How I dig myself out of creative ruts during tough times

This chaotic time of COVID quarantine has left me feeling a bit depleted, and I know I’m not alone. However, I’m bouncing back little by little by using specific coping mechanisms that have worked for me time and again when I’m in a slump. Since I know many of us are in the same boat, I decided to share my strategies for bouncing back when I feel low and creatively blocked.

I have used these same strategies again and again to climb out of a variety of slumps- health issues, breakups, financial stress, you name it. I know not everything I list here will work for you. Heck, maybe none of it will. My hope is that these tips along with some specific resources can inspire you and support you to explore, create, and sit more in your own power during this tough time. If I can help at least one person who reads this feel like they can get back on track, I will be happy. You can do it!

Before we begin, I want to remind you to honor where you’re at. If you don’t have the mental energy for this right now, then don’t do it! If you need need to rest, then rest. No questions, no judgement, no competition, no pressure. Now, let’s move on to my strategies for coping with hard times and getting back on track when I’m in a rut.

1.) I write and reframe, daily.

Morning Pages, brain dumps, whatever you want to call them. Each day, at whatever time you please, handwrite (or type if that is not accessible for you) about 3 pages of whatever is on your mind, without judgment, without trying to be literary, worrying about grammar, and so on.

The idea is that we have many thoughts and feeling swirling around our brains, clogging up our mind (such as anxiety, fear, self-doubt, hopes, dreams, random thoughts). By regularly giving ourselves an outlet to process everything on your mind, we can slowly sift through whatever it is we’re going through, eventually even working towards reframing negative thoughts and exploring positive thoughts, ideas, and dreams.

An example of reframing a negative thought looks like this:

There’s just no point (negative thought) becomes I am worthy of my dreams and have many friends and family members who support me and goals (positive reframe).

Write down your reframed thought and stick it somewhere accessible because chances are you’ll need to read it again. Do this for each negative thought you have, keep the positive reframes close at hand.

I can attest, with consistent practice, this slowly becomes the catalyst for identifying your needs, shifting your mindset, and finding the path out of your slump.

I don’t use or do anything fancy when I write, I just pull out my recycled composition notebook like this one and grab a pen. I use sticky notes or tape notecards or bits of paper to my walls with positive reframes. Do whatever works for you. The point is just doing it.

2.) I practice mindfulness

While I do have a more formal meditation practice, I don’t necessarily mean engaging in a formal sit here. There are various forms of mindfulness that range from a formal meditative practice to engaging in various other techniques to bring your focus to the present moment. For an overview of mindfulness, check out this article here.

If you’re new to mindfulness and want a little more guidance, I suggest this free app created by the Australian non-profit, Smiling Mind.

3.) I use a planner

I get it. Buying or pulling out your planner while feeling down probably sounds like the worst idea. Ever. However, I find that once I start gently scheduling and checking off “to-do” items (even if that task is “rest”) I find rhythm, structure, and routine which helps me feel more accomplished, empowered, and in control of my time. The key here is not to over-schedule and to mindfully leave time for the space and self care you need right now.

I find it helpful to schedule self care like it’s an appointment. For some that may not work. Point is, gentle structure helps most folks, but don’t be an overachiever (I see you my fellow type A’s) and rush back to full throttle if you’re not ready. If you are pressuring or bullying yourself for taking time out, go back to #1 on this list and write out and/or reframe whatever is coming up for you.

I don’t care for boring planners, but gravitate towards ones that have creative elements, such as artwork, pictures, quotes, and inspiring messages. For the longest time I used this planner by We’moon. I love the moon phase chart, the poetry, the artwork and the fact that it’s printed in soy ink.

However, over time the We’moon planner ended up being a bit too small for me, so for the past year and a half I’ve used Passion Planner. While there’s no lovely art, there are inspiring quotes, places for doodles, maps, and dreams, which helps me fulfill that creative play I enjoy in my planning process.

If you’re not a fan of pen and paper planners, try Asana. I use Asana as a project tracker in addition to my paper planner and love it.

4.) I Play

Sometimes I plan and gently structure my play, but I also sometimes just follow impulse and throw all plans (if I have any) out the window. Whatever the case may be, I am sure to allow myself time to do things other than dance work, such as knitting, gardening, painting, things I am less perfectionist about, things that open up my mind in a way that creates wonder.

During COVID quarantine I’ve been following along with Instagram expert Sarah Tasker’s photo tutorials in order to play and learn more about photography concepts, taking pleasure in small, simple details, and gently creating just to create. (Get her tutorials here). I’m gardening, knitting, mending things, crafting something a little different each day. I find joy in those small things, and I encourage you to find those little things, too.

5.) I exercise but also Rest

I move my body but also rest. Normally, I’m doing some sort of movement for at least 30 minutes a day, whether that be a workout, yoga, biking, dancing, or just going for a walk. Like most people, though during my slumps my motivation to move basically goes to zero.

For the hard days I know I’ll inevitably have, I have a sticky note next to my closet that says “Run. You know you’ll feel better afterward.” For me that’s true. I always feel better after exercising, no matter what. Of course that run doesn’t fix whatever is wrong, but I do feel measurably better and marginally more empowered.

Since running may not be an option during quarantine, I want to share some of my favorite home workouts with you. Check out my Home Workout playlist on youtube which includes Pilates, barre, HIIT, and yoga videos.

6.) I Connect

As a self-sufficient introvert, I sometimes underestimate the value healthy connections with others can help me when I’m down or feeling stuck. The type of connection that serves me shifts depending on what I need at that particular time. The way I identify the specific support I need to seek is something I end up identifying through my daily written reflection (#1 on this list).

In the past, this has looked like me joining a class, video chatting with a friend or family member, getting therapy, adopting my cat, ending unhealthy relationships to make room for healthier ones, getting out to connect with nature, volunteering, and so on. Often more than one of these at the same time.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to others, try new classes, join a book club, virtual movie night, or engage in really anything that calls to you. I find even the smallest moment of feeling connected to others to be uplifting.

Don’t forget you’re not alone. You can do this.

Kate Soleil holds a BA in Anthropology and English from the University of Virginia, is an Oriental Style Belly Dance Performer & Instructor, Social Worker, and Personal Trainer in training.

She’s dedicated her life to the study of her art, the creative process, and coaching others in personal and professional settings. She lives with her fiancĂ©e in Portland, Oregon, is a proud cat mama, an avid book worm and knitter.

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