Using Strategies From “The Artist’s Way” to Deal With Stress in 2020

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Stressed. Frightened. Angry. Frustrated. I’ve felt every negative emotion there is to feel lately, and as an HSP, I’m constantly exhausted.

In the past, I was encouraged to “suck it up” and “get over it” rather than feel my feelings and work through them, so I’m not the best in dealing with stress. Because of that, I’m always looking for ways to understand better and balance the turbulence of having feelings and not knowing what to do with them.

I recently revisited a favorite book of mine called The Artist’s Way, and I’d like to share a few tools and concepts from it that have helped me get through this hot mess of a year.

The Artist’s Way is a book written in 1992 by Julia Cameron, and it’s a self-discovery book that aims to help you “discover and develop the artist within.” My own much-loved copy is currently in storage because living in a motorhome doesn’t afford one much room for books, but luckily my local library has it in e-book form.

Although “artist” is in the title of the book, it isn’t only for artists. And if you don’t consider yourself artistic, don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the book if it sounds like something you could benefit from.

Three tools from the book have been helping me deal lately: morning pages, artist dates, and creative affirmations. Keep reading below to learn more!

The Morning Pages

Morning pages are a journaling technique where you sit down each day and complete three stream of consciousness pages of writing. Write three pages of whatever comes to your mind, and don’t worry about if it sounds good.

The point of the morning pages is to help you get past the noise in your head and work through fear and creative blocks. The idea is that it gets the mental and emotional junk out of your way so you can get back to creating.

While Julia sets up some basic guidelines for morning pages, you can’t mess them up, and it’s totally cool to make them your own. I often don’t have enough words for three pages, so I usually do one. I also don’t do them every day, just when I feel like I need to use it to work through the stuff in my head.

I’ve done the morning pages on paper in the past, but as I wasn’t keeping what I wrote, it was wasteful. I now do my morning pages in the Goodnotes app on my iPad.

I’ve found the morning pages an enjoyable and worthwhile way to navigate what this year has thrown at me, and if it sounds interesting to you, I recommend you give them a try.

Artist Dates

Artist dates are “assigned play” — a once a week excursion where you go do something that seems fun or interesting. Admittedly, these are a little tougher to do in the times of “the rona,” as many places are discouraging visitors right now. Still, the artist date doesn’t have to involve going somewhere if that’s not possible in your situation.

Again, while “artist” is in this tool’s name, an artist date doesn’t mean it has to be artistic. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with lots of outdoor spaces to explore, and (most of the time) the great weather to do it in. So many of my artist dates involve visits to local national parks and conservation areas.

I saw this reintroduced prairie dog on one of my recent artist dates to a national conservation area. Reminding myself that humans can do good things helped me work through negative emotions brought on by the United States’ current political climate.

Artist dates are supposed to be solo occasions, so nothing gets in the way of your play and discovery, but I often bring my spouse along because I find that adds value to my experience rather than detract from it.

If artist dates are something you’d be interested in, there are many blog posts out there with ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fawning over supplies at an art store (and, let’s be honest, buying some too!)
  • Checking out a local park I’ve not been to before, or revisiting one of my favorites
  • Going for a drive on a curvy, hilly, or picturesque road
  • Walking the trails around where I live with my camera in hand
  • Re-organizing my art supplies or creating art in a different area of my living space
  • Going to the farmer’s market
  • Checking out a mural I’ve not seen before
  • Listening to guilty pleasure music
  • Making a cup of tea and doodling
  • Sitting by the fire with a beer

I’ve found artist dates to be a fun and easy way to reset, relax, and get some perspective when everything feels like useless chaos.

Creative Affirmations

I’m a highly logical INTJ personality type, and I tend to dismiss spiritual, woo-woo type stuff and go the scientific route on everything. Though somehow, at the same time, a mini hippie is living inside me, and some of the woo-woo stuff intrigues the hell out of me.

You may have noticed “spiritual” in the title, and the book does mention God quite a bit. Based on some of the reviews on Amazon, that seems to put some people off. While I don’t consider myself religious or even spiritual, there are still things I can learn from a spiritual perspective, and it doesn’t stop me from enjoying this book.

Incorporating creative affirmations in an art journaling page

One of those things is the concept of creative affirmations. These are statements you write or speak to yourself regularly to recognize and overcome negative self-talk. Julia gets you started with a big list of affirmations to try in the book, and I found not having to come up with my own really helpful.

While I don’t identify with the recommended affirmations that mention God, there are a few that remind me that it’s okay, and even essential, to allow myself time for creativity:

  • I am allowed to nurture my artist.
  • I am willing to learn to let myself create.
  • My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
  • I am willing to use my creative talents.
  • My creativity heals myself and others.
  • As I create and listen, I will be led.

For me, creative affirmations are a way to combat the asshole voice in my head that shows up every day and tries telling me I’m not enough. Begone, asshole voice!

I haven’t yet figured out if 2020 is the best or the worst year to come back to my art and find the courage to share it.

But I can say that the concepts and tools in The Artist’s Way are helping me get out of my own way when it comes to navigating all the weird, wonderful, and terrible fee-fees coming at me this year. And I hope you’ll check it out!