COVID and the Artist: Dealing with Creative Blocks

Covid and the Artist: Dealing with Creative Blocks


by Elle Bernfeld, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Creative Blocks and Lack of Motivation During Quarantine

You go on Instagram to kill time, and there you see it: another post boasting about a quarantine accomplishment. It could be a before and after photo, a new art piece someone created, a financial goal reached, but regardless, the result is you feeling bad. You know if you keep signing on to social media, you will keep feeling bad, but you can’t help but feel that maybe you deserve it. After all, you do have more time than ever.  Shouldn’t you have something to show for it? Why can’t you get through this creative block? Why can’t you get motivated?

Social Media Doesn’t Tell the Whole Truth

Working almost exclusively with artists and creatives throughout the pandemic, I can confidently say that the above experience is not unique. And artists aren’t the only ones struggling to stay motivated right now – many people are struggling to even do their day to day tasks. While on social media we see the shiny, polished versions of everyone, in therapy, people (ideally) show their true selves. In session, my clients talk to me about their frustrations with themselves, and their perception that everyone else is “making the most” of quarantine time. The truth, however, is that not everyone is mastering the art of sourdough, decluttering their home, or writing the next great American novel. The reality is that people are trying to find the light in our current situation. By reframing the narrative – claiming this time for maximum productivity – people are trying to cope with the difficulties of a quarantined life.  

Reframing Falls Short

While the desire to reframe quarantine time into something positive is understandable, the results are unfortunately more detrimental. Those that are struggling to use their time effectively and create have to deal with the burden of not living up to these expectations. I spend quite a bit of time normalizing these experiences, having to dispel the myth that quarantine is the best time to be creative. Feelings do not immediately go away though when presented with truth. The burden of not being “enough” right now is hard to shake. This burden alone is enough to kill the desire to create and dampen hope that attempting to create right now is worthwhile.

COVID as Trauma

But why are so many artists and creatives struggling to do what they do best? 

The answer primarily lies in the fact that we are living a chronic trauma right now. There have been improvements, but the reality remains that we as a society have to process the deaths of many while continuing to hold some fear of our loved ones or ourselves getting sick next. While pain certainly can be a motivator to create or an inspiration to do so, trauma is not just any type of pain. Trauma like the one we are experiencing now, life and death trauma, can be debilitating, exhausting, and draining. This can itself be a source of creative blocks. Additionally, we are not just processing trauma, we are also processing quite a bit of change. We have had to completely rework our lives, our daily routines, and all while losing access to some of our most important supports. With our minds and hearts consumed by so many other matters, is it really any question that we are struggling to use the time effectively? Is it any wonder we are not being our best selves?

 Acceptance as a Starting Point

So what does that mean for the artist? How do we get back into creating? 

This is where acceptance comes in. It might sound counterintuitive, but acceptance of where you are now is the only way to get somewhere new! Accepting that you are struggling right now, and accepting that perhaps you cannot be the person you want to be right now, is the most helpful thing you can do to change. It can be scary for some to accept where they are right now. They think acceptance means giving up on change, but it does not have to mean that. It means stopping fighting yourself and beginning to observe what your situation really is.

 Moving Forward

To keep expecting yourself to be some super-productive, super-inspired version of yourself right now is to deny reality. Acceptance promotes change because it allows you to address the real issues at hand. If you keep focusing on yourself as the problem, you are unable to process what is holding you back. If you continually beat yourself up about how you are not creating, not doing enough, not overcoming the creative blocks you’re experiencing, you are spending your precious energy on something you can’t afford right now. If you continually beat yourself up, you lose faith in yourself and lose hope that it is worth trying to make change happen. However, if you actually accept unconditionally where you are right now, you can release the pressure, and free up room for creative expression again.

So find patience within yourself. Trust that if you give yourself space to process everything going on, you will be able to move forward.

To find a therapist who will understand and support you as an artist, click here to search your area, and then use the Common Specialties > All Other Issues > Creative Blocks filter.

© Copyright 2020 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Elle Bernfeld, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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