The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Creativity

No. 159: Mindful Drawing

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice being mindful by taking a few moments a day to sit and draw something you can see.

Drawing can teach us to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly (The Book of Life), it doesn’t have to be about artistic ability at all. The aim can be simply to notice properly the parts of things and how they fit together. This makes it a good way to strengthen our mindfulness muscles.

Your drawings could be simple scribbles in pencil or ballpoint pen. If you notice that you get too caught up with trying to draw a ‘good’ or accurate picture, do the exercise without looking at the paper at all – it really matters that little what you actually put down on the paper.

It’s never easy to start a new practice, so as usual you might need to schedule in some time to do this each day and organise yourself some basic materials to have on hand. Snatch a moment at lunchtime or plan a little trip to somewhere you might enjoy noticing in more detail.

Sitting down to draw, take a moment to settle into stillness and allow your breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Sometimes concentrating on drawing can lead us to hold our breath – this isn’t a breathing exercise, but it’s still important to breathe. Allow your eyes to wander until they settle on a scene or object to draw. For the next few moments, simply draw what you see in front of you on the page, however it comes out. As your mind wanders, notice the thoughts and bring yourself back to what you are drawing. As you notice your thinking mind judge the ‘goodness’ of what you are drawing, use the watching part of your mind to observe the thoughts and bring your attention back to what you see and continue to participate in the task of drawing it, no matter what shows up for you in the present. Start with just a few minutes and add another minute each day.

As you move through the week, experiment with drawing in different locations and drawing different things and observe how focusing on these different things effects your thoughts and feelings.  What is beautiful and soothing to you? What is energising and awe-inspiring for you to see? What sights and scenes weigh you down? How does your body respond to different things?

Practicing mindful drawing could help you get grounded in the present moment during times of stress and distress. It can be a useful way to learn mindfulness when it is hard to do breathing or visualisation-based exercises, or if mindfulness is an unfamiliar practice. Really, mindfulness just means paying attention to the present moment, this involves using the part of our mind that is aware of our experiences (our ‘watching mind’) instead of being totally caught up in the part of our mind that is doing the thinking (our ‘thinking mind’). Other names for our watching mind are our ‘Observing Self’ (in ACT) or ‘Wise Mind’ (in DBT). In DBT our ‘thinking mind’ is broken down into our ‘feeling mind’ and our ‘rational mind’, because we really do have lots of different kinds of thoughts running through our brains at any point in time.

Once you are comfortable doing mindful drawing in ordinary moments, add Mindful Drawing to your Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. Mindful drawing could take you out of your thoughts for a moment, allow your body a chance to calm down, and give you something neutral or positive to focus on for a while, which could give you a tiny injection of positive vibes when things are feeling chaotic or overwhelming. You could also use the exercise as an excuse to take yourself somewhere you might enjoy. Giving yourself pleasurable experiences is an important part of engaging with a life you feel is worth living.

No. 150: Make a Memory Jar

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice holding onto good memories by making and using a Memory Jar. To make a Memory Jar, all you need to do is get a jar with a lid that you can fill with reminders of your positive, special or treasured memories throughout the year. Each day, write down at least one positive thing you want to remember later. Write down the small things like amazing views or scenery you have seen or fabulous food you have eaten or moments of laughter with friends as well as the big events and achievements that happen throughout the days and weeks of the year.  Some people add objects and pictures to their memory jars too – like ticket stubs from good movies and concerts, photos of friends, shells from beach trips, dried flowers etc etc. Your Memory Jar can become a real lucky dip of treasured moments that you will be able to use as fuel for feeling good in days to come.

To start with, you’ll need to get my Memory Jar ready.  Click here to see some Memory Jars made by other people. Some people decorate their memory jars – you could get really creative with this.

Next schedule in some time each day for the next week, to write at least one new memory on a slip of paper and add it to the jar.  If you have been feeling low, try to choose a time of the day when you usually feel the best. It is harder to notice positives when we are feeling negative, so if you find it tough to think of positive memories from the day, don’t be hard on yourself for it. It helps to start small with just little things that have brought us a bit of pleasure. You might find it easier to write things down as they happen or to think back further than this one day or week.

At the end of the week, look through your Memory Jar and practice remembering each of the good moments. Plan how to continue adding to your jar as you move through the year and then dip into it when you need some help to hold on to the good bits alongside the areas of dissatisfaction you carry or for those times you need some inspiration for how to feel better. It might help to keep it somewhere you will see it often. Reviewing your Memory Jar regularly will help you to get comfortable holding your positive memories in mind without cancelling them out with the bad stuff that has happened. This can help us to prevent the difficult things from taking over our whole view.

You might find yourself having pessimistic or cynical thoughts about the activity, especially if you are in a low mood right now. Finding it hard to remember positive things doesn’t mean that there have been no positive things. It just means you haven’t noticed any positive things or you didn’t count them when you did, maybe they seemed inconsequential or insignificant. Sometimes it can help to write down something you think you would find positive on a different day if you were in a better mood. By practicing the art of writing something down every day, you will practice holding onto positive memories in the face of difficulty and hardship, when it is all too easy to forget them. You’ll also have a really neat record of your year to look back on in days to come.

