The middle of a pandemic may seem like a curious time to encourage medical professionals to pursue creative pursuits outside of their careers. And, well, it is. But burnout among nurses, doctors, technicians and other healthcare workers has gone from being a likelihood—as it was pre-pandemic—to a reality. Making time for hobbies may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s absolutely vital for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
It will surely take many months for any semblance of normal life to resume for all of us, but when it does, medical professionals will need to be especially mindful about finding time to be creative outside of work. Writing for Psych Central, Bret Moore, PsyD, argues that creative pursuits—painting, singing, journaling, knitting, gardening, the list goes on—not only reduce stress during regular times but also help the healing process after traumatic events.
Similarly, renowned author speaker and researcher Brené Brown has written extensively about the power of creativity—and the danger of letting it go untapped. “Unused creativity is not benign,” she has said. “It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.”
Finding the time for creative pursuits
Overburdened even before the coronavirus pandemic, physicians may feel that finding time for self-care seems ridiculous and frivolous in the midst of a global disaster. Some may even feel guilty taking time for themselves instead of spending more time with patients or their own families. Work-life balance, elusive before, now seems like a distant dream. But given the proven benefits of self-care, it can’t be just a wish. It must be a priority. Need help prioritizing yourself? Try the following steps.
Check your time-wasters
At the end of every day, I consider how much time I wasted on things that brought me zero joy. Lately, it’s been reading the news—perhaps not a complete waste of time, but did I really need to spend two hours reading updates? This kind of reflection is something I do every evening, along with making my gratitude list. We cannot improve our lives without active intervention. A minute or two to reflect prior to dozing off is doable, even for the busiest among us.
Delegate or eliminate tasks
I haven’t been to the grocery store in so long that I forget where it is. I do not enjoy shopping and I have found a way to delegate this task. Whether you need to hand off a task to your spouse or a home employee or just save time by ordering online, there are many ways to unburden yourself from tasks that you don’t enjoy and that provide no benefit to your career, your family, your community or your financial situation.
Learn to say no
“Thank you for this wonderful opportunity/honor; however, I am unable to meet this deadline/participate in this event.” There is no need to apologize and there is no need to make excuses. Just gracefully decline. If the opportunity would be beneficial for a colleague, recommend someone else. Learning to say no is imperative for achieving an improved work-life balance, even during a pandemic.
3 strategies for cultivating creativity
Now that you’ve carved out some time in your day, let’s talk about how to get reacquainted with creativity. Remember, The Lancet once dedicated an entire issue to “Medicine and Creativity.” There is legitimate precedence and evidence for the benefits of practicing humanities alongside healthcare. Here are three strategies for cultivating creativity.
1. Start early
Even if it means getting out of bed 30 minutes before your usual wake-up time, incorporating a creative activity first thing might be your best chance at successfully establishing a new routine.
2. Keep expectations realistic
Especially if you’re getting back to something you haven’t done in a while—sketching, for example, or tap dancing—go easy on yourself. Leave the perfectionism at the door. Spend a little time relearning your skills, and take pleasure in the process. Likewise, if you’re starting something completely new, appreciate the missteps and messes along the way. Contrary to what many Type A mindsets might think, joy is found in the practicing that’s required to learn a new skill, not the mastering.
Likewise, you may be tempted to pursue your creative projects with the same fierce focus and endless energy with which you approach your medical career. Resist the urge. Keep your hobby light and loose—something to look forward to, not just another thing to cross off your to-do list. This will keep you coming back to it.
3. Participate in a creative community
Consider enrolling in a creative class, whether it’s pottery, improv or memoir writing. Even an online course can keep you accountable and force you to find time at least once a week to pursue your creative endeavor.
Above all, don’t keep your creative pursuits a secret—consider letting friends and family in on your work. Not only can they become a cheering section for you, but they may also appreciate being beneficiaries of what you create. They could even help you set up your very own Etsy shop to sell those hand-carved signs you’ve been working on, adding fuel to your creative fire.
As you begin to introduce or make more room for creativity in your life, keep in mind the potential it has not only to make you a better healthcare provider but also to open you up to possibilities you never imagined. As Dr. Brown wrote in her bestseller, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” “The only unique contribution we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”