Too depressed to draw? (Tips to deal with depression as an artist)

In this guide we are going to take a look at what you can do to help yourself cope with your depression and help you draw again.

What to do when you are too depressed to draw?

If you are an artist feeling depressed, you should know that you are not alone and that your inability to draw right now is not the end of your career. 

In brief some of the things you can do are:

  • Change the way you think about your art
  • Seek inspiration
  • Be mindful of your expectations
  • Create something in the now
  • Take care of yourself
  • Reach out to someone.

Let us take a closer look at understanding how depression is like for artists and what are some of the studies that link depression and the creative population.

Link between creativity and depression

So why are creative people more prone to depression? Why is this happening to you?

Research has shown that there is a high correlation between creative people and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. The study also highlights that people who are creative are also more susceptible to suicide.

The study also goes on to state that mood disorders could be a by-product of a person’s creative state- especially in the case of Bipolar disorders. 

During a manic episode, people need less sleep, have more focus and more belief in one’s talent or ability which allows them to come up with creative work which is noticed by themselves and others. 

However, the depressive decline they experience later on, compared to their manic state, can almost seem like they have lost all creative ability. 

When the artist is unaware of their condition, this can further impact their sense of self worth and aggravate their depressive symptoms.

Another way of looking at what makes artists more susceptible to the disorders is their general disposition as people.

Research suggests that personality and cognitive styles of artistic and creative people can make them extremely sensitive to the world around them and themselves which can often prove to be maladaptive if their perception is negative. 

Artists and Depression

It is well known that many great artists have struggled with depression, mood disorders, and other mental illnesses. It has almost become a stereotype that to create great art you must suffer.

So why is it that the great artists created memorable art while they were depressed and you are struggling to simply draw?

Invite yourself to understand that stereotypes harm us more than we realise. The life of Van Gogh, instead of inspiring us, make us critical of our own suffering. 

You are not Van Gogh, your pain and struggle is subjective because of your unique experience of life and the world. 

If you still find yourself criticising yourself for not creating art born out of your pain, perhaps research will give you a more objective understanding of what is happening. 

A meta analysis of various studies done on the link between creativity and depression found that while creative people are likely to be more depressed than the non-creative population, it does not mean that they will be more creative. 

Depression does not facilitate more creativity or creative output.

What that means for you is that, the fact that you are not drawing or making the best pieces of art right now is normal and expected. \

Depression and its symptoms can be debilitating. It can range from fatigue and lack of energy to extreme sense of worthlessness and even suicidal ideation. 

It is these symptoms that can impact your ability to draw and create not only because you are tired all the time but the innate resistance that you might experience because of your negative irrational thought and beliefs about your own ability to draw. 

You can also struggle with extreme hopelessness which, if your art career is not going in the direction you hoped for, can make you feel like giving up which can be scary in itself. 

Let us take a look at what you can do to help yourself cope with your depression and pick up your pencil to draw again. 

Coping with depression as an Artist

Now that you have taken a look at how mental illnesses impact the artistic community, let us take a look at some of the things you can do to help yourself.

Change the way you think about your art

Start by being mindful about the way you think about your art and your art process. Oftentimes you will realize that you are your own critic. It is now the time, more than ever, to be kind to yourself.

If there is something you have created that you do not like, or pieces you have drawn that have been rejected, be careful in the way you view them. They have been rejected, yes, but consider this a redirection instead.

Be objective in the way you study your own art and your art process. Take time to understand what you can improve and what you can change. 

People often think drawing and art comes with innate talent and inspiration only. That is not the case for most artists, it takes years of learning and practice. 

So if you find yourself lacking in some area, do not internalise it. The areas you lack in does not make you a bad artist, it just means you need more study and more practice. 

Seek inspiration

Watch a movie, read a book, talk to a fellow artist, and visit a museum- engage with the larger world and seek inspiration.

Read or engage with someone who is or has gone through the same challenge. There are many artists that are open about their own struggles and how they are coping with it. 

If you are struggling with lethargy, fatigue, and general exhaustion; going out can seem almost impossible. So take it a step slower and do what you can. Stay in and watch a documentary on an artist you love or watch video essays on art.

