Self-Employed Life: Self-Care for the Self-Employed Artist

Self-Employed Life: Self-Care for the Self-Employed Artist

As an artist, especially an artist of the digital persuasion, it can be all too easy to just spend 8+ hours a day simply glued to my computer, producing work and content. Self-care is extremely important to any desk worker, let alone artists. 

When you crunch too long on any sort of work that requires your body to remain in certain poses or repetitive motions, you’re bound to eventually have some body malfunctions, not to mention your poor addled brain. Burnout is a very real thing, and you often feel symptoms of it before you even realize it.

In my many years spent as a part-time digital artist, and now that it’s a full-time gig, I’ve learned a lot of really great little tips that you can start making into healthy habits right now.

While these tips are a bit geared towards artists, they easily apply to just about anyone with a desk gig. Read on!

1. It’s Work – Treat It As Such

Self-care starts when you wake up. Shower. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Seriously. My left eye twitches every time I hear a self-employed individual brag about “working in their pyjamas”. No. No. Get ready for your day. You don’t need to go business attire if you’d rather go casual (though some folks, my partner included, dress for the office even when working at home) but at the very least, put pants and a shirt on.

Try to maintain a business hour range. My business hours are within the range of 8:00am – 4:00pm. Sometimes I’m an hour or two one way or the other, but for the most part I’m within that window. This is important as someone who maintains clients – they know what hours they can expect to hear from me, and don’t expect emails outside of that time, allowing me to separate work and home time more efficiently. It also helps when working with clients in different time zones.

2. Get Up, Walk Around, Take Breaks

Self-care involves moving our bodies around. Seems obvious, but so many of us (including me!) often skip this small, important self-care routine.

Frequent, short breaks serve several purposes. They get you away from the bright screen and your chair, they allow you to move around, and they allow you to give your brain a brief break and reset. It can be hard to step away from the computer when you’re amidst a task or have a tight deadline, but your productivity will thank you for frequent small breaks.

Working on a computer means you have access to a million handy-dandy apps that can help you with remembering to take breaks and stretch. I use the pomodoro technique myself, but there’s lots of ways to do it. Choose a schedule that works for you and give yourself at least one break every two hours (though more is better).

On your break, make sure to walk away from your desk and do some moving. In my case, I might stretch (see below), I might throw a toy for my dog a few times, I might go prepare a healthy snack in the kitchen, I might go find and bother my (usually sleeping, mildly annoyed) cats. 

As long as you’re getting up, moving away from screens and moving around, You’re doing yourself some good.

3. Set Up A Healthy Workspace

A well-planned workspace is the first line of self-care defense for your body and mind when working eight hour days at a computer and tablet. A focus on posture, eye distance and how to rest your arms while drawing are all hugely important. It’s not always easy to set up in ideal workspace, but make the best effort you can right now – your body will thank you later.

I used to have a terrible setup and in turn, terrible posture. Some basic improvements in equipment (new chair) and posture (straight back, feet on floor) really changed things.

Every digital artist is going to have a bit of a different way of working. Myself, I work on a 13″ Wacom Cintiq with my computer monitor set up above and behind it, which I use for my reference images, internet needs, podcasts, etc. while I work.

I align my body to my desk, so that the height better aligns with my eyes while still maintaining a cast-down eye posture which I’m used to for drawing. I invested in a better desk chair which allows me to keep my back, legs and feet properly postured and aligned. WORLD of difference, let me tell you.

It’s not the perfect setup, but the effort I put into my posture pays off immensely. 

If you have a tablet that rests on your desk, try to align your chair and desk height so the tablet is as close to eye level as is comfortable. Your back and neck will thank you, and you’ll help prevent future issues.

4. STRETCH.

Take time every single day to stretch. More than once.

Sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day, every day, will seriously wreck you if you’re not careful. Currently, at age 33, I’m starting to feel the effects of being a Child Of The Internet since age 15, and it’s not cool. Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI), carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, strained muscles and spinal issues are Real Things that can happen to anyone working long hours at a desk. Even you. Trust me. Stretch.

Here’s a handful of great basic stretches for desk-sitters and digital artists that focus on your neck, shoulders, arms and wrists.

There’s way more available across the web, including these:

(Disclaimer: If you feel pain or discomfort in areas that are commonly stressed/repeated in your work, SEE A DOCTOR. Stretches are generally good for everyone but may disguise larger issues.)

5. Practice Mindfulness

Being an artist is stressful. Us creative types are often sensitive folks and prone to stress, mood fluctuations and even mental health issues. It’s no secret. That’s why self-care is important. Thus far, the stuff I’ve talked about is mostly for taking care of your body, but the mind is super important to take care of, too. 

There’s a lot of ways to calm your mind and re-focus yourself, but mindfulness is my personal favourite. Mindfulness is, as defined:
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Basically, it’s a way to help yourself move away from worrying thoughts about the past or present, and to more firmly ground yourself in the present moment. It’s great for people like me who fret, stress and worry quite excessively.

The best part about it is: You can do it anywhere. Most commonly it’s associated with meditation, which is a great technique, but you can practice mindfulness while walking in your neighbourhood or park, sitting at the kitchen table, laying in bed… anywhere, really. The more you practice it, the more you’ll be able to ground yourself anywhere you are, and that’s pretty cool.

Mindfulness is a great way to get your mind back on track to get your work done during stressful or busy times. I highly recommend starting to practice it regularly. It’s amazing how it will help your everyday life!

Here are some resources that can help you get in the headspace for mindfulness:
Some great starting tips plus audio guidance!
A bigger list of free audio guides!

Take care of yourself! 

Even doing just a few of these things, you’ll notice a huge difference! A little bit of self-care goes a long way, and will help prevent future issues. Good luck!

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