How to Stay Focused During Troubling Times

In the last year and a half, three of my friends died, two during the previous seven months. Aside from family, since 2016, I’ve lost five friends. My best friend passed away about a month and a half ago, and my world irrevocably changed. I could no longer support her, no longer text her, no longer get support from her. Bear with me; I swear this won’t be too depressing.

I’ve become a bit of an armchair expert on how to stay focused while grieving. Grief can come from the loss of a relationship, a pet, or even a job. Grief is not the only painful human experience. We may feel overwhelmed by daily responsibilities, political upheaval, or the unknown. When these events become too much, working on our art can feel futile. At this time, we may not seem to care anymore.

Art Will Save Us

A friend texted me when I was particularly distressed. He said, “Art will save us.” He’s right. Focusing on art can be self-care, an act of resistance, or an act of supporting others, even if you’re years from finishing. Art helps us grow, entertain, and challenge ourselves and others. It helps me to think that every word I write, every brush stroke I lay down, proves I will not let anything get me down.

During a group coaching session, we crowdsourced some ideas to help each other continue to create during these kinds of times. We were all relieved that we weren’t the only ones struggling. You are NEVER the only one struggling. It’s okay if you need to take a break from your art. But if you want to push through, we have a few ideas for you.

Tips on How to Stay Focused in Troubling Times

  • Change your environment. Create a new space for yourself or go somewhere else to write. I rearrange furniture to inject new energy into my space. 
  • Talk to a friend. Allow yourself to open up and be vulnerable. Commiserate. You’ll feel less alone.
  • Let yourself feel it. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings makes things worse. The more I let myself cry or rage, the better I feel afterward.
  • Turn off the news, social media, and phone alerts. As one of my group members pointed out: “…the news is designed to evoke an emotional reaction.” Social media and game designers want to suck you down a rabbit hole. You’ll be amazed at how peaceful your life gets if you turn it all off.
  • Micro Journal or Morning Pages – Use The Artist’s Way method and write three pages a day to download all the crap that plagues your brain. For those resistant to morning pages (like I am; I can barely function in the mornings), consider a Micro Journal. Keep a small notebook and write ten words or a list of things daily. Here is an excellent article about micro journaling.
  • Embrace distractions. My best friend was terrified of police, firefighters, and paramedics. After she left, I became obsessed with arrest videos on YouTube. We do weird things when we’re grieving or overwhelmed, so try not to judge (within reason, of course).
  • Do just one thing. Stop thinking about everything you have to do and focus on one simple thing you can do right now. At the height of my depression, I would wash a single coffee cup in a sea of dirty dishes. That one thing would afford me just enough hope to do another thing and another.
  • Sleep a lot. I was feeling rundown, so I went to the doctor. My doctor told me that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I walked away cursing all doctors for the way they treat women. I tracked my sleep. It turned out that after a week of getting enough rest, I felt normal again.

It’s Okay to Go Slow

It’s okay to be selfish when you’re overwhelmed or troubled and can’t focus. Be kind to yourself even if you have to let a few people down. You’ll know when you’re stretched too far, and when you can push yourself just a little. At those times, write one sentence or lay down some gesso on a substrate. If you take it one step at a time, you’ll find you’ve walked farther than you thought possible.


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