Category Archives: Mindset

selection of shells and a small read heart

Who has time for self-care?

Self-care is a huge buzz word these days. Looking after ourselves, our physical and mental wellbeing is crucial, but sometimes I feel the idea of self-care has yet again been highjacked by commercial interests. Of course, it feels good to get your nails done, have a bubble bath and a scented candle. But self-care goes beyond products and services we buy to get some relaxing ‘me time’. Sometimes having to make time for these activities in a busy schedule can actually get quite stressful. And when we fail to fit them in it can trigger our inner critic, because we haven’t got the perfect manicure, eyebrows, hair colour… (all these examples highlight to me that self-care seems to be an idea that circulates a lot more among women – but this might be just my perspective of how I look at it…) So, what might self-care mean for you?

There are the basics. They include sufficient sleep, good nutrition, exercise, being on top of medical check-ups. Beyond this, I believe good self-care is based on two things: good self-awareness/ self-knowledge and good boundaries.

Self-awareness and knowledge are necessary to understand what it is that refuels us. I don’t get a kick out of a mani/pedi. Someone else might, and that’s totally ok, but for me a visit to a bookstore has much greater potential to help me care for myself. And that’s not just because I love to read, but also because over the years I have learned what recharges me. Bookstores are often quiet spaces; many offer a tucked-away corner where I can flick through books. I don’t have to talk to anyone (unless I seek advice) and no-one prods me. If there is music, it tends to be quiet, too. This refuels me. Noise, the waft of chemicals and close proximity to random strangers suck energy straight out of me. Knowing how certain sensory experiences impact me also helps me to make good, self-caring choices in other areas of my life. Often self-care is linked to experiences our senses enjoy. This also helps us to be in the present moment, which is the ultimate self-caring way of life.

How to improve self-knowledge: most of us will have a good idea of the energy givers and takers. If you want to get to know yourself better, I can recommend journaling. Capture each day the moments or activities that made you feel good, calm, balanced, refreshed. Do this for 2 or 3 weeks, then analyse your notes and look for patterns. You can add to this by also capturing the moments that made you feel irritated, tired, on edge; this could just be an unspecific ‘icky’ feeling in your body. Just notice this.

Thinking back to your childhood also holds a wealth of information. As children, we instinctively knew what filled us up – and usually we had the freedom and time to do just that. Take some time to remember your favourite activities, think about your favourite stories and what they were about. Which play dates were fun, which ones left you feeling tired or insecure? Which toys and activities did you gravitate to in kindergarten, which ones made you shrink and pull back?

Once we know ourselves, we need good boundaries as they help us to articulate what we need and to say ‘no’ to things we don’t want to do or don’t want to make time for. The better you know yourself the more accurately you can state your needs. Some people find it helpful to create a ‘No List’. This can include all the activities you don’t care about and that don’t do anything for you and your wellbeing. A few years ago, I was inspired by Sarah Knight’s book ‘The life-changing magic of not giving a f**k’. She suggests creating lists for four categories about things you don’t care (give a f**k) about. The categories are: things; work; friends, acquaintances and strangers; family. Ever since I carry these lists in my journal and happily add to them as and when I see fit. They are a good reminder of when I should say no and speed up the process rather than agonising over the same type of request again and again.


Some more myth busting about self-care:

Self-care is not limited to solo experiences; it can include others as long as they fill you up and don’t drag you down.

Self-care doesn’t need a lot of time. Think about micro-pauses such as planting your feet solidly on the ground and taking three deep breaths during a meeting. It takes just a few seconds, can be done without anyone noticing and it can do wonders for your wellbeing and ability to set your boundaries.

Self-care doesn’t need to be costly. Depending on your needs simple things like a cup of tea, a cheap journal, an essential oil or simply a completely free walk in the park can be all it takes.

Not all self-care needs to be pre-scheduled, the more you practice the more you’ll be able to naturally do more of the self-caring things. A pre-scheduled amount of self-care time can help if you have to consider a number of others in your day to day life or after a particularly stressful period. But ultimately, it’s great to get to a place where we practice self-care without thinking too much about it. 


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

collage saying carry on laughing joy

Riding uncertainty to find the spark of joy

Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering has been around for a few years and is currently experiencing increased popularity fuelled by the Netflix series. If you have read her book, “The life-changing magic of tidying” or are an avid Netflix watcher you will probably know that the question of what sparks joy sits at the heart of her philosophy. I happily admit that by following joy and her magic folding method my T-Shirt drawers are still in good shape more than three years on! For me, the question, ‘Does it spark joy?’, emphasises the fleeting nature of joy. It suggests that joy needs to be sparked repeatedly. Joy can be a wonderful emotion as long as we accept that it will vanish quickly. Like happiness, the pursuit of joy can become a burden if we start to chase it as a continuous state.When we expand the search for joy beyond teapots and sock drawers and apply it to careers, homes, relationships things get trickier. We all accept that these areas of life require some hard work but if the spark of joy becomes permanently absent, many of us wonder what needs to change in order to invite more moments of joy back into our lives.

