Help with stress and anxiety for creative people (aka everyone)

Is craft therapeutic?

There’s a lot of chat and (can I be honest?), I think, rather superficial stuff written about how doing craft is relaxing, therapeutic, blah blah. Of course, it’s true that doing a repetitive physical task, and losing yourself in the creative process can often be a real boost to your mental health, but I feel it’s nowhere near as simple as that, if the comments on my posts about creativity and mental health are anything to go by.

My own experience is that sometimes undertaking craft projects when you are feeling low or anxious can end up making you feel worse. I remember, a few years back, just at time when my mental health was taking a downward turn, I went on a ‘make a textile piece that expresses your inner self’ type course, and came away feeling beyond dreadful, because I wasn’t able to concentrate, focus, or come up with any ideas.

Creativity and meditation

Being creative requires playfulness, decisiveness, self-confidence, concentration, inspiration, enthusiasm, head-space – all of which can be in short supply when you are depressed, anxious, or feeling low. Sometimes you need to work on strengthening your inner resources and building resilience in other ways. This is something I have been working on recently, prompted partly by the book I want to tell you about today – Meditation for Daily Stress: 10 Practices for Immediate Well-being by Michel Pascal (Abrams & Chronicle – thanks to them for a free review copy):

A review of the book Meditation for Daily Stress by Michel Pascal. Click through to read the review and some thoughts about how meditation can support a creative life.

If you’ve never done meditation, or you have tried to get going with it and found it hard to stick with because of time constraints, I think this book is a great place to start. Or, if you already have a regular meditation practice, there are some really useful tools here that you could add to your kit – this isn’t a standard meditation guide.

Using visualisations

Pascal’s meditations use simple visualisations, combined with a very uncomplicated approach to awareness of breathing. He has created a practice that can be used in short bursts throughout the day – making it practical to do even on the train or bus, at your desk or at times during the day when you can just take a moment.

Pascal’s method is designed to be used in the moment that the stress starts, before it takes hold and causes upset. He also teaches ways of meditating in busy and noisy situations – something that’s been invaluable to me as I struggle with crowds – and makes this a fantastic resource when you need a bit of immediate emotional First Aid.

Meditate for emergency stress management

Buttermere in the Lake District, a visual trigger for meditation practice. Click through to read more about my personal exploration of how meditation can support creative practice, and a review of Michel Pascal's book Meditation for Daily Stress.

I find the visualisations very effective (especially the suggestion that you use real images – that you can have on your phone/PC/tablet – to help you get started – here’s the picture of Buttermere and Great Gable that I use). I have found this particular visualisation for the practice ‘meditate like a mountain’ absolutely invaluable in helping with upsetting feelings that have threatened to become overwhelming over the last few days. I was setting a timer to take a few minutes every couple of hours or so, almost like pain relief. After spending some quiet moments I found I was able to refocus on my work in the Studio.

Getting started with meditation

Pascal’s style is approachable and charming, and he writes with wisdom drawn from his experience of living and learning at the Kopan Monastery in Nepal, from his experiences teaching meditation in LA, from neuroscience and from the Christian tradition too (which I appreciate very much because it is so familiar to me, having grown up in the same tradition). For a small book, there’s so much good stuff here – and if meditation is something that you feel might help you with your creative journey, I think this might be an excellent place to start

There’s lots more to say about meditation, creativity and stitching – I’d like to share more about the science behind meditation/mindfulness/contemplative practices, but that’s so fascinating, I don’t want to rush it, so I will leave it for now. Suffice to say, there are plenty of scientific studies which provide evidence and some insight into why regular meditation practice can support your creativity. But more another time!

Do you practice meditation, mindfulness or contemplative prayer? I’d love to hear about your thoughts on how it supports your creative activities.

Unlocking creativity with stitches: Make some rules

Creativity, sewing and rules

A header image with the words unlocking your creativity. Used as the title image for series on creativity, stitching, sewing and inspiration

As promised, my first post in a series on sewing, stitching, creativity and inspiration, is here! In the series I’ll be looking particularly at the way that sewing can affect mental health, mood and well-being – both positively and negatively. This is about my explorations rather than any expertise that I have, and I’d LOVE to read your feedback, comments and thoughts in response to these posts.

Sewing & decisions: when it all goes pear-shaped

When I am in the creative doldrums, and feeling anxious or stressed, the first sign of it in my stitching life is an inability to make decisions. What shall I make – I have loads of ideas to choose from, but don’t know where to start. Then I dither about fabrics, colours, fabric styles and prints, turning over (what feels like) 1000s of ideas. I try different combinations and none of them seem right – my confidence slides away, and my enthusiasm with it. Out of nowhere, a relaxing day of sewing turns into a great big heap of stress.

The power of limits

I’ve had this experience quite a lot recently, so I turned to one of the ideas that I’ve noted down from my creative reading list – creating set of rules for a particular project.

Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch

In Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (which I highly recommend – at first it’s a touch hard going, but worth sticking with), Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about the power of limits and how by intentionally limiting ourselves, we can tap into inner resources and jump-start our creativity.

