Today I want to discuss the next aspect within my Wellness Series- Expression. The types of expression I want to explore are artistic expression, and self expression through communication.
I feel very deeply that the ability to express ourselves in healthy ways is essential to living a honest, stimulating and fulfilling life. We can often get swept up in the whirlwind of work/kids/friends/life that we stop allocating time to self improvement and critical reflection- so this is a space that allows that to happen.
In regards to artistic expression, I wanted to touch on this practice as it fits in the the Creativity section of the Self Care Wheel, and can be a super fun wellness activity to schedule. I also wanted to talk a bit about communication, as it is the key way in which we are able to express ourselves to others, and I think that many of us (myself included) can improve the ways in which we go about talking to, and reacting to the people in our lives.
Within this blog I’ve also included a downloadable copy of my Self care wheel, so you can start using one if you find it helpful for scheduling and reminding yourself to engage in wellness activities!
As adults we tend to lose touch with our creative selves, which really is a huge bummer. We don’t so much lose the ability to express ourselves through art, but we tend to lose the confidence needed to do so. Art encompasses a range of outlets, from drawing and painting to singing and dancing (basically anything we really enjoyed as younger humans). You may need to do some exploring to discover the kind of art that resonates with living your best life, but that can be super fun to figure out!
The great thing about artsy activities is that it doubles as a form of meditation. When you are painting, colouring in, dancing, scrapbooking or learning how to play the guitar, it is an essential requirement that your brain is fully engaged with the task, and therefore, totally in the present. These activities don’t leave room for your mind to wander, or to dwell on the past or think about the future, they bring you back into the now. This practice of presence is essential to cultivating more peace and calmness in your life. Remember- we are only ever effective in the now.
It is a crucial practice to halt the mind from mulling over things that have happened in the past. When you really think about it, that whole process is useless, and usually only causes you to relive the pain/embarrassment/suffering of moments that literally no longer exist. Similarly, spending a lot of time focusing on the future (what will happen next/i’ll be happy when this finally happens) is a waste of energy, and can heavily distract you from enjoying the moment that is happening right now in front of you. This isn’t to say that having a fond reminisce or planning for a future event is bad, it’s just having the awareness that there is a time and a place to be doing/considering those things, and it’s not when you are driving/daydreaming whilst watching a TV show/having coffee with a friend. Allocate your time wisely and strictly. When it’s time to plan goals, paint or look through old photo albums, be there in that moment and really enjoy that activity. Art is a great way to bring you back to that quiet, center space.
Creative activities offer a combo of benefits, from being a great way to cultivate a new skill, meditate and release stress, to taking care of your mental health. I encourage you to try something new this week, something a bit different and a bit artsy, and pay attention to how you feel whilst you’re doing it. Remember to leave your judgement at the door, and really embrace what you’re doing. For example, a Cabernet and Canvas class or session at home could be a great way to try something new that demands a level of presence that we often don’t encounter in day to day routine activities. If you catch your mind wandering, or hear it starting to get its judgy-pants on (eg. thinking “this looks awful” or “why am I trying to paint, I know I’m not good at it”) remind yourself that everything in life isn’t about winning or being the best ever. It’s about enjoying every moment that comes your way, and finding delight in the many ways that we can care for ourselves. Becoming holistically healthy through Self Care is a practice, and we all know that the process of practice entails actually doing it.
Humans are social creatures, but many of us struggle to express ourselves in a healthy, positive way. As communication really is the key way in which we express ourselves to one another, I want to go over some reflective practices and techniques we can use to check-in with the way we communicate, and consider the ways in which we can communicate better.
A few years ago I realised that I had unknowingly become an extremely defensive person. It wasn’t until someone pointed this out to me in a moment of calm, that I really began to see this aspect of myself for what it was. Fear.
Realising that this defensive (and ultimately fearful) piece of myself wasn’t something that I wanted to be, I was able to start unpacking it and make some real changes to the way that I expressed myself. I realised that the way we communicate can be a direct product of the way we communicated in the home as we grew up, and that we don’t have to keep carrying that learned trait into adulthood. Once I really stood back and looked at my behaviour, I was able to decide for myself that it really wasn’t the way that I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be unreasonable, angry and easily triggered. This was a behaviour that I had learnt, but it wasn’t one that I had to continue. I began to understand that this behaviour wasn’t me. It was in fact something that I had picked up, but with work, I knew that it was something that I could also put down again.
So I began the long process of change. I worked on learning to apologise more often and more sincerely. I learned not to raise my voice when angry. I learned that remaining as calm as possible was key to hearing what others were saying, and that this calmness allowed me to express myself more clearly. I learned to use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements, which has been so pivotal to avoiding arguments and triggering defensive behaviour.