While the journey towards joy is courageous it is not always a joyful one. It will almost always throw us into the chaos of uncertainty. Research has shown that we are hardwired to dislike uncertainty.

Even to a degree that we prefer the certainty of a negative outcome over uncertainty! Uncertainty increases our stress levels and when we are embarking on change, we accept travelling on the road of fear and self-doubt. We receive frequent and unsolicited reminders from our inner critic that we are taking too big a risk, going into the wrong direction and are probably not up to the job of transforming anyway. We doubt whether things will ever turn out the way we hope, dream, imagine, whether they will ever spark joy.

Art therapy offers some rich ways to explore our inner critic and, on the flipside, get more acquainted with our inner teacher, wise sage or compassionate mentor. It is a way of exploring our relationship with uncertainty, especially as it doesn’t depend on a verbal expression of our experience. Expressing this turbulent journey creatively allows us to give form to it without knowing what exactly is going on, let alone why. We don’t need to have the words for how we feel in this liminal space of change. And as we progress in our exploration, we will find a way to give voice to the mucky terrain of change and uncertainty and find ways how we can best traverse it, always with the possibility and intention to rediscover joy.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

mixed media collage saying at the edge of

Holding on and letting go

We’re all familiar with the heart-warming reflex of a baby gripping our finger when we stroke its palm. It’s called the Palmar Grasp Reflex and makes babies hold on to things with surprising strength. But it is also unpredictable as they tend to let go suddenly. By the time we’re three to six months old we begin to make more voluntary choices what we hold onto. Have you ever wondered whether you tend to hold on to things or whether you are quick to let go?

We value holding on to things that are familiar, safe, pleasant or fun, things and people we love and care about. But life requires us to let go of things, either because of their transient nature or because they no longer serve us. The latter could be a relationship or friendship that feels no longer supportive, a job which no longer challenges us in a positive way, or simply items in our wardrobe that no longer fit who we are.

Trying to understand my typical patterns behind holding on and letting go purely cognitively has highlighted how my biases and values get in the way. Do I think being able to hold on or let go of stuff is the ‘better’ trait? If I am a ‘holder on-ner’ is this a sign of inertia or hoarding tendencies? Or a sign of loyalty? If I can let go easily – does this make me a commitment-phobe? Do I lack grit, tenacity or dependability? Or do I simply know what’s good for me and value my freedom and independence? I’ve never really gotten to the bottom of understanding my tendencies of holding on and letting go purely with my brain power.

But I have been introduced to an enlightening body-based exercise that helped shedding light on this. The exercise was shared during a workshop with Pat Ogden, a pioneer in somatic psychology and the founder and director of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute. According to Pat Ogden, grasping is one of the five basic movements. The other four are yield, push, reach and pull. This is an easy exercise you can do at home if you are curious.

How to do it:

Find a quiet space and an object you can drop without the object breaking or ending up with a dent in the floor. Consider spreading a blanket if it’s a hard floor. The object should be heavy enough to drop with some momentum; not a feather but bot a bowling ball either. It could be a small ball, a pen, a glue stick. Stand upright, holding the object in front of you in a firm grip, arm slightly bent. Check in with your body and your senses how that feels. Then, let the object fall to the ground and try to notice in as much detail as possible how that feels. It’s best to repeat this a few times, always checking in with your body and body sensations. Whatever feels better – the action of grasping and holding the object or the action of letting it fall to the ground – might give you a clue about your natural pattern.

Whatever your tendency – remember this:

Life is a balance between holding on and letting go

Rumi

Knowing our natural tendency can help us to check in with ourselves when we feel stuck – is there a good reason that is holding us back or is it that we simply operate in a pattern of feeling more comfortable with holding on? In a situation where we want to run for the hills – is there a good reason for this and should we trust our instinct, or can we recognise a pattern that we are often quick to move on? Whatever it is for you, there is no right or wrong, but it is always good to be self-aware.

Get in touch if you have questions on the exercise! I love to hear from you.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

trailhead of a path into the forest

Finding the trailhead of your creative process

I am on day 22 of #the100day project and my #100daysofsensemakingemotions. Once I had decided to embark on this project, I quickly devised a plan. I was going to use Tiffany Watt Smith’s ‘The Book of Human Emotions’ and create a collage a day in a journal. This is fairly typical for me and my creative process. Incubation is the first phase of any creative process, it is a phase of staying open, a phase of collecting divergent ideas and inspiration. It is often skipped in today’s fast paced world – I’m not alone in my tendency to quickly jump into doing as this is the only way to feel productive and that ‘I’ve got this’. However, incubation requires time and space, it often happens in the background when we work on something else. That’s your classic shower moment.

