“There are thousands of causes for stress, and one antidote to stress is self-expression. That’s what happens to me every day. My thoughts get off my chest, down my sleeves and onto my pad.” – Garson Kanin
Between work expectations, financial worries, and daily responsibilities, stress is an all too common occurrence. We may stress over our health, and worry about the health of others. Or, during a global pandemic, as a report from The American Psychological Association reveals, maybe stress about all of the above.
Stress isn’t a bad thing and is a necessary emotion. Plus, there’s an upside to stress, and it’s tied to living a meaningful and fulfilling life. Like any emotion it can be productive or counterproductive depending on how we handle it and express it.
To deal with stress effectively we need an outlet or a way to express our feelings. Art or creative expression is an excellent vehicle for this.
Below are five creative ways you can manage stress.
Get a blank canvas and paint
You don’t have to be professional artist to express yourself through painting. Painting can be a great way to convey your feelings and emotions. The goal isn’t to become the next renowned “expressionist” painter, but instead to use the experience to release and channel your stress.
Buy some watercolors, a few brushes, and a blank canvas, and let your feelings and emotions lead the way. Whether you decide to paint a self-portrait, a landscape, or abstract images, you can awaken your creative side and express yourself.
Write a letter to future self
Writing a letter to yourself might seem a little bit strange, but sometimes we need a way to get our thoughts out and be honest with ourselves. A great exercise is to write a letter to your future-self.
Get a sheet of paper and write down what’s going on in your life. Imagine you are writing to your future-self ten years from now. So if you’re 25 years old, write a letter to your 35 year old self.
Use this as an opportunity to increase optimism and hope for the future. Just as you can think back and tell your younger self that everything will turn out fine, visualize your future-self and ask for advice and guidance.
Tell your future-self what you think and how you feel right now. You can mail yourself a letter at physicaladdress.com to reflect on it at a later time. Or, just consider what a wiser and more successful you would say.
Get in the habit of journaling
You may be tired of hearing about journaling, especially if you’ve already tried this as a way to deal with stress. However, writing about our thoughts, feelings, fears, and desires is a great way to create emotional space and get perspective.
If you’re stuck, just write about ‘yesterday.’ What happened yesterday, what did you do, how did you feel, what did you think about? In the process of writing, you may gain more self-awareness and learn about your perspective on life.
If you keep this habit up, you will begin to notice patterns in your life in terms of why you feel the way you do, and what helps you feel better.
Try yoga or stretching
If you’ve experienced ongoing stress lately, it’s important to be active. When we exercise, or simply stretch our bodies, it can help relieve the build up of stress hormones that flood our blood stream. Yoga can be a fun and undemanding way to do this.
There are many good beginner classes on the internet, so don’t worry if you haven’t tried yoga before. Yoga doesn’t have to be strenuous. You can start by simply stretching each morning until you’re ready to try a more formal or rigorous practice.
You may notice some stress relief after only one session, but if you maintain a regular practice, you will soon see significant changes in your physical, mental, and even spiritual health.
Draw or color a mandala
If you’re unfamiliar with a mandala, it’s a kind of mind-pattern that is popular in the far east, among Buddhists and yogis. In psychology, it was popularized by Carl Jung who used to ask his patients to spontaneously draw them. Usually, they are a circle containing ideas, symbols, and images, that start in the center and symmetrically go outward.
Drawing a mandala now and again is a little bit like drawing a self-portrait. You can reflect on it, and it will help you understand yourself better. For a more subtle, relaxing experience, you can print off or buy coloring pages of mandalas.
One experimental study replicated research that tested whether coloring a mandala would reduce anxiety. Results support the hypothesis that coloring a mandala reduces anxiety to a significantly greater degree than coloring on a plaid design or coloring on a blank paper.