It’s been a busy and stressful few weeks (and months). Then again, when you are doing a PhD when is it ever not busy or stressful? I’ve been trying to take extra care of myself recently mentally and physically. Unfortunately for you guys, it means social media and blogging go to the bottom of my to-do list while I focus and prioritise. But, I’m back and this post follows on nicely from my previous post about dealing with stress and feeling overwhelmed during a PhD. Here I share my experiences and thoughts of learning to relax, de-stress and take control of myself mentally by taking part in the Art of Relaxation workshop.
The Art of Relaxation
Over the past 4 weeks I’ve attended an Art of Relaxation workshop with Arty Folks held at Coventry University Student’s Union led by Lorella Medici. A friend kindly emailed an advertisement for this Art of Relaxation workshop and I thought, yeah, why not?!
I used to be very arty and creative but since moving more into academia doing one degree after the other, I don’t make much time for myself anymore, let alone to draw or paint.
The two hour session each week covered an aspect of mental health and learning a new art technique to explore and understand mental health in a different way.
Mental health and art
Week one introduced us to mental health and understanding our own mental health. We explored our emotions and feelings through art and focused on anger and feeling angry. Although I was apprehensive at first, it was a really great exercise to express myself on paper. You might notice my artwork doesn’t necessarily appear very ‘angry’.
I found the second week quite difficult. Not because it was a difficult task artistically, but mentally to pull apart my emotions and understand where the negative and positive feelings come from with everything else that was going on around me. Emotions and feelings were represented by a cootie catcher (a.k.a. fortune teller or chatterbox). The goal was to catch your emotions and feelings with the cootie catcher (writing, drawing, or colouring on the cootie catcher), and then letting them go (with collage or colour) around the border.
Week three was about finding balance, how you find your way back without getting side tracked or pulled back in. We focused on framing our intentions, being true to our intentions and believing in ourselves. This week involved asking ourselves what we really wanted to do. We also talked about stress and different ways to find stress relief. Before this course I found reading novels really enjoyable and relaxing as I engross myself in the story. But, for me, art has this magical ability to take me away from everything around me and while I’m drawing, colouring, or painting, it’s like it’s just me and my art.
The final week we talked about ‘mind over matter’. Our brains just go on and on and on…. and our mind is trying to make sense of it all. Through painting without water, mixing colours and painting stones, we tried to be more mindful. We focused on our breath, the brush, the paint, and the stone, being in the moment. I really enjoyed this week’s class and it reminded me of how much I love painting.
What have I learnt?
Over the course, I learnt a lot about mental health and artistic techniques. But, together I learnt there’s no right or wrong answer, no right or wrong way to do something, and there is no one way to be or to express yourself. Sometimes I find using words really difficult to express how I am feeling. Using art and being creative has helped me to understand and make sense of what’s going on in my mind.
Also, using art, and having something I have created in front of me, has helped me to take myself away from my thoughts and emotions and think about them in a different way, noticing them and being present. I do try to be mindful anyway and find meditating really helpful, but as life gets more stressful being mindful can be quite difficult. Combining my mindful meditation practice with art is perfect for me and something I aim to continue!
Within the group, talking about problems and mental health felt so normal and relaxed. It wasn’t something to shy away from or pretend it doesn’t exist. Lorella was brilliant for facilitating such a relaxing and non-judgemental environment.
This Art of Relaxation workshop has also enabled me to meet new people and take myself away from the stresses of everyday and PhD life.
A bit about Arty Folks
Arty Folks is a registered charity based in Coventry to bring together like-minded adults. They offer art as a therapy for people who are feeling low or struggling with mental health. Arty Folks provides a safe space to help people on their journey to recovery and achieve mental well-being through art. Arty Folks run weekly groups in Coventry, you can find more details on their website.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take part in these workshops. A huge thank you to Lorella at Arty Folks and Coventry University Students Union for a wonderful 4 weeks!
Thank you for reading! Please get in touch or comment below if you have any questions or similar experiences. I would love to hear from you!
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