How to Maintain a Healthy Sense of Self Under Creative Pressure

Savannah Barnes

As creative practitioners, our work has its own special place close to the heart. There is beauty in this sentiment; it drives us, inspires us, and gives life to our art. However, the danger lies when it has too much say in the rest of our lives. When our success and productivity dictate the way we feel about ourselves, it can be quite harmful.

The frustration and disappointment that brew in a productive block are natural and valid emotions that must be tended to and addressed before they contribute to other areas in your life. Here are some practical tips on how to balance your work and address the frustrations of creative block that every single practitioner has experienced.


1. Invest in a Second Creative Outlet

We have all experienced the beauty of having a creative outlet through our practice. As we develop our skills and share this creativity with the world, the intention behind it shifts. When art is made for other people, it becomes work. We love doing it and our passion drives us in our practice but it’s still work, which adds pressure and limits room for true self-expression.

It is important to reclaim artistic freedom by creating a place purely for that reason. This does not mean a side hustle. 

It has become increasingly popular for people to start up a small business in order to monetise their hobbies. This can be beneficial in some respects; however, the pressure of managing a business takes away the cathartic release once found within this hobby. Not everything you do should be capitalised on and you need things in your life that aren’t. 


2. Be Disciplined Enough to Rest

It is far too common to mistake productivity for self-worth. 

Many creative practitioners will advise you to draft a strict schedule, and they are absolutely right! Especially as a sole trader or independent artist, you need to set aside time to motivate yourself and create with maturity and manage your time. However, you also need to be disciplined about rest. You do not have anyone to give you that permission except yourself. As much as we love our craft, creating is work and must be balanced with the rest of our lives. Some artists have wildly disciplined routines that see them waking up in the early hours of the morning and creating for several hours at a time. However, no successful routine consists of working in every waking moment you have. Take acclaimed novelist Haruki Murakami for example; he wakes up at four am, writes for six hours, then stops. He stops writing and goes for a run or a swim. As one of the world’s greatest novelists, writing is not his whole life. Ultimately our art is created from life, not from work. During your scheduled breaks, take an actual break. Schedule your rest and dutifully stick to it. 


3. Respond Kindly to Self-Deprecating Thoughts

Our mind has plenty to say when the expectations we set upon ourselves aren’t met. The good news is, we decide what is said after those self-deprecating thoughts flow in. Don’t be afraid to call yourself out when you think something cruel, especially when you believe it’s true.

Initially, it feels absolutely ridiculous to say to yourself “That’s not true, I am talented” because you won’t believe yourself the first time, or the second, or maybe not even the third. Cancelling out self-deprecation with positive affirmation is not about convincing yourself you are amazing; it’s about refusing to accept that bad behaviour from yourself. You wouldn’t allow anyone else to speak that way so what makes you the exception?  The most important thing to note is that this does not come naturally. You have to push yourself to respond to these thoughts until it becomes a habit.


4. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Thinking You’re Alone

As much as we know we aren’t alone, we don’t always feel that way. This article is living proof that everyone experiences the heartache that comes with falling short and carrying it on the backs of our self-esteem. Failure is an essential part of creativity that each person experiences. 

Australian Author, Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) has an excellent TED Talk titled ‘The Failurist’. In his presentation, Zusak discloses pitfalls he faced in refining the novel’s narrative perspective and deciding who would tell his story. He did a full circle from having Death narrate the tale to several other characters before finally settling on a different version of Death. He was convinced that his New York Times best-selling novel would not be read by anyone because of how uncomfortable the concept was and the amount of failure that went into creating it. 

Failure is a fact of life and the insecurity that arises from it is intuitive and human, a place that every single person finds themselves at times. The truth is, you are not the only one here and you don’t have to stay here. The failure will come but it doesn’t have to influence how you see yourself. The only thing failure can say about you is that you are human. 


Ultimately, the shortfalls we overcome as creative practitioners can be mentally and sometimes emotionally taxing, which is okay. It is important to acknowledge that although they are frustrating and painful, our inadequacies are not definitive of our talent and our practice is not who we are. In order to create art, there must be room for life, ourselves and failure. They all belong.

These points are simply practical tips to help alleviate some of the stresses and insecurities that we all experience with creative shortfall. It is important to seek the advice of a mental health professional when these emotions become debilitating and harmful. Queensland University of Technology offers complimentary counselling for staff and students, which I would encourage you to investigate. Tending to your mental health is just as important as your physical health. 

QUT Mental Health Resources

Complimentary 50-minute sessions can be booked with a trained mental health professional two weeks in advance by calling the relevant campus facility. There are also a few 20-minute walk-in sessions available daily for sudden needs. All services are free for QUT staff and students.

Kelvin Grove Counselling:
Phone: (07) 3138 3488
Location: Level 4, C Block, Kelvin Grove

Gardens Point Counselling:
Phone: (07) 3138 2383
Location: Level 3, X Block, Gardens Point

Savannah Barnes is a BFA (Dance Performance) with a love for literature. She specialises in poetry and is interested in non – fiction.