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Surviving Lockdown: Behind the Scenes in the Art Studio

A series of video interviews with figures from the art world explores transferrable skills from the arts to help survive these out-of-the-ordinary times.

© Nicola Anthony, Poetry Net Series, 2019

As a sculptor trapped at home without my metalworking studio, I have turned to other things to create.

I am interviewing some of my art world mentors to explore the skills, ideas or useful quirks, which are transferable from the art world to all humans right now in lockdown or in crisis.

In the first of this series, I talk about curating your own home office and your time in isolation, with tips from my own creative coach, Deborah Henry-Pollard. Deborah runs the coaching business Catching Fireworks and works with a wide range of creative professionals to support their careers by helping them to find clarity, overcome blocks and get into action. She has worked with English National Opera, Cameron Mackintosh, Siobhan Davies Dance, Society of West End Theatre, Chester Gateway Theatre, Oxford Concert Party, Chester Literature Festival, and Studio Voltaire, among others.

As promised in this video, the tips from Deborah can be found below. 

10 TIPS & TOOLS TO HELP IN ISOLATION

I have put together some tips and ideas which might support you during these exceptional times. You can play with them all and try them out, or pick the one or two which resonate with you. It is all about finding what you need to get you through these weeks and maybe months in as healthy and balanced a state as possible. Don’t add to the already present stress by worrying about ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. Some people are aiming on learning a language or writing their novel whilst in isolation; others are simply trying to get through each day without crying. The pandemic is our shared environment but like grief, how we experience it is entirely individual.

One-Minute Meditation

If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, you can get into a cycle of anxiety which affects both your mind and your body. This quick tool, based all around simple breathing and counting, is like pressing a reset button. You only have to do the first part once, to give you a tool you can use any time you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or fearful:

  • Set up the stopwatch on your phone for one minute and start breathing comfortably
  • Start the stopwatch and start counting the number of breaths you are taking
  • When the alarm goes off, write down your number for reference

From now on, whenever you need it, stop and take that number of breaths (before you panic, there is no right or wrong number). It is something you can do anywhere; it is a simple distraction technique which allows your mind to get out of a loop and the breathing calms our bodies down — psychologically, if the body is relaxed it calms the mind.

Circle of Control

Get a piece of paper and draw a circle in the centre. Around the outside of the circle, write down all the things you can’t control. For example:

  • Other people’s feelings, actions, opinions
  • How the news is reported
  • Food supplies in shops
  • How long this situation will last

As much as possible, let go of worrying about these things. In the centre of the circle, write down all the things you CAN control. For example:

  • How you feel, your behaviour, your thoughts
  • How you limit your news consumption 
  • How you use your food supplies
  • Your own wellbeing

These are the things you can focus on. Keep the circle near you and if you feel panicky, remind yourself of what you can control and refocus.

Wellbeing Weekly Planner

Taking care of yourself is always important and never more than in this strange and unsettling time. Whether you are in shock about the ‘new normal’ or embracing new opportunities, your wellbeing is paramount. However, it can often be the thing which drops down the to-do list and gets lost in the middle of everything else. To avoid that:

Get your planner or calendar. For every day in the week, schedule one thing you will do every day for yourself and your wellbeing. This can be the same thing every day, as a routine, or a different treat for each day.

It can be a big thing like watching a film; going for your walk; half an hour reading a novel; meditation; a manicure; taking an afternoon off. Or it can be a small thing, like wearing your best earrings; trimming your beard; turning off your social media for 10 minutes; having a bar of chocolate.

It is not about setting an agenda to beat yourself up with, but being kind to yourself.

Your One Goal

Create one goal to motivate you and which you can reach by the end of the week. Make it something realistic — perhaps something you can reach with a small step every day. This can be as big or small as you want, from “I will create three new paintings” to “I will make my bed every day”.  (Let’s face it, in extraordinary times like this when emotions can be all over the place, even the simple things can seem like herculean tasks.)

