The restorative powers of creativity

What was I doing in Argos on Easter Sunday buying £25 worth of art kits for children aged 3+ I hear nobody ask?

An old school friend of mine called Cat (we have known each other since we were eleven, and were at one point each other’s only friends) suggested we do something creative together. I don’t think either of us are sure how we came up with the end result, but if you knew us aged eleven you wouldn’t be surprised. We were the kind of kids who made scrap books and played hide and seek together long after it was socially acceptable to do so.

I have spent the last two months so deeply inundated with a demanding new job, masters deadlines and a bunch of other stuff like volunteering and singing that I have barely had time to think. The stress has been high, the sleep minimal, the social contact almost non-existent and the anxiety brewing. It was actually pretty exhilarating until I got ill last week with some kind of chest infection. I was both annoyed and pleased that my physical health gave out before my mental health did.

Since then, I resolved to have the most relaxing Easter weekend ever, and swanned out of the office on Thursday evening feeling almost as jubilant as the day I finished my university finals. Cat was clearly frazzled as well; the number of one-word replies saying “mood” she sent to the ridiculous memes (see sample below) I sent her was higher and more emphatic than usual. When she suggested an afternoon of creative distraction, it was an immediate yes.

One of many ridiculous memes Cat and I exchanged, source unknown

Zero thought went into how we would spend our £30 budget (we impulse-spent £5 of it on Korean snacks) and I think this was key to success. No plan for what kind of creative activity you’re going to do? No disappointments. We ended up buying the following nonsense items:

  • Crayola’s Mosaic Madness Art Set (we made sure we stayed true to the madness – @Crayola your toys are not named sensitively)
  • Crayola Washimals – some kind of small white animal figurine that you draw on
  • Be U Colour Your Own Bags

There was something so liberating about doing creative stuff with a friend where there was no pressure whatsoever to be good. These kits started off hideous and one thing was for certain: we would not be making them look any better. We relished in seeing who could make the ugliest Washimal and after a close competition, I won. The cat had so many acid green and pink spirals on it when I was done that you can’t look at it without squinting a little bit in disgust. That cat now sits on Cat’s shelf in her living room and she can’t ever get rid of it because it holds too much sentimental value.

It was a huge and much needed “f- you” to the part of me that wants everything I do to be perfect, for 100%, for everything I lay my hands on to turn out exactly as imagined or planned. I don’t think any of us do it enough. Aiming for 0% was hilarious and I can’t recommend it enough. 

If we don’t take time like this for ourselves, we wilt. Making something from nothing, especially with another person, uninterrupted by emails, texts, social media and news bulletins, is restorative in its own special way. Different things work for different people (for you, it might be cooking alone, or painting with your whole family, or baking with your partner) but whatever it is, it will make you feel alive. The benefits of art therapy in particular have been widely published (see this page by Mind if you don’t believe me) and aren’t exclusive to people who are ill. Literally everyone can do this and get something out of it.

My one regret is that we didn’t choose the most environmentally friendly choice. On a day when Extinction Rebellion was standing strong across London I felt a twinge of guilt unpacking brand new plastic-wrapped things I didn’t need and could barely justify purchasing. It doesn’t always have to be like this, though. Next time, I’ll be just as happy with some recycled paper and a couple of biros. And I am not joking when I say the stuff we made is never going in the bin.

Other activities that have been amazing for my general well being (and better for the planet) are pottery and planting house plants, although I won’t lie to you, killing some of them by mistake later is a little disheartening. For fun creative activity classes/workshops in the UK, see Obby (or try searching for specific activities in your local area).

Happy creating…

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