Self care is the ultimate buzz word in therapy. We are bombarded with reminders to practice self care as a coping skill, to decrease stress, to recharge our batteries. But what actually constitutes self care? Visions of spa days and yoga classes come to mind, but seem out of reach for a typical day as a busy person with other responsibilities and a tight budget. Then there are the well-intentioned folks who say that taking a nap when you are tired, or making sure to eat at regular intervals during the day is self care. In a way that is true; however, some may call that just meeting our basic human needs, something we should all be doing to stay healthy and balanced. So, what other options do we have? What truly constitutes self care?
As a therapist, I have found that we have collectively lost the art of having hobbies. In our current culture, everything is turned into a "side hustle" or competition. Free time is no longer valued, and we are in a time when busy-ness is praised and relaxation can be seen as laziness. Someone who enjoys running feels pressured to train for a marathon, a home yoga practice is compared against Instagram yoga challenge influencers. Even when we are creative, we are often pushed by well-intentioned others to turn that hobby into a business. A client finds she enjoys crocheting, but feels if she does not open an Etsy shop to sell her creations, she is wasting precious time and resources if she does not turn a profit from what she has created. How often do we fall into this all or nothing thinking? Have we lost the ability to enjoy hobbies and passions for the sake of creating and dreaming?
There is something magical about creativity and art as pure self care. There is no expectation when learning something new. We create new neural pathways in the brain. unlock creativity, utilized both sides of our brain, encourage mind-body connections, and experience the self-esteem boost that comes with each new success. We become fully in the zone, or in what is called a "flow state", and our worries and cares are temporarily forgotten. Can you remember a time when you were so caught up in learning something new that you lost track of time and felt fully yourself? Did you have a passion or hobby as a child that you have long since forgotten, but secretly long to return to?
Here are 5 ideas for how to integrate creativity into your self care routine:
Arts and Crafts: I once had a client who shared that journaling was actually a stressful suggestion to them. They felt that years of being a high achiever in school led them to write as if they were being graded or judged, even when they knew it was a personal journaling assignment. We explored ways to feel authentic and release self judgment. Art journaling felt like a great alternative. Could you buy a water color paper book and attempt to paint a small picture every morning for a week? Maybe commit to sketching out the ideas in your head rather than putting them into words. Buying a canvas and some simple to use acrylic paints from the art store, setting up outside and painting a nature scene could be fun, and you could include the whole family. What about learning to crochet, cross-stitch, or try your hand at a ceramics class? Blending together dexterity, creativity, new ways of thinking and experiencing the world, we can be fully ourselves and express our emotions in new ways when we engage in art.
Dancing: Distinctly different from an exercise routine with all it's negative associations (calorie counting, hours at the gym, dreading the thought of working out), dancing is a fun and creative way to move our bodies and feel great! There are so many ways to integrate dance and movement into our daily lives. We can start simply... turn on your favorite song and commit to dancing in your kitchen for five minutes every night! There are great free resources for ballet classes or popular dance tutorials on Youtube. For an added socialization benefit, look up local dance classes in your area. You would be surprised as the popularity of adult dance classes, whether it be classical ballet, Zumba, hip hop, Irish step, tap, and so much more. Dance has been a form of self care, expression, and joy since ancient times. It allows us to integrate our mind-body experiences in such a unique way. So get out there and move!
Learn a Musical Instrument: Learning an instrument has been shown to improve brain health. Multiple studies using MRI scans showed that musicians had physical differences in size and structure in the brain, related to positive mood, improved memory, decreased anxiety, and better sleep. Mastery of a skill does wonders for our self esteem and sense of accomplishments. Musical instruments also give us a very solid concrete goal to work towards... perhaps we have a specific song we want to learn, or we dream of performing at an open mic night or starting a band with friends. Or we simply enjoy spending time on our own writing our own songs or playing a lullaby for our children. Whatever the goal, music is a therapeutic and creative self care activity.
Time in Nature: What inspires creativity more than nature? Looking around at the beauty and mastery present in the natural world, you cannot help by wonder at the underlying power of the universe and the creative forces that drive it. Spend some time looking for patterns, such as the spiral of sunflower seeds, the way iris or lilies appear to be painted by hand, the rustle of the leaves in the breeze, or the way the birds sing for the rising sun. Could you create a mandala from fresh flower petals and stick? Build a sand castle? Enjoy time gardening? Find ways to integrate nature and creativity this week. Even in a city, you could set up a small bird feeder outside your window to enjoy the colors of the birds or their songs; maybe take a stroll in the park, or plan a drive to the countryside. The bonus is... nature is free for all!
Cooking: How do we tie in self care, with a daily chore? We all need to eat! Can you take extra time this week to find a new recipe and challenge yourself to be creative as a chef? The art of cooking truly requires the same creativity and skill as any other art form. Self expression in the form of cooking for ourselves or a loved one can be a great way to make the most out of something we need to do anyway, but using our intention to make it fun. Try new spices, use every color of the rainbow in a new dish, or attempt to recreate something you see on a cooking show. Get the creative juices flowing!