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How you can balance creativity and mental health in this ever more demanding industry

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The one between creativity and mental health is a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, you have the one thing that makes you happy and drives you forward – on the other hand, as a creative professional, your creativity is a double-edged sword. The push for ideas and demands of an ever more complex industry can put you in a dark place – especially when you're approaching a deadline with just barely the spark of a great idea.

How do you balance creativity and mental health? Most importantly, how can businesses help their teams find that much delicate and needed stability to ensure they're always producing work that matters for their clients?

As an agency owner, Shannon Stevens always aims to ensure that his team has the mental space and support to keep being creative. We reached out to Shannon, Partner and Creative Director at Shiny Agency, to learn more about the topic below.

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Mental health and creativity? Where to start…

On the one hand, my creativity is how I stay mentally healthy. Without an outlet for my continuous need to create, whether as an advertising professional flexing my creative muscle for our clients or doing pet projects that span everything from rehabbing a 1960’s Airstream to creating a surfer-inspired outdoor bar at one of my local watering holes, I’d be lost. And that’s because creativity is a type of affliction, and external stimuli is never turned off. Without lots of creative outlets, I would, in short, meet the definition of being mental. I would be way in my head, way too much.

On the other hand, it’s easy to find yourself worn down and mentally exhausted in this go-go-go business we’re in. I’m often reminded of a quote from Vincent Van Gogh: “I put my heart and soul into the work and have lost my mind in the process.” Sometimes it feels like there’s an assumption that “creativity” can just be turned on or off at a whim to produce work, and there’s a constant pressure to deliver. And, honestly, that can be made worse by my awesome team members outside the Creative department who don’t seem to get it.

Yeah, we may have budgeted 20 hours to do something, but it’s taken me 18.5 hours to find the right spark of an idea, and it’s only at this point that I can begin to bring that to fruition to meet the client’s needs. Sometimes when the Account team makes a “simple” request (that is, of course, not quite as simple as it looks), my Art Director makes this awesome robot sound and pantomimes pushing a bunch of buttons like that’s all that it takes. And just so you don’t misunderstand me, we have a great Account team who are real partners of ours and who I know want the same thing we want – to create great work that matters to our clients. I just think it’s hard for them to understand what a mind game it is at times to make that happen.

So, my job as an agency owner and Creative Director is to make sure that the team has the mental space and support to continue being creative. That takes a lot of different things. Every year, we give a budget to the team to spend as they choose on things that help them get better, more inspired, and just keep the creative flame lit. Things like a design conference, a magazine subscription, or even just tickets to museums or other arts events that get you out of your work brain for a bit and immerse you in other people’s creative outlets.

We use our Slack channels to share things that inspire us, make us laugh, or make us wonder “what the hell?” all the different types of ideas that can rub against each other and cause friction that creates the creative spark we need. We even curate a Spotify list every week, with submissions from all Shiny employees, and then meet as a team to listen to it each Friday. It may not sound like much, but not only is it an interesting way to learn about your colleagues (like one who loved French music, despite not speaking a word of it), it’s also a gathering of the tribe that both gives us a bit of a break and helps keep our creative juices flowing.

We’ve also taken more practical steps for the business to help with mental health. One is our unlimited time off policy and our encouragement for people to use it whenever they need (or want.) We’ve also rolled out formal mental health support through Talkspace, where our team can have unlimited access to therapists via text, video, and email, as well as one live appointment per month, all free to them.

Why do we do this? Because creativity matters.

In the incessant quest for attention, creativity is the reason people don’t look away during a show break, stop scrolling or move through a website without friction until they select a service or buy a product. It’s what evokes an emotional response from people and how a brand stands out from its competition. And, it’s often the first impression a person has about a brand, or the lasting impression and the reason they stay loyal.

Creativity is the link between an idea and business results. That’s why it’s essential to create the space to help it thrive within the minds of those tasked with coaxing it to life.

Mental health and creativity. It’s like a double-sided coin; on one side, it’s my creativity that keeps me healthy, and on the other, it’s the thing that can drive me crazy. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade that coin for anything.

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