Creative Wellness Blog

Creative Wellness, COVID-19, and Social Distancing

Copyright: Stock Unlimited
Cultivating Creativity
Cultivating Creativity
Mini Star Quilt
Mini Star Quilt
Zentangle mandala tile. Copyright: Nancy Monson
Paper quilling. Copyright Nancy Monson
Fiber collage of my dog Zoey with butterfly wings. Copyright: Nancy Monson

So we’re all home-bound and will be for a while—or at least I hope we’re following that advice. It’s really our only hope to fight the COVID-19 virus. Stay away from others until the virus starts to dissipate and so a mass of people don’t get sick and overwhelm the healthcare system as has happened in Italy and China.

I truly believe in what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is telling us about going into isolation and perhaps even lockdown: “I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting,” he says. (An aside: As a health writer, I interviewed Dr. Fauci about the AIDS crisis and I’ve followed his career. He is a caring, rationale, hard-working medical expert, and very, very smart about public health. He is doing his best to protect us and get ahead of this crisis. I think he and Dr. Deborah Brix are the voices of reason here. Even Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is less credible because his agency and the Food and Drug Administration apparently didn’t get testing off the ground quickly enough, which is why we are playing catch-up).

Keeping yourself and your family occupied during this time can be challenging. Books and TV are great (and boy am I grateful for all of the amazing TV series and movies we have available to us today!), but it’s also the perfect time to turn to creative activities, which can distract you from worries about the virus, the stock market, and your job, and give you a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve been lucky enough to practice what I preach as the author of Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Pastimes. Crafts and creative hobbies have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My mom used to draw and color with me, and she encouraged my sister and I both to do creative writing. She sent us for art lessons, which we loved, and piano lessons (which I sucked at!). Today, I quilt, I sew, I paint on silk and canvas. I just like to make things. The practice engrosses me, makes me feel less lonely, and it makes me feel happy to see what I’ve made. And during these starting days of isolation, it’s been a wonderful comfort, so I’d like to suggest some “Craft to Heal” ideas for the crafty and non-crafty out there.

If you’ve always been thinking about it, now’s the time, and you’ve got lots of fodder for entries with the surreal news each day. I have kept a journal since I was a teenager. I would never want anyone else to read what I’ve written, but when I look back on those pages, it helps me remember not only the details of my life, but also how I felt about people and circumstances. And it helps me see things in a new light and from a more seasoned perspective.

To Begin. You can start journaling simply by writing down significant things that happen to you and how you feel about them (um, the coronavirus pandemic perhaps?). Or you can do a life review, looking back at the ups and downs of your lifetime. Actress Jane Fonda, author of Prime Time: Making the Most of All of Your Life, found doing a life review liberating. She told USA Today, “The rap on me was there was no ‘there’ there. I was pretty much what my husbands wanted me to be. But when I did my life review, preparing for my 60s and writing my memoir, there were themes that ran through my life….I saw who I was, as opposed to who my husbands wanted me to be. I could own who I was.”

Another option, particularly if you feel overwhelmed or blocked, is to do “morning pages,” three pages of long-hand, stream-of-consciousness writings every morning to access your creativity. These pages, the brain child of creativity expert Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, are for your eyes only and they may be a jumbled mess, a laundry list of things you need to do or the same phrase written over and over again. They may even contain doodles and drawings.

A third option is to write a list of what you’re grateful for each day—a particularly good cup of coffee this morning, a cellphone chat with an old friend, watching a funny movie on TV, reading a good book. This practice can keep you focused on the positives in your life rather than having you focus on the negatives that can pull you down into the abyss.

Journaling Benefits. “It’s wonderful to have a creative outlet like journaling to provide structure, habit, and ritual to your life,” notes Gina Carroll, author of A Story That Matters: A Gratifying Approach to Writing About Your Life. Creative outlets also provide an emotional release, she says, adding “There is something magical and enduring about the written word.”

