A Guide to Using Creativity to Fight Depression

December 4, 2018

An abstract mosaic of many different shades of pastel colors.

Creativity is a powerful force that can be helpful during depression. It serves as: an escape from our thoughts, a way to communicate our feelings and a way to track our journeys. There are many different forms of creativity: art, journaling, coloring, writing, creating a scrapbook, creating mandalas and creating vision boards are just several mediums that I have used in the past and have each benefited me significantly.

An abstract mosaic of many different shades of pastel colors.

“We Found Each Other” by Preston M. Smith

Some of the obstacles to overcome when thinking about creativity are common:

  • The creator feels that they are not good at what they do.

I feel that although some art forms are not inherent in the creator and they might have to learn some techniques, many are relatively easy to learn. Even if the most basic form of a painting or drawing is done, it helps ease the mind and provides a constructive way to express feelings and serves as a bookmark on the journey. Under the surface, it also fights depression as a means of distraction and allows the creator to have a sense of pride in what has been created.

  • The creator would rather stick with one medium.

I’ve been in this exact space before. For me, writing comes most naturally. However, there is a benefit to trying things outside of our niche creatively. For example, doodling allows for a dissipation of nervous energy while writing primarily is great for creating worlds as a means of escape. The use of scrapbooking can help retrieve positive memories and remind the creator of things that have been good and that life will be good again. Sometimes even just looking at those photos…fun with friends, their last beach vacation, or last journey are enough to begin to make a list of things that they would like to do again soon. This can often lead to bucket lists or 101 in 1001 lists in which they make a list of things that they would like to do in the next three years. The listing is enough to inspire action.

To recap, each form of creativity has its own merits and its own individual uses. It is best to employ a few different forms to activate different parts of the brain and inspire different actions.

  • The creator is unwilling to get started.

I always encourage beginning with just five or ten minutes of creative activity. If the experience is pleasant, add another five or ten minutes next time. If the activity is not being enjoyed after a few minutes, change the activity.

A few of the perks to using creativity while depressed:

  • It provides a sense of accomplishment

Being a creator allows for the outpouring of the heart into the open world, even if it’s just kept in a notebook that we’d like to show off to those closest to us. It’s something that we have spent time on and a way in which we have brought something out of nothing.

  • It is a great sense of stress relief

Creating allows for a calming of anxiety and a way to focus on how we feel in the moment. The outward manifestation of what we keep bottled up is sometimes just enough to quiet our minds and the process in itself helps us to feel better in the moment.

  • It gives our minds something to look forward to.

In personal experience, when I started working with creativity during depression, it relaxed me and I enjoyed the process of making something new each day. Challenges are also helpful in this process as they encourage the participant to try something new daily. A few of my favorites were: taking part in a photo-a-day contest on Instagram, challenging myself to work on my art journal every day for a month, completing a certain number of pins on Pinterest that I had pinned within a certain amount of time. I also like smaller challenges like: creating a scarf (an on-going process) or working on a rag rug (cutting up clothing into strips, braiding three strips at a time and then formatting those braids into the shape of a rug).

A few personal suggestions on creativity during depression

  1. Remember that this is not about being perfect, but about trying something new. It’s not about how great the art is, it is more about the journey of creating a particular piece. There is no grading when it comes to this type of creating.
  2. Try as many different creative activities as you would like during the process and find the “toolkit” that you would like to incorporate into your routine. I would recommend having at least five or six different activities in different formats. This is because different activities will stimulate different parts of the brain and emotional center of being.
  3. Overall, have fun with the process. Thinking about forms of art we have always wanted to try or doing a quick Google search into art therapy exercises will give you a lot of ideas. As a conclusion, I am also listing ten exercises that I haven’t mentioned yet that have helped me in the past or that I believe are helpful in general.

Ten Creative Exercises:

  1. Write a letter to your depression and remind it that it doesn’t own you and that you will beat it.
  2. Although knitting is slow and repetitive, by working with colorful yarn and creating something either for you or for someone else that you know will spark joy, it is a worthwhile exercise. Play some music or watch a favorite TV show in the background.
  3. I have learned that I have a thing for cutting fabric. It’s a source of stress relief in itself. My favorite upcycles tend to include changing T-shirts into tanks and slicing either the collar off or cutting holes in the back of the shirt. Warning: this turns out to be a very punk looking project, so the idea of making slashes and adding studs are beneficial to that style. However, there are also tutorials online for adding lace to shirts, adding flair to pants, embroidering, and a lot of other things that are creative and would work for different styles.
  4. Design a postcard or a comic strip.
  5. Create a word cloud. I use this every so often for groups of things: when planning resolutions, to remind me of things that I need to stay strong for, etc. There is an app that does the work for you (as long as you type in your own words), however, I think that self-created word clouds are amazing to look at.
  6. Take pictures of things for no other reason than you think they are beautiful
  7. Frame some of your artwork or things that are beautiful to you. Hang them as a reminder that there is beauty in the world, as long as you care to look for it.
  8. Paint things like photo frames or furniture and design them to your heart’s content.
  9. Draw a self-portrait. This is one that will require looking deeply at yourself and capturing features as is. Think about what is beautiful about each feature. For example, “my eyes see the beauty of the world” or “my lips speak for my truth”. This is also an activity that will many times work on helping you love yourself more as you appreciate your inner and outer beauty.
  10. Create a mask. Use both the inside and the outside. Use the outside for the external things that make you happy or spark joy. On the inside are the things that you admire or appreciate about yourself. Use the things on the inside as a daily reminder of how strong you are.

After over 1,300 words, I think it’s time to stop reading and start creating. Please let me know if you try any of the activities listed above or if you have any questions, additions or comments.


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