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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Artists and Health Issues

There has been a disturbing pattern emerging the longer I work a creative job, one I'm especially beginning to appreciate now that I'm in my second week of physical therapy for 'repetitive shoulder stress' and an 'unstable shoulder joint'.  This occurrence after a year of ignoring shoulder aches and soreness was quite the wake up call for me.  The ability to use my arm is my livelihood and being incapacitated in any major fashion could be disastrous!  Luckily, my issue is only a moderate one which physical therapy is helping, but there is a bigger picture at work here.

Thinking back on things, I have gained about 15 pounds since I started working long hours at the computer and art desk.  I've had stretches of mental and physical fatigue caused by overworking, tight deadlines, and just being downright lonely.  Sometimes I'm so passionate and excited about my job, I just keep working and working without taking any breaks. Other times, I just can't get motivated. There is no inspiration, and worse, I start to lose hope that this job is not worth the mental and physical pain it causes me.

I can't help but feel much of the downturn in my overall health has come from a decrease in physical activity and social interaction.  I feel loads better this year now that I have made a concerted effort to change a few bad habits.  These are some of the things I've done that have helped to improve my health lately:

- Taking regular breaks. It's so incredibly easy to just keep working and working in a job that you are so passionate about!  I learned the hard way if you don't get up at least once an hour from the computer or art desk, you're really doing damage to your neck, back, and shoulders.  Nowadays, I have to get up or damage my joint more.  I take a moment each hour to go and talk to whoever might be home, take a small walk around the yard, or to do a few Yoga stretches.  I find the Tree the Warrior, and the Cobra poses to be particularly helpful for my sore back and neck pains (and are pretty easy to do).

- Taking regular walks.  I don't have a lot of time to run to the gym, so mainly I just take 30 minutes out of the morning and evening to go on walks.  There's a gorgeous country road right near our house which I can walk on for this amount of time and never hit the end.  A plus side is the healthy population of hawks, squirrels, blue birds, owls, and wildlife that dart around me while I walk. It's soothing for me to get away from the technology and meditate while I walk to the sound of nature.

- Visiting a gallery and being social.  Internet friends keep me sane, but getting out of the house once a week to visit the local gallery helps me to meet other real living, breathing people who I can talk to, who are generally just as interested in art as I am.  After long hours working alone, it sometimes feels like my life is passing me by while I'm toiling away trying to make a living at an unappreciated, underpaid job.  A coating of stoic disapproval starts to settle on me and I have to shake it off by getting OUT, or risk getting really demotivated for my work.  I've started attending local art organization meetings recently as well, which has been great for meeting other artists trying to make a business out of their artistic identity (we are not alone in our insanity!).

It's also been nice gathering a group of friends on Skype once a month for a 'drink and draw' event.  There's just something nice about being able to listen to people I don't see often and draw random stuff.  Using Skype also leaves your hands free so you can talk instead of type to chat!  Great for actually getting art done at the same time.  This has been especially nice when I can't afford to go to the local drink and draw because it takes gas and parking fees and, you know, finding a way to drive back later once I've sobered up.  Drinking in the comfort of one's own home is (theoretically) safer.

- Working in a studio vs. working at home. Today was the first day of working at a small rental studio instead of at our house and I can already feel the productivity juices flowing! (Pics and video to come soon!)  The space is a modest $200 a month ($100 since I'm sharing with my mom).  Being there instead of at home has allowed me to focus solely on creative thought and the projects I have to work on, whereas at home, I am always compelled to clean the house (considering my workspace is my bedroom and office AND studio, it's very easy to fall into chaos).  I also get distracted by what other family members are doing, or am around negative influences that don't provide the encouraging and positive attitude I need to maintain my level of productivity.

Another perk of the studio is that I can talk to the other artists there and not feel like a hermit.  I can also talk to any customers that wander in and peddle my wares directly, which helps to put a face on my work, and theoretically encourages them to buy.  I plan to add classes at the gallery to my repertoire of skills and activities as well, which will give me valuable practice at conveying ideas to others.

So I hope that this has been helpful to anyone who might be reading this and has found that the work-at-home freelancing artist is not near as glamorous as you expected it to be.  Good luck to you, and remember to take regular breaks!  I wonder what kind of health issues related to your creative work you all have dealt with and how you have dealt with them?  Please share in comments!
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