Socially prescribe a new outlet and see where it takes you
Social prescribing is when clinicians prescribe community pursuits such as art, theatre, or gardening (etc) which may have other benefits as a compliment to the traditional treatments you may already be receiving. Once such example, which I had the pleasure of speaking to the Press Association about today is Art classes.
Now there is of course the "formal" Art Therapy which is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing. This means one can engage with the following:
- Expression – especially of can’t or don’t want to express verbally
- Working through issues - again through perhaps the content of the art, or the methods in which you might create eg. "throwing paints".
- Facilitating a sense of ownership - having a sense of control eg: I did that can really help ground us if we are feeling overwhelmed.
-Improving concentration and focus as we work on our skills
However, you do not necessarily need to take the formal approach in order to gain the benefits of creative pursuits, especially those that "get you out of your head".
Art or creativity as a mental palette cleanse
In the same way as a wine taster will have water or a biscuit between tastings, taking that moment - whether it be through a quick walk, a drink or water, or perhaps doodling - enables you a moment denoting where one task ends and another starts. This has the added benefit of your being able to engage better when you start the new task (without the cluttered "hangover" from the previous one).
So even without doing anything differently, perhaps you might want to try a doodle after one task and before starting the next!!
Art as a form of mindfulness
The focus that one might apply when drawing will have similar effects to mindful breathing or meditation - and it gets you out of your head. I have joked many times in my classes that if someone says "calm down" to me it winds me up more, but taking a serious tone - it means that I work on finding ways to escape the over-thinking cycle by doing something external - I will pick up a book that I enjoy and read for a moment, or I might focus on counting the bricks on my wall. Art will elicit a similar physiological response as you concentrate. Alternatively drawing a Zentangle (which I mention in my previous article) can not only give you something to show for your time, but calm your thinking as well.
Creative Expression benefits
Creative pursuits are also a wonderful tool to compliment your mental health work because they
- allow us to express ourselves
- allow us to work alongside other people – which in itself has social benefits
- (If you are good at it) – allow an area where you can feel praised and acknowledged.
Research has found significantly more positive self reports from those who engaged in creative pursuits; and the addition of ART to bare hospital walls can make a difference to how patients feel emotionally and mentally.
Further, your own creation can give you ownership - "I did that" which comes with a sense of pride; it can allow you to express yourself (in your way, with your intepretation) without the need for words nor identity - for example, rather than saying “I did x”…This offers our egos one level of protection. This sense of identification with narrative is also why we can also find watching films or plays cathartic if we associate with a character.
Art as a form of self awareness
You might also wish to try this as a creative tool to recognise your feelings – choose a colour to represent anger – relax, close your eyes and free draw – look at the shapes. Then choose a colour to represent happiness – do the same – again look at the shapes – firstly – when expressing anger you can “get it out” onto the paper, but in comparing the two pieces, you can begin to recognise when you are “doodling” – what your body is actually trying to communicate that you are feeling.
So give something new a go
If you are interested in learning a new creative skill but don't know where to start, I would simply go with YouTube first. This way you can begin to work out the area of skill you want to start with (eg. Painting with watercolour; or digital art; or portrait photography; or landscape photography; or composing for film; or writing songs...and so on!) as well as the type of teacher you are likely to have a positive rapport with - and then you can channel your energies towards formal classes.
Or try out any of the tools in this article:
- Consciously doodle as a palette cleanse or try a zentangle as a means of calming the mind
- Use a form of creative expression to get your feelings out (journaling, dance/movement, sculpture, art, poetry...) next time you just can't find the words
- Try art as self awareness eg: pick a colour to represent an emotion and "free flow" draw...then look at the shapes you draw, and see if you can then pick up on what might be going on inside your subconscious the next time you catch yourself mindlessly doodling.
...and if you're good at it, and you discover a new network you enjoy being around - that's an even bigger bonus.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.