All of these small but significant understandings weren’t easy to cultivate, they never really are, are they? But learning them took practice, and with practice, I changed my ingrained behaviours. I wasn’t always successful, and I can still react in a negative way at times, but the key to this idea is understanding that none of us communicate perfectly, and it is okay to be wrong. Making a change to the way you express yourself is entirely possible, at any age or any stage. You may never fully ‘arrive’ to a constant state of peace and calm, but you can get pretty damn close as long as you stay vigilant, engage in reflective practices, and never be afraid to say sorry.
There are many strategies out there that can be used to improve the way you express yourself through communication, but I will mention a way that I have found to be most effective. Self reflection is a powerful tool for identifying areas of your life/personality that you want to improve, and in this context we can use it to identify negative communication patterns that may be having an impact on your life. Firstly, think about a few particularly difficult conversations or arguments you have had in the past that you know you could have handled better (outline the substance of those interactions a piece of paper if that helps). Consider how you reacted in those situations. Were you angry/triggered/sad? Did you feel shame/guilt/embarrassment/confusion? Did you yell? Did you shut down? Usually a common feeling or action will reveal itself as you go through those scenarios. That’s the first step, the identification of your ‘communication monster’. One you have found it and named it, you can see that this thing isn’t really you. It’s just a habit that has made a home in you, and that can (and must) be kicked to the curb.
After identifying your common, negative reaction, the next step is to make an action plan of how to tame the monster when it inevitably rears its ugly head. Here are some ideas of how to tame two very common communication monsters:
- Focus on what the other person is actually saying- don’t twist their words or make inferences
- Defensiveness will often try and take what the other person is saying to reiterate a negative belief you have about yourself. For example, your partner says “you forgot to take the bins out this morning” and immediately the defensive voice thinks that this statement is somehow an attack on you- that you are lazy and stupid and forgetful (not true). It encourages you to say “Well YOU forgot to bring the washing in so YOU can’t talk”. This is not a helpful response, and instantly this conversation has become an argument.
- Resist the urge to go into attack mode
- The defensive communication demon loves to feel like a victim. It thinks that anything said to you is somehow an attack on your personality, and that you must instantly shift the blame back onto the other person. REMEMBER- this isn’t you. It’s a behaviour that you have learnt, that you can (and must) unlearn. So when your partner says something like “Can you please try and be more careful with *something*”, check your emotions before responding. If they flare up, know that it’s simply an old response that is no longer useful to you. Know that they are NOT attacking you in any way shape or form.
- Know that you can say sorry, and that it does not mean that you are somehow weak or stupid or anything of that nature. Apologising takes integrity and humility. It is a strength.
- If someone is speaking to you calmly and kindly, try and mirror that back to them.
- Practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to spot that monster doing it’s thing, and know that you can choose to stop it in its tracks with the that way you choose to respond.
I find that the best antidote to anxiety taking the wheel on the communication front is to take it’s power away. I try to remember that:
- Anxiety is basically your mind tricking you into a state of fight or flight in response to everyday interactions, circumstances and triggers.
- Anxiety is like three little teddy bears stacked on top of each other with a sheet over their heads, pretending to be a big mighty, scary ghost. Yes, the fear of the ghost is palpable and REAL, but fly kicking it in the head will reveal its true nature (a fraud)
- Through the use of mindfulness activities, practicing different modes of communication and utilising positive self talk, you can work to expose anxiety for what it really is- fear disguised as need.
I won’t pretend that anxiety is an easy monster to tackle, I know that it isn’t, but my greatest advice for when anxiety takes over communication is to be as honest as possible. Be honest about the fact that you are triggered, and that you have fear. Allow a trusted person to help you unpack you fears, and see them for what they really are. Asking for help is never weak, it is only ever brave.
These are just a couple of examples that I have examined from my own personal experience- they wont be right for everyone, but can provide you with an idea of how you can go forth and unpack your own.
Cultivating honesty, patience and clarity in your communication takes practice, but it is absolutely worth the work. The relationships in my life are all the better for it, and my relationship with myself is a million times better too. I can guarantee that if you take active steps towards expressing yourself more clearly and calmly, you will see a world of difference. Taming your communication monster, whether it be defensiveness, anxiety or anger, is completely possible.
I think that we could all spare an hour or so this coming week to practice a form of expression as Self Care, whether it be through the practice of reflection, paining a canvas or writing a letter to a loved one. Remember that wellness is a multifaceted concept, and that often the key to feeling whole is through engaging in something we have never tried.
So have fun trying something new, be present in the now, and enjoy the abundance of moments to come.