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These are not normal times. You don’t have to act like they are. You do not have to try to do everything the way you always do it right now. And you definitely don’t have to strive to do even more--start a business, learn a language, start lifting weights (you don’t have to do those things in more normal times, either, if you aren’t really into them). Right now, you do not have to push yourself. Now is not the time for extreme productivity. It’s a time for caring for yourself and your family and friends and the world around us. It is a time for listening to your body, seeing how you feel, going with the flow of what you need.

This is also not a great time to do nothing. Great swathes of unfilled time can really amp up anxiety and depression, and no one needs that any time, especially now. I know my first two weeks of being unemployed during all of this I was awash in all the hard feelings. So I made some changes to help myself. I’ve talked about them with a few friends, and everyone seemed to find it helpful, so I thought I’d write about it.

What did I do? I gave myself some structure. I’m not talking about rigid schedules and pages of to-do lists. For me, that’s just more stress, and if I miss one of my tasks I end up feeling worse. What’s working for me is a looser sort of schedule.

I figured out things I wanted to do with my time, and then I broke my day into blocks that work for me. You might need to experiment to figure out what works for you. For example, in the below schedule I started out with having a scheduled activity at the end of my 2 - 4 p.m. block, and that was not working at all, so I changed things up.

Here’s what my weekday schedule looks like right now (my blocks are very loose--sometimes I don’t start on Block 2 until 10:30, etc., and I recommend doing something different on the weekends):

  • Get up around 8 a.m.
  • Block 1 8-10: Clean up, get dressed, feed cats, make coffee. During this time I have breakfast, check email, goof off online, read articles.
  • Block 2 10-12: I do something hands-on*. So far I’ve reorganized my linens and moved them to a new location, cleared some old clothes out of the closet, emptied a bookcase that’s getting moved. Sometimes I vacuum or clean out the fridge. And lately I’m working on learning to sew. I find something that has me away from computers and phones and actually, actively doing something or making something is really good for my brain. I recommend trying it out. 
  • Block 3 12 - 1: I take a break before doing a quick Spanish lesson at 12:30. 
  • Block 4 2-4 (ish): Right now I use this time to work on my license renewal classes for my teaching license. When I finish those around the end of May I plan to work on the MasterClass classes I signed up for.
  • Block 5 4-6: I take a break, then do something hands-on again (this is when I exercise and sometimes do some painting in my art journal). 
  • Evening: I make dinner around 6, visit with friends online, then spend my evenings working on art projects, playing online, and watching TV.

I worked out these blocks based on what I noticed about how I perceive time. I tend to think about it as morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, late afternoon, evening. I don’t know why, but it did make it easy for me to block my time out. Some things to think about if you want to try this:

  • Figure out the things you both want and need to do in a day
  • Don’t fill every minute with “productive” things; schedule in plenty of downtime and relaxation
  • Let yourself skip the schedule if you’re having a really hard day
  • Check in with yourself and see how you feel and change the schedule if you feel like it’s not working
  • Do something every day that makes you laugh or at least smile

*Why something hands-on? Because our bodies need to do things. Our brains feel better when we give them different sorts of tasks to work on throughout the day. The sense of accomplishment from clearing a shelf, cleaning out the fridge, painting a page is a mood booster. 

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to make your days a little smoother. If you’re struggling (really, even if you’re not feeling that) give yourself a break. Give yourself some love. Take care of yourself out there!

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It's funny, every year as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I start feeling the pull to be healthier, eat better, get some exercise.  Maybe because I realize somewhere deep down that it's really easy this time of year to get caught up in the busyness and let self-care slip away.  And I know, even when I don't act on it, that caring for myself is the starting point to living my dream creative life.

River Stones

What does it mean to really take care of yourself? It can mean many things and take many different forms. It won’t be the same for everyone. To find out how you might need to be taking better care of yourself, take a look at your life as it is. Where do you find yourself saying things like, “I wish I had time for X” or “I can’t seem to get things done,” or “I wanted to do such-and-such project, but I couldn’t find my materials, and by the time I gathered enough of them, I was too tired to make art.” Are there things you keep putting off, things you really want to be doing? Are you doing too many things every day that you really don’t want to be doing? These are signs that your self-care needs a boost.

Self-care might mean giving yourself time and space to follow your dreams. This often means we have to cut out some things in our lives, though, so be prepared. Even if they are things you want to toss out, there can be some stress and sadness and discomfort over the changes.

Self-care also means getting things done when they need to be done so you don’t stress yourself out with the pressure of waiting tasks hanging over your head. Stress and pressure crush creative dreams. Think about what “stress” and “pressure” mean, and you’ll know this is true—stress and pressure in the tectonic plates of the earth cause earthquakes!

Self-care means finding shortcuts to give yourself the time and space you need without compromising other things you need such as your health or the happiness of your family and friends. It can mean knowing when to just lie down and enjoy the sunshine or put your feet up and just rest. It is finding people and places and books and objects that help you achieve a sense of peace and pleasure.

So after reading this, maybe you’ve decided you want to make some changes and start taking care of yourself differently, more deeply. Good! As you get started, keep this in mind—don’t try to change everything at once. Learning to deeply care for yourself and nurture your Muse takes time. You cannot change every ingrained habit at once—the final result will be stressful rather than pleasant and will feel like a chore rather than feeling like a long, warm hug.

What are some concrete things you can do to start caring deeply for yourself and your Muse? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have many answers yet; I’m just starting out (re-starting) on this self-care journey myself. But I do have a few ideas.

One of my guiding words lately is "thrive." It's something we all need to focus on. Thriving. Taking real care of ourselves, not just the bare minimums. To help myself thrive, I'm starting out by focusing on eating, because one of the most important ways we can take care of ourselves physically and emotionally is by feeding ourselves good, nourishing, pleasing food (yes, pleasing--food should be a pleasure, but more on that another time). Of course, we don't want to spend hours every day cooking. So how do we thrive while still leaving time and energy and space for our creative pursuits?

I believe the issue of self-care and creativity is one I need to revisit often.  I'm going to use this reworking of an old newsletter article I wrote as a jumping-off point to start giving regular attention to--ME!  I believe that taking care of our physical selves (and this includes our environments) is a necessity because our physical selves directly effect our emotional, spiritual, and creative selves.

My first step on this path: starting a journal to talk to myself about self-care, how I'm feeling, how this is affecting my world, what I think I would like my self-care to look like.

What about you?  Would you like to join me in examining our physical sides?  What would you like to start with?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail