Some people believe that physical symptoms can relate to emotional issues, unhealed or blocked emotions can impact on the physical body. This I believe is true to a certain extent; as an anxiety sufferer I definitely am more susceptible illness when my anxiety is at its worst so anything that I can do to minimise the anxiety works. Others take this to the next step and believe that the link is more exact so for example: back pain is due to not feeling emotionally supported or throat infections is due to blocked creativity or a need to express yourself.
Personally I am creative and I have loved, since before I can even remember to (what I call) doodle. I notice that when I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed I yearn to spend an afternoon curled up by the window on the sofa ‘doodling’. I also notice that there is a correlation between my mood, physical health and how much time I am able to set aside to be creative. The less time I spend being creative the more stressed I feel and the more negative physical symptoms I experience.
There is a reason for this; being creative causes a cognitive disruption by moving the attention away from the thing we are worried/stressed/insert your own relevant verb here and refocusing it thus helps to regulate the nervous system. In a nutshell being creative is a mindful technique that can help us to relax.
After a stressful day we often turn on the telly and grab a glass of wine (they’re my go too’s) but this can often leave us feeling bored and empty rather than relaxed. We mistake mindlessness with mindfulness. Creative self care however gives us the opportunity to be fully immersed in what we are doing and feed our soul. Many people think they’re not creative but all humans have an innate creativity in them. I have this argument wi my dad most times he sees me drawing. It goes something like this;
Him; that’s fantastic, I could never do anything like that.
Me; thanks it’s just a doodle it’s ok I suppose. You’ve never tried doing it how do you know you can’t?
Him; I’m just not creative.
Me; but you are what about all that stuff you do with numbers (he’s an amazing mathematician who does algebra and things for fun), or when you built the kitchen?
What this tells me is that people don’t always see the art and creativity in many of the things we do and creativity isn’t just limited to drawing, painting, collaging, printing etc. It could be ANYTHING; gardening, maths, cooking, writing, DIY, building… really anything that you are passionate about the list is endless and I encourage everyone to take time every week to engage with their creative talents whatever they are. That being said I create through art and so that’s what this will be focused on. Art has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain.
In recent years zentangles and mindful colouring have become very popular there are millions of colouring books out there, both for adults and children. There is a reason for this; repetitive actions (drawing/colouring) help to calm the mind and body.
Refocusing the mind
If your mind is swimming with negative or anxious thoughts, picking up a colouring book is a perfect way to release stress and calm the mind. You don’t need to think to much you can just de-stress and unwind. If you don’t have a colouring book to hand here is a simple technique to get you started;
Start by drawing some over lapping circles on a page. This will create lots of different shapes. Next fill each one with something different – dots, small circles, waves, close vertical or horizontal lines, spirals, semicircles.
If you are more open to a challenge try a simple flower or other image and fill the gaps in, in a similar manner.
It can be hard to articulate how we feel… I personally am hopeless at writing a diary (I can’t even keep my work diary up to date…or even somewhere I can find!) but if you are able do draw those thoughts and feelings it can help you to make sense of them and share them with others (should you choose). Something I do a lot with children I work with is ‘painting their emotion’ (It doesn’t have to be painting it can be felt tips, colour pencils whatever you have to hand). I do this by talking to them about how different colours represent emotions, I then ask them to choose a few colours based on how they feel in the moment, to colour in a picture. After we have coloured and talked together for a while I’ll discuss the colours again and give them a chance to change the colours we’re using. Expressing in this way helps both children and adults to get thoughts or feelings out of your heads thus reducing the chatter you have in your mind.
Another good example is creating a tree of life: draw a simple tree with roots and branches. In the roots write your virtues, going up the trunk write the things you are most grateful for. On the branches write your skills. Finally around the outside write the things you’d like to develop and improve (leaves).
If unlike me you are able to express your feelings though writing there are lots of journals out there that offer space to write, draw and colour.
Next week I am going to focus on more of the benefits of creative self care and share some activities to help children and families engage with creative self care.
If you would like to know more about creativity and the mind please look at the work of neuropsychologist Rex Jung who with colleagues has done a lot of work on the interplay between creativity and the intelligence.