How to Keep Creating When You Feel like Sh*t

Last updated on January 20th, 2021

Let’s be real. Podcasting is a moody business. 

It is one thing to sit down in front of the mic when you’re calm, clear-headed, well-prepared, and operating from a basic belief that what you have to say is helpful or interesting. 

It is a completely different deal to sit down with the mic when you’re tired, angry, sad, your life is falling about, or perhaps you’re questioning the value of every thought in your head. 

All of us have seasons when our lives aren’t going the way we’d hoped. Relationship problems, illness, unforeseen business challenges, depression, a child who is struggling, financial strain, a global pandemic… none of us are immune from the unforeseeable events that can creep in and threaten to disrupt our creative mojo.

How do you continue to create and engage your audience when your mental health is in a rough place?

As a clinical psychologist, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question – I’m often called upon to help get high-performing creatives unstuck when their mental health takes a dive. 

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about this for myself. I went through a two-year period that involved a move across the country, the illness and death of my dad, the traumatic death of my brother, and unexpectedly becoming the guardian of a seven-year-old. It was a multi-year marathon of grief, loneliness, and lots and lots of stress. 

These rough years coincided with the time in which I was forming a new business, growing a podcast, finishing and launching a book, and trying to make a dent in the speaking circuit. 

I get it. I know what it is like to be in a rough mental space and also trying to create. 

Here are some things to think through when you’re stuck.

Use the pain.

Modern western societies are highly pain averse. And many communities of entrepreneurs are the worst “I’m killin’ it!” junkies around. We take a pill or see a specialist to quickly alleviate anything unwell within us and we feel tremendous pressure to project success despite what is truly happening inside. Although I’m a big fan of regular trips to the doctor, some mental anguish is inner wisdom warning us that something is wrong. We may fall into depression when our relationships are unhealthy, or anxiety when we’re not spending our days doing activities that are meaningful to us. Sometimes we feel like shit because we’re not taking care of ourselves emotionally, relationally, physically, spiritually. And sometimes grief is the natural and appropriate response to loss.

Mental upset is the soul’s “check engine” light. 

Listen to it. Take the time to figure out what it is. It will make your work better. It may change the direction and focus of your work. 

Ignoring it will almost certainly result in increased levels of disruption. 

If you want to continue being amazing at your creative work, you have to remain open to growth and change. Mental anguish is often part of the kind of inner remodeling that leads to maturity and development.

Do you need a break? 

A lot of ambitious, entrepreneur types are wonderful at committing to a production schedule and nailing out those episodes as planned. This discipline and structure are super powers! 

But when your inner world is in a storm, forcing yourself to stick to the plan can be compassion-less and counter-productive. You may need to adjust. You don’t have to muscle through grief or depression. It is okay to intentionally let your brain, your heart, and your body take a time out from pressure and productivity. If you’re in deep burnout, or recovering from depression, I recommend 4-6 weeks of light duty to let your mind rebuild. If you’d like to avoid deep burnout or significant depression, a few days here and there may give you the space to listen, to heal and to reset.

A few practical ideas for taking a break from your podcast: 

  • Ask a friend to guest host your show for a few episodes
  • Let your audience know you’re taking 4 weeks off and re-release your favorite old episodes with a new intro.
  • Let your audience know that you’re taking 4 weeks off and tell them why. Trust that they will be there when you return. 

Breaks don’t fix everything. The emphasis should be on decreased pressure and extra time to rest and tend to the inner parts of you. Clear space for a personal retreat, working with a therapist, doing some extra reading, spending additional time with those you love. 

Rearranging goals and changing plans is often a very wise choice, but it isn’t necessarily sufficient. Lots of us find tremendous satisfaction in our work, and this satisfaction offsets the hopelessness and helplessness that we feel in the middle of a crisis. Most of us still need to show up in our work even when we’re not feeling well.

Remember: It’s not about you

If you’re hosting a podcast, you’re serving an audience. Your work exists to inform, teach, entertain… your work exists for a purpose beyond your own pleasure. Get back to the basics of why you’re doing the work that you’re doing. The “why” will energize you when your productive energy is low.

When you sit down in front of your mic, take a few moments to breathe. Imagine the faces of the folks in your audience. Imagine them putting in their earbuds and listening to your voice while they wash the dishes or drive to work. Imagine their connection to you over the “airwaves”. Imagine what you’d like them to feel as they listen. 

When you’re feeling crappy and you need to dig down deep, remember who you serve and let them be your focus. Move out of your headspace and into their headspace. The ability to do something useful is a balm to pain. 

The bottom line: When you are in anguish, be gentle with yourself. Listen to what’s stirring. If you’re not sure how to make sense of it, find someone to help you listen. There may be moments when you need to take a break. There may be moments when you need to glue your butt to the desk chair and do your work. For most people, it is a combination.

No matter how bad you feel in any given moment, know that it will pass and trust that the experience will serve you in some way that’s yet to be discovered. 

And you don’t have to do it alone. 

About the author

Dr. Sherry Walling is a clinical psychologist who helps entrepreneurs stay connected to joy and purpose (while also getting their work done). Her book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together is a one-stop resource for entrepreneur mental health and her podcast ZenFounder provides a weekly dose of sanity. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Rob, three children, and a very naughty puppy. You can find her online at www.sherrywalling.com and www.ZenFounder.com

Share with a friend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *