When we talk about stress, what often gets missed in the conversation is that we can do something about it, according to Natalie Foster, a masters-level trained art psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist who loves working with individuals, kids, and families living in Phoenix, Ariz.
“The dangers and ill-effects of stress get so much attention in the news and healthcare system today,” she said. “Yet we all seem to forget that we do have some measure of control if we can create good habits of paying attention to our needs and acting on them in healthful ways.” Which is why I regularly talk about building a collection of nourishing coping strategies we can turn to. Below, Foster suggested four powerful and creative activities we can add to our collection.
Write “helping lists.” There are proven methods for combating stress, Foster said. But everyone’s needs are different. That’s why she suggested writing out “helping lists,” which include different strategies for you to use when you’re stressed. For instance, your list might include taking a bath, reading a book and having tea. It might include turning on the music and dancing, or cleaning your kitchen. It might include getting outside in nature.
The key is to include activities that help you to feel good. Activities that genuinely soothe and comfort and alleviate stress.
“You can even make helping lists for your loved ones to refer to, so they know what would be helpful when you are needing extra support,” Foster said. For example, you might write “help with the laundry, a quick back rub, a hug, a compliment, and watching a TV show together.”
Create “inchies.” Art is a powerful way to manage stress. But many of us think we aren’t “artistic,” or we don’t have time to do art. So we don’t. This is when Foster recommends creating “inchies.” Using cardstock (i.e., thick paper), cut out 100 squares that are 1 inch by 1 inch. Put them on a metal ring or tied twine.
Every day, pull out your favorite drawing utensils—colored pencils, paints—and tune into how you’re feeling. “Then create a one-inch mindful art response,” Foster said. This might be anything from a scribble to a shape.
“If you make one every day, you can go through and review your week, your month, or even your year,” she said. “It is a fun, quick, and interesting way to ground out some stress and get the creative juices flowing. Plus it helps you to grow in your mindfulness practice.”
(You’ll find some great examples of inchies here.)
Create a collage of change. Think about where you’d like to be in the future, literally or emotionally. Next, look through magazines that match this desired future. Arrange these images into a collage that feels best to you.
According to Foster, “See yourself feeling healthy, happy, and having fun or doing enjoyable activities with people you love and feel safe with. See yourself being more productive, successful, or grounded.”
When you’re done, put your collage in a place you’ll pass by often. “I have mine in my bathroom so that I can meditate on it while I take a bath,” Foster said. “It has been a grounding experience, and such a pleasure to gradually watch come true as I work toward what I desire to see. Best of all, it gives me a big dose of faith in myself and my abilities—which definitely puts my stress levels at ease.”
Revise your story—and make it weird. Is there a stressor that you can’t seem to get out of your mind? Maybe it happened several years ago. Maybe it happened last week. Either way, you keep ruminating about it like a broken record.
Foster suggested thinking of the haunting memory and reliving it. However, “this time, imagine the weirdest, funniest thing happening right at a pivotal point. I’m talking weird weird: A guy dancing in a chicken suit to ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ shows up in the middle of the biggest mistake you ever made. Eddie Murphy moon-walks into the center scene in that break-up replay and swoops you off your feet singing “That’s amore!” Your boss yelling at you is suddenly naked! Get it? Weird weird.”
Pick something that really makes you laugh. As Foster said, “you will change the wiring in your brain from ‘trauma” to ‘holy mama, that was weird and funny!”
When stress strikes, thankfully, we can turn to creative strategies to reduce, solve and navigate it healthfully. After all, “creativity is problem-solving at its finest,” Foster said.
How can you use creativity to cope with stress and help you in other vital ways?