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How To Improve Your Mental Health Through Creativity

These steps will help you find a new creative outlet while investing in your mental health instead of giving into perfectionism, isolation, or FOMO.

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Creativity is an essential, yet often-overlooked tool of improving your mental health. Finding new creative outlets is more important now than ever, as it can help you through the uncertain times we are facing in this stay-at-home season of COVID-19.

But the idea of picking up a paint brush and struggling through hours of YouTube tutorials can seem overwhelming, which makes that Netflix-binge even more appealing. Luckily, there’s a different approach to creativity that doesn’t just focus on trying harder to be disciplined. 

Discover a new creative outlet that enhances your emotional wellness with these 4 steps.

THE KEY: FOLLOW THE JOY, NOT THE EXTERNAL VALIDATION

If you have felt stuck or frustrated around your creativity, it’s time to try something new. Creativity can be a powerful tool for supporting wellness and emotional health, but only when the process is approached from a perspective of intrinsic joy. 

Intrinsic joy? Sure, cue the fairy dust and magical pumpkins.

Don’t discard the idea just yet. There are creative expressions hidden inside of you that you can thoroughly enjoy – regardless if  they are recognized, rewarded, or seen. 

However, external pressures and past disappointments could make these expressions harder to identify. These four steps help you dig a little deeper, explore, and discover the creative experiences that can help you maintain a positive state of mind.

STEP 1: Map Out What Brings You Joy 

Grab a piece of paper and take a few minutes to reflect on the questions below. Quiet your mind and find your true internal creative voice. Write out your answers. 

What brought you joy as a child? Before you learned what attracted external validation or reward from others, what did you like to do? 

What experiences, places, creative influences or memories make your heart come alive? 

What creative expressions or activities would you enjoy even if no one ever saw or knew the outcome? 

There are endless e-courses, articles, books and podcasts about creativity nowadays, but most of them analyze how a creative expression will achieve a certain outcome or compare with that of others. Instead, dare to dive a little deeper and take note of where you sense joy regardless of any outcome or external inputs. 

Step TWO – Identify Your Themes

Based on your answers, look for themes and patterns that indicate possible creative passions. Don’t get caught in the details; just follow the delight in your memories. 

The themes could be topical, like “gardening,” “anything to do with birds,” or “electronic music.” Or, they may be based on a quality or activity, like “hosting gatherings or events,” “helping others learn” or “cooking fancy meals.”

For instance, if you loved playing with building blocks as a kid, you might enjoy expressions that involve design or building something with your hands. If you get really excited when thinking about your favorite outdoor concert, you may have a passion for music, or creating special moments of connection with others through shows.

Pick three themes to prioritize for your exploration. Use whatever language and wording resonates with you. Don’t try to analyze or judge your answers; no matter what resources and time you possess, they contain helpful information for you. Allow yourself to explore and experiment with the ideas you brainstormed, even if they seemed outside the box or your current situation.Your ideas and thoughts hold keys of truth for you, no matter how far off they seem from your present resources and capacity. Give yourself permission to follow joy and delight and turn down the volume in your mind if need be.

STEP THREE – Brainstorm Possibilities At Hand

You take that creative class and come home with several plastic bags of craft store purchases and a skip in your step. Fast forward a few months: the tools and materials are gathering dust and are well on their way to the next Goodwill-donation. 

The hardest part of any creative training is the application part. How do you fit your newly discovered passion into your daily life? Where do you start if your dream feels far away? No matter where you find yourself, there are opportunities to create that align with the themes that bring you joy and life. Sometimes, you just need to think outside-the-box or get some input from others. 

The biggest key to activating a new creative expression is to discover and prioritize opportunities in the here and now. Any limitations you face can actually be helpful boundaries that keep you from overthinking or taking a bigger risk than you’re ready for. Embrace them as boundaries. From the three joy-themes of the previous step, pick one that you feel most excited about today. Kick the good ‘ole FOMO to the curb by remembering you aren’t putting the other two joy-themes on permanent exile. Just pick one for today without overthinking it. What seems fun right now?

Now brainstorm about five activities related to your chosen joy theme that you can do. Include at least two or three that you could do today.

STEP FOUR – Take the Plunge 

You can probably already guess what the final step is. Start today, where you are, with what you know now, with what you have. Take fifteen minutes of your time, and do one of the activities you brainstormed about. See what you experience in the process. 

As you experiment with creative activities within your joy-themes, you will gain a better understanding about what aspects really bring you joy. For instance, you might find that you enjoy singing a certain genre more than others. Along with the fun of exploring a new creative outlet, you’ll be getting good information for when you’re ready to invest more time and resources in this creative expression.

Give yourself time to explore in small ways before you make a big investment, especially if it involves significant impacts for yourself or loved ones. In other words, don’t quit your job to become an astronaut tomorrow. There’s no need for dramatic life changes or crazy investments just yet. Don’t hide in your creativity-cave either, trusted friends are much needed to help you navigate a healthy pace in your creative exploration. 

This is all about using creativity as a powerful tool for your emotional well-being, not about becoming the next Van Gogh. Keep your ear and sanity, and simply have fun exploring a new creative expression.

Let creativity release more joy into your current life situation and see where it leads.

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