By Dr. Shelley Carson
The time during, between, and after deployments often include periods of negative feelings – such as loneliness, depression, or anxiety. These feelings are common, whether you are the one who deployed or the family member back home. One way to combat these feelings is to use that negative energy as a motivator to do something creative. Expressing your emotional distress through creative writing, painting, or making music can distract you from those destructive feelings and may even help you find meaning in a painful event or situation. English novelist Graham Green, for example, often talked about how writing allowed him to cope with the adversity in his life. Likewise, blues music became a way of expressing and dealing with melancholy and sadness to a generation of musicians.
Creative activities can reduce anxiety and stress, and they even have the power to aid in the healing process if you’ve experienced trauma or injury. That’s why art therapy, music therapy, and even drama therapy are often added to standard forms of treatment for depression and anxiety. [Note that if negative moods persist for long periods or are severe, you should seek the help of a healthcare professional rather than “self-medicating” with creative work.]
You don’t have to be a trained writer, musician, or artist to receive the benefits of a creative activity. Personal expression of emotion is powerful, even from the untrained creator. There are a number of ways you can channel your negative feelings into creative work. Standard outlets include: music (singing/playing an instrument or composing a melody), writing (poetry, short stories, or journaling), art (drawing and sculpture), and drama. That’s just to name a few but there are other outlets as well. Florists can express moods through flower arrangements, and chefs use spices and herbs to suggest different moods; you can also creatively express yourself through photography, gardening, quilting, or woodworking. There are endless ways you can creatively express anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or anger and transform that emotion into something original and useful.
So go ahead and slap some paint (or markers or crayons) onto a blank surface, use pots and pans as a makeshift drum set, or set a timer and write an unstructured poem for five minutes – anything that comes to your mind (don’t worry about rhyming or spelling). These activities are far more therapeutic than using drugs, liquor, sex, or risky behavior to combat negative emotions. Or you can use your negative emotions as the subject matter for a painting, a song, or a short story. Many of the world’s most famous creative people have used their negative moods for subject matter (including poet Emily Dickinson, the composer Tchaikovsky, and playwright Eugene O’Neill – and many of today’s country and rock artists).
You don’t have to be talented, and you don’t have to share what you produce with anyone else. Don’t judge your creative work – just get involved in it! The point is to turn a potentially destructive emotion into a constructive activity. Remember, creative activity can make you feel better.
Dr. Shelley Carson is a Senior Subject Matter Expert for the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, a professor of psychology and an internationally renowned published author.