Saturday, July 21, 2012

July 2012 Self-Care Retreat -- Using Creativity as Self-Care

Last month Cheryl Harris asked a handful of bloggers if they were interested in participating in her 2nd Annual Self-Care Retreat. Cheryl started this last year as a way for people to remember how important it is to take good care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I've always had an interest in self-care practices and I was excited about participating in her blogging series this year. 

Finding Creativity in Everyday Life
It's amazing to me how as we become adults we can sometimes "forget" how to be creative. We tend to think creativity is simply arts and crafts meant for young children... and oh how it's not. Over the past year and a half I've had wellness & nutrition coaching from Cheryl. Cheryl has helped me to "remember" and find ways of being creative to help me deal with the stress of daily life. I used to eat my way through stress. I didn't realize it at the time... but that's how I dealt with frustrations and hard emotions... i would bake cake... and eat it. I would bake cookies (for my husband, of course) and eat them. I would bake muffins (for work, you know) and eat them...

And while I still love baking (as it too is a useful creative outlet) it's generally not what I do anymore when I'm stressed. I've "dabbled" in many different forms of creativity in the past year to help me release and manage my stress. Today I'm going to share a few of the practices that have really helped me and worked for me. The great thing about creativity is that it's truly limitless, so while what I'm sharing with you today may not be of interest to you... there are so many other outlets you can use to express yourself, your feelings, and emotions. The best creative outlets to use are the ones that come to you easily and that you enjoy doing.

Image Source: Different examples of how mandalas can be created. 
One of the things I discovered this year was mandalas. Mandalas are quite simply drawings or colorings within the boundaries of a circle. You can completely create them yourself or that you can "fill in" by coloring with the help of books and free mandala patterns you can find online. The mandala is not just a drawing, but it's a drawing in a circle. Within the circle you can draw or color anything you'd like. It's an open space with boundaries that you can color, paint, draw, etc... What I love about the mandala is that it's a way to share your thoughts and feelings without words. You can use words of course, but sometimes just using colors to discover how you feel (either only to yourself or to others) is very liberating. It can feel as if you are unlocking a hidden part of yourself through colors and images. Mandalas are often used in spiritual practices and in some psychology practices as a way to share and interpret inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of my favorite experts in the art & psychology of mandalas is Dr. Susanne Fincher. For a more in-depth look at what mandalas are and how they work, please check out her Mandalas history page.

For me, doing a mandala is a quiet, thoughtful, creative experience. It's time away from the computer. It's time that I stop thinking of all that is happening in my life and it centers me, much like prayer. For those who are spiritual it can be a way of medication or to use prayer in a creative way on paper. I often have a hard time focusing on one thing because life is so busy and we are pulled in so many directions so often. By coloring mandalas, it's a way for me to stop the business for about 15-30 minutes. To simply focus on choosing colors, finding a pattern that helps me understand what I'm feeling, and then the motion of coloring or drawing for those 30 minutes is extremely relaxing, de-stressing, and centering. I try to spend that time in a quiet area. In my bedroom, in the kitchen... away from television, radio, and most importantly the computer and simply focus on that time on that picture, on that circle. 

From the letters & journals of an old friend
Mrs. Lucy Derrick Swindells
Another way of using creativity as a form of self-care is to journal. This comes naturally to some people and not at all to others. I journal in spurts. There are days and weeks I feel like journaling and there are times I don't. I follow those instincts. I actually haven't journaled in several months until writing about it today. And I have felt the urge to write for about two weeks. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings are so painful or emotional it can be hard to encourage yourself to write. Writing peels back layers of who you are. Writing can open you up to new thoughts and feelings and can help you dig deep when you need too. 

There are many, MANY different ways you can journal. Sometimes I journal on old-fashioned pen & paper. Sometimes I use markers or crayons as I do with Mandalas, because I feel that using colors can help me express myself better. (For great ideas and thoughts on journaling visit Sometimes I use an online journal service called Penzu. I wrote about Penzu during last December's Sanity Challenge and I still love it! 