…necessity forces us to improvise with the material at hand, calling up resourcefulness and inventiveness that might not be possible to someone who can purchase ready-made solutions.

Limiting yourself or setting creative rules seems a bit regressive and not at all playful  – and playfulness surely is a foundation stone of creativity – at first, but think about it:

What’s a game without a set of rules?

Another quote from Nachmanovitch:

Commitment to a set of rules (a game) frees your play to attain a profundity and vigour otherwise impossible.

Jane Dunnewold makes similar points in  Creative Strength Training, where she uses Japanese haiku as an example of how working within limitations (17 sound units/syllables) can produce exciting results.

Identifying parameters around process or materials may feel limiting, but in fact it frees you to concentrate on making and meaning and teaches a little about balancing work and play.

So here’s my first suggestion for the next time you are stricken with stitcher’s creative block:

Write yourself some rules

The idea is to release yourself from decision making by putting at least some of those decisions in the hands of ‘The Rules’ (and remember, they’re your rules, you can change them if you want – don’t let the rules make you stressed too!).

Here are some suggestions – you can think of some of your own I am sure, and then combine them to give yourself a great game plan. You can even put the suggestions in a hat, and select a couple at random:

  • Use one or two colours or a defined colour palette
  • Work in black and white
  • Use only the supplies you have
  • Ask someone else to choose the supplies for you
  • Only use hand-stitching
  • Only use a sewing machine
  • Work on tiny scale
  • Work on a huge scale
  • Learn a new technique
  • Use straight lines only
  • Use curved lines only
  • Improvise
  • Use shortcuts
  • Use traditional methods
  • Use thrifted fabrics and supplies
  • Work with a colour that’s not one of your favourites
  • Revisit a project that didn’t work out
  • Make something for a friend whose taste you don’t share
  • Give yourself a time limit
  • Do a craft swap where the rules are written for you

I’ve done a couple of projects using self-imposed limitations over the last 10 days or so.

Mini embroidery hoop with flying geese patchwork blocks using Liberty lawns and shot cottons
Rules: 1) Work small; 2) Use patchwork; 3) Use colours from a palette I created for my #100daysofcuratedcolour project. I used this colour curated selection of fabrics.
Photo showing mini embroidery hoop with log cabin patchwork block made with tweed silk, Liberty lawn, shot cottons
Rules: 1) Work small; 2) Use patchwork; 3) Use colours from this palette; 4) Complete the project in 90 minutes

Training to make decisions

An added bonus to this exercise – as you work within the limitation of the rules, you might well encounter difficulties – but, hurrah…

The difficulties aren’t your fault!

This detour round your ego frees up the brain to see the problems as possibilities, making it easier to keep going and work them through with good humour and maybe even a little bit of playfulness. And you might even break through to the other side and create something you love….

So, for example, when I made the second hoop pictured, I knew that there was no way I had time to draw the log cabin grid and foundation piece the fabrics as I would normally, so I decided, very quickly, to go wonky and trim the fabric pieces to size as I went. I think the wonkiness really suits the small size of the hoop, and more importantly, I had fun.

As I worked, I thought about the plasticity of the brain, and the way that with practice and training (as with CBT) it’s possible to change the habits of a lifetime and learn to approach life’s difficulties and annoyances in a more positive way. And of course, this exercise, if it works for you, will do just that – giving you practice in responding creatively, imaginatively, resourcefully, when stitching stresses occur.

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I’d love to hear what you think – is this a technique that you think would be useful to you?

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cloud-craft-2017

The lovely 3 inch hoops used in this blog post are from a brilliant selection at Cloud Craft. Please support Very Berry Handmade by visiting my sponsors.

 

Sewing and quilting – when you need a creative boost

All stitchers struggle with creative blocks, lack of inspiration and ideas, and even just general apathy now and again. I’m thinking of people taking their first steps in the world of sewing and textiles, wondering if they actually ARE creative at all, perhaps because early efforts were met with a less than enthusiastic response. Other people have been stitching and working with textiles for years, but have hit a block, for whatever reason. Or perhaps you are sewing regularly, but want to try express some of your own creativity, and wonder if you actually HAVE an authentic creative voice? Or maybe you’re still sewing but it’s become a source of stress rather than fun and relaxation.

I’ve been thinking so much about sewing, stitching, creativity and inspiration over the last couple of years, doing lots of reading and thinking, and I really want to share some of the ideas I’ve collected together about ways to getting started with sewing when ideas and inspiration are hard to find. So a new series has arrived at Very Berry…

An invite to join in with series of blog posts at Very Berry Handmade for stitchers sewers and quilters to unlock their creativity.

I have loads of ideas to share and explore. And because I am epically far away from being an expert on the subject, I really hope it can become a conversation and a sharing of frustrations, irritations, ideas and enthusiasm. First post will happen over the weekend, and it’s going to be about sewing rules! More fun than it sounds. 😉  Hope you can join me!