If you’ve ever heard of the idea of the “tortured artist,” then you know that there is a perceived connection between creativity and mood disorders such as depression. While the actual evidence on the subject is shaky at best, there have been some studies done that seem to establish this correlation.
Thankfully, however, this connection doesn’t always have to work against you. In fact, there are ways you can use depression as a springboard for your creativity, rather than as a block to it.
Depression and creativity
While I’m not a doctor or mental health professional, I can speak from some personal experience on the subject of how depression can affect creativity. I know I’ve experienced feelings of depression, and many creatives I know deal with them on a regular basis.
Depression can be disheartening and discouraging. It can leave you feeling incapable of creating anything useful, thoughtful, meaningful, or worthwhile. At its worst, it can leave you feeling like you’re simply not a creative person, like you’ve chosen the wrong path in life, and like you should never create anything again.
Here’s the thing: that is simply not the case. Feeling depressed, or having clinical depression, does not disqualify you or anyone else from “creating happy” in your life. You just have to know how to put it to your advantage.
In some ways, in fact, depression can be used as a springboard for creativity, offering inspiration or deep perspective that you simply wouldn’t have found otherwise.
I’m not saying you have to look at your depression as a blessing—you can, and should, learn to manage it in healthy ways, including medication and therapy, when appropriate (seek help to do this). What I am saying is that it’s possible for you to take something you’re struggling with (depression) and leverage it to help you, at least as much as possible.
How to use depression as a springboard for creativity
If you let it, even something as hard as depression can become an opportunity for you to learn, create, and grow. Here are some things to try that might help you leverage your depression to actually benefit your creativity.
Explore your emotions
The best creative works—whether they’re movies, TV shows, songs, books, works of art, or anything else—bring up human emotion. They make people feel awe, fear, joy, sorrow, surprise, delight, love, and any other emotion you can think of. And because the best works bring up those emotions, they are also often born from those emotions.
In other words, strong emotion inspires fierce creativity. And it does it in a way that nothing else can.
Depression can introduce several different emotions. Besides sadness, depression can leave you feeling hopeless, afraid, regretful, apathetic, lonely, misunderstood, and so on. When we start to feel these feelings, our natural inclination, in an attempt to feel comfortable in the moment, is to push everything away. Depressed people are the masters of constructing emotional walls, sending those who love them most away, destroying possibilities for their future. Stifling negative emotions isn’t the best course of action, for many reasons:
- You trade short-term comfort for some of the greatest possible growth, relationships and future success and happiness you could ever imagine
- The negative emotions are unlikely to go away, and may come back stronger later
- It hinders your ability to face and overcome life’s big challenges or negative experiences
- It often involves lying to yourself and then others about how you feel
- Your physical health can be negatively affected
Instead of trying to ignore or deny the feelings that your depression brings up, acknowledge and explore them. They are a part of you, and that makes them valuable.
Express your feelings—either to another person, to yourself, or through your creative work. Push through discomfort and hang in there with those who love and support you the most. Channel that energy into your creativity. If you feel dark, create something dark. It will help you get the feeling out, and it might inspire or help someone else who is feeling the same thing.
Put into practice
How exactly do you explore your emotions in a way that allows you to use depression as a springboard for creativity? Some ideas include:
- List out everything you’re feeling. Explore what each feeling feels like in your body. Where do you feel it—in your chest, your stomach, your neck? Pulling your emotions into the physical realm will help you channel them more easily.
- Give your emotions a color. Be specific. If you want, pull out some crayons or colored pencils and sketch out what the emotion looks like.
- Ask questions that will help you learn from the emotion, like “How is this emotion serving me?” “Why is it hard for me to feel this emotion?” “What does this emotion remind me of?”
Open yourself up to connection
An important part of managing depression is realizing that you are not alone. Millions of people have dealt with this before you, and have come out on top.
Such realizations are important because they help you open up possibilities for connection. Perhaps, rather than pushing people away in fear that they will judge you or won’t accept you or even want to love you more, you can trust that they’ll listen, and maybe even understand.
Depression tends to make people want to withdraw. But if you can push through that and use it instead to connect to other people, not only will you be able to manage your depression better, but you’ll also inspire your creative efforts and do so with your best partners at your side.
Connection opens us to new perspectives and ideas—exactly what you need in creative work. It makes you feel happier, which can also lead to a creative boost. And it can help you feel more socially and emotionally secure, which is important when you’re trying to reject fear and share what you create with the world.