Journaling doesn't JUST have to be about your most in-depth feelings and thoughts. There are tons of different types of writing and journaling you can do:
  • travel journaling (traveling doesn't have to be far. It could be to work, to the grocery store, on a hike 15 minutes away from home -- write about the land around you, the people you saw, the conversations you had or didn't have, the way you felt, the weather, the wildlife, tree, grass, and flowers --  this type of journaling is often a good introduction to simply begin writing. Once you feel comfortable with this type of journaling, you may feel compelled to write about deeper and more personal thoughts. 
  • prayer journaling (talking to God or your higher power (OA speak for ya! :-) by way of journaling is a powerful, releasing, and refreshing. Be truthful. Be LOUD. Be quiet. However you need to speak, do it here. Anger, joy, excitement, fear... you should feel free to express all these things in an intimate and personal way.)
  • eating/exercise/wellness journaling (often when writing about what i'm eating and how i'm exercising leads me to write more about how I'm feeling and what's going on that day)
  • poetry journaling (sometimes the fewest words can be the most powerful)
  • letter-writing journals (great way to practice confronting a problem, sharing with relatives or friends who are no longer with us, even just to talk some sense to yourself!) 
  • recipe journaling (where did you get a recipe, why is it special, what does it mean to you?)

Need more ideas for exercising your creativity? 
  • Take a photography class. (Create a photography journal!) 
  • Create and write a blog.
  • Learn how to make jewelry to give as gifts.
  • Make ROOM for creativity: declutter one room in your house to have more space and feel more at peace. 
  • Take up cross-word puzzles, word-finds, and/or sudoku. Give yourself 15-20 minutes a day to simply work on the puzzle and not be distracted by life. 
  • Buy a sketch-pad. Sit under a tree and let your pen, pencil, marker, or crayon go to town. Don't think, just sketch. It doesn't have to be perfect, legible, or even "pretty" by your own standards, just allow your mind to wander on paper. 
  • Try sewing, cross-stitch, crochet, or knitting. Focusing on the beautiful colors, textures, and types of fabrics, string, and yarn -- you can let your mind rest as you create beautiful pieces of art. Don't get discouraged if an art is a learning curve for you, enjoy not having to be perfect. 
  • Remember old-fashioned puzzles? Buy one. Put it together. Puzzles are relaxing and fun. 
  • Be creative with your menu or with exercise. Try new foods or seasonings. Try an exercise you don't think you can do. Challenge yourself. 
  • Music. Make it. Play it. Sing it. Dance. Find music that moves you and listen to it often. Meditate to music. Exercise with music. Cook with music. 

More information about the July 2012 Self-Care Retreat
--borrowed from Valerie's latest post! Thank you for such a thorough write-up Valerie!

Our fantastic group of bloggers and themes:
These posts are to inspire you all to make July a month of reflecting on self-care and the many ways to nourish ourselves. We would like everyone to participate in this event in a way that feels appropriate to them, whether that’s through personal reflection, journal or other self-care. If you would like to share your experience with self-care, we would love to include you in the experience, whether you join us for one week or every week. You can write generally about self-care and how you include it in your life, or “try on” one of the practices we’re blogging about over the course of the next week (food, support and connection, movement, creativity and inward reflection). We ask that you link back to this post so that more people can learn about this retreat, and leave a comment for the weekly theme host, too! At the end of the month, we’ll include a roundup of all the self-care posts you write to inspire others to work on their own self-care.

As a little added incentive, for each post on your goals and your progress you link back here or one of the other co-hosts, you’ll be entered to receive a $50 gift certificate to (they are not sponsoring, Cheryl is donating this gift and wanted something with healthy gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, etc. options).

Valerie updated last year’s badge to use for the retreat; feel free to use it in your posts. If you would like to be included in our roundup and the drawing, please email a link to your post, along with your name and blog name, to us at selfcareretreat at gmail dot com by July 30, 2012.

Non-bloggers who would like to contribute, please e-mail the full text to the same address and it will be included in the roundup.

 For a “flavor” of previous retreats, here’s a link to the July Self-Care Retreat and the December Sanity Challenge.
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