Creative Coping Strategies

Mental Health, Creativity, Writing, Drawing, Creative Coping Strategies

Welcome to the ONLY page on this site with brilliant (and maybe a bit fluffy☁☁) ideas that have come only from MY brain.

I’ve spent years talking, researching and reading about strategies to deploy, outside of medicine, that can help mental illness patients and those seeking better mental health. I’ve heard ideas from the very strange, to the horribly mundane. Although they are constantly changing ideas, different solutions working in different ways for different people (we are all unicorns 🦄!), one thing seems to be constant in every answer – it’s creative.

This page is therefore dedicated to CCS – Creative Coping Strategies.

What is CCS, Steph?

Creative Coping Strategies (CCS) are my brainchild and while the individual phrases ‘creative’ and ‘coping strategies’ are well known, putting them together to make a phrase of 3 awesome words with great power, is all my own thinking.

And it has a back story…

I was told once, many years ago, by an incredibly wise and humble woman, that she was deploying ‘coping strategies’ for some of her students to better manage the stress of their study.

‘Coping strategy’? I thought. ‘What the fuck is that?’.

Being an uninterested, poorly educated kid, I didn’t think or care to ask any further.

At the time, naive Steph was unaware of mental wellness even being a consideration in someone’s life. In my early 20’s all I cared about was drinking, smoking, and members of the opposite sex. But I still listened and, for some unknown reason, held on to that phrase throughout my life, thinking it was unique to her. In more recent years I’ve learned it’s a well-known and well-used phrase, maybe in more professional circles back then though.

And if I’m honest, it’s a phrase that’s carried me through some very difficult events in my life, most importantly at and before funerals, where I wanted the world to swallow me whole and to never have to face what was coming, nor what was after it.

But I had to face it, and in order to do so I knew I needed that clever, elusive, unknown and misunderstood thing that woman told me about all those years ago. I needed a coping strategy.

I was less plagued at that stage of my life (although the plague was coming for me fast) so I was able to be a bit bulshy. To put a brave face on things. So instead of retreating at those funerals and other difficult events, I stood forward, put myself in front and centre, spoke loudly and proudly to those people hunched in front of me, mourning someone they’d barely bothered to support, and I spoke my truth and the truth of those abscent.

What they didn’t see was my churning insides. My fears, sadness and frustrations were actively eating me alive. I was afraid. But the graceful swan analogy would have been accurate – gliding peacefully above water, grappling and sploshing to stay afloat underneath. Despite the splashing and sploshing, I coped. I’d got through it. And, even better, no one knew I was troubled and no one bothered me afterwards, because I’d been brave enough to say publicly what needed to be said without appearing flustered.

I would guess that was the last time I spoke to so many people at once. I was 29.

11 years on I look back at that moment in my life and I can’t help but feel surprised that I pulled my shit together and did the right thing for those who I’d lost. I’m proud I did it, and I’m proud my flailing feet remained invisible.

That speech and that peacocking of bravery was my ‘coping strategy’ at the time. And I know that sounds silly, stupid and/or unbelievable, but it was. I put on a creative show, to appease those around me and give myself the quiet and peace I needed that day.

My journey with coping strategies began, and somehow, it’s still going.

So what does it mean?

Being creative can mean many things to you and I guarantee they’ll be completely different for the next person. For me it’s writing or drawing, maybe sometimes listening to music. I’m an effort to promote CCS I’ve also started Crap Poems and Weird Words too – they are now also part of my personalised distraction package.

Another great SIMPLE example is our daughter, who, as kid on the spectrum, sees things in a very black and white way. Her response to feeling angry or frustrated is to ‘dance and stomp’ the anger out to music. She flails her limbs around and whacks her feet on the floor for as long as her little body will allow. She feels the music, clapping her hands in time and pretending to play the guitar. She even has 2 songs that are her favourites, reserved especially for moments where she needs to blow off some steam.

The reason this is a good example? She’s 5 years old.

If a child so young has enough cognitive reasoning to be able to successfully deploy a simple coping strategy like this, then why can’t we all? Even better that it’s creative, and will likely to remove several frowns and raise several smiles (including her own).

The lady who told me the original quote all those years ago and my strong and beautiful daughter are collectively the inspiration behind CCS. And thanks to them, I know 100% that they work.

How do I get my own CCS?

It could be really simple, something you instantly know will make you happy. Or you might need to take some time picking from a list of things you’ve wanted to start in the past. Things you’ve long forgotten because your busy life and career have taken priority. Or you may be starting from scratch, thinking you’ve never been creative and have no idea how you’d mould yourself that way. But I promise you, somewhere there is a creative pastime that will allow you to zone-out. THAT is what a CCS should do. It should give you the tools to be able to mentally remove yourself from the stress / worry / sadness / anxiety around you and focus on one simple thing that you enjoy.

