Before I even start writing this article, it’s imperative for me to turn on some music.

Sometimes it’s Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (I know kind of sombre) – it’s one of my favourite pieces of music – and on other occasions I need to crank up AC/DC’S Thunderstruck (because – hell, who doesn’t feel all fired up when this song is cracked up on LOUD?) or listen to the latest Miley Cyrus’s Flowers (Shhhh don’t tell anyone. This is, strictly speaking, a Rock ‘n Roll family), just to remind myself to exercise self-love, self-respect, and self-care. Thanks Miley!

Somehow music seems to focus my energy – I know, weird right? It’s as if through the music I can hear and feel the words I put down on paper. Even before I put them on to paper. 

It’s something about the creative process for me. It’s an all-encompassing thing – like living and breathing the words through music, through sound and with it – through emotion. It’s like the air I breathe. It’s my motivation. Even when I don’t “feel like it” (yes, that happens. On occasion).  

But then I put on some tunes, and suddenly the words are pouring out of me. Sometimes nonsensical and verbose requiring some hard-handed fine tuning. But it works. For me. It’s my (creative) process.

A life without creativity

I wasn’t always this way. Working as a lawyer, I didn’t think it allowed for creative pursuits. I always felt like I didn’t have the time. And when I did have the time, I was too tired or too fatigued or too (insert emotion here) to be bothered enough to seek a creative pursuit. And the unfortunate thing about this? Perhaps the obvious thing about this…. I always felt like half a person. Not living to my full potential. A massive piece of my puzzle being completely devoid of anything outside of my small world of law that I had created – a big, empty, colourless hole. 

I guess – for me at least – being creative, being a writer (even when my writing is not perfect or doesn’t hit the right “notes” or perhaps finds the wrong readership) is like peering – even a tiny bit – into my soul. I relate – entirely – to George Bernard Shaw when he said – 

“You use a glass mirror to see your face. You use works of art to see your soul”. 

Being able to “see your soul” through works of the creative process – how magic is that?!

Something anyone can do. In my opinion. 

We’re all born with a means to be creative, to express ourselves, to standout. And that could be in so many different ways – painting (even badly), writing poetry (even if it sounds childish), drawing (even if it’s a stickman) or applying make-up (even if you look like a clown). 

We’re all able to be creative. And in that realisation – whole new worlds open up to all of us

Creative pursuits assist poor mental health

Studies show that being creative and having creative pursuits assist with poor mental health.

In the article The Mental Health Benefits of Creativity, the following is set out – 

“Science continues to reveal encouraging evidence about the mental health benefits of creativity. From painting to potting plants, planning parties and beyond, creative activities help us perceive the world in new and different ways. Creativity allows us to create beautiful work, problem-solve, and refresh our bodies and minds. Having fun positively impacts our mental health.

Being creative can increase positive emotions, reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety, and improve the function of our immune systems. The Journal of Positive Psychology supports these findings, stating that “spending time on creative goals during the day is associated with higher activated positive affect.” Positive affect refers to positive moods people experience including joy, happiness, and optimism”.

I’m sold on this idea that creativity is vital to good mental health. Because when I’m writing, when I’m listening to music, I can feel the words flow through me and I feel completely at peace. I feel centred. I feel happy. And it’s within this state of “flow” when I’m almost in my own world (“in the zone”) that I become mindful of what I’m thinking and feeling and how the writing is adding to my overall happiness for that day. And that feels like a massive accomplishment. It’s a beautiful thing. Almost euphoric. 

But there are times when I’m not so happy. There are times when I have undeniable writer’s block. And putting even one word on a page seems almost impossible. In this space I feel stuck. Uncentred, like I – yet again – have a void inside my soul. A feeling I remember from working as a lawyer and having no creative outlet. Whatsoever. 

Being creative and having a place to express helps me be productive. It helps me be the best version of myself. 

So, when I’m blocked and cannot write, I must turn to other methods of creative expression in order to push through the bad mojo I find myself in. 

The importance of finding a creative outlet

Firstly, let’s be honest for a second. It’s not like I’m the next Hemingway. So, this “writer’s” block that I experience is nothing compared to the great writers of our time. I’m not some pseudo artistic savant that has all the answers to all things “creative”. Believe me.

