Buckwheat, Trabuco Flats 2018 copyright Douglas Stockdale
As an artist, sometimes a little stress can be a good thing once in a while, but constant stress can be a killer, in more ways than one.
Recently I contributed a few photogaphs to Tara Wary’s Too Tired for Sunshine project on Instagram. I had reviewed her book of the same title for The PhotoBook Journal and during the process of writing the review and discussing the book and her project, I realized that my Memory Pods project might be of interest to Tara. My project is investigating the loss of memory as the loss of a person’s individuality, as in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease during that long memory loss process, the individual affected has sever boughs of depression.
In the process of working with Tara, I think I increased my own self awareness, such that recently when certain unplanned events occurred (computer and printer going sideways), I found myself getting tired, listless and unable to get artistically engaged. With that I also felt overwhelmed by little things, stuff that did not bother me before. I have realized that I was probably stressed out. That was a bit of surprise as I am aware of the effects of stress and do my best to avoid these kind of conditions.
The good news; stress is mostly self-induced. We do it to ourselves. Which means if you realize you are stressed out, you can also do something about it. You need to change some things. You are the right person to get rid of your own stress. It can be done.
Now I also know that in certain kinds of situations stress might be helpful to get the adrenalin pumping, such as a dangerous event suddenly occurring. I also know some artist who state that they thrive in stressful conditions and do their best work, such as under a must-do-deadline. I also note that these same artist become procrastinators in order to create stressful events, to get the adrenalin really pumping, then wonder why when something unplanned goes wrong and they do miss a deadline, why they should be held accountable. A problem that they created.
Now I am not a doctor, but I have come to understand that long term stress can have some pretty detrimental effects; as noted above regarding tiredness in conjunction with sleeplessness, anxiety, listlessness, unable to focus, get engaged or make decisions. Long term stress is also associate with heart disease and other cardiopulmonary disorders, e.g. high blood pressure. Not good and needs to be avoided.
I also know that being an artist can be a stressful as working career and perhaps a bit more for those who are self-employed and depend on the sale of their art to make a living. If you are not a celebrated photographer or painter with a constant high demand for your creative endeavors, you just don’t know when the next exhibition or print sale will occur.
And then when some trusted equipment suddenly breaks down or goes sideways that can be a set-back as I recently found out. A computer just completly stops working due to a mother-board failure after 10 years with a loss of some photographic files. Shortly thereafter a 13 year old wide-format printer has printing issues and locks up. Then find that that the new computer and old printer seem to have color-management issues; what you see is not what you get as a print. Close, but not close enough. All of these equipment and process things can be overcome with time and money, then what if you have the time but not the money? Then more time is then needed while the money is saved up meanwhile you have placed yourself under a project deadline of some sort or the other.
These are the kind of things that can create stress and honestly, these are the kinds of things related to life and living. Crap will happen and sometimes a lot of crap can happen. My issues are extremely mild compared to those whose homes were blown away by a hurricane, or burnt to a crisp in a fire-storm.
Thus one thing that I have recently learned to controlling stress; keep things in perspective. Current events might not be as bad as you think these are. Related to this: count your blessings. Give yourself credit for the things you have accomplished and still able to do. Don’t sell yourself short.
The corollary to the one just above; don’t compare yourself to others. Especially highly successful artist whom you think have everything that you want. They have their issues too, just different ones.
One thing I did regularly and then stopped for awhile, but I am back at again; make a daily to-do list of few things that need to get accomplished. It’s an old project management tool; focus on the meaningful few things and not get distracted by the multitude of time-wasting tasks (time on IG or Facebook). Prioritize the few things that need to be completed and then reward yourself with some of the (fun) time-wasting things like spending time on IG looking at everyone else’s photos. Completing the few things that are really needed provides a nice sense of accomplishment. This process provides me with creative focus and helps decision making, it essentially gets me back in gear and for me, almost entirely eliminates stress.
What I don’t complete on my to-do list today I then put on the top of tomorrow’s to-do list. I have found that this is also a secret to getting a good nights rest; I don’t find myself thinking about what-I-need-to-do-tomorrow in the middle of the night if I already acknowledge what I need to do tomorrow. Since I get things done on my to-do list, knowing its on tomorrow’s list provides confidence that I will get’r done.
Related to this; Focus on the things I (you) can control, not about the things I (you) can’t control. I can make a gallery submission, but I can’t control if the gallery likes my work or wants to exhibit or sell it. So I can focus on making a really good submission, which is what I can control.
Money; the all time stressor for most individuals and couples, not just artist. If you are like me, an artist that collectors are not beating down the doors to buy my prints, cash-flow can become an issue. So make sure that money does become a stress point; get a day -job or second job and budget what you’re spending so that you don’t go into debt. Case in point, when my old computer gave up the ghost, I took a small loan to purchase a 27″ iMac. But while I was still paying off the iMac, my 17″ printer started having issues. I was fortunate to find a temporary printer fix and now I’m living one day at a time for my printing needs until I pay off the iMac and save for a new printer. Not the ideal solution but one that works and I don’t stress out over it financially. This too will pass.
I think setting short, mid-term and long-term goals is helpful, but I understand much better now that if you don’t make some adjustments to those expectations when circumstances change, this can create some real stress. I think I knew this before, but when the recents events occurred with my computer and printer, I loss sight of the fact that my goals are just that, goals. Thus my goal to (self)/publish my project Trabuco Flats next Spring is not a terminal end point. Nothing hangs in the balance except for my expectations; thus when crap happens; time to change expectations. So maybe Trabuco Flats is published in 2020 instead. So what? Perhaps in the meantime I make some gallery submissions and get some other exposure for this project. That gives me time to sort out the printer color-management issues, perhaps upgrade the printer as well as more time to edit and sequence this body of work. No stress.
Last; get some exercise! Try to take an hour walk every other day; get out of the house, let the sun shine on you or go out and watch the leaves turn golden. Do something other than sit on your butt in front of this computer. So as you read this, then Stop! Stand up and walk to the apposite side of the house/studio for a short stroll and come back in 5 minutes.
Okay, now move on to your next thing.