When we’re stressed out, we live inside our minds. And sometimes our minds can be lonely, looney places. Our mind can turn concerns into catastrophes, creating confusion, chaos and overwhelm. Which is why it’s so important to have activities that center us, that connect us to our core, which lies beneath the raging, rapid thoughts and worries and what-ifs.
A few weeks ago, in this piece, I shared three powerful and creative ways to cope with stress. Today, I’m sharing different strategies. Because it’s vital to have a range of coping tools and techniques to turn to. Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR, an art therapist, transformational coach and owner/founder of Integrative Art Therapy, generously shared the below stress-reducing, wellness-boosting practices.
Become mindfully aware of what’s going on. According to Lanie, this means to STOP:
- Take a breath.
- Observe what’s happening internally and externally.
- Pull back and gain Perspective (i.e., what’s the threat here?).
- Practice makes Progress: continuously leaning into the feeling/sensation lessens its power as an actual danger when we see it as a challenge rather than a threat.
Seek out natural activities. “Just like a fish out of water would experience much distress, we too experience overwhelm and dis-ease when we are not connected to our bodies—bodies of land, water, our own physical states, because we are caught in our heads chasing thoughts…,” Lanie said.
We tend to interpret negative, stressful thoughts as indisputable facts. Nature, thankfully, grounds us. Literally. It “reminds us we are all connected and that is real—not our every rapid thought. Nature is responsible for the air we breathe, so stopping to appreciate its beauty reminds us we are taken care of—with food and water as well as air, [which is] all provided for us.”
According to Lanie, this might include gardening, hiking, biking, walking outside or taking art materials outside to capture the surrounding beauty.
Focus on the breath as you create. Breath and creation go hand-in-hand, Lanie said. “[The word] ‘inspire’ means to both breath in, to inhale and to be filled with the urge or ability to do something creative.”
Lanie likes to do the following exercise with her clients: She asks them to start following their breath and use white oil pastel or a crayon to draw their breath. Then she asks them to follow each inhale and exhale while adding watercolor over their drawing.
“This mindful practice of breathwork with art materials can be very calming and great for creating new neural pathways that balance the central nervous system.”
In general, writing, painting, drawing and dancing can help us to approach emotions in a non-threatening way, she said. These activities provide a way inside our emotional experience. They provide an opportunity to channel stress’s energy into something tangible, without feeling overwhelmed.
Consider creating your own coping kit that you can turn to when you’re struggling and feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. In it, you might include a list of strategies, along with some materials (such as crayons, watecolors and a notebook). You also might write out certain strategies on index cards as reminders (like the STOP technique Lanie suggested).
Whatever activities resonate with you, remember that you’ve got this. Remember that even though you feel overwhelmed, these feelings will subside. And you can focus on calming activities in the meantime.