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16 Seriously Clever Ways To Stay Creative When You're Feeling Down

Always remember to be kind to yourself and your work.

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Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

For many, creativity and taking care of mental health tend to go hand in hand. Creative exercises and expression are often a great form of self-care, as are the routines associated with them. But what do you do when your mental health doesn't allow you to live up to your creative potential?

We recently asked mental health experts, along with members of the BuzzFeed Community, to share the best ways to stay creative when your mental health isn't at its best. Here are some of their suggestions:

1. When someone compliments your work, hold onto it so you can revisit it later.

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Appreciation for your work is great in the moment, but after some time has passed and people have started to move on, it can be easy to forget that you were ever applauded in the first place.

"I try to have people hold the praise that they do get from others," clinical psychologist and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Ryan Howes, PhD, tells BuzzFeed. "Whether that’s writing it down in a journal, or keeping a clipping of something in the paper or something that they can kind of look back on when they’re feeling in a down place."

2. Recognize the difference between using creativity to distract yourself, and using it to process your emotions.

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"For some folks, it’s like, I’m feeling depressed but when I get into my painting I forget about my depression and I transport to another world...but they stop painting, and they’re right back to depression and nothing’s really changed," Howes says. "And for some folks they use their art to work through it. Like, ok, I’m not leaving my depression, I’m going to write poetry to help process my depression or help express my feelings.

Sometimes, people use creativity as a way to escape life problems. There's nothing wrong with that, and it definitely can work. However, it probably isn't a sustainable solution to mental health issues you might be having.

3. Establish a routine, whether it's related to your creative pursuits or not.

I know, I know. Trying to put together a routine when your mental health isn't at its best is hard. But it's okay to start small, even if it's as simple as making your bed or taking a shower or cooking breakfast.

"Maybe some days you’ll be able to show up and do the work, and others you can’t," Kathleen Smith, PhD, therapist and author of The Fangirl Life: A Guide To All The Feels And Learning How To Deal, tells BuzzFeed. "But at least you’re not moving backward into the problem of not even being able to get out of bed in the morning or being around other people. So being able to maintain what small routine things you can makes a big difference, especially stuff like personal hygiene and self-care."

4. Involve the people who support you in your creative process.

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"[My friend is] a great admirer of what I do. When I told him couple of days ago that I felt down and didn't have any idea of what to draw, he gave me a phrase. Later that day, I sent him what I came up based on it. Then he said that he has another phrase for me and to tell him when I'm ready."


5. Take breaks. Your work isn't going anywhere.

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Breaks make sense on paper, but a lot of people beat themselves up about walking away because they think they're being unmotivated and lazy. They're not! People work well when they feel well, and for that to happen there needs to be some down time.

"[A break] sets you up for your best work, but we interpret it as checking out or failing. Life is long, but people who are creative and artists take breaks all the time and they see that as part of the process and they kind of welcome it," Smith says.

And remember: your work (probably) doesn't have legs, so it's not going anywhere.

6. Make your creative space a place you want to spend time in.

"I rearrange my furniture and go to town with interior decorating since my living space is the place I spend most of my time. It gives me a great workout (bonus for mental health) and offers me new perspectives of looking at my living space. Bright colors and mod decor is the current style. Next month, it may be more Victorian or southern. It just all depends on how I feel."


7. Get outside and move around a bit.

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"I walk my dog then give him a lot of attention. Not only does it take my mind off my depression and make him feel good, it helps me relax enough to get creative again."


8. Create soothing mantras for yourself.

"Whenever I'm seriously in a bad place, my boyfriend tells me to remember my 'undeniable truths.' I've started doing it whenever my life feels bleak. Some examples are: I am loved, I am capable, I am sober, and my life is totally in my control."


9. Switch gears completely and try a new medium.

"A few months ago when I was struggling with anxiety and depression, I couldn't bring myself to paint anything because my mind was so clouded, so I grabbed a chunk of clay and began sculpting. It turns out I love sculpting now. Even though I couldn't find comfort in what I was used to, I found comfort in experimenting with clay and expressing myself through that art form."


10. Avoid substances that will bring down your mood.

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Some people tend to lean on substances like alcohol to help them to unlock a deeper creative potential or feel more free with their ideas. But alcohol is a depressant, so if you're already struggling with your mental health, it's likely that it will actually make things harder.

"It might help you be more impulsive or spontaneous, but it does not really bring out your best thinking and your best ideas. So that’s a myth I think people need to steer clear of," Smith says.

11. Turn off your self editor and let your art be messy and imperfect.

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"If I'm having writer's block due to depression, I just start by writing whatever comes to my head. I'm not trying to be good as much as I am trying to clear my head. Somehow my best poems come out of these sessions."


12. Give "vent art" a try.

"I try to visualize and draw my feelings. It's a technique lots of artists use, and we call it vent art. It really helps get emotions and concerns out in a healthy way, especially if you aren't comfortable talking about it to other people."


13. Remember to prioritize yourself and your body.

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When you're in a low place and trying to push yourself to produce, sometimes your physical well-being can take a turn for the worst. Though it's easy to forget about in the moment, taking basic steps to take care of yourself will pay off mentally and creatively.

“If you can watch out for your eating and your sleeping and your exercise and your social life, that is going to help you across the board, no matter how you’re suffering," Andrea Bonior, PhD and clinical psychologist, tells BuzzFeed. "And in time that’s going to allow you to be a more functional person as well, which is going to allow your brain to work a little bit better."

14. Hoard your work for yourself for a bit.

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Especially with the prevalence of social media, sometimes there's pressure to push work out into the world and seek validation through likes, clicks, and comments. But when that praise doesn't come through, it can often leave us feeling empty and exacerbate a poor state of mental health.

“When we’re anxious, when we’re sad, we’re more sensitive to people’s reactions," says Smith. "When you’re in a super low place, that’s not the time to work on dealing with criticism...creating for self and holding onto it and letting it be terrible or unfinished may be the safer way of doing."

15. Accept that you don't have to create.

Here's the thing — you don't have to make anything. Creativity might be a great way to deal with mental health issues, but if it's making you feel stressed or pressured or just anything bad, then there's little reason to keep doing it. It's not giving up, it's just looking out for yourself.

"If you are a frustrated cartoonist and you can’t seem to get anything down on the paper, then maybe you just need to take a break and step back from it for a month. Let all of those frustrations fade so you can re-approach it with fresh eyes again," says Howes.

16. Be kind to yourself and your work.

Being a creator is hard. It demands a lot of soul-bearing, and it subjects the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to others people's scrutiny. Just know that as a creator, you're allowed to fail and you're allowed to stop producing, especially if it starts to take a toll on your mental health. You come first, and your work will be waiting for you when you're ready to come back to it.

Follow along at from Oct. 2 to Oct. 8, 2017.

Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News

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