Feeling burned out? Here are practical tips and advice from community arts workers, artists, practitioners and managers on how to manage self-care in the arts.
As a sector, the arts is on the verge of burnout if not already teetering far beyond its edge. Lack of support, the precarious nature of freelance and contract work, the emotional and physical toll of creative and community arts work, frequent requests to work for free, and the undervaluing of work in Australia is confounding. Yet there is a silver lining in that these issues are finally being broached.
At the Making Time: Arts and Self-Care conference held by Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) last week, the discussion was stripped bare of the appearances we are often greeted with at exhibition openings, or daily dealings with colleagues and friends. Delegates shared candid accounts of dealings with trauma, mental health difficulties and illuminated the dark corners of community arts work.
Community arts workers in particular are often exposed to difficult or traumatic situations through working with those that have experienced hardship. As empathic individuals, it can be difficult to distance yourself or avoid taking on external stress. Often when we do take a step back, we begin to feel we are not doing enough, or spiral into feelings of anxiety or worthlessness.
Remaining fully engaged yet detached enough to preserve your own self-care is a difficult balance, yet essential to ensuring you can continue to help others through the work you do.
So how can we incorporate simple steps towards self-care into our days without feeling pangs of guilt?
t Making Time, arts workers, practitioners, performers, artists, producers and managers brainstormed how as individuals we can strive or better self-care before, during and after a potential period of stress.
Here’s a collection of 50 practical ideas to help you avoid burnout hile enabling you to engage with communities, look after others, advocate for the sector, or focus on the creation of your work.
50 ways to take care of yourself in the arts
1. Get out of your head
Our thoughts can often be biased and get stuck in harmful feedback loops bout not being good enough, not doing enough, not helping enough, not knowing enough. This damages creative relationships and our capacity to do good work. Step out of that loop through mindfulness or physical activity.
2. Be playful
Whether it’s playing a sport, going for a jog, stealing flowers from other people’s gardens or swinging on the playground, playfulness is often an underrated tool to help manage stress.
3. Share with others
One delegate was asked in a job interview, ‘What do you need help with?’ This is something to continually ask yourself throughout projects or your art practice, and a way to reach out to others.
4. Nurture an attitude of gratitude
Being grateful for something as small like having milk in the fridge can help give you perspective.
5. Get your life admin in order
Change your sheets, make sure you have food in the fridge, do your laundry, clear your desk. Sorting out your life admin before a big project means that you don’t need to worry about it for a while.
6. Basic nutrition
Make sure you eat food that makes you feel recharged. If you are travelling away or have an upcoming residency, plan meals and eat well in the lead up.
7. Have the treat now
Don’t wait for something ‘good’ to happen in order to give yourself a treat. Enjoy something now, even just a cup of tea, and reward yourself for your hard work.
8. Check in with yourself
Self-care is continuous. Checking in with yourself along the way, not just at the end of a project means that you can avoid feeling like you’ve been hit by an unexpected bout of exhaustion.
9. Put an end to your work day
A common cause of burnout is the undefined nature of work in the arts. What is professional time and what is personal time? Even arbitrary structures such as ‘I will break for lunch’ or ‘I will stop work at 6pm’ can keep the constantly-working-around-the-clock feelings in check.
10. Limit screen time
Enforce a rule where you don’t look at your phone during your morning commute, or switch off your phone each night to avoid reading emails or checking social media in bed.
11. Stop for food
Don’t eat at the computer: make it a rule to stop for three meals each day.
12. Be present
Don’t let what could happen in the future taint what is happening now. Likewise, dwelling on the past can prevent you from doing your best work in the present. Take time to be by yourself to focus and be conscious of what is around you.
13. What stories are you telling yourself?
Recognise the stories you are telling yourself that are not serving you well. Integrate them and ground your thoughts in facts. Know that feelings aren’t facts.
14. Know it’s okay to step back
Don’t feel guilty about taking time out before a big show, launch, or intensive work period. So often we work right up to the eleventh hour, buzzing on our phones and computers. Taking time to leave the space and focus, or sitting in a neutral space, can be more beneficial in the long run.
15. Assess your to-do list
Often we can fool ourselves into thinking that because something is on our to-do list, we have to do it. Reassess, clear the clutter, and target what you really need to be doing.
16. Use to-do lists
That said, if you are feeling overrun, a to-do list can help give you focus and control. One delegate suggested turning your to-do lists into adventure maps with illustrations to make tasks seem less daunting.
17. Clarify your purpose or intent
When you start feeling stressed about things that you should be doing, or overwhelmed by the amount of work you have taken on, try and come back to your original intent for the project or the purpose of your work. What really matters? What tasks, thoughts, and burdens can you get rid of?
18. Have faith in your colleagues and collaborators
Sometimes we can presume it is all on us, but remember that usually you have colleagues and support around you. Get better at delegating.
19. Trust the process
Understand where you are at, where you need to go, know that you’ve pulled this off before and trust that you’ll pull it off again.
20. Be okay with doing nothing
Pressure to be productive all the time is nonsense. Let yourself have a bath, read a book, switch off from social media or just lay in bed and do nothing. It’s okay to do nothing.
21. Build in congratulations along the way
We don’t need to wait until it is all over to celebrate. Take time to congratulate yourself and your team for achieving smaller milestones.
22. Make self-care part of the acquittal
Self-care needs to become part of the vernacular and a respected and valued part of any project or workplace.
23. Don’t do the debrief at the end of the project
Allow time, Skype if you have to, you need space away from the project.
24. Put recovery time into the budget
When applying for a grant or putting together a budget, factor in self-care and recovery time.
25. Acknowledge and reflect on the project
Often it's best to reflect on the project a few weeks after its conclusion. Acknowledge the work you have done, the personal and organisational learnings, and how they can be applied to future projects.
It is important to seek help. Reach out to a friend, colleague or talk to someone about your mental health at beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
If you are at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact Emergency Services on 000. If you are feeling suicidal or concerned about someone who is, please call: Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.