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How to Find Inspiration in Isolation

Leah Morris, copywriter at HBK Agency asks psychologist Dr Jacqueline Baulch what we can be doing to stay creative in isolation.

LM: With redundancies, financial stress and isolation, the coronavirus has been tough on the creative industry. How can we get our creative mojos back?

JB: It’s hard to feel inspired when we feel scared. And when our basic needs are threatened, like safety and security, the inspiration part of our brain goes offline. This can fuel fear and anxiety. So the first step is attending to those physiological needs: eating and sleeping well, keeping warm and exercising. Once those are taken care of, we can start using the human part of our brains to find inspiration. Not the animal part that’s reacting to the threat.

How can we create the right headspace for inspiration?

In psychology, we think of the mind as having a conscious and an unconscious component. The majority of the mind is actually unconscious and this is where creative ideas like music, art and poetry come from. So when things are calm and still in the mind, that’s when you’re creating space for inspiration to surface.

How do you think isolation affects creative people?

It’s different for everyone. For introverts, isolation might feel semi-comfortable. You might embrace it and continue to pull away. For extroverts who get their energy from outside of themselves, it’s going to be really hard. Things like Zoom are great, but the level of connection is not the same.

Isolation can also bring out existential feelings like ‘if I'm not with others, I don't really feel like I exist’. Those sorts of philosophical thoughts.

So, the “tortured artist” isn’t just a stereotype?

There is a group of people who are highly sensitive, they’re also called ‘empaths’. There is strength in being a person like that – you see the world in a rich and interesting way. The downside, however, is that you can be more impacted by chaos around you, even feeling invaded by it.

People who identify with this way of being have to be quite careful what they consume in the media and the conversations that they have. They might need to tell people, "hey, I know this is on your mind, but I can't talk about coronavirus anymore. I just need a break. Can we talk about something else?"

You have to armour yourself. Highly sensitive people need more armour.

What are some ways we might create this ‘armour’?

Get back to basics. Food, sleep, moving our bodies, fresh air. These are the foundations of good mental health.

Breathe. Your breath is like a brake for your anxiety and stress response. When you slow down your breathing, your body sends signals to your brain that it's okay to feel calm and safe.

Find ways to shine a light on what's good, or even neutral. When our mental health is stretched, our brain is on the lookout for negativity around us. It’s a survival mechanism. Try turning this automatic response around by honing in on what's working well, what you're grateful for or even what feels neutral as a starting point. Name it to tame it! When you feel a strong emotion, experiment with stepping back and naming what you feel. This helps you to slow things down and get some distance from your feelings.

Anchor yourself in the present. This gives you a break from the chatter of your mind. Find an isolation activity that works for you. It could be exercising in nature, meditating, dancing, singing, drawing, cooking or playing with your pet or child.

If you’ve noticed a co-worker is struggling, what’s a good way to offer support?

Rather than a quick ‘hey, how are you?’, show that you’re willing to listen. If they say ‘oh, yeah, I'm okay. Everything is pretty chaotic’, you could ask follow-on questions like ‘what are you finding chaotic?’ So you’re offering to hear them, while being conscious that not everyone wants to open up.

You recently shared a Guided Journaling Mini Course on Instagram. What is journaling and how can it benefit creatives?

Journaling is about raising our self-awareness and getting to know ourselves better. Not just the positive parts but the deeper – even disturbing – shadow sides. It’s a private way to discover those aspects of ourselves without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. And it connects us with our unconscious mind, which is where inspiration comes from.

Dr Jacqueline Baulch is a clinical psychologist and Director of Inner Melbourne Psychology. She was inspired to create this stack of free resources to help with your mental health during COVID-19.

Words: Leah Morris

Art: Lauren Meyerkort

This article originally appeared in Gabberish Issue #18: Inspiration.


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