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The Tunnel Magazine Survival Guide: Work to live, don’t live to work

Art and Words by Rory Turner

Continuing Part 1 of the Tunnel Magazine Survival Guide, this week we will look closely at how best to cope with the stresses and strains of a creative degree, and the ways to achieve that all important work/life balance.

Before you read any further, here are the 5 most important pieces of advice that I would have given myself if I was starting first year:

  1. Don’t let your course overrule your life
  2. Don’t forget to socialize
  3. Eat and sleep sensibly
  4. Talk- don’t bottle up negative feelings!
  5. Just enjoy the experience! (YOLO)

Now we’ll delve deeper into how this advice came about…

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The downward spiral

Having spoken to a number of friends before embarking on this article, it seemed ironic to them that I should be giving people advice on how to deal with stress on their course.

After all, having found my first year to be very difficult at times, I had in fact seriously considered calling it a day, and simply dropping out by February. This may come as quite a surprise to those who studied alongside me as I was extremely enthusiastic and keen to work. I really enjoyed what I was learning, however by Easter I’d let my own determination (and to some extent selfishness), elevate my work to a level whereby it demanded my constant attention, gradually eroding away my wellbeing, as well as my relationship with those who matter the most. When away from home and passionate about a subject it can be very easy to forget about a world outside your course, and fail to see the bigger picture.

I never gave myself a break, often turning down invites to socialise simply because I was a slave to my own extreme work ethic. It even got to the sad point whereby I’d have to ring up my parents or girlfriend simply to ask whether it was wise to leave the studio a couple hours early just to go out for drinks.

Eventually I began to feel physically and emotionally drained as the constant worrying began to eat away at my enthusiasm as well as my creativity. My tutor emphasized to me many times how I was heading for a breakdown if I didn’t calm down. When friends from home visited me in March they were surprised to see I had lost at least a stone in weight, reducing my already wiry frame to something that appeared “far from healthy”.

During my Easter break I decided to work out where I’d gone wrong. Aided by advice given to me by tutors and course mates, I considered what aspects of my course/work-method I liked and disliked in order to plan a new routine and a more positive way of thinking; here is what I learnt:

Where you work is just as important as how you work

Divine inspiration ain’t gonna come whilst slaving away at work, alone in your room, with the silence being broken only by your sniffling sobs of self pity.

From firsthand experience this simply isn’t a healthy way to work and can only lead downhill. The studio acts as an essential catalyst for your creative development throughout the year. Full of fascinating individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds with unique outlooks on life, it’s a brilliant place for those all important eureka moments to occur, so take advantage of it!

Simply seeing work being produced around you can be very inspiring and get you really pumped! Even sitting with the knowledge that there are people nearby who you can turn to chat to for help or motivation can be a really comforting thought.

Just remember, some of the best ideas are created down at the pub.

Formulating a routine

By Easter I realized my inefficient routine was a major contributing factor towards my fatigue. I would regularly work til 1:30am-2:00am regardless of whether I had a 9:00am lecture the next morning. I often felt drained, struggling to stay awake during talks, and suffering from terrible migraines 2-3 times a week, resulting in me having to leave early.

My year coordinator advised us on several occasions that the best way to approach project work, was to treat working in the studio like a job, and formulate a strict yet realistic routine that you can stick to.

Therefore, I decided to get up earlier in the mornings at a set time, to ensure I got a solid day’s work done; that way I could relax in the evenings and not have to work anymore after leaving the studio unless absolutely necessary. Soon enough my migraines completely vanished and I really started to feel better about myself.

Personally I think some people like to see all-nighters as almost a badge of honour, a means of proving their commitment to working, and I can understand when deadlines are upcoming they can be necessary. But trust me, making it a regular routine is just stupid, the body simply can’t cope being pushed that hard and sooner or later, like me, your health will begin to falter. As long as you stay focused throughout the day, you shouldn’t have to stay up all night.

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Time management is key

Wasting time obsessing over small details and setting myself unrealistic targets has been a bad habit of mine for some time, and one which I really need to weed out.

To counter this I’ve discovered that on days when I arrived at the studio with a checklist allocating time for certain tasks to be carried out, I was more likely to work efficiently and stay focused. By working simultaneously on a variety of tasks, I am less likely to get bored or sick of what I’m doing.

However, I was taught by tutors not to be afraid of experimenting or making mistakes as it is often the happy accidents that can trigger a whole host of new and exciting ideas that could radically develop an idea.

A healthy body is a healthy mind

Nothing is quite as inspiring as simply getting out and actually experiencing the world. I’ve been reminded countless times that we’re only human, and it’s good to do yourself a favour and occasionally just slow down.

Whether it’s playing a sport, going down to the pub, or even just going on a walk, I’ve learnt its just as important to take breaks and relax, as it is to work hard.

Personally, I’m a big food fan(I had to learn from scratch when I started uni) so my best friend and I used to enjoy cooking each other meals once or twice a week after a hard day’s work and we would end up chatting for AGES! On Sundays we would wonder round London going to galleries or markets which was fun!

It’s amazing how refreshed you feel, your mind seems clearer and suddenly everything can feel so much more positive!

Finally, a healthy body is a healthy mind. It can feel exhausting as you talk to new people, explore new cities, and start to work in a new studio, so long as you look after yourself, eat healthily and sleep well, you’ll do just fine.

Finally, talk to people!

There is nothing worse than feeling all uptight and then bottling it up. It wasn’t until Christmas time onwards that I slowly began to talk to my tutor and close friends about how I felt and believe me it made a big difference! It was so reassuring to realize that support was there and I wasn’t alone with my feelings.

Everyone in the studio can relate to the stresses and strains of a creative course, and everyone has hit rock-bottom at some point in their year. If you don’t experience high levels of stress at some point then there is something seriously wrong, it’s a mandatory course requirement. For me the very act of writing these articles has in a way helped me to realize some thoughts I still hadn’t even considered, and so my journey continues.

Just remember, when you’re part of a close-knit studio, everyone is in it together, so as long as you look after others, they’ll look after you.

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