When I told my story of depression and anxiety, some asked if I had any advice for those who might be facing it. I was clear then and want to reiterate I'm not a medical professional, when you've hit the bottom you need to see your GP first and get some professional advice.
What I can do is share some things I try and do to take care of myself and prevent burnout. Here are my tips for staying healthy, as I'm a creative they are in no rational order.
I used to think I could burn the candle at both ends. Sometimes I would go for days on 4 hours sleep a night, sometime no sleep at all. We think it makes us hyper-productive, it doesn't. There's a reason sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation method. Setting aside the possible serious health impact, the sleep-deprived have to work harder to function. There's an excellent article on why we need sleep from Time Magazine in 2004 that points to the need for sleep. You may think not sleeping is smart but it may be the case that not sleeping is making you less smart.
Working in a studio does not lend itself to eating well. Often the highlight of the day is when the menus come out, many take more care of their take-out choice than the sound of the guitar in the track. Perhaps it is because I'm getting old but when I was younger I could wash down a fried bacon sandwich at 2am with a can of full fat Coke and then sleep like a baby. At 50 that would keep me awake for a week with indigestion.
Eating well is about a number of things; quality, quantity and frequency - the what, the how much and the when.
Over the years I've started to pay a lot more attention to the type of food I eat and I have experienced a remarkable change. I am able to think more clearly and I have less unexplained illness like stomach pains or headaches. So try to eat high quality, freshly prepared food at regular intervals during the day. Also make sure you are not starving and then gorging, that isn't good for you either.
I do all I can to keep sugar from my diet. Drinks are one of the biggest contributors to this. Most sugar has no nutritional value so it really just adds taste to food, often low quality food. So instead of drinking sugar-loaded drinks choose water instead and plenty of it, dehydration can be the cause of many common feelings of malaise.
I'm not talking about being a junky, there are plenty of legal stimulants we put into our body daily. Both tea and coffee contain stimulants and excessive consumption may not help you maintain balance. Choose decaffeinated alternatives or one of those teas 'the hippies drink' instead like fruit teas. However I would draw the line at anyone drinking fruit beer - that's just plain wrong! Seriously though it doesn't take long to develop a new drinking regime that is made up of water, juices and decaffeinated hot drinks.
Consider cutting out drinking tea and coffee in the evening as this can affect your sleep patterns. Take it from an older guy even if it doesn't give you weird dreams it will have you making bathroom trips in the night.
Make these changes and see how much more level your entire day is,
Don't Over Promise
Set reasonable expectations for both those you work for and for yourself. You may have a personality that wants to please people all the time but in the long run you find the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Always under-promise and over-deliver. If you think a job will take 2 days then build a day of buffer in for possible road blocks, this is especially important if your deadline relies on other people. One of my greatest challenges with deadlines is clients getting back to me with amends, it can often add weeks to a project so make sure you account for this.
Don't take on work you have little experience in - you should never use paying clients to practise your skills or learn new software. Over promising can lead to letting clients down and add to any feelings of failure - avoid this at all costs.
Create Support Networks
Many freelance creatives can feel isolated.
Make sure you have trusted friends you can rely on to discuss your work, your clients, your own health and any other concerns you have. I have around 10 people in my life I can call and ask their advice on an idea, a project, a client issue or about my own business concerns such as late payments, long hours or other personal concerns.
It is essential you build strong support networks. If you don't have any right now then make sure you spend the next week finding those people, they don't have to live close by. Some of mine live on the other side of the world but I count them as some of my trusted friends and advisors. Do it today!
Find An Alternate Activity
I have a confession as someone who works in one of the coolest professions in the world. I love gardening. If I need to escape from the studio or from a project that has sucked me in and wrung me dry then I head into the garden. There's a good reason for this, when I'm gardening I think about nothing, I just think about the tree I'm chopping down or why that stunning plant is dying, or how to kill the dreaded slugs who think my plants are McDonalds!
I remember asking a high-powered business friend once what he thought about when playing golf. He replied 'hitting the bloody ball!'
Find an activity that is nothing like the cool world you work in, it might be swimming, walking your dog, football, basket weaving or baking. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it consumes your mind and helps you forget your working day.
One word of caution - it's not sitting in front of TV all day either. I love crashing and watching some junk TV or a great movie but that's not something I would do as my alternate activity.
One of the biggest heath issues facing many of us working studios is our sedentary lifestyle. We sit too much! Get up out your chair and take a walk even if it's around the building. Start walking to work, the store or the meeting. Stand up when on Skype calls or other conference calls, walk around when on the phone. Get a dog and take it for walks.
Find some way of getting up, moving around and getting the blood flowing and the lungs working. If you think exercise can kill you then look at what no exercise can do.
Take Regular Breaks
You think you can't possibly stop for breaks, but you are making a big mistake when you think like that. As a creative you are being paid to stay fresh and keep your mind alert - ideas are the currency you deal in. Tiredness and stress will rob you of your creativity.
Working long hours won't kill you, but they will if you don't take breaks. Take regular breaks throughout the day, I reward myself when working to a tight deadline by saying to myself that once I've completed a part of a task then I will break for a coffee or take the dog for a walk.
It's not good churning out a lot of stuff if it's average, better to turn out less stuff that is of a high quality. That's what will get you the good gigs and those are the gigs that get you better money and in my experience the best people to work for.
Turn Off The Tech
I want to test some of you tech junkies this week. You know who you are, you have all your alerts switched on and respond to them 24/7. You wake up and look at your tech and go to sleep by kissing you iPhone good night. Try this:
- Turn off your desktop alerts. Really they are pointless and have no place in a professional studio when you should be concentrating on the work you are doing.
- Put you phone on silent. I've done this for years, I still have friends and clients but I'm not distracted by the incessant dings, bings, bongs (not that kind!) and buzzes. I don't even have my phone on vibrate.
- Instead of being 'always on' have set times to read and respond to emails.
- Think about emails and PMs before you reply. I once asked my wife who worked in a high powered role how long I should expect someone to reply to an email. She said up to a week. I was stunned as up until then I thought 10 minutes was a long time to wait. Yes there will be exceptions but in many cases too many of us (myself included) are too eager to answer emails fast and all we do is make a rod for our own backs.
- Turn off social media when working. I find myself too easily drawn into arguments about cats, politics or find myself having lost an hour watching 'an amazing you won't believe what happens next' video of a goat using Pro Tools.
- Visit forums less often, these days once I comment I rarely go back again to read any replies. Perhaps someone disagreed with me or called me a dick, so what! If forums have taught us anything it is that being right is overrated.
Nothing I have written here is rocket-science.
Nothing here is hard. It's about creating a lifestyle of order and balance in what can often be a frenetic world.
Please take some of this advice and prevent yourself from burning out.
Be kind to yourself, you are unique.