Tips on How to Balance Creative Projects with Your Mental Health
You might be loving your creative degree and feeling lucky to be pursuing the things you love, but design can also be as stressful and all-consuming as any other degree. Here are some things I wish I knew about time management, creative anxieties and mental health when I was a student in DAB.
Schedule your crunch periods
Productivity doesn’t mean spending every waking moment on a project! If you’re working on the same thing every hour from waking up to going to bed, you will lose perspective on the tasks you are doing. The lines will blur between how many hours are enough and how many are too many, and this will directly affect your productivity.
If you catch yourself feeling guilty for taking breaks or planning to work on one thing every waking hour and procrastinating instead, take a step back and reconsider how you are approaching your workload. Are you in the mentality that your entire day should be dedicated to work? Having a clear block of time in your schedule for work will provide the structure your mental health needs to smash out the work during work time, and switch off afterwards. Maybe try approaching a tight deadline with a 9am – 5pm schedule, with breaks every hour like a full-time job!
Having this dedicated crunch period where you know you need to focus on work can actually counter your urge to procrastinate and drift away from tasks at hand. You’ll find that you have more hours for downtime at the end of the day, and can come back to your tasks feeling recharged the next day.
Make friends and hang out with people outside of your creative circle
When deadlines loom above you and you find yourself in the computer labs at uni on a daily basis, your social circle naturally shrinks to the people who are in the same boat with you. This can be great for getting instant creative feedback on your work, or asking for help when you’re struggling with software issues, and general comradery when it comes to venting about assignment deadlines.
You should, however, keep in mind that there is always a world outside of the uni computer labs, and that the looming deadlines aren’t everything. I once lived in a share house with people who were studying medicine and doing work placement in a hospital. Speaking to them about their day really put my day into perspective after hearing the different stories of what day to day issues other people were dealing with.
Don’t give up your hobbies
When you’re stressed from uni it’s easy to fall into a mindset where you feel that any activity unrelated to your uni project is taking up time that could be used for working. Hobbies are a good way of shifting your focus from a project you might have been obsessing over, and an excellent way to give your mind some space and come back to the project later with a fresh perspective.
In my experience, thinking only about your project all the time is mentally exhausting and makes it difficult for you to think clearly. It’s understandable that stress can be overwhelming, or that you might see your uni project as a life/death situation. This feeling, however, is so commonplace among our peers that it can be easy to forget that there are alternative and healthier mental practices. Rather than giving into the stress, it’s important to learn how to switch off and take care of yourself, before coming back to your project feeling fresher and stronger. Hobbies can assist this mental switch, acting as a form of mindfulness to give you that perspective.
Don’t postpone your happiness for uni holidays
Try to incorporate small happiness routines in each day to make every day an enjoyable one. Go and grab lunch with a friend, move your body, go for a walk, take a work break, stay hydrated and each good food that doesn’t make you tired. You will be surprised at how much better you feel at the end of each day if you implement these small changes into your daily routine. If you finish the day feeling tired, it will feed into the following day, eventually becoming a tired cycle. So don’t postpone your happiness, but design it to be a part of each day.
Remember to sleep and support your friends
When the going gets tough, times get stressful and you and your peers around you sleep less and less. On top of longer term health issues, sleep deprivation can cause immediate symptoms such as irritability, forgetfulness, difficulty with learning new concepts, and loss of motivation. Not only does this have a negative effect on your own physical, mental and emotional well-being but socially speaking it can affect the interactions with your peers around you – which is especially harmful if you happen to be doing group work. For the sake of your health and relationships, make sure you get enough sleep and encourage those around you to get a full night’s sleep too.
You do you
It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel discouraged about our own creative capabilities. However, we tend to see faults in our own work that others don’t seem to notice. Something that helps me personally to overcome this feeling is to jump into a project and say to myself “Just do it badly!”. This can help with overcoming anxieties about the outcome not being “good”. Soon you will find yourself diving right into the deep end and tackling the project with little to no fear of failure. After all, doing something badly is still one step ahead of not doing it at all.
Celebrate your successes… and your failures.
Share your work! Not just the final product, but the process too – the stuff that works, and the stuff you wish you could have done better. Sometimes it can be nerve racking to share your work, and there’s a tendency to downplay your achievements and think that whatever you have created isn’t worth sharing. But learn to enjoy and even laugh at yourself, and not take it all too seriously. You will be surprised at how many people are actually interested in what you do – even the stuff you consider average or boring.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
We are all human. There are times when stress can get the better of us and that is normal. Stepping back, recognising symptoms of burn-out, and taking a break are all signs of emotional intelligence and not indicative of ‘weakness’. Having the self-awareness to notice that you are not at your best, and taking early steps to address this can act as a preventative measure before things become worse. It can be hard to speak up about your problems, but try your best to make sure that you are communicating with your friends, family, tutors and lecturers if you are feeling under-the-weather, and be sure to make use of all the services on offer at UTS.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash