May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I just wanted to check in with my fellow creators and ask: How are you? I’m genuinely asking how you’re holding up, and the comments are a safe space for you to answer.

In preparation for this month, I’ve been compiling a few examples from my work life that have helped me be aware of and maintain a somewhat healthy mental state. The way I find peace and happiness may be different than you, but I hope you’re finding your way too.

Find at least a few minutes every day to do something that truly invigorates you. I love my job, particularly the variety every day brings. But I’ve learned over time that I can go to bed with a smile if I spend even just a few minutes on game design every day. Often the only time I have for design is the 2 hours between dinner and bedtime on non-game nights, and I have to protect that time–it’s all too easy for other work to push into that space.
Take breaks. Studies show that we’re more open-minded after we take a break. I try to use short breaks during transitions to different tasks. For example, after I finish this blog post, I’ll take a short break to skim through yesterday’s sumo highlights. I also break for meals rather than work through them.
Choose when to consume criticism. I’ve found that if I’m in a good mood, I tend to be more open to hearing and learning from criticism. The opposite is true if I’m in a bad mood. Due to this, I try to be acutely aware of my emotional state when I’m entering new threads (sometime I can detect the overall tone from the subject line). I literally ask myself, “Is now the right time for you to read this?” If the answer is no, I’ll come back later.
Don’t compare yourself to others. One of the most self-inflicted damaging things a creator can do is compare their project or themselves to others. I’ve done this far more than I’d like to admit. When I catch myself doing it, though, I actively try to turn it around. Instead of comparing my project to the other one, I spend a little time learning from the other project and celebrating its success.
Give yourself permission to block/hide/restrict. There’s plenty of constructive criticism out there, and I try to learn from people every day (whether they agree or disagree). However, there are also people who just like to complain, misinform, and troll. For each of those people, I ask if the potential value is worth the emotional and mental burden.
Set healthy boundaries. Over the years, I’ve learned about the things that energize me and the things that drain me. Sometimes there’s a pretty fine line between the two. For example, I know that I can be “on” for an interview for 20-30 minutes. But it’s downhill after that (plus, I start to feel like I’m neglecting other parts of my job). So I’m happy to say yes to any interview within those boundaries. The hardest part is to then say no when the interview starts to go long–just the other day, we reached the 30-minute mark, and the interviewer said that they had a few more questions. 30 minutes later, we were still going and I was completely drained. So it’s not just about setting boundaries that I know are healthy for me–it’s about sticking to them.
Spend energy on those who choose you. I really struggle with this. As any creator expands and survives the test of time, for every 10 people who decide to share your passion, there’s 1 person who will vocally and publicly reject it. Any Kickstarter creator knows what it feels like to get pledge-cancellation notifications–we know it’s coming, yet it still stings. Also, what about the creations you spend so much time, effort, and love creating, and no one even seems to notice? In those moments, I really find it helpful to focus on those who do notice–there’s almost always someone who cares. Spend your energy on them.
Be kind. There’s this wonderful phenomenon of human physiology that if you are kind and helpful to others–particularly in those moments where you’re not feeling good about yourself–your body releases endorphins. Our bodies literally want us to be kind to others. (Also, there’s a wonderful moment in the recent amazing film Everything Everywhere All at Once that really emphasizes this message.)
Avoid burnout. There’s always too much of a good thing. This is why I’ve found it helpful to always have two creative projects in the works (my own game designs)–the ability to switch back and forth between them prevents me from burning out on either one.
Play games. I think we all have different reasons for playing games. My friend and DEI consultant Lydia says, “Board gaming can save.” As an introvert, I love the structure that games provide for socialization and conversation. I also love the low-stakes opportunity for creative problem solving in tabletop games. Plus, as a designer and publisher, I’m constantly inspired by the fascinating choices applied to games. I think all of that and more are good for my mental health.

As I started this article, I’d love to know how you’re doing. If you have any tips or examples from your life about how you’re taking care of yourself, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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Also read: Create Something Meaningful to You

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