Many of us will be concerned about the continued impact of lockdown on our mental health – especially during the winter months when our focus and motivation levels can easily drop. One of the most effective ways that you can avoid bottling up your feelings, or letting feelings of stress or anxiety overwhelm you, is to find ways to express yourself – something that can be particularly difficult at a time when we’re having to keep physical distance from those in our support networks.
Self-expression is incredibly personal, and you’ll often know when you find an activity that works for you, because you’ll often feel calmer and more relaxed during, after, or both. The best forms of self-expression are those activities that you can get completely lost in, because they transport your mind somewhere else, and offer an escape from any overwhelming emotions.
From cooking to fashion, right through to photography, here are 12 activities to help you get through the coming weeks.
1. Keep a journal
Journaling is a powerful form of self-expression that you can do anytime, anywhere. Many people compare their journal to a best friend, because it’s always there to listen and not judge. Many people say that they feel calmer and more at peace after writing in a journal because it gives them clarity, perspective and a place to simply acknowledge and accept their feelings.
One of the best things about writing your thoughts, feelings and experiences down on paper is that there are no rules. You can shout, swear, share unpopular opinions – or express hopes and goals for the future. You can also choose to write in it everyday, or just whenever you need to offload some strong emotions. It’s entirely up to you.
If you want to get a feel for how powerful diary entries can be, then you only have to look at a few examples from history. For example, Nelson Mandela’s, Conversations With Myself, Anne Frank’s, The Diary of a Young Girl, and Virginia Woolf’s, A Writer’s Diary.
To find out more about how to start journaling, you might find it helpful to have a read of our articles; The power of journaling as a life habit, or How to write a letter to your future self that you’ll treasure forever.
2. Make something from scratch
Making something from scratch – whether it be a wooden stool, a blanket or a bar of soap – can be incredibly rewarding. Many people also find hands-on DIY activities to be helpful for letting off steam and channeling strong negative emotions. It can feel as though you’re taking that negative energy and turning it into something positive that you can use and benefit from. Having a project that you can work on for several hours, days or weeks at a time can also give you something productive to focus on, distract your mind from other things, and help you learn some new skills along the way.
It’s a good idea to choose to make something that you feel passionate about, that would be really useful, or that would be a lovely gift for a friend or family member. This way, you’re likely to enjoy the process more, and see it through to the end. Our article, 12 fun and creative projects that you can do at home and 8 practical DIY skills that you can learn at home, will hopefully offer some inspiration if you’re looking for somewhere to start.
3. Take photographs
Your camera has an amazing ability to capture images that can express your emotion in any given moment, and you will often be naturally drawn to scenes or moments that relate to what you’re feeling. For example, if your mood is largely linked to the changing seasons, then you might want to take an image that you feel represents British winter and the way that you feel about it. Or perhaps, you could express feelings of isolation or hope for the future, with the images that you capture either at home, out of your window, or out on a walk.
The amazing thing about photography is that – like journaling – you can take photos anytime, anywhere. During lockdown, when we’re getting out less, this is also a chance to focus on and appreciate some of the sights and scenes that we might usually overlook and take for granted. You could photograph landscapes, your food, or even your pets!
During the last lockdown, we held a photography competition and invited you to send in your favourite lockdown snaps – you might find it interesting to have a look at the results, here. Or if you’re new to photography, but would be keen to find out more, then check out our articles; A beginner’s guide to photography or How to take better photos with your phone.
4. Start a scrapbook
Organising some of your favourite photos, words, colours and images in a scrapbook is a great way to distract your mind from negative thoughts, keep your hands busy and have a nice keepsake at the end.
The theme of your scrapbook is up to you – you could keep a mood scrapbook, where you create collages that reflect your emotions on any given day, or that is full of positive images, words and photos that you know will help to cheer you up if you’re feeling a bit low. Or perhaps you’ve got boxes or drawers full of photos and keepsakes, and could spend some time arranging them in scrapbooks. This can be a nice way to enjoy some of your favourite memories.
Everyone’s scrapbook will look completely different – some might be very classic and understated, while others might be a busy explosion of colours and images that cover every inch of every page. Whatever you decide to create, the most important thing is that you have fun with it and express yourself.
You can buy a scrapbook for a few pounds on Amazon, and there are no rules on how you fill it. If you don’t have any photos, then you could consider using cuttings from old magazines or newspapers. Or Hobbycraft also has a great selection of scrapbooking supplies, such as coloured cards, stickers and other decorations, which you can order online.
