Taking Care of My Mental Health as an Artist

Mental Health is a HUGE topic at the moment. If you’ve read my blog on creativity and mental health or listened to my episode of Mind Your Head Podcast, you’ll know I’ve been on a bit of a journey with mine. I recently shared some of my tips for taking care of the body as a chainsaw carver, and it got a lot of appreciation. As mental health is just as important, I wanted to follow up with a blog on subject. Full disclaimer though! I’m not an expert, this is just my personal experience. I’ve also not ‘arrived’ with any of this! These are all things I’m learning and growing in and trying to put into practice, but it’s not easy!

Screenshot of simon o'rourke with Rob from mind your head podcast recording an episode for the podcast
Recording Mind Your Head podcast in my studio

CATCH THINGS EARLY

The first thing I’m growing in when it comes to taking care of my mental health is learning to see the warning signs of stress. Spotting things before they become too much (and taking action!) is so much better than pushing until a crash!
In my case, I get tetchy and irritable with the people nearest to me when I am feeling under pressure. This especially happens with me when I’m feeling out of control of my environment. Once I recognise that happening, I can pause and make myself think rationally about what’s going on.
Can I change the thing that I am feeling stressed about?
If so, then what steps do I need to take?
Can I ask for help?
If I can’t change anything, then I need to learn to accept what is happening and respond in a rational way.

Photo outside The Turf pub in Wrexham of Simon O'Rourke, his wife Liz and two employees with his deadpool sculpture. It features in the blog taking care of my mental health as an artist as being irritable in relatiosnhips with those closest is one of the warning signs of stress for him.
Becoming irritable with those around me is one of the warning signs for me that I’m feeling stressed

CONNECT WITH YOUR CREATIVITY

It might seem strange to say ‘connecting with my creativity’ is part of taking care of my mental health as an artist. After all, am I not being creative all the time?
Well, yes! But doing it for a living comes with a bit of pressure.
I find I get to the point where my creative flow is overwhelmed with the need to pay the bills, and it stops being enjoyable.
I’ve discovered it’s important for me to find time to enjoy doing something creative that doesn’t have any deadlines, pressures, or the need to make money. It puts the enjoyment back into being creative and is a great way of recharging my energy levels. In fact, my Deadpool sculpture started out as something I just wanted to do for me.

If you’re feeling a bit burned out in your craft, why not give it a go? Put down the commissions and do something just for fun!

TALK IT OUT

The next thing I’m working on when it comes to taking care of my mental health is talking.
Now this is a tough one!
It doesn’t come naturally to me as I am quite introverted! Being a chainsaw carver can be lonely at times as you are locked away in a bubble with ear defenders on and making lots of noise. And let’s be honest, the world of power tools is also not known for blokes sitting round talking about feelings! It’s definitely not easy for me, but just taking time to catch up with a friend on the phone or over a pint is well worth doing.

simon o'rourke in full stihl ppe carving the marbury lady sculpture
As a chainsaw carver I spend a lot of time alone so it’s easy to stay isolated which is unhelpful for mental health

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Knowing my limits is important for taking care of my mental health. If I’m feeling tired towards the end of a day and I find I’m not feeling the creative flow, I stop what I’m doing and pack up or do something different. I have found if I push myself to get more done on a sculpture or to rush to finish it, I mess things up and don’t do as good a job. That takes its toll on my mental health as it comes with stress and frustration and sometimes having to fit more work in. Coming back to a project after a good night’s sleep usually gives me fresh perspective and I find I’m more efficient.

That’s a daily example of knowing my limits and when to stop. There have also been times when I’ve had to take an extended break and stop carving completely though. Recognising that and actually doing it is challenging, especially when there’s a financial impact. However, that complete break is sometimes a necessity.

Stihl jenga game, glass of wine and a burning scented candle. Part of a blog on taking care of mental health as rest is important.
Taking a break is a key part of taking care of my mental health as an artist

KNOW YOUR WORTH

Finally, I’ve learned I have to be careful of taking on both criticism and praise in equal measures.
Criticism and comparison are obvious pitfalls, but I find we often don’t talk enough about the danger of basking in praise!
When validation is based on other people’s opinions – good or bad – it can lead to a false sense of self worth. As people, what we do and how well we do it is not what makes us valued human beings. It’s difficult to do but it’s so important to try to see yourself as valuable no matter what you produce and how people see it.

Image  of Wayne Dyer and a quote about our value being in who we are not what we do.

FINDING HELP

These are some of the things I’m working on for taking care of my mental health. However, there are times we really can’t do it alone, and it’s important to know when to get support, counselling, or medication. There are also lots of charities and local support options, so if you’re struggling, please reach out. I’ve signposted a couple of healpful links below.

I hope you found this helpful. What things do you do to take care of your mental health as an artist? Drop a comment below!

USEFUL LINKS

MIND
NHS Mental Health Services
Rehab4Addiction
Anxiety UK
Young Minds