DIY / Mental Health / Self-Care

Self-Care Sunday

For many folks, including the family I was raised in, Sundays are a traditional time of rest and reflection.
I wanted to incorporate this tradition into my busy modern life by aligning my self-care and spiritual practices on Sundays.  In my ongoing struggles with mental health & recovery (post-concussion syndrome, OCD, anxiety, depression) I have learned the importance of proactive self-care in living and managing a healthy and fulfilling life.  Everyone’s recovery journey is different, but for most people I’ve met: creating and maintaining a self-directed plan with healthy self-care habits can have remarkable positive outcomes on autonomous mental health and wellness.

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Lately I’ve been dealing with my symptoms of Depression: low mood, aversion to once-pleasurable activities, restlessness and/or fatigue, a feeling of sadness and/or irritability.  I spent this Self-Care Sunday doing arts-and-crafts and other self-expression activities, which I found really reduced all of those symptoms.  My ‘art’ at this time is purely cathartic, focused solely on self-expression or expulsion of excess emotion – not on creating pleasing or pleasant images.  Today I worked through some negative emotions and thoughts using the artistic medium of collage – below is a list of the exercises I used, follow links for more detailed instructions and reflections.

A Few Examples (of 100!)
Expressive / Creative Art Therapy Exercises

  • Draw and Collage Your Inner Critic
    This art journal exercise will support you to examine your fears of outer criticism to correlate how your inner critic keeps you in unreasonable fear of your unique creativity and self-expression.
  • Resolving Fear Through Collage
    Fear freezes our emotions and embeds itself into our body musculature. We will find fear in our body, wherever we are stiff and sore. Wherever there is a body blockage – there is stored fear and a defensive strategy against love, growth and new information.
  • Reconciling Inner Conflict With Collage
    We all have fears about moving out of our “safety” zone and into new growth. Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain. We each have some parts of our psyche that hold onto the emotional hurt of the past. Our core conflict in life is whether we will stay in the emotional conditioning of our past, or move forward into who we are meant to become. Growth always means a facing a loss and starting again.
  • Exposure Therapy to Reduce Fear & Anxiety
    When we repeatedly shy away from what we fear, our ability to cope with life decreases. While avoidance tactics might provide a brief respite from anxiety, prolonged exposure therapy is a kind of “fear toleration” or “fear presence” practice that delves past avoidance patterns, so that fear can be faced and overcome.  What we fear will continue to plague us until we turn and face it.
  • Self-Soothing Collage For Emotional Overwhelm
    During therapy, or if you are processing heavy emotions on your own, it is often helpful to have self-soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of painful emotions. Some trauma therapists believe that if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are going too fast with emotional processing.. By pacing your own healing you can teach yourself to remain open and able to function in the world, by calming your fear.

How Does It Help?

The creative process of art-making is a form of non-verbal communication, expressing or processing thoughts and feelings.  Therapeutic artistic expression has been shown to encourage personal growth and is a way for individuals of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to create meaning, find insight, relief from overwhelming emotions or trauma, resolve conflicts and problems, enrich daily life and increase sense of well-being.  – Handbook of Art Therapy

New resarch by leading neuroscientist Professor Semir Zeki has concluded that what happens in our brains when we view art is more than just good for your health – and can have a big impact on the nation’s happiness. In a series of pioneering brain-mapping experiments, Semir Zeki, Professor of Neurobiology and Neuroaesthetics at University College London, has revealed that viewing art can give just as much pleasure as being in love. Zeki concluded that viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.

Laury Rappaport has done some excellent work integrating mindfulness and art-therapy as a method of natural well-being and self-regulation through creativity.  Elements of mindfulness such as breathing awareness, body scans, mindful awareness of art material sensations, sitting meditation, gentle yoga or thoughts on lovingkidness are incorporated into the creative process itself.

EXERCISE: Mindful Exploration of Art Materials (MEAM)
This art task uses a wide variety of art media (pencil, charcoal, collage, crayons, pastels, watercolour, paints, decoupage) to practice mindful attention to the awareness of the contact experience with each.  Varying art materials are explored for 3 – 5 minutes each.  Artists are asked to focus on awareness of body sensations, the arising of thoughts, and the feeling experience both pleasant and unpleasant.  In addition to expressing themselves creatively, artists can report their reflections verbally or in writing.

Creative self-expression is helpful when one is facing the depression and fatigue of a major health crisis.
Art therapy assists trauma patients with acute stress symptoms related to PTSD.

Along with finding relief from depression in the creative and artistic processes {“anecdotal evidence has it that mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, can inspire artistic talent” –PTso I try not to let my bouts of low moods stop me from settling down at my creative workbench, I find solace in knowing I am not alone in this experience:

In his book Van Gogh Blues Eric Maisel proclaims that virtually one hundred percent of creative people suffer from bouts of depression. What might explain this intimate connection between depression and artistic expression? Several reasons have been reported anecdotally. Some say that—like many therapists—artists and writers engage in their special line of work as a kind of self-therapy for depression. Others claim that the experience of depression provides a valuable subject matter for artistic creations, as witnessed by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Emily Dickinson’s poem “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” Finally some claim that artists cannot truly understand and artistically express the human condition unless they have experienced “the lowest of emotional lows.”

“Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground,
a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.”
Madeleine L’Engle

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