Managing Stress Creatively

April is National Stress Awareness Month and in honor of the stressors we experience in our daily lives, today’s blog post discusses one specific method to help manage this stress while also expressing one’s self. Our lives are increasingly fast-paced and full of stress and anxiety. Often, we do not make time for ourselves during our busy days, weeks, or even months. Over time this stress and anxiety can build and negatively impact our overall mental health. There are many ways to manage stress (going to the gym, reading a good book, taking a walk) but the one I am particularly fond of is expressing ones’ self in a creative form – such as art and music. Getting involved with a creative form can be an outlet to manage your stress but can also an outlet to express yourself in a safe environment.

Many mental health professionals incorporate art therapy to help clients’ express feelings, emotions, and thoughts that may feel impossible to express otherwise. It is and has been considered a very strong tool for children and can be extremely beneficial for adults as well. I have recommended coloring to many clients (yes, just some pencil and paper would do). Clients who have a difficult time slowing down or who find themselves extremely anxious may initially find coloring “painful” but clients who have tried coloring expressed positive changes they experienced soon after.

My personal favorite creative form is, and may always be dance. It has allowed me a creative outlet to express emotions many times in my life when it was “not okay” to experience those emotions. As an individual with a South Asian background, I continuously heard how it was weak to cry or be angry during my younger years. Looking back, I recognize that I became obsessed with my chosen dance form because it was the only outlet that allowed me to feel those emotions and was praised for it.

My involvement with dance grew as I started teaching and seeing the growth in my students. Some obvious benefits of dance are physical exercise, coordination, and comradery but I have also noticed an increase in confidence. Though we discuss how loud nonverbal communication is, it is still difficult to teach in the world of texts and emails. Connecting through nonverbal communication is essential as body language is the primary mode of communication. Through nonverbal communication, we challenge ourselves to think of different ways of stating the same thought thereby increasing our ability to communicate more effectively. That is not to say that dancers do not mess up communications- but these are my observations over the decades.

In this fast-paced world, why slow down? Why allow yourself the opportunity to do something that may not always have a financial benefit? As America continues its culture of more work and almost no play, should we really attempt to do something that may be relaxing as well as expressive?

Personally and Professionally, I say SLOW DOWN. Take time for yourself. It is extremely important to enjoy these moments that help us reflect and grow. These are the moments that allow us the space we need to sort through the inner and outer chaos we experience. Some overall benefits also include:

  1.     Decrease in overall anxiety
  •      Overall relaxation of your body can actually help with some chronic pain and digestive issues.
  1.     Managing depressive symptoms
  •      For example, joining a dance class can decrease isolation while providing exercise with an emotional boost. Art or music classes can also provide a way to meet new people who share a similar passion.
  1.     Increase connection
  •      How often have you attempted to find meaning in abstract art? Do you find yourself empathizing with the subjects or perhaps the artist? That is a great way to try to decrease the disconnect we feel in our increasingly fast-paced world.
  1.     Increased retention of mental acuity
  •      In my dance classes, I have seen people in their late 70s/mid-80s perform with more power and stamina than I had in my teens. Their memory and coordination are impressive! Presence of mind is a must during public performances. Expression through creative forms helps to keep us sharp and mentally acute.
  1.     Ability to think outside the box
  •       DIY activities/creations help us use our “nontechnical” parts of the brain and perhaps see potential in “useless things.”

Focusing only on the technical or professional world can leave us empty in many ways. For a holistic life, reconnection and taking time for yourself is extremely important. Let’s discuss some creative ways you manage your stressors. And as always, Zenergy Counseling is available to discuss ways to help you live a more fulfilling life.

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