Welcome back everybody! This week is the second installment of a topic I’m calling, “Making the Creative Transition,” where I talk about tips and tricks for transitioning between your average workday (or in my case 12+ hours in the hospital) and evenings dedicated to relaxation and creativity. For me, that means simultaneously being a medical student and also a writing, blogging, creative.
Last week we talked about how to organize your day-to-day to minimize stress and give you mental space to pursue these other things. For me, that’s being a creative, it’s writing and blogging. I find joy in these things. For you, that might be something else: reading, making music, drawing, dancing, coding, etc., all of which are fantastic! The key here is finding something else in your life that you do, that makes you feel good about yourself.
We’ve talked before about why that’s important, why having multiple facets of our identity is so important for being a happy, healthy person. So if you’re curious, or want to read more, take a look at last week’s post here. Whatever it is you do, I still think you’ll find some of the following tips and tricks helpful to making that transition happen in your life.
1) Give Yourself Grace
We talked a lot last week about trying to keep some separation between the various roles you fill. So for me, when I’m at the hospital, I am mentally and emotionally focused on that, so that when I’m at home, I can allow myself the space to explore and be creative without feeling guilt or judgement that I’m somehow shirking my other responsibilities. But tip number one this week is giving yourself grace in realizing that that will not always be possible.
Things will pop up, ok? Even the best-laid plans have the tendency to crumple when confronted with reality. Whether it’s the last minute paper your chief assigns as you’re walking out the door, or your car breaks down and you need to take it into the shop, life happens. And part of being a happy, healthy person is making space for that.
It’s so important to not let yourself become distraught or feel like a failure because your plan to make a certain word count that evening or get a blog post out on time didn’t work out as you’d hoped.
Plans change. They’re made for us, not to drive us. So if your plan is not working for you, then you need to change your plan.
2) Find a Creative Routine
When you’re making these transitions, I find it really helpful to physically embody those transitions. So by that I mean, do something that signals to your brain that you are in a different space, a different mindset, and therefore that different rules apply.
So that can be changing clothes, putting on some music, kicking off your shoes, lighting a candle, or cooking some food. In short, it’s doing whatever it is you need to do to help signal that you’re in a change space.
For me, because my transition is to a more creative focus, I sometimes will dress in something that embodies that, maybe a fun top or flowing pant bottoms, just something cool and different from the scrubs I’ve had on all day. I’m also a fan of candles, particularly the Bath&Body works aromatherapy ones (the Relax line is my writing/editing scent), and a hot cup of tea, even in the summer.
These things may seem small and inconsequential, but they end up being important, tangible touchstones as I transition from the fast-paced hospital environment to a calming creative space.
I’d encourage you to think about what sights, sounds, tastes, and scents you can draw on to really delineate this transition for you!
3) Go Outside
During the dark days of COVID lockdown, when I was sad and trapped in my AirBnB, not allowed in the hospital and with absolutely nothing to fill my day, writing was the thing I turned to. I would huddle in our rented apartment and just write, and it was incredible.
However, now that I’m allowed back in the hospital, and I spent 12-13 of my waking hours there (careful what you hope for, folks), I’ve come to re-appreciate the joy and beauty that is sunlight. I mentioned earlier that I’m not a tremendous fan of multitasking, because science tells us it makes everything we do less effective and efficient. However, there is one type of multitasking that I do appreciate, and that is my near-daily Walk&Write.
I’ve really gotten into dictation, of going for a walk and recording my voice as I write aloud (I actually found a cool article about it here!). The benefits to this are A) getting exercise, and B) getting outside. Being outside, moving my body, is one of the best things I can do for my overall mental health, with numerous studies showing that exercise makes you a happier, healthier person. We also know that sunlight is important for our wellbeing, providing us with Vitamin D which has been shown to improve health and mood overall.
But even more than that, being outside makes us more creative. It’s so much easier to be spontaneous and free-thinking when I’m out walking in nature, than when I’m trapped inside a hotel room.
Additionally, my inner editor gets pushed aside because they can’t see what I’m writing. I write more freely because I can just speak now and edit later, which has done wonders for my daily word count. And it just feels good to get your thoughts out there. And yes, I probably look kind of funny walking around with one AirPod in and talking to myself, plus or minus wild gesticulations. But at the end of the day, no one really cares, especially nowadays when everyone has Bluetooth. They probably think I’m just talking to someone, which is way less weird right?
So Walk&Write, it’s really been a game changer for me. I write more effectively and efficiently, and I’m also a happier, healthier person because I’m outside and getting exercise at the same time. All good things.
4) Create a Winding Down Routine
While I’m out and moving, enjoying the outdoors, and being creative, the sad fact remains that I have to wake up at 4am the next morning. So even though I’m in Washington, where it stays light outside until after 9pm in the summer, I have to be in bed by 8. I know it’s sad. I’m totally a grandma. But sleep is something that is very important to me. I’ve found that it affects my entire day if I’m not able to get enough of it. So for me, sleep is a priority that I have to plan for in advance.
Sleep may not be as big of a priority for you, and that’s ok! That is, to an extent. You know, be reasonable guys. There are also studies on the effect of sleep deprivation on your cortisol levels, which in turn affect your physical and mental health. Sleep is definitely important but maybe not everyone needs a full 8 hours. I, on the other hand, most certainly do.
So when it starts getting to be that time, I’ll be walking back to my hotel and thinking about how I’m going to wind down for the day. Luckily, I’m currently staying in a hotel room with blackout shades, which is seriously a number one priority. I’m very light sensitive when it comes to sleeping, so I have to put the shades down about an hour before I plan on going to sleep.
So the shades go down, pajamas come on. I restart my kettle, get some more tea brewing (caffeine free), and light some candles (Bath&Body works Sleep scent). Again, different scents for different parts of my routine. I know I’m a nerd, but it works for me! Everyone has to find some strategies that work for them.
Then I’ll curl up in bed and read, transcribe what I dictated on my walk, or maybe edit something I was working on before. Whatever it is, its purpose is to help me wind down and get ready to sleep. And that’s really helpful for me, because by the time 8 rolls around, I’m ready to sleep and can wake up feeling refreshed the next day, ready to do it all over again.
So that’s it in a nutshell! By organizing your day and planning for the next one early on, you leave mental space to have relaxing, creative evenings. You’re also able to fall asleep with as many happy, creative thoughts in your mind as possible, rather than studying or stressing about what the next day might bring.
Because if you’re at all like me, you’ll have had your fair share of nightmares about the various mishaps that might strike you at work. In my case, falling asleep on the operating table (would not recommend)! I swear I have a borderline pathological fear of contaminating the sterile field…
So what about you? Leave a comment with any tips or tricks that you have for getting into the creative mood after a hard day of work!