My seven secrets of survival: Julie McDonald, director of The Drama Studio

1 I love to look into the eyes of my two beautiful golden retrievers who are full of wonder and excitement at the natural world. I've also always needed to feel a part of this world – to be in the fresh air, to feel grass or sand under my bare feet, to sit by a campfire beneath the wide sky. If you take a walk into the small clearing that exists in every wood, sit on a tree stump and close your eyes, you can enjoy the greatest show on earth.

2 When I was 11, I learned to play the guitar, unwittingly sentencing myself to the role of sing-song starter at countless future social gatherings. Music has the capacity to instantly touch our souls and is a powerful unifier of people. My sister and I love to recapture our teenage years by singing the songs that said it all for us then and, remarkably, are still saying it for us now.

3 At work and at home people often ask me where I get all my ideas. The truth is that the ideas mostly get me. The key is knowing where they are and how to work with them. Whatever your life's projects, begin with a few seedling ideas and allow for a period of free growth untouched by expectations. It's in this time that the ideas are waiting for you. Be prepared to modify, expand, change direction and keep a sharp, open mind to see what works best. For me, creativity and improvisation are closely linked.

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4 Travelling to countries with a distinctly different culture to ours has always been a great source of inspiration for me – China and Thailand are favourites and, more recently, the diverse landscapes of Peru. My lightweight suitcase often raises an eyebrow at the flight check-in desk on departure from the UK. On return the case will be bulging with materials and items for our drama workshop costume boxes and I'm usually struggling to my seat with some delicate or cumbersome musical instrument.

5 Humour has always played a big part in my life with family and friends. My students also regularly remind me that this is the emotion that helps them to express themselves, especially during their difficult teenage years. It seems that comedy is a favourite theme for them. I have found tremendous strength from laughter on many occasions, both good and bad.

6 Find a hobby or interest you can become absorbed in and which is unlike your day job. I started stained-glass classes a few years back and, particularly during the learning stages, found this to be a very therapeutic change of scene. In fact, it was so absorbing that it was the quickest two hours of my week and helped me to return to work with new energy.

7 At the core of my secrets of survival is self-belief. I remember hearing a phrase, "the days never know what only the years can tell". I have pondered this many times and think it means that it's so important that what you are doing in your life is right for you, regardless of what others may think. If you're not happy then only you can make the changes that will ultimately enable you to truly fulfil your dreams.

• The Drama Studio, 19 Belmont Road, Edinburgh (0131-453 3284,