Health and wellbeing for busy creatives
Four weeks ago, Jai asked me to write an article about my thoughts on health and wellbeing for busy creatives. At the time, I was fresh back from a 3 month holiday overseas. Revitalised, energised and eager, I jumped at the chance to write about this. Something I’m increasingly passionate about. Something I’ve been working on for the past few years.
Four weeks later, well and truly into a busy wedding season, I find myself clinging to any time I get to write a few thoughts down on paper.
Health and wellbeing is an endless topic. Regardless of the field you work, creative or not.However, I’ve been asked to write in relation to my own creative business. I’m only as qualified as my experiences allow. This is purely food for thought, as I jot down some ideas about a topic that is key to our health and wellbeing. That topic is balance.
Boom. That word. Balance. It’s thrown around plenty these days. With a myriad of health and wellbeing clinics, gurus, influencers, foods, trends etc. thrown in our faces through social media. Retreats, diets, workshops, yoga, meditation. It’s all there for us to access at the tap of a finger.
But where do we start?
I mean really. We can talk about balance until the cows come home. Balance in relation to where we live, how we live, how many hours we work, what we eat, how we eat, how we exercise, what we do for fun. Therefore it’s impossible to sum up balance in one article. But work/life balance has been a case of trial and error for me and only recently do I feel I have any form of control over it. Even now, knowing what I know, I still get pangs of guilt any time I step away from the computer. Yet guilt isn’t just an emotion, it’s something we inflict on ourselves. How is that doing us any good?
Before I started full-time wedding photography, I was working in the earthmoving industry, being contracted by mining companies to build infrastructure. It was 12 hour days spent driving machinery, 4 weeks straight with 1 week off. It was so far from healthy and balanced that during those years, 3 colleagues took their own lives because of the impacts of such a demanding lifestyle. It was harrowing. For many of my coworkers, it was a career. Yet the impacts of this career were brutal and irreversible. Really, it was unsustainable. For me, it was a means to an end. I had a way out. I knew that much. I am just grateful to have made it through. Near to the end of this time, during my weeks off, I would fly from WA to the East Coast and photograph a wedding or two, fly back to WA and, after working my 12 hour shift, sit and edit photos for as many hours as my eyelids would allow. After a couple months of this, I became very unwell. Only when I dived into my business full-time, would I get better. Yet the scales didn’t tip back to level. Instead, the workload changed. It became more personal, it was a passion that I had turned into a career. I was so emotionally invested in my business, that it took a whole new kind of toll on my life. I’m sure you can all relate to what I’m speaking of.
So, how do we get those scales to a more level point? For each of us, it’s going to be different. I’m aware that many of you have husbands, wives, children and other obligations that I currently do not have (for those with kids I give you major kudos for running a business and looking after them. I admire you all). It means your free time will be prioritised in different ways. Yet, we all have things we enjoy doing outside of work, things that make us happy and dissolve our daily stresses just a little. The key is to make time to do them. After years of not prioritising this time away from work, I got to a point where I felt my body crying out for nature and the outdoors. I finally started to listen. Now, I NEED that time outside to refresh the soul and get through the next big week. So much so, that I’ve made the huge and daunting decision to move home to New Zealand and surround myself in more greenery, getting that balance back into life from the ground up.
On this point, I’ve just finished listening to a podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain titled, Our Better Nature. Its guest speaker, psychologist Ming Kuo, has studied the effects of nature on the body, with proven results that being out in, or simply looking out the window at nature, can noticeably slow ones heart rate. It’s fascinating to hear these findings exist, because, like me, you probably feel these effects every time you get away from the city.
Yet, for a lot of us, living outside of the city comes at a price. Life is often like a juggling act that requires grace and determination. We need to live where we can get enough work to succeed financially (self-employed or not) and also be fulfilled on a personal level. We should love where we live. Or at the very least, like it.
As well as liking where we live, we must engage more of our minds than just work and non-work mode. There are so many elements that make up a healthy mindset and lifestyle. From where we live to HOW we live. How do we prioritise these? How do we step away from conventional norms, away from the 80 hour work week, to prioritising our mental health and accept that not working so much is OK? General day-to-day balance is key to wellbeing, yet the scales have been tipping for too long in favour of working more, not working smarter or even working less.
From another wonderful podcast, Sense of Self, episode 32: Work/life balance, speaker Mary Minas asks, ‘to be active and purposeful and truly balanced, is this possible? Here in our modern lives, we’re taught that hard work, tenacity and being switched on are the key ingredients to success. But, should that be the only definition of success these days?’