For some scrapbooking inspiration, have a watch of the short video below.
5. Cook or bake
Cooking (or baking) is one of those things that can comfort us when we’re sad, and allow us to celebrate when we’re happy. There’s also such a huge range of options for what you can come up with, giving you complete creative freedom.
The reason that cooking makes for such an effective form of self-expression is because it engages nearly all of the senses. We can choose colours, textures, smells and tastes that appeal to us, or that reflect what we’re feeling or going through at that time. For example, a lasagne might be your go to on a cold blustery day, a chocolate sponge cake when you’re looking to celebrate, or a totally new recipe when you’re feeling bored and restless.
Cooking is also an act of self-care – for ourselves and for those around us. There’s something really satisfying about knowing that we’re looking after ourselves and our families, by creating a tasty treat to enjoy.
When I lived with a close friend of mine, I could always tell how she was feeling by her activity in the kitchen. If she was ever feeling low, she would bake several loaves of bread and deliver them to friends and family. Or, if she was feeling particularly good about something, she would usually be found making her favourite curry with all the extras.
If you need some cooking inspiration to help you get started, then it’s worth checking out the food and drink section of our site, where we have a range of ideas, including 12 of the best baking recipes.
6. Draw or paint
Anyone can use drawing or painting as a form of creative expression – regardless of how good an artist you consider yourself to be. While you might take up these activities as a hobby, with the intention of learning, developing your technique, and really honing your craft – you can still put pencil or brush to paper to simply let loose and express yourself.
You might decide that you want to choose an object to draw or paint and really create a likeness. Or you might just want to choose two or three colours that represent your mood, and put down a few wiggly lines or some doodles. Your art doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else but you – nor do you ever have to show it to anyone else if you don’t want to – which is what makes it so liberating. You can be completely free from rules of expectations.
It’s unusual to ever regret doing a workout – even if it was tough, or you didn’t perform as well as you would have liked to. This is mostly down to the fact that when we exercise, our bodies release endorphins (happy hormones), which make us feel good. Many people say that if they’re feeling pent up, anxious, or angry and they do some exercise, then they often feel calmer, and better able to cope with the rest of the day. It’s ability to relax us can also help to improve our sleep quality.
It’s also easy to lose confidence when we’re spending a lot of time at home, and are unable to do a lot of the activities that we would usually do in the outside world. But exercise can really help with this, as it reminds us how strong and capable we are – especially when we push beyond the limits of what we thought we could achieve. Just because gyms have temporarily closed, there’s no reason why we can’t get our daily dose of exercise at home or outdoors.
If you want to use exercise as an outlet, and a way to express yourself, then it’s important to choose something that you enjoy and can become ‘your go to activity’ whenever you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. It could be anything from running, to dancing, through to taking an exercise class online. Dancing is often a popular choice, because it has the ability to make many of us smile no matter how we’re feeling, or whether or not we have any rhythm! Have a watch of the african dance tutorial for beginners below, or check out our article 5 steps to staying fit from home.
8. Experiment with fashion
It’s not uncommon to feel that because we’re staying at home more, that there’s little point putting on your favourite dress or shirt, grooming your beard, or wearing a red lip every now and again. But presenting yourself in a way that you like, can help you feel more positive, and affect how focused and motivated you feel in other areas of your life.
Experimenting with different looks and outfits, is also a way to express your uniqueness, and to strengthen the connection you have with yourself. Some people say that their dress sense and/or their grooming regime are a big part of who they are – so if they stop making an effort with these things, then it’s only natural that they might start feeling less like themselves.
Dressing in a way that makes you feel good, also has the potential to empower you and make you feel more confident. When we feel this way, we’re more likely to feel like we can tackle anything that comes our way!
If you’re feeling fed up because you can’t attend social gatherings with friends or family, and you’re pretty much living in your pajamas, or wearing the same three outfits every week, then why not choose a couple of evenings to get dressed up anyway? It’s likely that you’ll feel much better for it, and it might also give you the extra nudge you need to schedule a video call with your friends, family or work colleagues, so you can show off your efforts.
It can also be fun just to spend some time experimenting with different outfits, hairstyles, grooming regimes and/or make up ideas that make you feel good. Some people make a point of putting on a bright outfit whenever they feel low because they know it will lift their spirits, and boost their motivation. Others might simply get a lift from putting on a bit of mascara and some lipstick.
