Why You’re Struggling To Create During the Pandemic + What You Can Do About It

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Photo Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

“I’m so behind on everything I want to accomplish.” “I don’t understand why I can have more time than ever and still not create anything!” “What’s wrong with me? Everyone else seems to be making the most of quarantine.” 

Despite what social media will tell you, I’m here to let you know that not everybody is being productive during the pandemic. You may question how I can know this when you see a different story online every day. As a therapist for artists and creatives, I get to see behind the metaphorical curtain. The truth is far different than what your friends are willing to show you on the social media stage!

Since the start of the pandemic, almost every week a client of mine will bring up this very issue of productivity. They’ll talk about their confusion, their disappointment, their frustration over not utilizing the “extra time” the pandemic has provided many of us. Even more upsetting is the fact many of them blame themselves for this lack of productivity, this lack of motivation, this lack of creativity. If you’re one of the many people that are struggling with this issue, please note that you’re not the problem!

The problem, however, is much larger than laziness, low motivation, or lack of talent. The problem is we’re collectively experiencing a chronic (and painfully slow-burning) trauma. Often times the word trauma evokes memories of painful experiences that define us. In the mental health field, we make it more specific by usually limiting the definition to experiences or witnessed experiences that are life-threatening and/or physically harmful. Something people seem to not acknowledge right now is that no matter how you define trauma, the pandemic fits that definition quite easily. Perhaps the fact that many of us have adapted so well to quarantine life has made us fail to see how damaging it can be to our mental health. Perhaps the fact that we thought it would last much less time has kept us in a perpetual state of pushing past our feelings. Whatever the reason, failing to acknowledge this trauma isn’t helping us and not helping our work as artists.

The impact trauma can have on overall wellbeing is monumental. Trauma is a shock to the system that can cause both physical and emotional ailments. It can lead to symptoms ranging from raised heart rate to periods of depression. The impact can be as large as not being able to function day to day, or as unnoticeable as a change in productivity. Sometimes when our symptoms are milder, it can be harder to trace the cause, and thus harder to address. While blaming your poor creative output on the pandemic may seem like an exaggeration, it’s important to at least acknowledge how these difficult times are impacting you overall. It’s also worth noting that this particular trauma has made it harder than ever to cope, as many of our largest supports or outlets for well-being are unavailable to us. So while you may look at the pandemic as mild compared to your particular life experiences, remember the coping tools you were able to utilize previously that you don’t have available to you now.

While many forms of self-care and coping are unavailable, it doesn’t mean we simply have to sit with our situation. Many of my clients report feeling like talking about the pandemic is pointless for a variety of reasons. Some of them feel they have been lucky compared to others, some feel discussing an issue plaguing everyone makes no sense, or some feel the lack of clear direction for the future makes it too hard to address. However, the process of acknowledging how the pandemic impacts you is the best way to actually get through these feelings. Ignoring these feelings just makes them find ways to be even stronger or leads to them coming out in destructive ways. Of course, talking about the impact of the pandemic does not change your situation or anyone else’s, but it leads to these feelings taking up less space in your body and mind. If feelings regarding this trauma are taking up your emotional and mental energy, that leaves little energy left for daily tasks, let alone difficult tasks such as creating! 

In addition to explaining the potential impact of the pandemic, and encouraging my clients to share their feelings on the situation, I also encourage them to create different expectations. If it’s been three months of you saying you’ll finish your script, it’s time to explore creating a different expectation and address how that prior expectation hasn’t been serving you. It may seem counter-intuitive to “lower” your expectations in order to generate productivity and motivation, but that’s exactly how it works. By letting go of the expectations holding you back, and making smaller goals, many find that they’re able to make more progress than they were before. They find the smaller goals less overwhelming, and the feelings of accomplishment that follow these tasks help to propel them forward. These smaller goals also make it easier to acknowledge what you have done, instead of focusing on where you are falling short. By being more understanding of the trauma you’re experiencing, and being more accommodating to yourself, you’re actually able to begin making progress again.

In conclusion, while I’m a fan of any tips to generate productivity, motivation, and creativity, it’s also important now to acknowledge the root cause of our issues. By recognizing the trauma of the pandemic, exploring our feelings and the influence it has on our behavior, and finally releasing un-realistic expectations, we’re able to advance again in the areas that matter most to us. Essentially, by slowing down and addressing the feelings we think we don’t have time for, we’re able to finally speed up to where we were before and maybe even excel past our previous progress.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Elle Bernfeld
Elle Bernfeld, LCSW is a Brooklyn based therapist that specializes in artists, entertainers, and creative professionals. Her passion for working with those in the arts comes from her experience performing professionally and locally in the Los Angeles area as a child. A graduate of Columbia University and NYU, she provides individual counseling and creative collaborators counseling in-person and online. Additionally, she is a mental health advocate, public speaker, and wellness writer.
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