When Allyn and I first talked about collaborating on a Master Class, we bounced lots of ideas back and forth, but the concept of struggling to stay creative was one that came to both of our mind’s almost immediately. Before I share some tangible steps of How to Create When You Feel Stuck, I want to give you a little bit of a backstory to me and the topic!
Who am I and what do I do?
I’m Rachel Tenny, an artist, small business owner, and mental health counselor. I started to grow my business during grad school. My career as an artist started unintentionally while I was getting my master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and like most of you, I started my business around something I was passionate about and enjoyed doing. I needed a creative outlet, not a side hustle, but slowly the people buying my work turned from family and friends to people I didn’t know all over the world. I had launched a business.
As my business gained momentum, I started to struggle with how to balance the creative and business parts of my life. I loved making, but hated doing the backend work. What had once solely been a source of joy, became something that exhausted me, gave me anxiety, and kept me from being present in the day-to-day.
During this struggle I noticed that there are seemingly endless amounts of skill based groups for business owners. Groups that teach you to find your niché, market yourself, grow your email following… and so much more. The one thing I couldn’t find was a group that dealt with the mental cost of business and how mental health impacts creative entrepreneurs (I did end up creating one that you can join here!).
I knew I had to do something about that, because if you don’t take care of your mental heath, who will? It is possible to have a healthy business and a healthy life we have to prioritize ourselves.
Mental Health for Creatives
A lot of times you may hear the words “mental illness” thrown around, but it’s not often defined clearly. Mental illness can refer to a range of psychological diagnoses that range from common conditions such as Anxiety and Depression, to conditions like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Mental illnesses are like any other medical condition: serious and often life threatening, only you can’t see them… and because you can’t see them, there is a lot of stigma towards people who suffer from mental illness. In actuality, mental illness should be treated like any other medical condition; a common ailment that can subside and something universal to all.
The stigma is what causes people to live in isolation, thinking they are the only one struggling to get out of bed in the morning. The only one paralyzed by anxiety or plagued with huge mood swings. Thinking that nobody else could possibly be struggling with this kind of stuff. Mental illness is not something people ask for, sign up for or have control over getting.
Mental illnesses are both highly genetic and can be triggered by certain life situations too…like owning your own business!
When it comes to mental health issues specifically for the small business owner, there are two stories that I hear most frequently: 1) People have struggled with mental illness for a long time and own/start a business out of the flexibility that it can bring, but continue to struggle to manage their condition. Or 2) People start a business and it creates an environment that can trigger anxiety and depression.
Owning a small business can be the biggest rollercoaster, with the highest highs and the lowest lows. As a business owner, you are your own boss. Your own bookkeeper. Your own publicist, and own whatever else. Unless of course you hire people to join your team, but for the most part, everything falls back on you. That in and of itself can be a lot of pressure!
There is pressure to succeed. Pressure to provide financially. Isolation. Feelings of loneliness. Feelings of failure. Wanting to please others. Feeling like you’re not enough. Those are things that all human beings experience, but when running a business those feelings can be exemplified. I have yet to meet one small business owner that doesn’t feel those things every now and then…or even on a regular basis.
Did you know that 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness? Such as ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or anxiety. Approximately 1/3 of entrepreneurs struggle with 2 or more mental illnesses.
How Mental Health Influences Creativity
If you are creative, you are unique and your brain processes things in a different way often times. Know that being creative isn’t just about the end product or coming up with new ideas. There is a whole cycle of creativity I want to share with you, which can be impacted by many things, including mental illness. Depending on whether you struggle with a diagnosable mental illness, your creativity may fluctuate even more than the average person. This is particularly true for people with Bipolar Disorder, who often go through longer periods of mania (coming up with ideas, creating intensely) which are then followed by longer periods of depression.
First things first though, know that you cannot be expected to have endless amounts of creativity at all times. At some point, you will be totally drained and uninspired creatively, no matter how talented you are regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental illness.
Here’s Why…Creativity (like most everything else, is cyclical)
What exactly does the cycle look like?
High Energy – Let’s Create! This is where you get inspired and have your “lightbulb” moments
Moving Along – You begin working on the project, hammering out details, working through logistics, and implementing your ideas
Slowing Down – You may hit a block or wall, your creative energy decrease, think of this like a “writer’s block” moment
Now we get to the point where we have a choice. When you start to feel like you are slowing down, there are two options and the decision is yours to make each time you begin to feel fatigue.
Either you rest or you burnout.
Rest – Rest can come because you choose it intentionally and it’s planned. It gives you time to do something you enjoy, like reading, watching your favorite show, or logging offline for a few days. It can be strategic so that you schedule time to decompress after a launch or big event.
Burnout – burnout is different in that you don’t make time for rest and eventually your body crashes, whether this is physically, emotionally, mentally, or a combination of the three. Burnout usually also lasts longer and can leave you feeling disoriented and less in control of the situation.
Ramping Back Up – After a period of rest, which looks different for everyone, you are them able to create again!
So to recap, this cycle is fueled by periods of excitement, execution, exhaustion, and then rest.
If you’ve ever felt like your brain is fried after a long day, you aren’t so far off. According to research done by Dr. Scott Kaufman, highly creative people use two parts of the brain, one responsible for imagination and another for attention and memory, at the same time. You may have thought (I know I did) that creativity was a “right brained” thing, but it actually uses the entire brain. In 2001, neurologist Marcus Raichle discovered the “imagination network” which covers surfaces of the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes and is important for creativity.
Knowing this information, you can see that it’s impossible to always have creative days and weeks. Creativity is a process of constantly taking in new information, and reworking it in a different way! That can be exhausting to do and you are likely someone who does it all the time, without even thinking about it. I want to leave you with this reminder: even when being creative is how you keep the lights on, it’s okay (and dare I say expected) to have periods where you can’t create!