Just One Thing

Have something at the beginning of the day which you can do as a ‘quick win’ and an anchor. This helps you feel in control and gets the day off to a positive start. This can be anything like making your bed; putting on makeup; meditating for five minutes; listening to a favourite song; 10 minutes of yoga; journalling; a 10-minute sketch, etc. (One friend of mine is having afternoon tea every day in a ‘proper’ china teacup.)

Create a Schedule

In a climate when everything seems to be changing around us and we don’t know how long things are going to last, create some certainty for yourself with a timetable. This also helps at a time when the working day can begin and end at any time, and weekends and the working week can slide into each other. It is important to create clarity and balance. 

This isn’t about having your whole week mapped out (unless that works for you), but, for example: 

  • Having clear start and end times to your working day
  • A scheduled lunch break
  • Regular times to do set tasks (“if it’s marketing, it must be Monday”!)

Plan Fun Things in Your Diary

It’s lovely to look in the diary and see enjoyable activities scheduled to which you can look forward, particularly with other people. The anticipation is important in a time when we don’t know what is going to be happening next week or month. At the moment, you can’t go out to dinner or to a gallery or down the pub, but what can you do? Some ideas I’ve seen online:

  • Zoom cocktail hours
  • Virtual tea party on WhatsApps
  • ‘Watch parties’ on Netflix 
  • Pub quizzes on Skype
  • Online art classes
  • Virtual tours of museums / historic sites

Don’t forget a date night with your partner, or a special play time with the kids!

Sort Out Your Workspace

It doesn’t matter how big or small your workspace is, stopping for a while to sort it out can help clear the mind as well as the physical space. 

Is your space working as well as it can for you? You might have had to create an office or studio out of nothing and in a hurry, or on the assumption you might only need it for a week or two so it wouldn’t matter if it is not quite right. But your surroundings have a big effect on you and even if the situation is only temporary, getting it as right as you can may make a substantial difference to your mood and wellbeing.

Take time to step back and consider the space, for example: 

  • The placing of equipment (are the cables dangerously stretched across the floor?)
  • Would a different chair be better for your back?
  • Is the light at its best if you are on video calls?
  • If you have a garden, could you pick flowers for your desk?
  • If you are working from the kitchen table, how do you easily ‘close the office’ at the end of the day?

You may not be able to get perfection, but any small changes may make your working day easier.

Sleep

Anxiety and uncertainty can play havoc with sleep patterns and many people are experiencing insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns. Also waking at 3 a.m. and being alone with all the negative thoughts and worries makes everything seem even worse. This in turn has a knock-on effect on daytime energy and behaviour. The One-Minute Meditation can help. You can repeat the exercise as much as you want to gradually calm mind and body. You can also Google ‘intentional breathing’ for other breathing-based exercises.

As so many of us are now working from home, if you are feeling fatigued during the day, don’t try to fight it or work over it. Stop what you are doing and take a nap. 

The advice from the Mayo Clinic is:

  • Keep naps short. Aim to nap for only 10 to 20 minutes. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward. However, young adults might be able to tolerate longer naps
  • Take naps in the early afternoon. Napping after 3 p.m. can interfere with nighttime sleep. Individual factors, such as your need for sleep, your sleeping schedule, your age and your medication use, also can play a role in determining the best time of day to nap.
  • Create a restful environment. Nap in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions.

After napping, give yourself time to wake up before resuming activities — particularly those that require a quick or sharp response.

Ask for Help

Whether you need practical information (how to build that website, run an online course, accept online payments) or emotional support, now more than ever is the time to reach out. You can Google specialist support, or contacts your friends and colleagues. Know what it is you want to ask and make sure you ask the right person. Perhaps offer a small something in return — an exchange of skills/knowledge, or support when they need it.

At this time, asking for help is not a sign of defeat, but a sign of courage. It is inviting others to support you, who might not want to insult you by approaching you first. It might also help someone else to open up about help they might need. Supporting people is a gift, which you can give and receive. 

Image © Nicola Anthony, Poetry Net Series, 2019

More tips from Deborah Henry-Pollard in the next instalment of the Surviving Lockdown series here

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