Creative Business Wrap – August 2023

Every so often, we attempt a Creative Wrap with a particular theme, and this month it’s about creativity and mental health. In recent years, there’s been a normalisation of discussion about mental health and that has had lots of positive impacts. But at the same time, we’re only just beginning to understand how mental health challenges manifest themselves in the creative industries. And we’re still working through the aftermath of the COVID lockdowns, which disproportionally impacted those making their living from creative endeavours, and a spate of natural disasters that loom large in the memory.

The other side of this coin is that creativity is often a positive part of mental wellbeing and trauma recovery. We know that consuming and participating in the arts have ongoing health benefits and lifestyle benefits, but producing and providing those creative opportunities presents mental health risks of their own. The articles below look at both those aspects – and hopefully also provide a few points of interest to explore further.

Needless to say, if you think you might want or need some support in your mental health journey, there’s free, accessible help out there. A list of support services is here.

Take care – and enjoy our latest Wrap!


Reading helps mental health

It’s a relief to hear that something I am already doing (and probably something you’re already doing too) is good for mental health. Three Australian researchers in the Conversation reported that reading books can increase our capacity for empathy, is as effective as yoga for reducing stress and is a strong indicator of curiosity. Their research with young people showed that reading is not just correlated with curiosity but helps to build curiosity and that’s a quality that employers, particularly in creative fields are looking for. 

For those of us fighting the addictive urge to scroll rather than turn the page, they suggest making it easier by carrying a book at all times, leaving books around the house in convenient places, scheduling 20 minutes of reading per day and if you’re not enjoying a book, try another one, don’t force yourself to keep going. 


Making personal and organisational change through tiny habits

There are so many books and audiobooks out there on managing change and achieving efficiency. One of the best I’ve listened to recently was BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits. The title appealed immediately because it didn’t sound too onerous, and it turns out that keeping our goals small and achievable is one of the key steps to change.  

When we fail at establishing a new habit, we generally blame a lack of motivation or willpower but Fogg says that motivation is unreliable and that successful behavioural change comes about when the ability or ease of making the change is high and there is a prompt linked to an action we are already doing. He advises making goals as small as possible, anchoring them to an existing routine and then celebrating immediately with an affirmation or even a happy dance. Starting a new health regime such as a daily walk could start out with a tiny habit of putting on your walking shoes.

Fogg’s behaviour model says a new habit starts with a recipe like, “after I feed the dog in the morning, I will put my walking shoes on”. It’s anchored to an existing habit; it is made easier by putting a comfortable pair of shoes next to the dog’s bowl and giving yourself a pat on the back. If you go for a walk that’s a bonus, you have already reached your goal. Fogg runs the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford but he writes in a simple and accessible style and he even offers a free online course that takes less than 5 minutes a day.

Creative work presents unique mental health challenges

Research from wellbeing charity Inspire and Ulster University found that people working in the creative industries are three times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the general public. Sarah Niblock from the UK Council for Psychotherapy in “Mental wellbeing, why the creative industry is harming its employees” points out that the competition for work in the industry feeds anxiety and leads to less use of formal HR systems and processes.

She argues that some “uber-talented visionaries” who rise to leadership roles don’t embrace textbook approaches to business and management. Creative practice is seen as more of a calling than a job and is strongly connected to identity, which can also lead to complex workplaces and risks to mental health. Although UK focused, the article has links to useful mental health resources such as Arts Minds and drug and alcohol information at Frank.

Sad songs say so much

A study from the Free University of Berlin confirms something most of us know, or have experienced, that listening to sad music can actually make you feel happier. Participants in the study reported feelings of nostalgia, peacefulness and tenderness while listening to sad music and the study found that people are more likely to listen to sad music when already feeling sad. If you need a bit of cheering up right now, an online study found that one of the saddest pieces of classical music is Barber’s Adagio for strings, and a Time Out poll in July 2023 listed the late Sinead O’Connor’s” Nothing Compares 2 U” as the number 1 Best Sad Song.

And another from the, “yeah, I sort of knew that already” pile is the impact of comedy and laughter on mental health. I liked the byline from this article by Ryan Barrell, “Is laughter the best medicine? Well, no. Medicine is. But it’s still pretty good.” You may not be convinced to employ a “laughter consultant” after reading that article, or engage in some “laughter yoga”, but with so many Netflix comedy specials accessible with a flick of the remote, there’s an easy way to engage in a bit of regular laughter yourself. After listening to a few sad songs, of course.

Purposeful play

I loved this intriguing application for games that stimulate physical activity, connection to others and fun for people living with dementia. Tovertafel is a games system that projects playful and interactive light animations onto a table. In one game, players and their carers gleefully tap on flying bubbles that make a satisfying “pop”, in another they swipe their hands through falling leaves that make rustling sounds. The games, which are co-deigned with professionals and users, not only increase enjoyment of life but also reduce anger, fear, and sadness — for both players and their caregivers. 

Things to do this month

Three steps to take this month to aid your mental health.

  1. Schedule time in your diary to walk. Not just great for relaxation and exercise, it boosts your creativity. If you’re in Sydney, you could even sign up for the Wellness Walk across the Harbour Bridge in October.
  2. Reach out to an old friend and catch up – this simple act has a range of positive benefits. And if they happen to be an old business colleague or client, it might help your business too!
  3. Is there something new you’ve always wanted to try? Make September the month to make it happen. It’s a great way to get out of a rut. Quarantine some time in your diary to research your new pastime, work out an easy way in and commit to giving it a go.