9. Create a vision board
Our lowest days often occur when we lose sight of our dreams and ambitions, and can no longer see a positive path forward. So, if you’re feeling like you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel and visualise life beyond lockdown, then putting together a vision board might help. Vision boards are great for helping you to look forward, and imagine a reality beyond the one that you’re currently in – and looking at your vision board daily could offer you hope, and remind you of the steps you need to take to get closer to reaching your goals.
It’s important that your vision board is an honest reflection of your goals, hopes and desires, because the theory is that once you express these things – you’ll be more likely to make them a reality. It’s usually a collection of colours, words and images that mean something to you and represent the future that you would like to create for yourself.
Vision boards are really straightforward to put together, and you can spend as little or as much time working on yours as you like. You can also add to it over time, or create new ones as your goals change. All you need to get started is a cork board (or a large piece of paper) and some drawing pins, which you can get for a reasonable price on Amazon. You can also find cork boards on Hobbycraft’s website here, and drawing pins here. Then you’ll need to gather as many photos, pictures and magazine cuttings as possible, so that you can arrange these on your board in a way that makes sense to you.
To give you greater insight into the benefits of creating a vision board, and exactly how to create one, we’ve written a detailed guide, which we hope you’ll find useful.
10. Immerse yourself in music
Perhaps you’ve got a keyboard, an old harmonica or a guitar that is sat gathering dust – or maybe you’ve always enjoyed singing but have never dedicated much time to it. Lockdown, although difficult, can be a great time to immerse yourself in activities that we wouldn’t usually have time for – like learning or developing your musical talents.
Whether you’re feeling heartbroken, appreciative, hopeful or upset, music can help you express it all. When playing an instrument, there are happy chords and sad ones, when we sing, we can choose upbeat songs or emotional ones, and when we write songs, we can choose lyrics that perfectly capture what we’re feeling at that moment in time.
YouTube is bursting with videos that can show you how to learn musical instruments, songwrite or sing – so this can be a really helpful place to get started. Alternatively, if you don’t want to create your own music, you might still benefit from putting together some playlists – perhaps one for when you’re in need of some motivation, one for when you need a good cry, and another for when you feel excited or positive. Spotify is a great place to do this – a basic account is free, and will allow you to create as many playlists as you like, and choose from thousands of songs.
11. Speak to people
Although we can’t see loved ones in the way that we would like to at the moment, there are still plenty of ways you can stay connected to people, so that you have a place to offload if you need to. Video calling is one of the most popular ways to do this, so that you can see the person that you’re speaking to, and hopefully feel close to them. Or if you’re suffering from screen fatigue, you might prefer a regular phone call – perhaps you could even go out for a walk at the same time!
You can also connect with new people via support groups, online forums or Facebook groups. These are great places to have some interesting or helpful conversations with people who share similar interests, or who are going through similar experiences. We have a few online communities below, that you might be interested in joining…
12. Spruce up your living space
What better time to choose a new colour for your bedroom walls, or hang some new wall art, then when you’re spending the majority of your time at home? Not only will this help you to feel more positive about the idea of having to stay indoors, but it will also give you the opportunity to get creative, change your surroundings and make your home feel more alive.
Before you start thinking about some of the ways you could do this, it can be helpful to spend some time thinking about you – what you enjoy, how you currently tend to feel when you’re at home, and how you’ll be using your living space. This will help to guide the choices you make.
For example, if you work from home, then perhaps you could spend some time creating a motivational space in your home that is exclusively for work – this could be a room, or a comfy corner, as long as when you enter that space, you feel ready to start work. Or if you live in a small flat and you’re feeling a bit boxed in, then you could consider hanging some mirrors, to open up the space, and make it feel bigger. There are also a number of things you could do to brighten the place up, like adding rugs, plants, throws or cushions. Our article, 12 affordable ways to improve your living space, can offer you a few more ideas.
These times are extremely challenging for so many of us, and it’s only natural that the continuation of lockdown might have left you feeling deflated, angry or frustrated. However, one of the most helpful things we can do during this time, is to focus on the things we can control – like looking after ourselves – rather than the things we can’t.
An important part of looking after our mental health involves giving ourselves an outlet for any strong emotions, to prevent them from building to a level where daily life becomes unmanageable. This will mean different things to different people, so it’s important to take time to reflect on how you’re feeling, be kind to yourself and find what works best for you.
Have you found any of the activities above to be helpful forms of self-expression? Do you have any other suggestions that have helped you during lockdown? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.