Preserving Our Mental Health

Hobbies and Wholeness, Expressive Arts Therapy

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Art Therapy for Seniors: Delightful clothespin fashion dolls!
Art Therapy for Seniors: Delightful clothespin fashion dolls!

People hurry to help the homeless, the hungry, the environment, the sick, and many other worthy concerns. When it comes to these, we can’t wait. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own state of calm, we do wait.  We put off our long – awaited vacation, and often our occasional small indulgences — a massage, or perhaps a night out.

When folks retire, or become empty nesters, they say, “I finally took a painting class,” or “I took a trip,” and when a loved one dies, “I started going back to church for the first time in decades.”

With mental health finally in the spotlight, many realize that small pleasures — especially the free ones — not only guard against emotional ills, they also bring joy and relaxation that had been seen as an indulgence.

The adult coloring book craze took hold for a reason. Colors are beautiful. We don’t have to be artists to enjoy playful activity. It’s not childish; it’s self-preservation.

We have become dedicated gym rats, hard-driving workers, and end product oriented even in our recreation. Calming the body, distracting ourselves with creative, meandering outlets, planned stillness, seems an indulgence and an impossibility. We focus solely on our responsibilities at work, to our family, maintaining our physical health, and occasionally to those worthy causes.

We put our joy, our soul work on hold “till there’s time,” or “when the kids are gone,” or “when I get the money.” This simple soul work is an emotional vitamin (prophylactic) and a Tylenol (pain reliever). It differs from organized religious activity or volunteer work.

Arts Therapy participants often say it’s the time of the week they look forward to most. They come feeling grumpy and leave renewed, regardless of any project produced. The act of making, doing, and creating, of meditation with music or guided imagery creates calm. Elders remember fondly from childhood that making and doing things — building model airplanes, dressing paper dolls, playing randomly on their instruments, painting, setting up their train sets — were the stuff of life.  

Why do we put our self-soothing on hold? How about just 30 minutes a week. Not much. If we give ourselves permission to just stop, to relax, to make something, or to be left alone to listen to music, are we lazy, irresponsible, immature, or worse, senile? Obviously not. We’re simply putting coins in our private mental health bank for a rainy day and to draw on right now.

We often feel overwhelmed and out of options, pulled by the frenzy of our lives. People claim they have anxiety disorder,” or “depression,” or other mental health issues. While some do, often the problems are existential, not pathological.  Changes in daily life, especially small changes can and do make people happier. Fun, time to oneself, is great “homework.” How sad, especially when the dreariness, panic or angst of life makes it truly hard for some people to remember what fun was and what could be today, despite one’s situation.

I have a gazillion markers and craft supplies.  Even though I love pottery, it’s not a do-able option pragmatically for me right now. I substitute.  It works.

Why wait?

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