How to Own Your Time: Self-Care For Artistic Types

Stressed-woman-holding-phone.jpg

Niki Hatzidis

  • Featured Writer

Life as a performer and artist is a constant hustle.  We go to auditions and workshops, we network, we work survival jobs (often multiple survival jobs) all while honoring creative commitments.  Our loved ones expect us to spend time with them. We wear many hats and are juggle many things at once.  In this constant flow of productivity we sometimes forget to look after an important factor: ourselves.

Personally, the last few months were unusually busy.  To say I have been running around like a puppy on speed is putting it lightly. I wasn’t eating right, my sleep schedule was erratic, and the only exercise I was getting was running along a subway platform to catch a train.  Inevitably, my body gave up and I caught a cold in the middle of July.  As a freelancer, that cut into my livelihood. I couldn’t keep going on like that for the long-term.  Something had to give. So I started to wonder, how do I, with little money and even less time, practice self-care? 

It’s a hard question to tackle.  It made me admit to myself that I never seriously thought about my own self-care, and that my self-care routine was practically non-existent.  I used to think that practicing self-care meant spa days with massages and saunas.  But you can actually take care of your mind and body by just doing little things on a daily basis. And on the plus, it doesn’t have to bankrupt you.  Good or bad, it all adds up.  So let’s see how adding a few positive changes to our daily routine can make a big and healthy difference. 

Before we dive into suggestions, I want to acknowledge that this is hard: not so much taking care of yourself, but allowing yourself to.  Artists often have a crazy amount of commitments.  It can be difficult to set aside time for our own health and well-being. But here’s the conclusion it’s taken me a long time to arrive at: we deserve it.  More importantly, we are allowed to take ownership of that time. If you commit to making one positive choice, then you are taking care of yourself—there’s no need to start with drastic changes. 

All right, let’s break it down. I started first by honestly asking myself these three questions.

1.) What does self-care mean to me?

2.) Where am I falling short in my self-care?

3.) What can I reasonably commit to changing in order to benefit from self-care?

Treat this as a check-in.  Be brutally honest.  For me, self-care means managing my time so that I don’t get overwhelmed, and scheduling time where I do nothing career-related: I commit to planning time to be a couch potato.  In self-evaluating, I tend to fall short when it comes to giving myself a well-earned break and congratulating myself for what I have accomplished, as opposed to just adding more things to my itinerary. Keep a running tally of things we haven’t accomplished is a common theme with artists that can lead to procrastination. So I want to start by talking about like To-Do lists.

My To-Do list stresses me out.  Staring at it and crying doesn’t seem to help, so I started setting realistic goals for the day.  I make a list of all the things I need to do for the week in one column. In a second column right next to it I put all the pressing items that I can accomplish in my allotted time in the day.  Say I decide I can do three things in two hours.  If I finish those things before that time I first, I congratulate myself (I did it!), then I pick another item from the first list that I can realistically finish in the remaining time.  If I can only do those three things, then that’s enough.  It was a successful day.  If your allotted time is long, remember to schedule breaks.  Also, physically cross your items off your list and allow yourself the satisfaction of finishing what you had planned that day. It’s a small thing, but that small act of slashing a pen across a task makes a difference in your mindset.

I have spoken to a few friends about self-care and the one thing that keeps coming up is phone use. Our phones are amazing contraptions. They are literal lifelines.  They facilitate our livelihoods, connect us to the rest of the world and allow access to almost any information we could possibly want.  But they also are a source of immense stress and in turn, they are making us ill.  Can we have the best of both worlds? I have a few suggestions on how we might try.  And since they are such an intricate part of our lives, I’m going to talk about our phones the rest of the article.

Here’s one radical suggestion: for the first and last hour of the day, commit to being completely phone-free.  After your alarm rings in the morning, don’t check emails or scroll through social media; don’t even look at your texts.  Turn your notifications off.  I know! But I promise you, you are allowed to be off the grid for an hour.  FOMO is real but the world will not implode in an hour. Own your time.  Have breakfast, coffee, shower, put some music on, but otherwise pretend your phone doesn’t exist.  Let your morning routine be completely yours. Do the same thing for bedtime, or maybe alternate.  When you’re about to begin your bedtime routine, turn off your notifications. Read a book, take a bath, leave the outside world behind.  If having your notifications off all night freaks you out, then turn them back on when you set your alarm. But don’t check emails, social media or the news. Specialists say that turning off screens thirty minutes before bed helps you sleep better. 