This is a great question. What is success and what does it mean to you? It’s taken me many years, but I’m now at a point where I’m looking forward to working less. As scary as that seems, I want to slow down and allow myself time for other things. Taking 3 months off earlier this year only clarified this. Without time to let our minds think freely, we can’t access the other parts of ourselves we’ve buried so deeply, we’ve almost forgotten they exist.
Success to me is being ok with less bookings and planning one day a week where I will paint or spend time outdoors. So what can you do in your life? Choose a day, set it in stone and let that be the day you do something else. I realise for those of you with a family, this is easier said than done, but is there a way you can find more time for yourself each week?
If nature can help reduce stress, what then can reduce the guilt we inflict on ourselves? Can we stand up to the voice in our heads telling us ‘we didn’t do enough today’? How do we find acceptance in stepping back and going for that lunchtime walk, or signing out at 5pm to attend that yoga class? The answer is not simple. For each of us, we will come about it in a different way. Yet I can recommend one way that helped me.
Enter, yoga and meditation.
In 2015, after the initial years of getting my business off the ground (aka constantly working with very little time for anything else), I started practicing yoga regularly. You’ve all heard about the positive effects of yoga. For many of my friends it’s something they ‘need to do more’, or something they’re ‘not good enough at’ or ‘not flexible enough for’. That’s where it begins and ends. Ladies and gents, yoga is not about being good and it’s definitely not about being flexible. For the first time in my life I had found something that needed no comparison to others. It did not demand high skill, or self-criticism. It simply asked that you show up, stand on your mat and work with what YOU have on that day. That’s the philosophy behind it and that is the same philosophy that I now try to translate into my daily life. Work with what you have. We are all different, yet we share a common thread. We are creative, hard working and dedicated to our businesses. Because of this, we often fall victim to the self-critical tone of ‘you are not good enough’. It’s an artist’s best friend and biggest enemy. It serves us tremendously in pushing our creative limitations, but can manifest so much doubt and self-hatred that if you were to say those same things to the friend beside you, they would wonder what evil had taken over your soul. So why do we say these things to ourselves?
With yoga, comes the practice of mindful breathing. Breathing is crucial to life yes, but it’s not until we use breath as a tool to focus the mind, that we really see changes. As yoga teacher Lucienne Shanti says, ‘stress isn’t something that happens to you, it’s a response. Through the practices of yoga and meditation we can choose how we respond to stressful situations. Meditation and yoga puts you in controlled states of stress whether it physical or mental. And, when you learn to practice patience with the little things on your mat, you’re better equipped to practice those things out in the real world and in life. Start off with the small things, then you’re able to deal with the big things.’
Yoga, breath work and meditation have transformed my life. I cannot put into words how much. It hasn’t been easy though. I’ve dedicated 4-5 mornings a week, rising at 5.30am to practice. The last few years have been like a purging of my old self, my old thought patterns and my old beliefs. I came from a competitive sporting background of having to get better every day in order to be good enough to win.
Yoga has taught me to be ok with, even love, who I am right now. And with a history of depression, this is huge for me. I’ve learnt to stop comparing, to accept that I’m on my own path and for me that’s exciting. There is no one to compete against. It’s a fundamentally different mindset. After three years of just showing up to my mat, I’ve transformed into a slightly less dramatic, less irritated, less angry version of myself. I can accept more, I can empathise more, I can breathe more efficiently and I can feel a balance within myself that I never used to feel. My body and mind feel like they are working together, and that in turn affects my work, my attitude and my energy.
And yet another benefit of yoga, has been finding a community completely separate to my photography one. That has been crucial to finding a balance in my life. Where can you find that community outside of your business? Could you try practicing yoga even one day a week? How about meditation? I can only recommend it. Try it and see for yourselves.
After all I have said, I’m not denying that working very hard is the key to a successful business. Sitting back on your laurels won’t get you anywhere. From experience, I know that you get out what you put in, so if you work hard, you will reap the rewards. Starting a business of your own means hours and hours, years and years of tough slog. You must fight to get out there, then fight to stay out there. It doesn’t stop. However, we owe it to ourselves and the future generations to change the culture of an 80 hour work week. We deserve that balance. If you can set aside even a few hours each week to your ‘something else’ and stick to it, I guarantee it will benefit you in the long term. Create the life you want and try not to be a slave to the clock. We will be better for it, personally and professionally. Our work will always be there but our creative souls need to breathe.
About the Author: Madeline Druce
From growing up in the New Zealand countryside, to shooting weddings around the world, I can say I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life. Of course it hasn’t been easy, but ultimately I’ve got to where I am by working hard and following my heart. To put it simply, love has brought me here, it’s brought you here and as cheesy as that sounds, I don’t mind it at all.
All Images and words by: Madeline Druce