But I do know one thing – tapping into this creative part of my mind (and soul) has opened up so many other parts that I didn’t know existed. Like my penchant for amateur poetry and painting. Who knew I could do those things? 

It took a lot of doing “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” but I found my happy place. The point is you have to start somewhere. Because if you don’t take your first step, you will always be stuck in exactly the same place. And who wants that?

In an article by Diversus Health, they mention –

“Practicing creativity is a wellness exercise, similar to having a healthy diet and steady workout routine. Even if we do not think of ourselves as artists or creative innovators, we all have a varying amount of energy, intelligence, and discipline to expand on our ability to express ourselves and be creative.

“The more we practice using our imagination, the better we will be able to express ourselves without the need of verbal language,” says Nguyen. “This also helps us to turn inward amid this noisy world.”

To add a little more credence to the statement (and article) above, in a research paper by the University of Tennessee titled Creativity in Older Adults: A Plethora of Possibilities by Kenneth D Phillips it’s set out that –

“Creativity interventions have been shown to positively affect mental and physiological health  indicators. The process of creating and one’s attitude toward life may be more important than the actual product or tangible outcome.”

That’s such an important point. The process of creating is more important than the thing you create. Creating – for creating’s sake – is more beneficial than we know. Whether it’s to ease your anxiety, stress or depression or whether it’s to help open your mind so that you can learn to focus (increasing productivity). The evidence in support of this is overwhelming. 

Ok, enough trying to convince you. It’s evident that we need to get creative … and fast! So, let’s get started

My creative passions

It will be a trial by error approach to see what works for you – to find that thing (or maybe number of things) that gets you to your place of zen.

But create – for the sake of our mental health – we must. 

Now before we get into the ways you can do this, let me add – nowadays finding that extra coin to spend on something “pleasurable” seems like a bit of a tall ask. But let me assure you that there are things you can do that won’t cost a solar panel (South African’s will understand this). And there’s so much to choose from – 

Pick up a paint brush – it may sound so pedestrian, but when I paint something, and it turns out even remotely resembling something that could pass as an “amateur wannabe arteeest”, I’m immensely proud. I feel like I have done something extraordinary. And once I’ve done that, I kind of feel like I could do anything. I get covered in paint, mess all over the place and absolutely love it! I have the time of my life. I especially like working with acrylic paint – its thick and gooey and feels like it carries substance. I get a lot of my supplies from Artsavingsclub. But you can pick up a bunch of art supplies really cheaply, if you google. If you don’t know where to start, how about looking to YouTube for help. Personally, I love SurajFineArts – Abstract ART – he posts full tutorials on how to go about doing an abstract painting (my favourite kind). Before you know it, and with absolutely no experience, you come out with something that seems pretty impressive. Just take a look at what I did (some of my first using Suraj’s video tutorials) – 

Try your hand at pottery there’s nothing like getting your hands well and truly “dirty”. Sticking your hands into the clay and feeling it with each fingertip, getting your senses going. And with a little imagination a ball of clay can become a mug or a platter. I kid you not. I know what you must be thinking – what about a kiln? Sure some clay needs to be fired and glazed but you can also make something just as cool with air drying clay. Air drying clay is best for sculptures or plaques or something else crafty. I decided to make a platter out of air drying clay and then painted it with different layers of chalk paint to create something – not quite useful – but a lot of fun! If you need some help with where to even begin, take a look at Jonthepotter – I love his video’s!
Restore old furniture – you’ll often find me on days off at antique furniture stores or browsing online auctions for old rickety pieces of furniture. To me there is nothing more beautiful than something with a story, something old and worn in with its own past. And I just drool at that.  Good quality wood is key. I know it sounds odd, but my grandfather taught me a lot about different types of wood, what partridge wood is good for or camphor wood – what the grains mean. I loved that. So now I rescue furniture (my home is FULL of antiques either inherited or salvaged). I don’t paint every piece of furniture – some things are just too special to paint. But others are just begging for a lick of paint and an adornment or two. I use nails and often wood glue (to my husband’s dismay) to fix things that need fixing, replace door handles or polish them up (especially if they are brass) and then get to the painting part. I use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (which has just brought out two new colours – yay). It’s available worldwide! Sloan even has stencils and gilding waxes (which I use a lot). There is a colour for every room (and mood) and even different paints for different surfaces. It’s so much fun adding a slick of paint to your furniture – why buy new when you can fix up something old? I took an armoire from my late grandmother which was not in the best shape and looking terribly drab. She was begging for a makeover. So, I gave her a pretty dramatic one. I used Athenian Black, added embellishments, and then gilded the hell out of it. It’s not to everyone’s taste but she is grand and dramatic. Just like my gran. Watch Annie Sloan’s tutorials to get you started.