As you gather more and more memories in your jar, and get comfortable noticing, recording and recalling positive memories, add ‘Use My Memory Jar’ to your Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. If you are finding things hard, take out your Memory Jar and use it to shift my thoughts to good times and moments of gratitude and find some ideas for things to do in the present to shift your mood. In times of stress and distress, as well as remembering good memories, try to add one new good memory to your Memory Jar a day. Even when everything is terrible, you will be able to find one good thing to add to your Memory Jar. Doing this during tough times might help you to balance out some of your unwanted thoughts and feelings and shift the intensity of your moods a bit.

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Happy New Year from Engage Aotearoa/CMHRT and Engage Resources Ltd.

No. 114: List Poems

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will spend 10 – 15 minutes every day writing a list poem about the things I have seen, done and felt that day. Each evening, I will sit down with a notebook and write a list of five things I saw that day, five things I did that day and five things I felt or thought. I will try to make each item on each list different. Then I will rearrange or join the items on my lists into a poem. I might add words and images or change things in my lists as well.

In this way I will practice regularly reflecting on my daily experience and finding a creative way to express it. While I am thinking of the words to use and working on rearranging the lines, I might get a bit of time out from worrying about things. If I get distracted by concerns of the day I will work them into the list and return my focus to the creative task at hand.  By working to include a number of different experiences in the list I will practice having an expansive awareness of my day without letting one experience override everything I have been aware of.

If I felt like it, I could share my poems with someone else as a way to connect with support and encouragement, but they are really something that I will do just for myself.

Once I am comfortable making list poems about a typical day, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for distracting myself from the moment and creatively expressing myself in times of stress and distress.

Example list poem. 


The aluminium sky
the neighbour’s stray cat
my own reflection in the window
outside the path littered with petals
the wind-blown tree.

I have typed so many messages
dressed myself to match
bought new socks and worn them
cooked hot food and eaten it
peeled an orange and given you half.
My small victories. 

I was caring about everything
sadness for all the news
I thought I saw you flinch when I said that
worrying over the day’s mathematics
joy in the act of nurturing something.

 – M. Barr

No. 111: Make Someone a Card

This week, to attain, maintain, or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice turning my attention to something positive by taking time in my week to make a card for someone I am grateful to for something and deliver or post it to them. I will schedule a time later in the week to make the card, so I have plenty of time to get organised. For the next little while, I will think over the people and things that I am grateful for until I think of a person I want to acknowledge and make a card for. It could be for something big, something small, something recent, or something from a long time ago.  It doesn’t really matter, but if this kind of thing makes me nervous, I could pick something small, like a recent favour from a friend. Once I have thought of someone, I will start getting ready to get creative.

I will want to find some card or paper to make it out of and design my own image for the front – I could draw something or cut pictures out of magazines or print something off a computer – but I won’t buy the card, this week’s strategy is also about using my creativity.  Finally, I will write a short thank-you message on the inside, letting them know I appreciate what they have added to my life.  I might need to spend a little while drafting what I want to say on some scrap paper. No matter what is happening in my day this week, I will find time each day to think about or work on making my card to someone I am thankful for. It is much harder to do these things when we feel low, so I might do it in little bursts, bringing my attention mindfully back to the card and where I am up to with it, whenever I am able. 

This week, I am practicing the art of emphasising the good stuff. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to all of us, and modern life isn’t set up to help us remember to notice and highlight the things we are grateful for.

Making a thank-you card means I will practice turning my attention towards positive memories as well as get a chance to practice letting myself be creative. By sending the card, I am learning another way of sending positive vibes out into the lives of others. These are all things I could feel good about.

Once I have gotten comfortable being aware of the things I am grateful for and making a card for someone at any old time, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of balancing my attention when life seems to be throwing all the hard stuff my way. When I notice I am finding things distressing on a regular basis, I will spend some time thinking of things I am grateful for, making a card to acknowledge one, and sending it to the person. Each time I notice myself getting pessimistic, I will bring my thoughts back to my card and the meaning behind it to help balance my thoughts and remember that it isn’t all bad, all the time.

No. 104: Connecting with Interests & Skills

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice connecting with my interests and developing my skills by joining some kind of community course. Most community centres offer cheap community classes on topics ranging from cooking and clothing alterations to ballroom dancing, yoga and martial arts.

This week I will spend time exploring my options and finding a first class to try. It could take a few tries before I find a class that suits me. I will use my local telephone directory, The Community Resources Directory, web searches and local noticeboards to get a picture of what is available in my community. I might also talk to the people around me about what is out there and whether they recommend anything.

As I move through my day I will remember that I am exploring my interests and am well on my way along the path towards a more enjoyable life. Any points of dissatisfaction are simply the areas that are still works in progress.

It might be hard for me to get myself along so I might ask a friend, family member or other supporter if they want to come with me. That might also be a nice way to strengthen a relationship I have been wanting to build.

