Creative Blocks from A to Z: Depression

sad-people-portrayed-in-artEditor’s note: This article is the fourth in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at ways to manage feelings of depression when experiencing a creative block.

In my experiences working with creative individuals who encounter periods of creative blocks, I have found that depression needs to be carefully screened and managed in order to nurture and cultivate creativity. The onset of depression does not necessarily indicate that creativity is automatically eliminated. To the contrary, in his book The Van Gogh Blues, Eric Maisel views depression as somewhat of an inevitable byproduct of artists’ effort to make sense of the world around them through their art. According to his writings, during the process of creation, one may encounter personal or environmental limitations that reveal depressive themes, struggles, and a sense of “meaninglessness.” For many artists, depression is linked to a need to externalize these feelings through creation and art.

However, depressive feelings can significantly impact one’s level of energy, motivation, and overall interest in usual activities—including creative endeavors. Many creative individuals with a history of depression notice that going through a bout of depression can be detrimental to their creative momentum and leads to a period of feeling blocked creatively.

Here are four suggestions about how to approach creative blocks during a period of feelings of depression:

  1. Give it a week: If possible, do not force creativity upon yourself. Do not convince yourself that you HAVE TO produce and create right away. Allow yourself to take a week off, during which the priority is to stabilize your mood and to feel better. It is not uncommon for intense feelings of depression to begin diminishing after five to seven days. In addition, it is likely that as you are telling yourself to shift the focus onto something else, the motivation to create will reappear.
  2. Set small goals: When one is feeling depressed, there is a tendency to get overwhelmed easily. One may think of numerous tasks at the same time and get discouraged at the idea of having to accomplish them. It’s best to set one small goal per day, even if, for example, the goal is to turn on the laptop and open a new document. By achieving these small goals, one begins to feel the gratifying feeling of having succeeded in something, despite the simplicity of the task at hand.
  3. Listen to the depression: Instead of thinking of it as fighting the depressed feelings, it is often helpful to “listen” to the negative feelings. Are they saying you are tired? Lonely? That you are neglecting yourself, that you assume the worst? “Listening” to the emotions is the first step in connecting with what you are holding inside. Perhaps some of these feelings need a way out—art or creativity being a vehicle for their expression.
  4. Look outward: Feeling connected to outside sources not only helps reduce feelings of depression, it can also give you an opportunity to get the external stimulation that will help unlock creativity. This may look something like going for a walk, calling a friend, reading a book, or watching a documentary. One of the symptoms of depression often involves feeling disconnected and isolated; challenging oneself to look to sources of connectedness can substantially help kick-start the creative process.

Depression is often prevalent before or during the creative journey. While it can be viewed as integrally tied to the search for “meaning-making” such as in Maisel’s theory, it can also become debilitating for artists and creative individuals. Screening and thoughtful reflection can help manage such feelings and, hopefully, creativity will not be significantly affected.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joshua

    Joshua

    August 13th, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    Depression is a damper no doubt.Not just creativity but it also causes a loss of any semblance of enthusiasm,enthusiasm which is essential for so many of us to bring our creativity to the surface.

    I try and deal with creativity-hindering depression in different ways,including distracting myself,looking into nature and motivating myself through it amongst others.I would love to hear about what others do to stem this feeling that depression brings along.

  • Hannah

    Hannah

    August 14th, 2013 at 4:12 AM

    When I am at my lowest, I always try to take a little something away from that period of depression.
    What can I learn from this? How can I become a better person because of this, or rather in spite of this?
    How can I turn this time of feeling low into something that is creative?

  • angelique

    angelique

    August 15th, 2013 at 4:29 AM

    i applaud you hannah but i always have a hard time getting thru that fog of depression, it clouds the way i see things so much, to the point that all i want to do is crawl under the covers until the fog lifts

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