In the past few weeks, many of us have ground to a halt.
It’s hard to keep making stuff when things fall apart. My clients have told me that they’re just not in the mood, that it feels wrong to be working on an album, a sit-com, a novel, a new product when there’s so much pain in the world.
In my writer’s group, people have talked about being glued to the rolling news channels, unable to concentrate on anything else as the tragic situation in Ukraine unfolds.
In my business networks, people say they are struggling to do marketing or money-making activities, as it feels wrong right now, and their heart isn’t in it
I get it. I’ve struggled to focus, too.
After all we’ve already been through in the past two years, this awful war in Ukraine feels like a body blow. Even for those of us just watching it, on the news.
Prices are rising so quickly that most of us are worried how we’ll cope. And then there are the storms, the floods, the clear signs that climate change is no longer something we have the luxury of thinking about later. It’s happening, now.
It all feels overwhelming.
For me it’s also been a distraction, a way of avoiding some of the things I need to do in my creative life. My next book is at that awkward stage where it needs one last edit before I let go of it. And I keep putting it off, because the final bit – putting it out into the world, and telling people about it – is the part I’m not so good at.
If you too are stuck, it might be worth reading last week’s post, about the four stages of a creative project, and how to navigate them. I wrote it because I needed to hear it myself. But it might help you too. Especially right now, when the news is so bleak.
So how do we respond when things fall apart?
I don’t have all the answers, obviously. And please don’t take anything I’m saying here as a call to just soldier on if you’re suffering. If you’re feeling weary, take a duvet day. And if your mental health is not good, get help. You’re not alone.
We’ve all had our own journeys through the pandemic, and very few of them have been fun. But in case it helps, here’s what works for me, and for many of my clients.
Focus on what you can control.
With the situation in Ukraine, there are clear things we can’t control. We can’t change Putin’s mind. Negotiate a ceasefire. House all the refugees. And anxiety won’t change that.
Nor can we stop fuel prices rising. Influence the stock market. Or even make twitter a place of kindness, tolerance and thoughtful debate.
As for climate change, I think it all feels so huge that we’re numb to it, unable to act because any contribution we could make feels insignificant. But that shouldn’t stop us trying.
Because there are many things we can do, to make a difference.
We can make our feelings known.
We can write to our politicians to change Britain’s stance on refugees to something more compassionate. We can also make sure they know that dropping the commitment to reduce our carbon emissions will cost them votes.
We can sign petitions, protest and organise. (I’ve never been to a demo that isn’t improved by music, by witty signs, by imaginative costumes.)
And we can fund-raise, volunteer and/or donate to charities who are able to help.
We can support each other.
With donations, of course. But also by checking on friends and neighbours, sharing food and heating, if you can. By offering help and friendship if refugees are nearby. And by spreading kindness, tolerance, laughter, music and all of the good stuff wherever and whenever you can.
Younger me would have dismissed this as dippy hippy bullshit. But as I’ve got older, I’ve realised how much it really matters. So connect, support, build community. Or even just smile at each other. It matters more than you think.
We can control the information we’re absorbing.
Monitoring newsfeeds 24/7 rarely makes life better, for anyone. There is a school of thought that says news is best avoided altogether. I now avoid it in the mornings (I don’t want to start the day with bad news) and do regular short news fasts when I feel I’m on a downward spiral.
But avoiding it altogether doesn’t feel right to me, ethically. I want to be informed, so that I can act effectively when I’m able to. And it doesn’t really work as an antidote to anxiety, either. Instead, you end up gleaning shaky information from conversations, social media, glimpsed headlines – and worrying more.
And we can make our art.
People need laughter and songs, beautiful or inspiring art, great stories and interesting or innovative ideas. Especially when times are tough.
And doing what you do best – even when it’s difficult or feels pointless – is often the best self-care you can offer yourself, a way of rebuilding resilience.
We can use our creativity to provide beauty and respite, comfort and joy. We can give our audiences an escape, but also offer new ways of interpreting reality.
Most good art is at some level about empathy and curiosity, and I think it encourages those traits in others. Which leads to compassion, understanding, action and invention.
Creatives can point out what is wrong with the world. And we can also imagine something better, then share that vision with others.
What we choose to represent in our art, the worlds we invent, the way we show up and the collaborators we choose.. it’s all important, and it can influence and inspire in ways we can’t predict.
So here’s what I’ve decided.
- I’m watching TV news only once a day, in the evening. And I’m allowed a quick scan of trusted news outlets at lunchtime.
- I’m writing to people in power to let them know how I feel, and how it will affect my vote.
- I am not, however, going to try to change minds on social media, or stoke up even more anger by shouting at people I disagree with.
- I’m going to take one small action, and introduce a new habit or behaviour change each month to reduce my own carbon footprint and make sure that more of the money we spend as a family goes to companies who are making serious attempts to do the same. I don’t think we spend or invest with Russian-backed companies, but I will check on that too.
- For every introductory or one-off coaching session I book over the next few months, I’ll donate £50 to refugee charities. To help those fleeing Ukraine, but also those who are so desperate to get to the UK that they’re willing to pile into flimsy boats and risk their lives trying to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
- And I’m going to finish my book, and put it out in the world. Because it’s what I do, it’s who I am, and the only thing I’ve ever been really good at. And also because it’s more constructive than watching the news and ranting at my TV screen.
We’re all different.
Your choices, your concerns, your worries, your situation will not be the same as mine. And that’s fine.
All that’s important is that you do make choices. That you focus on what you can control then take some kind of action, no matter how futile it feels, no matter how small.
None of us know who we might inspire, what effect our creations or our actions might have on others. So just take the next necessary step. And then another one. And see where it leads.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy was once a comedian, actor and winner of Ukraine’s version of Strictly Come Dancing.
Greta Thunberg started by sitting outside Sweden’s parliament on Fridays instead of going to school, with a home-made sign demanding action on climate change.
Maybe you too will change the world.
Or maybe you’ll just feed your family. Make yourself or your friends happy. Or entertain or inspire someone with your work. Those things are important, too. :P:
Your creativity matters. So use it. Explore it. Play with it. Even now. Perhaps especially now. And if I can help, you know where I am.
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach working with creatives of all kinds. This article was originally published in The Creative Companion, a newsletter to support you on your creative journey. Want it in your in-box regularly? Sign up here.