Credit: Lisa Paul

Pandemic pressure: creating during COVID

By Sophie Kernachan

Getting back to the drawing board ended up more trouble than it was worth for many during lockdown.

This April, I finally had the opportunity to write again. Unemployed, with university work behind me, now was finally my chance to lumber on with the 30,000-word, unfinished, beast of a world-building project that inhabited my computer drive. I had this belief in my head that I would be brimming with ideas, ready to finally indulge in the hobbies I had woefully neglected over the academic year. But I had nothing. No ideas, no motivation, no desire to create anything, really. I found more comfort in re-reading Game of Thrones for the fourth time, while the Medium account I made back in spring continued to gather digital cobwebs.

The pressure to create during Covid-19 was strong, with the likes of The Amazons frontman Matt Thomson telling the BBC: “There’s never been a better time to express yourself and add something to the world.” And sure, the past few months have seen a massive need for escapism over the course of this pandemic as the mental health of the nation crumbles. The National Office for Statistics reports skyrocketing levels of anxiety amongst adults in the UK, shooting up to 49.6%, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that almost half of psychiatrists have seen increases in emergency appointments since March. So, with anxiety levels understandably spiking due to the uncertainty of a strictly enforced lockdown, and pre-existing mental health conditions worsening as the weeks passed, why is the pressure to create so pervasive?

I felt the pervasiveness myself, mostly on the days where I didn’t do anything at all. Vegetating became a daily occurrence for me during lockdown – no creating. There were not even any small achievements, like finishing that one book I was supposed to read for my essay last October. Hearing smarmy comments from celebrities, who create for a living, telling people there’s no excuse to waste the first free time they’ve had in a while by just existing was somewhat aggravating. Encouraging people to take up creative hobbies and express themselves in the absence of the daily grind is well-intentioned, but completely ignores the context of the free time we’ve all been forced to endure. A new set of worries had come out of left field to plague everybody’s minds – a fog which understandably would stifle creative output. When you sit down to write, or draw, or analyse an album, or film, it can be far too easy for your mind to wander away from your creative hobbies and back to real-life worries that, being stuck inside, you can’t really do anything about.

It could even be argued, in a sense, that for university students the free time we’re not used to having can breed even more of these runaway thoughts. This makes the pressure to create even more frustrating. In the absence of extracurriculars, transit, extra study, socialisation, and, for many, employment, there’s a great void of free time that students just aren’t used to having. Underlying concerns about academia aside, the pressure to make the most of our time at university undermines the very valid concerns many students have about their mental health. There is a perception of the mentally comforting act of just existing in your free time, without pushing yourself to the creative limits, as laziness.

What else could be causing this mystical lack of creation from young people with now-infinite time? Well, lack of stimuli could be one to start off with. The same understimulating environment of your own home that breeds anxiety about the uncontrollable situation outside, can simultaneously lead to creativity grinding to a screeching halt. The same four walls of your room don’t exactly trigger gripping inspiration for your next short story on their own. There are no sights to view or people to meet that inspire a new piece. Forcing inspiration in a chaotic world that’s left people stifled physically, mentally, and socially causes burnout. In circumstances such as these, putting that series of novels you’ll write on hold once again, and taking some much-needed free time to just exist amid a chaotic world is more than deserved.  


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