When we express ourselves, we cathartically reduce our stress levels and gain a sense of control and a unique sensation of individual freedom.
~ Dr. Stair (Dr. Eeks) at Blooming Wellness
When most people hear or read the words, “Mental Health,” they often think of the mentally disabled, but that is society’s coloring of the term. The first word designates what the focus is, and the second word is a positive word, generally being something we all strive for. In a world where we are constantly driven to be on the go, many people forget to take care of themselves, and even sometimes forget how to take care of themselves. Stress relief is just as important as bathing and keeping a clean house. It is just as important as taking the kids to school or working at a relationship with your significant other or spouse. If you do not take care of you, what do you have left to give to others?
There are many methods for self-care, from luxuriating in a hot bubble bath, or going to the spa, to getting your hair done, and let’s not forget shopping therapy. However, there are some methods of self-care that people sometimes neglect, and which have the ability to literally alter your life – for the better. The three methods I am about to mention here are ways to center the self, ways to create emotional outlets to release steam and let go of stress, and their effects are much more extensive than that bubble bath, spa, or the surface effects of the hairdresser. The methods I am approaching here are journal-keeping, art therapy, and music meditation.
Journal-keeping is a private exercise that helps you let go of the stresses of the day by writing them down. You write about your day and what happened in it, and how you felt about those events. In the process of writing about them, you explore your own feelings and will often have revelations about possible solutions to issues, about the deeper-rooted causes of people’s reactions to situations – including your own – and about ways to avoid repeated situations that were unpleasant to you. In addition, journal-keeping gives you an outlet through which to vent. You can write about how angry you are over a situation instead of losing your cool at an inappropriate moment, and the process of writing it out can be like releasing pent-up steam on a boiler. No one else is going to see what you put into your journal, and you can even put the pages through the shredder when you’re done. It’s not necessary to hold onto them; it’s the process of writing them that is effective on the emotional state of the writer, not the tangible results of the writing, itself. This is established by Harvard Medical School (Robb-Nicholson, M.D.), among other sources, and this is true for the art therapy and the music meditation: the finished artwork or written piece of music are the after-effect, not the aim. Some of us might have kept diaries in our youth; well, the journal is the adult version, and it never stopped being helpful.
Art therapy is about using visual methods of expressing emotion and releasing stress. Often, the person will avoid creating art that features a subject, preferring to work with the more emotional aspects of abstract styles, mediums (such as paint, cloth, honeycomb wax, sculpture, mixed media, and more), textures, patterns, colors, light, and shadow. However, some people will draw, paint, sculpt, or otherwise represent the subject of their fears, anger, joy, or anxiety. Nothing is off-limits, as long as it causes no one actual harm. When angry, slinging paint at a canvas can be very invigorating and satisfying. When sorrowful, colors can help express the mood, helping to release the dam of emotion. When in love, painting and art can absolutely inspire, and art can even be done as a couple. The artist walks away from the expressed emotions with a sense of relief, or if the art was a labor of love as a couple, with a heightened sense of closeness with their partner. For a more thorough reading of the methods and successes of art and creative therapies for mental health, please read the article by Stuckey and Nobel listed in the Sources section at the bottom of this article.
It is said that music is the language of the soul, and that’s with good reason. Tones of sound actually resonate through the body, tingling nerves and plucking internal emotional chords. Some people actually get chills when they hear certain sequences of notes, often while feeling profoundly emotionally moved, even to tears (see the article in the Sources list by Colver for further exploration of this concept). This experience, known as “Frisson,” is an emotional release, in itself, and it can be conjured both by listening to music, and by creating it on an instrument or with the voice. Even if you are a member of the one-third of the population who does not experience Frisson, this is alright. Music meditation does not depend on chills, but emotional movement, and even if you do not experience the physical results of musical emotional movement, that does not mean you do not benefit from the emotional expression in music meditation. Singing can also be an incredible emotional outlet, having the end result of feeling uplifted or happy afterward. Singing literally releases endorphins in the brain that make you feel better, even euphoric. This is especially true and heightened in group singing (Horn), so joining a choir can be beneficial for your health. If singing in a group isn’t for you, singing alone can be just as satisfying and effective. Creating music on an instrument activates different parts of the brain than are released by simply listening (Hamzelou), and can be a more engaging activity, both physically and emotionally. But even if you don’t play an instrument, there are ways to use the listening experience to relax yourself, taking the time out of your day to put on favorite or relaxing music that calms and relaxes you. Most of us have done this in some way or another.
No matter what, each of these activities require you to take time for yourself, away from stressors and providing for the needs of others. Taking the time for self-nurture and emotional release can help a person function in their daily lives with the stresses when they do arise (Ricardo). The more tightly-strung a person is, the less productively they will react to negative stimuli. After all, if you’re already wound-up, all it may take is a small trigger to set the whole spring into action, with the end result being that you lose your temper, have a crying fit, or have an emotional meltdown.
Our lives are stressful in this day and age of hustle and bustle, and we often forget to take the time to “play,” only focusing on the work we have to get done. We forget that play is as important as work is – our society tends to dismiss the value of it, outright. It is important, though, and it’s just as important to acknowledge its value in our lives. If we do not care for ourselves – allow ourselves the time to play, giving ourselves appropriate outlets so that we do not unconsciously vent in inappropriate ways – we cannot adequately care for others; we can cause health issues in ourselves; shorten our own lives; and reduce our quality of life and our own mental health. In addition, there are the negative ways in which we might affect others by snapping, sending out stressful vibes to others, and reducing the quality of life of those around us by our attitudes. The methods mentioned here are just a few of the many ways in which we can help ourselves. Caring for the self is important – it should be a high priority.
© Lorraine Hall 2018