I recently shared some of the most challenging aspects of being a self-employed creative, including loneliness, imposter syndrome, and difficulties dealing with depression and anxiety.
Over the last five years of self-employment, I have been through it, but I’ve never quit. The rollercoaster of creativity and entrepreneurship has made me stronger — and smarter. When I feel a lull ahead, I have quite a few tactics that provide extra support when I need it.
Here are the 10 systems I regularly use to help me get through tough times in art and business:
1. Find your community (in real life and online).
Although being self-employed can sometimes feel lonely, it’s so important to have a support system of people who first-hand understand your situation. I found many of my best business and creative friends online. Being a part of a remote mastermind group, going to retreats and conferences, or even just having one or two go-to creative pals to Google chat with every couple of weeks is invaluable. When the going gets tough, tap into your community. You don’t have to do it all alone.
2. Go to therapy.
All kinds of therapy. I started out with talk therapy through my healthcare provider, but quickly found it wasn’t the right fit for me. Over the years I’ve invested in a really supportive life coach, a somatic therapist I see regularly, and an energy healing session. Although therapy can be a large financial investment, I try to make space for it no matter what.
3. Let yourself flail around a bit.
You don’t have to keep it together all the time. Vent to your friends. Punch some pillows. Admit publicly you feel like a complete mess. (More people appreciate that than you know.) Go on a hiatus, if you can afford it. I find that sometimes letting myself be a “mess” rather than trying to keep it all together gets the energy flowing and allows me to move through whatever feelings need to be processed.
4. Pick up hobbies outside of the house (and, more importantly, outside of your business/art).
Trust me, I get it. When you get to do what you love, you love working. But having a life outside of your business and art is so important to your wellbeing. For me, it’s climbing. I do it purely for myself, no one else or nothing else. When I am climbing it is one of the only times I can really get out of my head and be present in the moment. For that reason, it’s crucial I make time to get outside and climb, otherwise, I see a build-up of mental and creative energy that can lead to anxiety, feeling stuck, or other stress.
5. Get a part-time job to ease financial stress.
If you’re going through a hard time in your business, there is nothing wrong with picking up a part-time job to simply ease the mental stress of trying to figure things out while also providing for yourself financially. It can be one of the kindest things you can do for yourself when you’re stressed. It can also give you some space to really dive deep into your creativity and business and figure out what you truly want to do next.
6. Allow yourself to consider a change.
Nothing has to last forever. If you’ve been hustling for years and it’s worn you out mentally, physically, spiritually and you’re struggling to find the vision and passion that was once there, allow yourself to change, both within and without your business. Maybe you need a new income stream, vision, or brand, or maybe you just need to move on. There’s no need to stress, just let yourself be open to whatever you really want to do.
7. Reminder yourself of your vision or create a new one.
When I’m in a rut or confused about something in my business I always refer back to my big vision. Maybe you need to completely toss it and start over, which can be a very hard thing to do. During one of the darkest moments in my career I had to do just that — but the outcome of finding a new vision to tap into was so worth it.
8. Ladies, tune into your cycle.
As a woman, I track my period and try to be aware of which phase of the cycle I am in. My energy goes up and down depending on where I am in my cycle, and I try to remind myself of that, especially when I am in the middle of a luteal phase and having a meltdown or suddenly feeling super sad about something. Being aware of where you are in your cycle and reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel whatever your feeling (it’s natural and to be expected) can help you get through those challenging moments. I try to remind myself in those times to not take anything I am feeling too seriously and to avoid big decisions during certain times in my cycle.
9. Listen to your intuition.
There’s a time to show up and do the hard work and there is a time to listen to when your body is trying to tell you something. When things just aren’t flowing, when it feels like force, when your intuition is trying to tell you it’s not the right time… listen. Give yourself a break. If you’re in this for the long haul, taking a day or a week off or quitting the client who is giving you migraines will always be worth it if it keeps you healthy and sane. Procrastination, “laziness”, headaches, fatigue — these are all signs, ways that your body and intuition are trying to communicate with you. Listen.
10. Find a creative pattern that works for you.
This definitely ties into the last two points. Respect your creative cycles and patterns. For me, this looks like giving myself multiple creative outlets rather than trying to channel it all into one constant stream. That works for some people, but it’s just not the way I work. I need to flow back and forth from writing to painting, to illustration, to business/marketing, to taxes (yes, even taxes!), to dreaming big-picture strategy. All of these are pieces of the puzzle that make me one happy human. If your pattern is painting all day every day, embrace that. That’s amazing. Find an accountant. Hire an assistant. Do what flows easily for you, and hopefully, the challenging times will last shorter and happen less often.
These are just some of the tried-and-true tactics I’ve discovered over the last five years that really do help me when I am experiencing a challenging time in my business or creativity. I think the worst thing you can do during a difficult phase is to be really hard on yourself (guilty), numb out through things like TV or emotional eating (guilty again), or consider just giving up (yeah, guilty there, too).
It takes time to figure out what works for you, and no one is perfect. Just try to be a little kinder to yourself every day, and know you’re not alone in the ups and downs.