creativity

Self-Care Saturdays: Embrace Your Creative Side

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Have you ever uttered the phrase, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body?”  Or maybe you’re more naturally artistic and consider yourself more right-brained than left-brained.  In my family, I’ve always been the “non-creative” one, at least when it comes to crafting or visual art.  (If you could see some of the disasters of Christmas ornaments I attempted to craft in elementary school…)

The reality is that all of us are creative, even if our creativity lies unused in the darkest corners of our mind.  Creativity isn’t just about making art.  In fact, the definition of creativity references creative expression as the use of imagination in the formation of original ideas.

Creativity has a multitude of benefits for your physical and mental health.  Many creative activities involve repetition and slowing down, both of which are soothing and relieve stress.  Practicing creativity improves brain function and mood.  Creative thought and behavior requires a slower pace: we cannot be creative and rush at the same time.  Have you ever noticed that when you give yourself the time to think and slow down, your best ideas come to you? 

In the counseling office, art therapy and music therapy are used to process emotions and experiences through creative expression.  The philosophy behind art therapy relates to neuroscience: art and music use the nonverbal, expressive area of our brains.  Emotions, trauma, and other painful experiences are often stored in these areas, and using our creativity connects with these emotions. Benefits of art therapy include improved mental health due to relieving the tension of those negative and painful emotions.

Keep in mind as you seek to explore your creativity: the point of creating isn’t to make something perfect: it’s to enjoy the process of creating.  What you make might not be on par with the Mona Lisa, a meal at a five-star restaurant, or one of Beethoven’s symphonies.  The point of creativity is not the end goal – it’s the journey of getting there.

Here are some ideas about how to practice creativity:

Coloring Books or Painting

Adult coloring books have become increasingly popular the past few years, often because of the benefits mentioned about the soothing nature of repetition and increased focus.  I even think there’s something fun and playful about coloring in a children’s coloring book with crayons, which you can do on your own or with your children.  Similarly, painting, either in a class with friends or on your own can be an enjoyable way to relieve stress, and can be relatively inexpensive with the purchase of your own crafting supplies. 

Crafting, Knitting, or Crocheting

These type of projects can be just as soothing and relaxing as a coloring book.  Look for ideas for projects on a Pinterest crafting board or a magazine that strikes your interest.  Start at the skill level you have in order to keep yourself from being discouraged by a project that ends up being too difficult or expensive to complete.

Food

Cooking and baking offer many opportunities to be creative.  Try a new recipe or alter ingredients or flavors in a recipe that you already love.  Play a version of Chopped where you start with four random ingredients in your kitchen and put together a meal using all four.  Brainstorm unique ways to decorate or style a dessert that you’ve made.

Gardening

Spending time weeding in the garden or growing plants, vegetables, and flowers can be surprisingly therapeutic.  The repetitive actions of tending the garden, watching as your plants grow, spending time outside and breathing in the fresh air, and feeling the sun on your skin are a perfect combination to awaken creativity.

Music

If you play a musical instrument or sing, spend some time playing some of your favorites, learning a new song, or creating your own.  You don’t need science to tell you that music has mental health benefits – you can experience it for yourself when you hear your favorite song and immediately feel an impact on your mood.

Writing

Whether you write professionally or you just like to keep a daily journal, a regular writing practice is a great way to relieve stress.  Spend some time journaling,  write a poem, or draft a mini-article about a topic of interest.

Scheme on a Friend’s Behalf

Dream up a creative way to make a friend or family member feel special.  If they have a birthday, special event, or you simply want to make sure they know they are loved, creatively brainstorm ways to bless them and love them well.

…and so much more!

There are so many options out there for being creative.  Whether you’re a fan of home improvement projects, hair and makeup, creating videos or photography, or even sports, there is a form of creative expression that fits with every personality.  Find what works for you and make it happen!

How will you embrace creativity in your life this week?

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If you’re feeling run down, stressed out, and exhausted by life, we know that self-care can feel like your last priority.  At Restored Hope, I believe that self-care is an essential part of recovery from anxiety, depression, addiction, and a whole host of other mental health struggles.  At my Ann Arbor counseling office, I offer support in your journey to mental wellness and wholehearted living.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: How a Journaling Practice Can Change Your Life

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Journals often evoke memories of the “dear diary” days of elementary and middle school where we would write down (what felt like) the most important parts of our lives.  As we became adults, many of us may have left that practice behind, deeming it as childish.  Or the time we normally would have spent writing is taken up by the demands of daily life.

