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.