Self-care is “intentionally doing something that improves your physical, emotional and mental well-being,” according to art therapist Kelly Darke, M.Ed., ATR, BFA. It is engaging in activities that help our minds and bodies “relax and regenerate.”

Which is where creativity comes in.

For instance, this study found that small creative pursuits enhanced participants’ well-being. This study found that engaging in 45 minutes of art making reduced stress. Specifically, it lowered cortisol levels and participants noted “that they found the art-making session to be relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self [and] freeing from constraints…”

Creativity is that beneficial. Which is why I asked Kelly, also a professional artist and art teacher, to share strategies for connecting to our creativity and practicing self-care. Below are five of her wonderful suggestions.

Draw mandalas.

“Creating your own mandalas is such a relaxing, meditative activity. It offers enough of a challenge to keep your mind alert, yet not so complex that it gets frustrating,” said Kelly, who owns and operates Mindful Art Center, which offers private and group art therapy, mindful art classes, a gift and art gallery, and more.

To create your own mandala, Kelly suggested starting with a dot in the middle of your page. Draw an X, and a plus sign through the dot. Now you have eight lines and eight sections. Next, add an image at the end of each line, such as a flower or circle. Then add a new shape in the spaces between the lines. “Continue adding shapes in the eight spaces or on the eight lines until you have filled your page.”

Create videos while walking. 

Recently, while walking outside, Kelly used her phone to capture several short video clips of her natural surroundings, such as the birds and trees. When she got home, she combined the clips and created a short video. “This way I can watch the video anytime from anywhere and be reminded of the beautiful scene and sounds I experienced during my walk.” This is the video, which she’ll use for her meditation practice.

Start a Daily Visual Journal.

In her journal Kelly uses all sorts of materials—papers, magazine images, markers and paint—to creatively capture her day. She incorporates different colors, textures and words.

“I put together a new image (abstract or realistic) on a small 4 x 6 inch card that represents the day. On the flip side of the card, I write the date and usually write a response reflecting on the day or the image I just created.” Check out this video of Kelly creating an entry.

Pen a found poem. 

Found poetry is made from pulling out words from newspapers, magazine articles, old books and other materials. For Kelly, creating a found poem is an intuitive process: “I like to scan the words and underline the ones that jump out to me. I don’t try to analyze why or [find] any meaning at first. Once I’ve chosen my words, I’ll go back through and get rid of all the other words by crossing them out with a marker, painting over them, or doodling enough to cover them completely.”

Sometimes, Kelly rereads the poem to see if it holds any meaning for her. “Surprisingly, the process often reveals a sort of ‘fortune’ or comment on my present situation. Although, that’s probably all in the interpretation. :)”

Create with watercolors. 

“Painting with watercolors is very relaxing and a bit magical,” Kelly said. (I totally agree.) She suggested starting by putting some water on your paper in a circle. Dip your brush in the paint color. Then touch the tip of the brush (which already has paint on it) to the wet circle on your paper.

“The paint will spread and move. Continue putting new colors in wet areas on your paper, letting some dry, letting some flow into each other and blend, letting some drip down the page. Once you have filled your paper, let your painting dry. You can always come back to it later with colored pencil, and outline shapes that have evolved or images you see that you didn’t plan when you started.”

Creativity is a great way to relax, recover and reconnect to ourselves. It boosts our well-being. It reduces our stress. And, maybe most importantly, it’s magical.

Photo by Andrew Pons.