If you use your depression for connection instead of separation, you’ll set yourself up for more creativity. And, by letting connection in, you’ll receive more love that you could ever imagine… from those that are willing to stand by you, no matter what you feel or how you treat them, in your darkest hours.
Put into practice
How can you choose to connect through your depression, rather than isolate yourself because of it? And then, how can you use those connections to inspire creativity? Try:
- Reaching out to someone who you know has gone through depression before. Share your experiences, and listen to theirs. Comfort each other.
- Attending counseling or group therapy. If you’re too scared to open up to family and friends, opening up to a therapist or support group counts, too. After all, you’re still connecting. Even though it’s with strangers, this connection can help you feel less alone, more understood, and more in control.
- Discussing your creative endeavors with trusted connections. Ask for their opinion, for feedback, or for new perspective, trusting that they’ll love you, no matter what.
- Giving love and receiving love, especially to those who stand by you, stand in the dark places with you, and love you the most. Feeling love can inspire other emotions that can spark and feed your creativity.
Reclaim power over your thoughts
Did you know that you have the power to control your thoughts? It’s true—your thoughts are yours to command.
Granted, we have to be careful when setting expectations surrounding thoughts and mental illness. There is a difference between “feeling depressed” and “clinical depression.” People who are “feeling depressed” will have more control over their thoughts than people dealing with the chemical imbalances and/or entrenched thought patterns that come with “clinical depression.”
If you’re dealing with clinical depression or a depressive disorder, it’s important that you talk to your doctor, psychiatrist, and/or counselor about handling your symptoms (including intrusive, depressive, or suicidal thoughts) in a healthy way. (We’ll talk about medication a little later on, too.)
For the most part, however, our ideas about reclaiming power over your thoughts are going to apply to people who feel depressed or sad occasionally. For these people, there is definitely something to be said for “mind over matter.”
No matter how sad you feel, or how discouraging your thoughts get, you have the power to change them. Choose to invite and embrace thoughts that inspire creativity. Reject thoughts that bring you down or try to halt your progress. Once you’ve learned to do this, you can actually start to design thoughts that serve you.
Believe it or not, depressing thoughts can be a good way to practice this, because it’s relatively easy to catch yourself thinking them. When you have a sad thought that’s out of the ordinary, notice it. Ask yourself if it serves you. If it doesn’t, think about how you could change it or replace it with another thought that does.
Put into practice
How exactly do you go about controlling and designing your thoughts? It takes some practice, but generally speaking, things like this usually work:
- Recognize your thoughts. Keep a “thought journal” that helps you track your thoughts. Did something happen that made that thought come to you? Were you in a certain place? Were you tired, hungry, alone, or burned out? Acknowledging your thoughts in this way, and tracking what brought them about, can help you start to identify patterns in your thinking that you can then work to reverse.
- Replace one thought. If there’s a particular negative thought you find yourself thinking often, try replacing it with a more positive one. For example, if you often think, “I’m not good enough,” every time you think that, replace it with, “I’m doing by best.” Starting with one thought can help you realize how powerful designing your thoughts can be, and can help you practice this incredibly important skill.
- Be willing to change. Don’t accept your thoughts as truths. Even the thoughts you think often can be the result of any number of things: peer pressure, habit, exhaustion, etc. Just because you think it doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t mean you have to think that way forever.
Find a creative practice that boosts your mood
Even simple creative activities can give you a little mood boost. When you’re feeling depressed, try doing something creative to help pull you out of it. This could be something as simple as coloring, doodling, or journaling, or something more involved like creative writing or baking. You should also check out our post on games that increase creativity for some more ideas.
Medicate (if necessary)
For some people struggling with depressive disorders or clinical depression, medication is an important part of their treatment plan. If you struggle often with feelings of depression, it’s worth talking to your doctor about whether or not medication could be a good idea for your specific situation.
How does this make your depression a springboard for your creativity? Well, if you’ve been feeling depressed, and it’s been holding your creativity back, then anything that helps your depression will also help your creativity. In other words, medication could be helpful in getting you back on track toward “creating happy” in your life.
Depression—whether diagnosed, clinical, or not—is a hard thing to deal with. It can hold you down, take away your hope, and leave you feeling incapable of creating. But if you’re able to get a handle on some of your thoughts and feelings, you can actually turn your depression into a springboard for creativity.
Please remember: you aren’t alone. You are worthy and loved. You deserve to “create happy” in your life, and depressed or not, you’re more than capable of making that happen.
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