a process of trial and error, just like anything in life.
Check in with my heart - This has taken various forms throughout the years. Sometimes I put my hand on my heart and breathe, sometimes I look for an "inner smile" that I know is in there somewhere. Lately I've been imagining an older, motherly version of myself saying soothing comforting things, touching my hair, and holding me tight. Whatever it looks like, I know that there is compassion and deep wisdom inside me, and this practice helps me to connect with it.
Check in with my senses - I've seen this technique mentioned in plenty of places, but it really started making sense when I read the book Come to Your Senses by Stanley H. Block. What it means is that you take a moment to breathe and feel your feet on the ground, or your bum in your seat and listen to the sounds around you. Focusing on physical sensations stops you from focusing on the thoughts in your head. Sometimes that small amount of distance is enough to break the connection with negativity.
"I love myself, I can do this, I'm okay." - A friend taught me this mantra when I was having a really tough time. It helps because it reminds me that I'm worthy of compassion and love, and helps me soften when I get tense and angry or frustrated. It also reminds me of my sweet, loving friend, which only adds to the good feelings.
Do I need some time to myself right now? - When I don't take time for myself I get drained and my emotional resources start to run out. If things start feeling bad I can ask myself if I need to remove myself from a social situation, even if it's just for a few minutes.
Do I need to communicate what I'm experiencing? - When I feel down I tend to shut down and clam up as I get stuck in the thoughts spinning in my mind. This can make the people around me feel like I've abandoned them. I've been practicing talking about how I'm feeling so the people I care about feel included in my world, rather than pushed away. This helps them feel better, and once I get out of my head enough to talk about what I'm feeling, I often feel better too.
What thoughts and beliefs are making me suffer right now? Are they true? - This is based on The Work by Byron Katie. It's a process that I thought sounded silly, until I tried it and realized how powerful it is. Byron Katie's philosophy is that we only suffer when we believe our thoughts, and she devised this system to help question deeply held beliefs and thoughts. You can find all the resources you need to try it for free on the website, and watch countless videos of Katie walking people through it on YouTube. If you have a problem that you just can't seem to deal with, this might help you gain clarity.
What can I do that will make me feel good? - If you're like me, this probably seems too easy to be useful. When my psychologist first suggested it, I didn't get it at all. If I knew what would make me feel good, I wouldn't be feeling bad, right? But I've learned that thinking about something that would feel good in that moment - a bath, a footrub, a nap, reading a book, eating some chocolate - and allowing myself to believe that I can have that good feeling will sometimes clear the darkness right up. It's the belief that I don't deserve to feel good that keeps me trapped, and doing something nice for myself breaks that pattern.
Take 5-HTP - I learned about this in a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. I'm not sure if the science in the book is completely sound, but when things get really bad I'm willing to try almost anything and this supplement does seem to work. It works to boosts serotonin, which improves mood. When I'm scraping bottom and nothing else is working, taking one of these can help balance things out in my brain and body, which makes it easier to get my thinking on track.
Remember that Matt loves you no matter what! - Matt wrote this one down so I put it in my phone too - doesn't hurt to know that someone always has your back!
Am I tired and worn out? Do I need to rest? - Sometimes I'm just too tired to function properly and all the work in the world can't make me feel good. At times like these I just need to go to sleep, or read, or zone out in front of the TV.