Ways you can get creative

Those are some of the things that I have chosen to do – they are my creative outlet. And they won’t all work for you. So, I have included some other suggestions below –

Learn to cook – I say learn because not everyone is born with this innate ability to produce a meal that gets mouths watering. Also, with the price of food nowadays, it’s something we have all got to learn to do. Sometimes that means using the basic ingredients you have in your pantry. Realsimple has some great easy recipes that you can use with pantry staples (or supposed staples in any event). It’s kind of fun when you throw a couple of things into a pot and somehow miraculously produce an enjoyable meal. In my case, it took a few tries, but it can be done. And it’s fun learning.
Try knittingthis is not only good for concentration (you have to focus), but once you get the hang of it, you can knit scarves and sweaters galore! I can’t say that knitting has ever been quite my thing. But I do see the appeal and realise that it is a skill (yes, a skill) that’s both creative and useful too. It’s also super trendy right now. So, grab some knitting needles, get some cheaper yarn, and get knitting. Before you know it, you will be gifting scarves to everyone on their Birthday – saving money and being creative at the same time! Personally, I will be watching this video to begin with. 
GardeningI truly believe that some people are born with a green thumb and other people are not. But having said that, I love spending time in a garden centre. All the plants and the colours, the scent! It gives me hope. Even if my garden doesn’t quite resemble anything hopeful. But I do believe that you can learn, and you can propagate plants that you already have (again saving money) – to start to design your own garden, even if it’s a small garden, and make it a happy one. You can start learning how by watching this tutorial.
Make your own board game it has been said that Frieda knows a thing or two about making her own board game. I kid you not. I read about it in this article and thought – “sure I can do that” but to my dismay failed dismally. It just wasn’t fun enough (the level of “enough” is a personal choice). But if you’re short on funds and want to make something fun for you and your partner and/or family to do – then this is it. This is Frieda’s family during Christmas 2008 tackling the “Family Quiz” – 300 questions about her family and the shenanigans that they had individually and collectively got up to! I’ve no doubt a lot of fun was had by all!

If none of the above is quite your thing, there’s still pebble painting (and this involves going out in search of the perfect pebble and only then painting something that reminds you of the walk). It’s a “whole thing”. 

Lastly, if you’re a fly-fisherman (I’m what’s known as a “fishing widow”) and you are dead keen on the perfect fly, then learning to tie one could be your thing. There’s so much here I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But when you have famous friends (and mentors) like Peter Brigg and Tom Sutcliffe, my husband has learnt a thing or two about fly fishing and fly tying. And if anything, it keeps him out of trouble and has taught him colours like chartreuse (”if it aint chartreuse it aint no use” apparently). In all honesty (and don’t tell him I said this but…), it brings him peace and makes him far more amenable to shoe shopping. It’s a really healthy, happy pursuit. 

The point is – there are so many creative “things” out there to try!  So, find your place of happiness, your thing of peace and then embrace it. Break away from your everyday routine, indulge in fun activities – create art, sing (even if it’s really badly), dance (“like no one’s watching”) and play (let your inner child free).  Not only will it make you feel good, but it’ll give you renewed hope, a renewed sense of self and will revitalise you.  Because one thing’s for sure, whether you are painting, doing pottery, restoring furniture, writing poetry, making a board game, painting a pebble or even tying a fly – you’re not thinking about your worries or stressing about tomorrow. You’re focused on the here and now and are hopefully bringing yourself inner peace and happiness. 

Mental health in good shape? Check!

I think this quote may be the best motivator for being creative there is – 

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life” Elizabeth Gilbert

If you really have no clue where to begin or what to do, why not join Frieda’s Creative Breakfast for Women – and put this article into practice! Sign up for the Braving Boundaries Newsletter to find out more or contact Frieda Levycky here.

About the Author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.

Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.

Email: alicia@thebelletrist.com