By Gabrielle Fecteau, social worker and young adult cancer survivor
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
A framework for creative mental health
Let’s get real here! Finding and implementing creative ways to support our mental health isn’t easy. That is why I have spent some time thinking of a sort of framework to help guide our work.
A framework is a set of rules, ideas, or beliefs that helps guide our practice and decisions. At times, frameworks are very rigid processes, but I’m suggesting a framework that allows for fluidity and growth through learning.
To find creative ways to support my own mental health, I worked through a few steps — and often reworked them again — to adjust my practices based on my learnings and my needs.
I started by being open to learning from others and myself. I reflected on ways that I have supported myself and my mental health in the past, but, getting inspired by the stories of others also helped me come up with a creative list of mental health strategies.
From this list, I chose an idea that seemed exciting to me and considered how this could fit into my life. I came up with a list of ways to implement this idea in my life daily, weekly, and longer term. I asked a lot of questions to help me push my understanding of myself and engage with the creative space of my mind where the “wild” (and therefore really interesting) ideas live.
Then, I was able to choose one or two practices from my brainstorming to put into practice in my life. This led to taking intentional action towards using these creative practices to support my mental health.
This framework is something that is meant to be repeated over and over again. This comes to no surprise considering that we are continuously in a space of growth and change as human beings and our mental health requires us to adjust accordingly.
Ideas of creative strategies to support your mental health
The following ideas have been inspired by various sources — some studies, expert content, practice exercises, personal experiences, and ongoing reflections — and although the scientific studies supporting these practices as proven mental health strategies may be at times limited, this article is meant to focus on creativity and spark ideas for you to support your own mental health. Only take what you need from the following creative ideas and leave what doesn’t serve you.
Here are four ideas to help support the life that you want to create and sustain for yourself.
5. Breathe in nature
Nature is a wonderful and grounding resource that can be immensely supportive to one’s mental health. Like I do most often, you simply have to open the door or a window and take one intentional deep breath to experience the power of nature. Nature has many benefits to mental health including, but not limited to: boosting your overall mood, increasing a sense of connection, exercise, and grounding.
Creative ideas for engaging with nature:
- Step outside for a breath of fresh air every single day.
- Grow a plant, flower, or vegetable solo or with the help of an experienced friend.
- Be active outdoors whenever possible in a way that feels good and is accessible to you.
- Find ways to bring the outdoors indoors through decor, scent, etc.
- Reflect on why nature is so important to your mental health by asking questions like “When am I most connected to nature?” and “Are there opportunities for me to add nature to my daily life?”
6. Imagine life (aka creativity)
Many find healing in their imagination. Imagination can be a comforting space when the world around us is difficult to sit with. Think about it, it can feel really good to dream of the future, which can stir up this little inkling of excitement about life and living. In my life, imagination also meant engaging in judgment-free art and creative expression such as music, drawing, writing, etc.
Creative ideas for engaging with your imagination:
- Journal your thoughts, experiences, and dreams.
- Share of your experience with others in creative ways, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, music, etc.
- Brain dump your thoughts and dreams, putting them safely on paper.
- Dedicate time in your week to daydream about life and the future.
- Schedule an activity with friends that helps you tap into your creative side, such as a paint night, writing workshops, etc.
7. “Just for laughs”
Laughter is great to support your mental health, but at times, we all need to put some effort into creating opportunities within our lives for laughter. This can mean intentionally engaging with humorous entertainment, jokes, funny stories, etc. It can even mean having a toolbox of funny items — like fun playlists and books — to pull from when needed. But my favourite way to engage with laughter means finding the joy and laughter in the simple moments in life.
Creative ideas for engaging with laughter:
- Dedicate times during your week for laughter.
- Watch funny videos or read funny content with the simple goal of laughing.
- Play with friends, just like a child would.
- Spend time with people who make you laugh.
- Make a list of activities that you consider fun and that make you laugh.
- Create a fun song list for yourself.
Connection is essential to supporting our mental health. We know this from experience and from tons of research published on the subject. There is something important and special about feeling connected to others who understand (or want to truly understand) who you are. Connections are the moment shared with the stranger on the street or the deep connection held with someone special — both being very important types of connection. It is also important to consider nurturing the most valuable of connections, the connection you have with yourself.
Creative ideas for connecting:
- List the people in your life who add something like laughter or love or other aspects of life that are important to you.
- Ask for help from someone.
- Schedule some time with yourself alone.
- Go for a walk and smile at everyone you pass by.
- Spend time with a friend or partner doing something new.
I absolutely adore a good framework to help me understand and practise just about anything, including how to support my mental health. There is something comforting about having a clear place to start the work.
But ultimately, the creative mental health framework we have been discussing is only a guide. It is missing an important key — YOU! Supporting your mental health through creative practices requires you to be you.
Now, I understand that this doesn’t simplify the framework. In fact, for many of us, it complexifies it. But tapping into ourselves — our personalities, life circumstances, hobbies, interests, dreams, etc. — is how we develop supports that truly have a positive impact on supporting our mental health.
Interested in exploring some of these creative strategies for mental health? These are just a few of the resources available on each topic and may be a great place to start.
Breathe in nature:
Imagine life (creativity):
- Article on creativity by James Clear
- TED: Ideas Worth Exploring talks on creativity
- Stanford Medicine article on Creative Expression Improving the Quality of Your Life with Art, Music, Poetry, and Humor
- Action for Happiness “10 Keys To Happier Living”
- Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability
- The Art Of Charm podcast
Gabrielle Fecteau, MSW, is a mental health worker, young adult cancer survivor, and YACC team member. This blog series aims to delve into topics relevant to young adults affected by cancer from both a personal and professional lens.