The Art of Staying Sane

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In these strange days of lockdown and the ‘new normal’, I’m often asked for ideas on how to deal with stress. A solution that’s easy to do, won’t need a doctor’s prescription and maybe doesn’t involve large amounts of gin!

As a health professional, I’ll often start with the easy, accessible methods of coping. Such as taking plenty of exercises, preferably outdoors, eating a nutritious diet with a good amount of fruit and veg – and getting enough sleep. I might also recommend strategies like breathing exercises and meditation – and if I feel the patient isn’t managing, one of the talking therapies.

However, from a personal point of view, I can also recommend something else – something that’s worked well for me. Art. Or in my case, watercolour painting.

It’s something I would never have contemplated before the ‘COVID Days.’ I probably hadn’t picked up an artist’s paintbrush since my school years. But painting has now proved to be my saving grace, my little bit of sanity in a mad world.

Encouraged by a talented, enthusiastic friend, I started out imagining that my competence would be at a very basic level – but as I’ve painted more and more, I’ve been delighted by what I’ve managed to create.

And more importantly, I’ve found a way to restore a little bit of ‘me’. I’ve rediscovered that creative ability I thought maybe had disappeared. I’ve also been able to decompress, to almost ‘zone out’ and get my brain to concentrate on something new and fulfilling.

When you’re making a piece of art, you’re using the right side of your brain. And if like me, you’re generally accustomed to using the left side – the logical and analytical portion, then by doing something creative, you’re stimulating different parts of the brain, making new neural pathways and changing the way you think.

You’re also increasing serotonin and dopamine levels which promote both relaxation and reward, whilst reducing levels of stress hormones.

It’s not just painting that works either. Any creative activity whether it be drawing, photography, crafting or sculpting, can lower your stress levels and leave you mentally calm. When you’re totally immersed in any creative pursuit, you get into an almost meditative state, focusing your brain and putting your concerns on hold.

I feel that I’ve opened up a whole new world for myself that’s helped me cope during lockdown – and has been my own individual stress remedy. As I’ve talked to others, I’ve found many people have managed to find their own way through, whether it be through creative pursuits, a sport, or something like a revitalised interest in wildlife.

So what has worked for you?  Do let us know and we’ll share tips