This brings me to news and social media.  I vacillate between wanting to be an informed citizen and wanting to smash things in rage over the garbage fire that the world seems to be right now.  Our news cycle is a constant hammer to the head, but we don’t need to be informed every second of the day.  Turn off your news alerts on your phone and unfollow news outlets on social media.  Instead of allowing your phone to constantly ding with dread, pick two times per day when you will check the news, such as during your morning and evening commutes. This way you are catching up and staying informed, but not constantly hearing about a news story as it develops. Then view or listen to something really funny right after, such as your favorite podcast or a video of a puppy eating peanut butter.  Just do something to cleanse the palate.

I suggest doing the same with social media.  Post, reply and share in the morning, check comments and likes in the evening.  Let’s commit together, right here, right now, to limit (if not eradicate) aimless scrolling. I am guilty of this.  I even scroll when watching TV.  I don’t know about you, but my thumb is tired and I am fearful of carpal tunnel. How about we kick the bucket all together on this need to multi-task?  We don’t always have to be busy.  Let’s start getting in the habit of doing one thing at a time when it comes to “off time.”  Watch that movie, work out, eat dinner without your phone screen beaming in your face. Two big old guilty thumbs are pointing at my face right now.  I will stop answering emails on the stationary bike if you will.

When I asked artists about their self-care, many mentioned physical health and wellness.  Try to put aside thirty minutes a day just for exercise. Put on some of your kick-butt music and jog, ride your bike, or do yoga.  There’s no need for a gym membership if that’s not something you can do right now.  There are so many workout videos and apps available.  Work it into your commute by walking or riding a bike to work.  If physical fitness is a macro goal, make it a micro goal for a little chunk of each day.  Then you can cross it off your list too! Besides, exercising releases endorphins and helps relieve stress.  Once you get it into your routine, you’ll feel better for doing it.

Healthy eating is another small change that can help you practice self-care.  This is something I personally struggle with.  My schedule changes daily.  I tend to be out of the apartment all day and running from gig to gig. I eat out a lot, and that’s if I remember to eat at all.  “What’s that pain in my stomach?  Oh yes, starvation.”  I’m that person who buys produce and then feels like a horrible, wasteful person when I see it rotting in the fridge.  I’ve started to pack healthy snacks to get me through the day until I can find a healthy meal option out, or get home to cook.  Almonds, walnuts, granola bars, veggies and dried fruit are all great choices.  I grab loose bananas for 30 cents from the corner store as needed so they don’t all mold on my counter.  You can stock up as you go.  Cook meals and pack lunches when you can, just remember to stay nourished and hydrated throughout the day.  Do yourself a favor and invest in a reusable water bottle.  I got mine from TJ Maxx for five dollars and it’s been a game changer. As a coffee fiend I have always been bad at drinking water, but this one purchase has helped me save money and become healthier.  Your skin and body will thank you.

Earlier in the article, I talked about owning your time.  I want you to own your self-care.  We are all extremely busy, trying all the time to make incredible art, but we have to be kind to our bodies, too.  Otherwise we wont be able to continue to do all the amazing things we do. Taking days off might not be financially possible for all of us.  I’ve started to take my Saturday and Sunday mornings off.  They are for me.  I make a special breakfast, read in bed, go to a yoga class, or have lunch with friends.  Give yourself breaks.  If nothing else, take naps. You will be more productive after taking that thirty-minute nap than you would be pushing through the fatigue.

This next one might seem difficult to manage, but you are allowed to have a cut-off time each day. This can be challenging with an ever-changing schedule, but after you reach your pre-planned goals, decide on a time where you will do no more career or work-related tasks.  Give yourself an “out-of-office time.”  Make dinner, watch TV, work out, just put an end to casting submissions, network emails or learning lines. Again, maybe turn you notifications off.  Declare your own time, your “me” time, to relax and unwind from the day. 

If you can’t commit to all of these changes every day, don’t beat yourself up about it.  If all you can manage is five minutes of meditation a day, then that’s great.  Do that. In our line of work there is this mentality that we always have to hustle. This is true, but we are allowed to reward ourselves too.  Celebrate yourself and your hard work.  I mean it. Go get ice cream, go to the movies, a play, whatever you like to do for fun.  

My friend once gave me some of the best advice I ever received.  “You don’t have to conquer the world today.”  She’s right.  We won’t conquer the world in a day, so why do pressure ourselves to do so?  It will be a gradual takeover.  We will get there.  In the meantime, we have to take care of ourselves: our body, mind, and spirit. Tune into your body’s needs, feed it and nourish it.  Let your mind rest and do things that you enjoy just for fun.  Always take care of yourself first.

Niki Hatzidis is an award-nominated playwright and actor based in New York City. She last wrote for OSB about creating art in a time of political turmoilNikiHatzidis.com