You likely have supplies readily available and you can get instructions or watch videos online about how to make things out of paper, like the origami technique. Quilling is also fun and easy, and you can make your own strips of paper.

You can do this manually—and if you don’t have supplies, order them online from Joann’s or You can also do a digital book with a service like Shutterfly.

Here are tips on how to create a pleasing collage or scrapbook page:
• Decide on your substrate—heavy paper, cardboard, canvas, fabric, clay board, encaustic board, whatever. (If you’re going to use heavy paper or cardboard, you want to prepare it first so it doesn’t curl. You do this by wetting it on both sides with water and using paper tape or objects to keep it flat till it dries.)
• Think of a theme, emotion, or issue you want to explore.
• Look through magazines for images and words that speak to you; cut them out. Also use your own photographs or personal items in your collage.
• Decide on a focal point—a large image that will be the main focus of your collage. You can set this image anywhere you like—center, right or left. Your eye will first be drawn to this image and then move around the collage from there.
• Decide on background colors and papers. You want different textures and areas of light and dark to create the most interesting piece.
• Piece the colors and papers together—ripping them, cutting them artfully, setting them on their side, overlapping them. Lay them out without glue first. Keep looking at the piece and experimenting, moving things around, taking things off and putting other things on.
• Once you like the look of the background, paste them down. You can paint over the papers if you like with a glossy acrylic paint.
• Then paste the image to your board—put glue on the board and not the image and use a brayer to smooth out bubbles and reduce crinkling.
• You can alter the photo with pens, add written or typed words or phrases.
• Keep adding to the image with words and embellishments until you feel the piece is done!
• Spray or paint with varnish to set and protect. Frame if you like and hang on your wall!

I teach a relaxing creative technique called Zentangle drawing, whose mantra is “Anything is possible, one stroke at a time.™” The Zentangle® Method looks like a complicated form of drawing or doodling, but it is actually an easy-to-learn technique that is fun and relieves stress. At its core, Zentangle art is all about being in the moment and being mindful, paying attention to what you are doing and getting into a rhythm and a flow, which pushes away worries and distractions. The drawings unfold in an unplanned, yet structured way, and everyone’s drawing comes out differently—even though each person creates the same patterns (called tangles in the Zentangle lexicon). There is no right or wrong with Zentangle; there are only opportunities.

“The Zentangle Method works with what we call the ‘elegance of limits’ to inspire a creativity that isn’t normally experienced with the just-do-anything approach to doodling,” says Rick Roberts, who along with artist and calligrapher Maria Thomas founded Zentangle, Inc. The duo from Whitinsville, Mass., created the method back in 2003, merging the best of meditation and art, and have since trained approximately 4,000 teachers in 40 countries. These Certified Zentangle Teachers (or CZTs—including me!) have, in turn, taught others the technique.

Making Zentangle art is not only enjoyable, but it can also bring you to a healing, relaxed state of mind, says Roberts. That’s a fact borne out by a recent study from Drexel University, which found that 45 minutes of drawing a day reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making people feel calmer. Likewise, a survey of 1,362 people worldwide conducted by researchers at the University of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn., showed that people who made Zentangle drawings felt it relaxed them and helped them to focus, eased pain and anxiety and enhanced their creativity.

“We believe life is an art form and that each of us is an artist,” Roberts concludes. “You are more creative, more imaginative and more expressive than you could ever know. And Zentangle drawing helps you to access that creativity and make beautiful drawings as a bonus.”

Supplies, beginning instruction and list of CZTs

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Nancy Monson is a freelance writer, editor, artist and health coach. Her articles on topics ranging from health and nutrition to travel, spas, pets and creativity have been published in over 30 national magazines and newsletters, including AARP The Magazine, Bottom Line Personal, Family Circle, Glamour, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, Shape, Weight Watchers Magazine, and Woman’s Day. Nancy is also the author of three consumer books: Creative Wellness, an ebook published in 2012; Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Crafts; and The Smart Guide to Boosting Your Energy, published by John Wiley and Sons in 1999.