If you live with an anxiety disorder, you know that silencing your thoughts can be a real struggle. When traditional methods fail, many people resort to unsafe measures in an attempt to quiet their anxiety—in fact, those of us with mood and anxiety disorders are twice as likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. That’s why I’ve spent the last few years looking for healthy ways to ease anxious thoughts and feelings.
Working with both my doctor and my therapist, I’ve discovered that mindfulness is one of the best ways to put a muzzle on those pesky ruminations. What is mindfulness? Simply put, it’s focusing your awareness on the present moment. Doing so allows you to push other thoughts, fears, and anxieties to the side, and get some much-needed relief.
Two fantastic ways to practice mindfulness are meditation or yoga. Unfortunately for me, both approaches ended up causing more anxiety than they relieved. I decided to think a little outside the box and focus on activities I found myself drawn to. Here are a few I found to be immensely helpful.
The “adult coloring craze” has gotten a lot of press recently, both positive and negative. But for those of us who benefit from it, it’s no passing fad. Research shows that coloring in pre-drawn designs can cause significant reductions in negative mood states. Furthermore, it can be particularly helpful to people who aren’t comfortable with more creatively expressive forms of art.
I can say, with all honesty (and a bit of pride), that I have far more coloring books now than I did as a child. The simplicity of the activity creates an amazing sense of calm. Selecting a color palette, choosing the right tools, getting caught up in the feeling of a felt-tip marker or an oil based colored pencil moving against the paper—all of these decisions and sensations force me into the moment. Everything else slips away.
Jewelry making is one of my favorite hobbies for stress relief, and the magic lies completely in the repetitive motions involved. Designing patterns, threading beads, weaving string, and wrapping wire all help me to clear my head and focus entirely on the process at hand. Repeating movements allows the brain to focus on returning to that movement rather than dwelling on intruding or destructive emotions. The mind can let go of anxiety and worry by getting lost in the sheer, soothing repetition of the action.
The finished product can also be part of the solution. Project Bead uses jewelry making as motivation to focus on the good days rather than the bad and to keep going, even when times are tough.
Some friends have made light of what they refer to as my “grandma” hobby, but I wouldn’t trade it for all the parties in the world. Much has been said on the evidence that jigsaw puzzles are good for memory and visual-spatial ability, but they also work fabulously as a way to exercise mindfulness.
Visualizing/focusing on the same image for a long period of time, sorting pieces, and snapping them together is incredibly calming. What’s more, as more pieces are matched and the puzzle nears completion, the brain releases the anxiety-relieving chemical dopamine.
There’s nothing quite like a good dose of self-care to push anxiety aside for a while. My favorite way to take care of myself is by doing my makeup. For me, makeup is both self-care and a hobby. It is art, tradition, history, creativity, and ritual combined into one compact package.
On days when I know I’ll be surrounded by others—which is always incredibly draining—I spend 40 minutes brushing, layering, blending the beautiful pigments I’ve spent a great deal of time collecting. Not only are the repetitive motions of makeup application soothing, it’s the only time of day where my focus is aimed completely inward.
I find myself reflecting on whatever is troubling me at the moment, and thinking it through logically rather than emotionally. Somehow, when I’m putting on my makeup, all the things that hurt seem to lose their hard edges, and I find myself clear-headed again.
Sunday morning is meal prep time in my house. I spend two to three hours dicing, chopping, steaming, boiling, baking, and–most importantly—tasting the ingredients that make up my weekly meals. It’s not a quiet activity by any means; I often have American Dad playing on Netflix and a dog or two begging for scraps at my feet. Despite the chaos of it all, it’s still remarkably calming.
Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, looks at it like this, “Cooking is a great destresser because it serves as a creative outlet. And while stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. It’s a sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight and even sizzling sound.”
But really, it’s Linda Wasmer Andrews who puts it best, “Cooking is meditation with the promise of a good meal afterward.”
The results of my search for mindfulness found that it’s often a lot like beauty—it’s in the eye of the beholder. What works for others may not work for me, and what works for me may not work for others. However, the journey to better mental health, no matter how hard it may be, is always worth it.
What are your favorite creative ways to ease anxiety and practice mindfulness?
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