Initially, I described my project on Instagram with the following words: ‘to create an A-Z of emotions, using imagery, colours and words to capture 100 emotions in the form of a small book.’ So, there you go. Looking back, I notice how restricted this first project outline was. I imposed on myself the format of a book, a small one, and the order from A to Z. Luckily, I couldn’t find the right journal of around 100 pages. This bottleneck in the journal market forced me to re-enter my incubation stage. My initial idea, the second stage in the creative process, became: ‘100 days of collaging a range of emotions, possibly adding some mixed media, the rest is going to unfold as I go along.’ I kept my subject of emotions, my main art form collage, and that’s pretty much it. The initial idea is like a trailhead, a starting point. As a lover of mountains & hiking, I love this analogy from Lisa Mitchell, the author of ‘Creativity as Co-Therapist’. Arriving at the trailhead always feels energising, we’re ready, we check the time, our gear, we have an idea where this hike is taking us, roughly how long we’ll be walking, how difficult the terrain might be. And we’re ready to set off with a feeling of excitement and curiosity and without seeing the entire walk in front of us.

Whenever we try to create something or come to a decision, we must articulate an initial idea that takes into consideration our meandering thoughts from the incubating stage and remains open to changes and adjustment. Without this we become stuck, blocked and can’t get started. We might procrastinate and avoid the risk of beginning by doing more research or planning or by aborting the topic altogether. To get going we need to trust the trailhead and accept that there is always a risk that the trail might suddenly end, be poorly marked, or is treacherous…

So, how is it going with the #100daysofsensemakingemotions? It’s going well and I am so very happy that I didn’t set an A-Z order, preselect 100 emotions and didn’t find a suitable journal! The more improvised approach allows me to work with whatever emotion turns up on the day. Once I started the project, I also stopped limiting myself to just the one book and I enjoy exploring various online sources for inspiration. Without a journal I can be led by the size of the main image. And there are loads of ideas of what I might do with the 100 cards at the end. It’s still early days, but I think this more haphazard approach helps me to stick with it. This is not a manifesto to stop planning and show up in life unprepared. Bring the right gear for your hike. Take a map and a compass. But be prepared to leave the trail if it’s flooded, embrace the option to turn back if it gets too difficult or the weather changes. Without getting yourself to the trailhead you’ll never hike anywhere.

P.S. It never seizes to amaze me how we find trailheads in an art therapy session. They come in the form of an image, a colour, a twisted paper clip or a gesture. Anything goes and we are off!

Contact me to find your trailhead.

Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

random art materials

Improvising and saying ‘yes’

Recently, I’ve been inspired by reading a gem of a book called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. Since drama club has always been my personal nemesis, I was surprised how strongly I connected with her ideas and how her writing felt relevant for my work as an art therapist.

Although I enjoy watching performances, I feel quite self-conscious as a performer. I have anxious memories of a teacher in secondary school who saw some comedy talent in me and insisted on me starring in the school play. In the originally planned play I would have been playing a queen – now that Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her performance in The Favourite I wonder whether I’ve missed a trick… But I ended up being a lion in a much shorter play with the added benefit of having no lines other than a roar.

What stood out for me was that all the thirteen maxims covered in this book felt so relevant for someone working with a relational approach. And in the end, aren’t we all working relationally, i.e. being in relationships with colleagues, clients, suppliers and collaborators during the workday. And we continue being in relationship in our private lives with partners, families, friends and kids.

Patricia Madson encourages us to improvise our lives. She describes the ‘improv world’ as people who are easy to be with. Who doesn’t want to be ‘easy to be with’??? She encourages us to say ‘yes’ and makes the important distinction that saying ‘yes’ doesn’t and shouldn’t turn anyone into a yes-person or doormat. But it can open up some spontaneity, it lets you risk stepping into the unknown and uncomfortable.

Improvising and risk taking are hard. Evolution has given us a solid planning instinct to make sure we make it over the winter and periods low on food. Modern life continues to incentivise those well organised and prepared, it even tries to sell us funeral insurance! I’m not opposed to some sensible retirement planning, and if it helps someone to juggle their lives meal planning is also fine. But I often feel that all this planning makes us less and less comfortable to sit with stretches of unfilled time, risk or uncertainty. Without a clear direction or next step, we easily start to feel fear rising in us. We fear failure and embarrassment when we take a risk that doesn’t pay off. We fear the lack of control when we have to improvise or abandon plans. We fear rejection when others might disapprove of a decision or action we take. And FOMO (fear of missing out) is of course a well-established fear that drives us to plan and fill our days to the brim with activities.

But when we manage to stop running away from fear (assuming there is no danger to our lives) and find out what fear is trying to alert us to it can be a very insightful and useful emotion. It can motivate us and inject energy to act in a certain direction. With the mindset of improvising and an awareness of the function of fear we can say ‘yes’ to something despite a sense of dread, anxiety or worry.

I’m saying ‘yes’ to running two workshops combining some ideas of improv theatre with art therapy processes. What are you saying ‘yes’ to?

Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space