After years of finding new ways to tackle my mood episodes before they take over my day, I’ve noticed that those I turn to most are the strategies that allow me to be creative. Art, music, dance, and more … the creative arts help with distraction, self-soothing, and even relief from the anxiety and depression that stem from bipolar.
Using Creative Coping Skills to Self-Soothe or Slow Down
Over the years I have dealt with bipolar disorder, I have made it my business to keep developing ways to meet my moods head-on. As time goes on, I continue to find new strategies and skills to soothe my depressions and slow down my manias, and now I have become somewhat of an expert in the art of coping skills. (Which seemed impossible when doctors first started suggesting this to me!)
While creativity can take many forms—art, writing, dance, and music—it can also offer new ways out of the bipolar experience through distraction and self-soothing. I have used all sorts of creative coping skills since I first struggled with my mood swings; there is almost always a go-to option that allows me to utilize my creativity to get through the moment without doing something self-destructive.
You don’t have to be a gifted artist or a brilliant writer to adapt some of these methods to your own life. Anyone can be creative in their own way, and it means something different to each person who lives with bipolar symptoms.
Creating Art for Distraction & Self-Discovery with Bipolar
Art can take so many different forms. Sometimes, when I want to distract myself, I will cut out words and pictures from old magazines to make collages. The very act of gluing these images onto paper slows down my racing thoughts by giving me something else to focus on. Making collages also helps me better understand how I am feeling. Although the process of creating serves as a distraction, when I step back and observe what I’ve been working with, I might be able to find some patterns in the words and pictures. Sketching and painting are other artistic options. I took a ceramics class in high school and enjoyed working with the clay. A peaceful way to be creative and focus attention is to color in mandalas or other pictures, too. Or you could try your hand at drawing a comic strip.
If you have some time, I recommend allowing yourself to wander around a crafts store for a while, roaming through the aisles. I can almost guarantee that something will call out to you, whether it is knitting, needlepoint, metalworking, or coloring books. Most of these options are low-cost, and they provide a good distraction from bipolar mood swings—and just the stress of life in general. Don’t give up if you aren’t satisfied with the first thing you try. Because there are so many forms of art, you may have to try out a few creative pursuits before you hit your groove.
Just like art, writing creatively can take on so many different forms. For example, you might try your hand at writing poetry, short stories, or personal essays about your experiences.
Journaling is also helpful, and you might find it rewarding to keep a notebook with you so you can jot down ideas for topics you would like to write about. You could write essays about your experiences and share them in a blog or on another website. Or maybe you would like to write fiction: a short story, or even begin a larger work like a novel.
When I am able to get my thoughts out on paper in midst of a mood swing or at the first signs of one, I find that writing helps so much with managing the course of the mood episode. And, if you share with others what has or has not been working for your own symptoms, you may even be able to help other people who are struggling with bipolar.
There are no right or wrong answers when you start tapping on the keyboard or scribbling in your journal: just harness your genuine desire to capture what you are feeling in the moment, and, later, maybe you will even use it to reach out to others.
While I’m not so good at picking up musical instruments (I failed the violin miserably when I was in middle school), music is a creative endeavor that can be very therapeutic. If you didn’t learn how to play an instrument when you were in school but have access to an instrument, you could consider dusting off that old keyboard or polishing up a hand-me-down trumpet, and then sit down to watch video tutorials online.
Absent a musical instrument, you can use your voice. Write songs about how you are feeling—or how you want to feel. Or you can sing—in the shower, in your bedroom, anywhere. For me, just listening to music is incredibly relaxing. Sometimes, music peps me up when I’m feeling down. Other times, a slower song, or even something like classical music can relax me when my mood is too strong.
If you want to get your endorphins going, you can add some dance moves to your singing.
In order to get the full reward out of listening to music, I develop playlists that work for the different moods I find myself in. For example, I have a selection of songs I listen to when I am feeling creative and want to work on my writing. Music can help me deal with so many different moods and experiences, and it is such a broad array of music styles, forms, and artists that there is something for everyone.
Dancing Away Anxiety & Depressive Symptoms
When I was younger, I dabbled in cheerleading and gymnastics. While there were times when I dreaded going to practices—maybe because I was dealing with depression—it helped to get my groove on. There are many kinds of dance to try: swing, ballet, jazz, or whatever speaks to you and your personal taste and style. Another idea is to incorporate dancing into your everyday routines—turn on the radio or cue up a playlist as you complete household chores, and try to dance your way from task to task.
The most important thing is that you just get moving in a creative way that will allow you to cope with bipolar mood swings and other symptoms like anxiety and racing thoughts. The endorphins I gain from dancing allow me to take a breath and move on with the rest of my day. You can develop your own dance routines or connect with a class online or in person.
These are the various creative pursuits I turn to when bipolar interrupts my day. What have you tried? How do you use creativity to cope with your symptoms?
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