Too often we view therapy as something which only those with severe depression, anxiety or psychological issues undergo to 'fix' their problems. But perhaps we can all benefit from taking part in therapeutic activities. Maybe there are activities we can engage in on a regular basis to prevent depression, anxiety or other psychological issues, and prevent disappointments, anger and upsets from becoming long-term issues or affecting our performance. It's only in recent years that I've noticed what I do to keep myself 'sane', and performing at my best, but having identified them allows me to keep a check on my emotions. These are my top 4 therapeutic activities:
When I was young, I struggled with writing, I was inadequately skilled to transfer the thoughts and images inside my head into anything resembling beautiful pros, but over time I have found joy in writing. Simply putting words together gives me confidence and a sense of purpose, and I can't even begin to explain the sense of achievement obtained from writing and publishing a book. And apparently I'm funnier when I write than when I talk! But writing has a much broader benefit. Putting my thoughts in writing can help keep me focused, reaffirm my goals, identify what is making me angry/confused/blue, and work through those issues. Writing a blog or something which someone else is going to read, forces me to express my thoughts in a postive way. Both myself and Rachael have written blogs that will never be published, but simply putting our thoughts on paper eradicated the confusion or anger that we were feeling, or helped us change our perspective on a particular situation. If you are angry about something, try writing down your arguments for why you're angry, what the other person's perspective might be, and what you can do to fix it. As you right, some of your opinions might change, and some of the anger abate. Then you can look to sort out the real issues. Don't underestimate the power of expressing yourself on paper!
Tidying up for someone else
If I'm feeling particularly blue, or stressed because things are slipping out of my control, something which gets me back on track, is sorting out an untidy store cupboard or an out-of-control attic for somebody else. The more impossible the task seems, the harder I work to bring it under control, and the happier I become. It's as if putting order on a seemingly uncontrollable mess makes my thoughts and emotions look a lot easier to manage.
Drawing up a plan
There are few things more motivational than ticking items off a to-do list, or crossing off sections of a weekly plan, but sometimes just putting the plan together in the first place can give you the kick start you need. Putting everything that needs to be done down on paper can help put order on chaos, and turn panic into calm. Often we know that there's a lot to be done, but putting together a plan can help focus us.
Running has always been my sanctury. Many a problem or conundrum has been sorted out in my head while on a run, and many big, life-changing decisions have been made over the course of a 5 or 6 mile run. I find it difficult to run when angry, negative or highly stressed, and I don't like not to run, so those thoughts and and emotions are quickly turned into positive ones in order to let me get on with the business of running. Running also allows me time to dream and hatch plans to take over some aspect or other of the world. Often I later realise that my dreams are unattainable or my plans unachievable, but every once in while I come up with a grand scheme that will change my life forever.
Singing in the shower, collecting sticks for the fire and walking the dog are just some of the other activities which help me turn negative thoughts or emotions into positive ones, and allow me to gain control over my life.
Talking is one of the most popular and effective forms of therapy, and it's true that a problem shared is a problem halved. If you are feeling stress or down, or feel that your life is spiraling out of control, talk to someone. Just getting things off your chest can make a worry or stress disappear. However, always talking about your problems without any bias for action or motivation to change things, can be a very ineffective form of therapy. Talking can sometimes reaffirm negative emotions such as anger or hatred, result in you asking for advice rather than making decisions for yourself, and waste a lot of time. Always talking to the wrong person may lead you to moan, or wallow in self pity. This, I feel, is why I find writing far more therapeutic. With nobody taking my side, I have to work issues out for myself. After all, there is nobody as expert in my life as I am, and we all have capacity to solve our own problems. Talking can help us realise that, but we shouldn't just talk to those who will take our side, or tell us what to do. In a future post, we will look at the role of talking as a form of therapy in more detail, and examine how it can be most effective.
You don't have to be down or depressed to engage in therapeutic activities. Regularly engaging in therapeutic activity can help prevent depression, manage stress, make decisions and refocus on what's important, and simply doing things that we enjoy can help us maintain that all important 'balance' in life. Find the activities and situations where you can best control your thoughts and emotions and engage in them when needed.