But I’m here to tell you to bring this practice back!  Keeping up a habit of writing the day's events or another way of recording life has positive psychological benefits.  For individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression, journaling can be a great way to process emotions and cope.  It also provides self-care for anyone looking to understand themselves better.

Here are a few of the benefits for journaling:

Journaling provides stress relief.

When dealing with stress and anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by the thought that it is all too much, writing down the anxious thoughts your having can be a good way to release them from the hold they may have on your mind.  Keeping track of thoughts that pop into your mind and the level of anxiety that you feel while thinking them can be a great strategy for reducing your stress.

Journaling nurses your creativity.

Journaling leads you to look at your own life through a creative lens by expressing yourself using words and descriptions for your own experiences and emotions.   If you are someone who enjoys writing, a journaling practice can help you break past some of the fears you may have surrounding your writing.

Journaling leads you to slow down and give yourself space to reflect on your emotions and experiences.

For many of us, life tends to go at a pretty frenetic pace, and in the midst of the crazy, we get caught in a loop of reacting impulsively to daily events rather than considering our options.  Slowing down and identifying the emotions you are feeling and the ways they affect your decisions can help you to pay more attention to them and thoughtfully respond to your circumstances.  Reflecting on emotions and cognitions can also help to have a more positive outlook in your life.

Journaling provides an outlet for negative emotions and gives you space to grieve.

If you are feeling angry, we would probably all agree that it’s not the best idea to punch a fist through the wall.  Writing can help you to take a break from the heated situation, slow down, and look at what might be lying behind that negative emotion.  Similarly, when you experience a major loss, grieving can feel like a foreign concept, and you can be left without a clue of how to help yourself process and feel better.  Journaling can be a tool to help move through the grieving process.

Journaling has physical health benefits. 

Writing has been shown to help those who suffer from terminal or life threatening diseases.  Part of this is the effect that writing has on our immune systems.  One theory for this is that writing helps us to keep from bottling up emotions, and suppressed emotions can lead to undue stress.

 

Hopefully I've succeeded in convincing you that journaling is a helpful practice you can take up, but then comes the question: how do I do it?  There are lots of different options out there for journaling, and I’ve used several at different times in my life for different purposes.  Pick one or two of the options below that sounds appealing to you, and get started!

Stream-of-Consciousness Journal

This is often a good place to start.  Write down whatever comes to mind.  This doesn’t have to be an hours-long process, but even if you jump in with 5 minutes or so of writing, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it starts to come.  Many people do this practice as “morning pages”, described as three pages daily of stream-of-consciousness writing.

Gratitude Journal

Taking time to list things for which you are grateful has many positive benefits psychologically.  One particular benefit that feels most impactful to me personally is the effect gratitude can have on your view of your circumstances: rather than feeling worried about the things you don’t have, it can help you to see all the positive aspects that already exist in your life.

Prayer Journal

This is one of my favorite journaling strategies: write out your prayers in a journal as if you have having a conversation with God.  For those of us who are extroverts, this feels more relational than a stream-of-consciousness journal, and it can provide a way for you to connect spiritually and experience emotions with God.

Examen 

Examen (or examen of consciousness) is an Ignatian spiritual practice done at the end of each day to review the day’s events for the presence or absence of God.  I’ve also heard it simplified as listing the positive and negative aspects of the previous day.  You can choose what feels comfortable to you, but this nightly practice can be a good way for you to reflect back on the day and identify patterns of positive experiences to increase or negative patterns to avoid.

Emotions Journal

As mentioned earlier, emotions are often hard to define, or they can be tricky to discern between.  Take some time to use a Feelings Wheel like this one to identify what feeling you’re having, and then answer these questions: “What am I feeling?  How do I know I’m feeling that way?  How intensely do I feel that way?  What do I want to do as a result?  What happened just before I started feeling that way?  How do I wish I were feeling instead?”

Art Journal

You may be someone who expresses themselves not so much in words, but in pictures.  If you’re someone who loves to draw or create pieces of art, do so in a way that expresses your emotions and experiences and allows you the space to process your daily experience.  There are plenty of ideas available with a quick Google search – choose one that feels right to you!

How will you take a step to try journaling this week? 

 

At Restored Hope, I place a priority on self-care and treating your body and mind with kindness.  If you’re struggling to find time or space to practice self-care, or if you find yourself in overwhelmed by struggles of depression or anxiety that make it difficult to be kind to yourself, I want to help you!  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help you.