Pay attention to your thoughts as you watch them, do not compare your skills to someone else’s. As mentioned above, your life experiences are unique from theirs. So if the starting point and the hurdles in the middle are different, how does comparing ourselves to them make sense?

Engage with the artistic community through mediums you see fit, if watching a video is all you can do then do only that. If you are able to eat a good meal and have the energy to visit a museum, do that. 

The intention is to get yourself out of your head and the thinking box (literally) you call your room or house, to get intouch with the things that lie beyond the irrational beliefs you have about yourself. 

Take it One step at a time 

Create something?! Impossible! 

Putting yourself up to making something when you are depressed can seem like a hard ask. 

The thought of sitting down and trying to come up with something to draw when your brain is all foggy and unfocused seems nearly impossible. 

Which is why begin with mindful intent. Start small. Art is a process and the process begins with the materials itself. 

Get out of your bed and make your way to your table or your art room, today can start with just you looking at the materials you use. Think about what brought you so much joy when you first got them. 

Next, when you are up for it, touch them. Sharpen the pencils and prepare your brushes. They are part of your process, they are your friends. They do not judge you, they are only there to help you.

If the pencils break and the paint spills, maybe they are also having a bad day today- try again tomorrow. Be aware of your thoughts and emotions. 

Try. The next step of creating is to try. Do not expect perfection, instead begin with the intent to try. If you are not able to even set the pencil on paper, take a moment to tell yourself that today is not the day and it is okay. 

Try again tomorrow. 

The goal here is to create something that expresses the way you feel. Perhaps your thoughts can seem like a messy grey blob, or perhaps all you can manage today is a careless doodle. 

Do not judge it for what it is, some things just are- so let the blob remain a blob and the doodle a doodle. 

Pat yourself on the back for being able to manage to create something out of a blank piece of paper, not many can manage even that.

Take care of yourself

Make an effort to take care of your physical body, eat well and sleep well. Exercise if you need to. Without a healthy body, making art becomes tasking and exhausting. 

Take care of your mind, catch yourself when you are being harsh with yourself and those around you. Do not judge but simply apologize and forgive. You can even take a moment to hug yourself, who says you can’t?

Take time out of your day to relax and meditate, give yourself that mental break you need. 

Talk to someone, a loved one or a professional. Do it as an act of kindness to yourself, even an act of courage- standing up for what you love, yourself or your art. 

If you’re worried that the doctor will prescribe your pills that will hamper your creativity, you will be pleased to know that research finds that artists are found to be productive or more productive even, on medication. 

Conclusion

In this guide we have taken a closer look at what links creativity and depression, we have also taken the time to understand how depression and mood disorders impact artists. With self compassion in the forefront, we also discussed how you can cope with your depression and help yourself to draw again.

Frequently asked questions related to “When you are too depressed to draw (Tips on how to deal with depression as an artist)”

Why do artists get depressed?

The high-pressure to produce good art and hectic lifestyles of meeting deadlines of many artists may lead to depressive symptoms especially when they are not mindful of their thoughts related to self-criticism and their ability to cope with stress. 

What percentage of artists are depressed?

Research has found that in the case of depression, the population rates amongst artists and writers varies between 15 to 50 percent. With the risk of suicide extremly high, almost 18 times higher than normal population.

Is being an artist stressful?

The career of a professional artist comes with a certain amount of stress. Constant deadlines, financial uncertainty, and the pressure to produce are some of the things that can induce a lot of stress in artists. If you are an independent artist, other responsibilities can include marketing and managing all the moving parts of your art business.

Can artists be happy?

The moody, brooding, depressed type of artist is a stereotype. A new study of working artists in Europe found that they’re actually much happier and satisfied with their jobs as artists than the non-artist population.

Why are artists so emotional?

Emotional predisposition of artists might be spurred by the way they have been socialize by family, mentors, and their own interests, 

Artistic and creative people may also be acutely sensitive to the ambient moods, sounds, pictures, people and events in their lives. 

However it is worthy to note that it is not just their artistic predisposition that makes them emotional and sensitive but that it could be the other way round. 

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