8 Stress Relief Tips for Creative Professionals

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Heads Up: this isn’t a post with magical solutions. But it does contain fome stress relief tips from someone who’s had some stressful experiences running a small creative business. I’m also looking for other ideas/tips. So, leave your thoughts and ideas in the comment below.

When I’m stressed out I have a remarkable ability to tune things out. Usually, I’m pushing through on a deadline, or a never ending series of deadlines, or worse — no deadlines at all. I call this survival mode.

But right now, I’m not in survival mode. So why am I so stressed?

I think I’ve been stressed out for years, perhaps my whole adult life. I’m just now noticing its lingering presence and effects. I catch myself hunched over, jaw clenched, leg fidgeting as if my computer could be sped up with sheer adrenaline.

I notice it when I’m out on a shoot. Despite everything running smoothly, I’m still anxious and on the verge of a headache.

I notice it when I’m playing with my two year old daughter. So far away from work and stress, yet still feeling the weight.

It’s not that I can’t relax. I can. And do (off the grid with adult drink in hand). And that’s great. But those things happen when I’m on vacation.

I also need to relax on weekends, or dare I even imagine, during the work day.

Trying A Few Things Out

I’ve been piloting a few new strategies. Making myself a guinea pig of sorts.

I definitely don’t have this figured out, but I’d have discovered some tactics that are worth sharing. They’ve even been helping me, if you can believe it! I hope they can help you too.

Block Scheduling

Put simply: I’m scheduling business tasks separately from creative tasks.

This strategy has allowed me to prioritize “important, but not urgent” tasks (usually business planning of some sort) without feeling guilty about billable work taking a back seat.

There are a number of ways you can arrange this, but I like to schedule meetings and office work on Mondays and Thursdays with more creative (billable) work like shoots and editing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I try to leave Fridays unscheduled to catch up on that week’s uncompleted items.

Surprisingly (or maybe not) I’m not distracted by completely different priorities. This one strategy, alone, has transformed the way I run my business. And manage my stress levels.

Stress Relief Tips: block scheduling
Stress Relief Tips: to do list

To-Do Lists

I like David Allen’s approach to to-do lists. Anything I can’t do in under 2 minutes I add to an digital to-do list (I used Apple’s “Reminders” app) with a date/alarm assigned. This allows me to focus only on the day’s objectives and not be overwhelmed by the collective list.

This also works for email. Instead of using my inbox as a to do list, I move all messages with actions I can’t immediately address to my actual to-do list where it’ll get done later, freeing up space in my inbox and my brain.

Keep Work at Work (mostly)

I try not to check email unless I’m at the office. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve found it’s a worthy goal. Just setting this boundary for myself helps me keep it in check, even if I don’t always follow it.

I also try not to allow my mind to focus on work related topics outside the office. But, of course, there are exceptions here too. I find that some of my best ideas come up while driving or hiking. So, it’s a balance between being present with my family and recognizing new ideas wherever I am.

Getting Help From Others

This has become a no-brainer. Hiring out help gives me more time to focus on what I’m good at. Sure, it can be expensive to hire work out, but there’s a trick to it…

Be careful not to give away too much too fast. Offload what you can afford and gradually delegate more tasks over time.

While on a recent video shoot and vacation in East Africa, Quadrid made real tangible progress on three projects – in my absence! One project was entirely shot and assistant edited without my involvement! This was a real milestone for myself and the business.

I’ve found that surrounding myself with people I trust and who will represent me and my business well, not only frees up my time, but also helps to grow my business.

Meditation, Centering, and Yoga

I’ve been finding that just a few minutes in the morning for some intentional calming exercises has been really helpful in setting a tone for the day.

I try to get out of the house as quickly as possible (not to be distracted by dishes that I’ll do later in the day), get to the office around 5:30 AM, and the take 20 minutes or so to eat a light breakfast and enjoy some coffee. After that, I do 10-15 minutes of meditation/centering before easing into work. Since I get in so early, I try to avoid opening my email until later in the morning around 8 or 9.

These first few hours are incredibly productive for me as a result. This is where I’m able to do some of my deepest work. From there, I’m able to jump into other tasks, with a focus on not overdoing it.

Listening to My Body

Centering and therapy has helped me develop a mindfulness about my body. When I start feeling stress (clenching my jaw, tightening in my neck and shoulders, or just a headache), I take a deep breath, sit up straight, adjust my shoulders upright,and ease the part of my body where I’m feeling the tension.

The hardest part of this for me is noticing the stress in the first place. Centering meditation has helped form some neural pathways in my brain that help me notice the stress – even while I’m pumped with adrenaline while working.

At one point in time I believed that stress was helpful and productive. Now I say, “Screw that – it’s not worth it!” Today, I make sure to get rid of it as soon as possible.

Taking Walks

From Beethoven to Darwin to Steve Jobs, some of the greatest minds in history took frequent walks. When I feel my stress being bottled up or have questions that need room to be processed, I walk.

In times past, when I had a full to-do list, walking was hard to justify. Now that I’ve experienced a large boost in overall productivity after walking, I’ve begun to think of it as an investment in that week’s agenda.

Lately, I’ve tried to up my game, aiming for hour-long walks when I’m at the office and multiple hour hikes once a week.

Paying Attention to My Diet

What I actually mean is: “My wife cares a lot about eating healthy and she’s helped to change my habits as a result.”

It’s hard to eat healthy all the time, especially when you already feel like you’re running in a thousand different directions and don’t have time for food. But I’ve found that eating healthy starts with eating in the first place. I eat a small breakfast, which helps me not overeat at lunch. And when I’m on a shoot, I bring protein bars to keep fueled (and also not overeat later). Then it’s the usual stuff…organic, no fast food, stay away from overly processed snacks, no soda, etc. Basically, my main approach is everything in moderation. Especially alcohol and coffee.

I also go through cycles with these two. I love both, but I’ve found that I drink more of both when I don’t think about it. When I stopped justifying my indulgences by thinking, “I’m so tired…I could use a boost of energy” or “It was such a crazy day, a drink will take the edge off,” I’ve found it easier to curb both.

It’s not that coffee and alcohol aren’t effective in those situations; I’d just prefer to address the root causes of my tiredness and stress than to mask them.

Like I said, my stress relief tips are far from perfect. And I’m finding new ones all the time. I think the important focus, here, is to find strategies that work for you and your situations.

So, how about you? What stress relief tips do you have to offer?
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Craig shooting video during our video shoot in East Africa..