As many of you know, my personal CCS’s include writing and drawing. But behind the scenes, if I’m honest, it’s only drawing that gives me the silence I need. Writing is a wonderful, freeing, imaginative task that provides many people with that zoned-out feeling, and it may work for you too. For me it’s become part of this crusade and while I enjoy this, it’s hard to be silent or free when you are working towards something so huge and important.

But to describe what I get from drawing is far more complex. It takes a minute or two while I pool together my inspirations and ideas and try to find what I want to achieve in my head. Then I need time to see what I’m hoping to illustrate in my minds eye, the blueprints will start to form. I’ll build an idea of my destination. Once those things are ticked off the list, I’m free…

I can sit for hours, sometimes a whole evening to the dead of night to the next morning, not a second of sleep, while I’m engrossed by a picture. And the devil, as always, is in the detail. When I upload a drawing it’s hard to see the level of intricate work I’ve put in, but it’s there. I know it’s there, and that’s part of what makes me happy.

I’ve been known to spend hours just getting the shadows and highlights right on a ladybird. A LADYBIRD?! The same process happened when I spent time looking at the night sky trying to find a pattern in the randomness of the scattered stars that I could replicate. And curves, oh my goodness the curves! As a curvy woman it’s unsurprising I’m so obsessed with getting those rotund bits right. Digital illustration allows us to create perfectly formed angles and arcs at the touch of a button, but I’ve never bothered using those shortcuts. I love, no sorry, I REVEL in spending hours trying to get a freehand circle right. Then I’ll spend more hours trying to get the matching shadow right.

It’s engrossing, it’s distracting, it’s compelling. In fact, in that moment, it’s all that matters.

And that’s what CCS’s are all about. Coping strategies in their original form aren’t about distracting yourself. Often they are about finding long-term solutions for managing your mental challenges – hopefully permanently. But I live in the real world, and while long term solutions are vital, 100% necessary, and highly useful, what people like us don’t have are solutions that solve a sudden, short, sharp problem…the type of problem that, if it’s left to bleed out, can lead you to a much more destructive place.

I’m only using the phrase as a way of ‘coping’ when you need to be distracted. Sometimes it might be for 5 minutes…enough time to breathe and reboot. Other times you might need a project for days…enough time to REALLY breathe and reboot.

They are as interchangable and maliable as a PlayDoh Barber Shop…you can give yourself the ‘haircut’ (or peace and happiness) you need in an instant.

But it requires some preperation…

What can I do today to start using CCS?

It’s an incredibly simple concept and the tools you need are too. You can start on this journey today…right now. But to start out, the most important thing I find is that you need to be feeling calm and balanced. Trying to search for a solution when you are already stressed and anxious is incredibly difficult.

When you have some time think about creative endeavours you’re interested in. If you’d like a starting point then here are a few ideas…

1. Learning a dance

2. Playing an instrument

3. Planning and redecorating a room

4. Listening to a new podcast

5. Learning to crochet

6. Using a scratch pad to draw something in rainbow

7. Sitting with a friend or relative and teaching EACH OTHER about something you love

8. Learning woodwork

9. Sketching a brainstorm of things you did on happy days

10. Baking a delicious, gooey, chocolatey, caramel brownie (for me please)

As you can see, creativity catches much more in its net than just writing and drawing. It can be a solitary task or something you enjoy with a loved one. It can be just one idea or several. In the past I’ve been pretty boring with my own CCS, but you don’t have to be.

When you’ve found something you like, something that will give you a decent distraction when you are feeling anxious or worried, something you will find enjoyment in…carefully work out exactly what you’ll need to do it…then the most important thing…

Get it all ready.

Oh, and make sure it’s legal and safe, obviously.

Whatever your creative endeavour is, get your required equipment together and in a place you can easily access it. Sometimes writing down some basic instructions for you to follow is useful too. A little guide when you are having trouble concentrating.

And once it’s ready…leave it alone.

Know that it’s always there, waiting for you to pick it up whenever you need it. And even if you can’t remember what to do, even if the stress is so heavy that you can’t focus, pull out that little list of instructions and follow it.

Simple, right?

So now you know my little trick for distracting myself when my brain is spinning out of control.

I use breathing techniques too, they are invaluable to me, but I can’t really explain those well on a website in writing. I hope to talk more about breathing in my podcast, The Self Calm Podcast, which premieres in May 2022.

In the meantime, I hope you find this page useful and my CCS idea gives you some thoughts about ways you can use creativity to help when your anxiety is taking over.

Usually I end my posts by providing links to other websites backing up the information I’ve provided. Strangely, links between creativity, mental illness and mental health haven’t been picked up much by any of the major charities online yet.

I did find an article published in 2019 by The Mental Health Foundation. They wrote about the links between the arts and mental health all those years ago, and the article has some interesting ideas and advice. It’s worth a look if you need some inspiration.

Alternatively you might be able to find local community groups through your GP or local mental health services. And, as always, a Google search will always turn up some results to get you started.

Thanks for reading!

*You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

Steph Writes and Illustrates

“A kinder, more thoughtful world is a place we all deserve to live”

Email me: steph@creativesteph.co.uk

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