When it Rains, Make Art: Creativity for the Tough Times

I won’t lie: I put off writing this piece. I put it off for over three weeks. Even now, I feel a nagging guilt because I haven’t updated my blog in…weeks. It was easy to avoid since I have some bigger projects I’m working on (I’m a Gemini: we love to bite off more than we can chew).

But creativity as a therapy matters because all of us have rough times. It’s important for me to acknowledge that I have them too. I won’t go into the details, but basically, I had my hopes dashed on multiple fronts in early February. I was upset. I needed to do something that let me release that emotion. I decided I needed to do it in my own artistic way.

We’ve all heard about art therapy. Art has been used in various ways, from helping deal with trauma to being a part of addiction therapy. Yet, we don’t need to be in a program or have traumatic or serious issues to use creativity and art as ways of dealing with issues, struggles, or pain.

Creativity might seem the most trivial then. I believe that’s when we need it the most. Here’s why:

Recognize and acknowledge what you’re going through

There’s a power in naming your experience. In one form of meditation, recognizing how you feel is a key factor in dealing with strong emotions. Creative processes, whether writing, painting, music, or dance can help you recognize and acknowledge your experience.

Especially when big issues happen, such as grief, you are expected to still go about your daily life. It can feel incredibly difficult to acknowledge those feelings or to have any witness to it. Creativity allows you to do both.

Step back from your feelings

One of the reasons I love writing is because it helps put those experiences, those feelings somewhere else. It takes the thoughts, the worries and dumps it on the page. Creativity can do the same thing with larger emotions as well. Need to dance? Leave it on the dance floor. Pissed off? Create a punk rock song to echo through your house (just not at 2 am).

Keeping your feelings inside, jumbled around, doesn’t help. They can become like stagnant water: perfect for mosquitoes and bacteria to fester. No matter who you are, you deserve more than that.

It’s backed by science

Still not sold? Here’s a few scientific studies that might change your mind

  • Creating art can reduce cortisol levels, a key indicator of stress (Walsh et al, 2007).
  • Art therapy and creative arts can stimulate cognitive functioning in older adults who struggle with dementia (Levine-Madori, 2009)
  • Reduces depression and fatigue levels in cancer patients (Bar-Sela,et al, 2007).

I know I talk a lot about journaling. But here’s another way I used creativity to deal with my struggles and went beyond my comfort zone.

How I did it:

So, when I had my own personal struggle, I decided to do something about it. For awhile, my friend Sophie and I have joked about breaking dishes and making art out of it. This time we finally decided to do it. Our process was:

  1. Go to a thrift store and buy old porcelain pieces in the same color family.
  1. Wrap them in plastic bags and put them on a surface you don’t mind getting roughed up. We used an old cardboard box top.
  1. Talk about the things that were bothering us.
  1. Smash the crap out of objects with a hammer.
  1. Repeat steps 3-4 until we had the pieces we needed
  1. Lay out the design for the mosaic of stiff poster board (you want something thicker to hold the weight of all those pieces).
  1. Hot glue gun the pieces bit by bit.
  1. Continue to talk out feelings through it all.

Afterwards, we both had our own beautiful mosaics. I can say that I felt so much better afterwards not only because I got to take my anger out in a physical manner but also put it to words with someone. It probably cost about the same as a few drinks out at a bar, but it was far cheaper on calories. Instead of avoiding my issues, I faced them head on. Afterwards, I felt like I had come a few steps closer to closure. I no longer had the same thoughts running circles in my head.

You don’t have to do a full collage to use art/creativity to work out difficult feelings. Any of the usual ways you channel your creativity can work at being therapeutic. The important part is allowing yourself to be honest. It can be dark, scary, angry. No one but you has to see it or witness it.

Acknowledge it. Let it be. Creativity isn’t always beautiful or easy: it’s channeling from wherever you are. Once you allow that, often times you’re able to let it go more easily. It can still take days, weeks, or months. But letting yourself work through it creatively, you may just find it a bit easier to move on.


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