Once I have found a hobby-course that I enjoy and I have become familiar with the activity I have been learning, I will add the activity to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of engaging with my skills and interests to shift my mood when I am distressed.

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Today’s post marks two full years of The Coping Kete in its online form.

The Coping Kete book is coming soon.  

No. 96: Learning a Theme Song

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will use music to help me improve the moment and connect with positive emotion by learning to hum or whistle a song I associate with happy vibes and good energy.

If no song jumps to mind automatically I will get to spend some time listening to different songs until I find one I like.

Then as I move through my day, I will periodically remember to practice humming or whistling the tune while I am doing my daily tasks. This could help to insert some pleasant energy into whatever I am doing.

Once I am comfortable and familiar with humming or whistling my tune, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a distraction and self-soothing technique for times of stress and distress.

Then, when I find myself stressed or distressed, I can distract myself for a moment by trying to remember the tune and whistling/humming it. The act of humming and whistling changes the level of oxygen in the blood and can physically help to soothe negative emotions I could be feeling, so I can return to the situation later with a clearer head. Whenever I hum or whistle my tune, I will be reminded of the positive message of the song I chose and this might also help inspire me through tough moments.

This is also a pretty good strategy to use if I ever feel so anxious that it gets hard to breathe. Humming or whistling a song could help to counteract that without having to focus my attention onto my breathing.

No. 89: Draw an Object

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice drawing objects around me as a way of refocusing my attention away from unhelpful thoughts and giving myself a break.

If I notice myself getting stressed or distressed I will take a couple of moments to sketch an object in my immediate surroundings. It could be a pen on my desk or a plant on the windowsill or anything at all. I can draw it any way I want and it doesn’t matter whether my drawing even looks like the object at all. The point is to focus my attention on something else for a while.

I could also just spend some time each day drawing as a way to get some down-time.

In preparation I’ll make sure I have a notebook and a pencil on hand.

Once I am familiar with drawing objects in my surroundings as a way of capturing my attention, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for mindfully distracting myself from distress.

No. 60: The Good Mood Diet

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I am going to practice The Good Mood Diet. It’s not a food diet, though food will be part of it.  The good mood diet is about creating opportunities for positive moods. This will strengthen my resilience to stress and distress, because it will become easier to counter dark thoughts when I have been experiencing some positive things.

The Good Mood Diet is about finding small activities that can be fitted into everyday life on a regular basis. It’s not about trying to only experience good moods, but about making sure that good moods are part of my experience.

I will start by making my own Good Mood Diet plan, which involves first making a series of lists:

  • FUN: A list of things I have enjoyed doing alone or with others
  • TIME-OUT: A list of things that I have found relaxing or peaceful or freeing – we all need time to do just as we please, to chill.
  • NOURISHMENT: A list of things that I found nurturing for my body
  • ACHIEVEMENT: A list of small everyday things that have given me a sense of accomplishment or strength utilisation.

Once I have built my four lists, I will take out my diary or day-planner and I will plan in one item from each list for every day of my week. That means that every day, amongst my usual activities, I will do one thing I find fun, one thing that gives me time out from expectations, one thing that strengthens my body and one thing that shows me my capabilities and skills.

No matter what is happening in my life, I value myself enough to gift myself the opportunity to experience the good bits.

To help myself along I will make sure that the items on my lists are specific and small enough to be achievable. I will keep my schedule in mind and ensure that the ideas I generate will fit with that. For example, planning full-day activities when I don’t have full-days available will set myself up to be unsuccessful. It would be more useful to find little elements of the larger activity that I could implement given my particular context and situation.

If I find it difficult to think of items to try out, I will use the comments feature below to seek help or talk to some friends about what things they might try. Sometimes bad days and distressing moments come about because we become disconnected from these activities. But when we are stressed and distressed, it is extra hard to do these things. As much as possible, I will try to practice them  in advance when I am feeling okay or during higher energy times of the day. 

Once I have gotten comfortable putting a good mood diet in place, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as something to return to in times of stress and distress.

No. 54: Paint

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice painting something on a piece of paper, wood, cloth or canvas to shift the moment. It doesn’t matter what I paint, I will focus my attention on the sound of the brush on the surface and allow myself to get lost in the brush-strokes.  I could simply colour in the surface, paint how I feel or try to copy something that is around me. Painting is great because I can start it and then come back to it later. When things get stressful or distressing, I can return to the artwork and add to it or I can start a new one if I am feeling completely different.

This will give me some brief valuable ‘me’ time in my day where I can distract myself from what’s going in my day or a moment. This gives my unconscious mind a bit of a rest and sets me up for a moment of safety.

I could get a few tubes of acrylic paint for a few dollars each from my local stationary shop. Some emporium style shops have a great range of really cheap paints, brushes, papers and canvases – but really, I can paint on anything. If I keep in mind that I can do a lot with just one colour and I’ll be able to get started almost straight away.

Once I am used to taking a few moments to paint in my everyday life, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting or expressing moments of stress and distress.

This week’s strategy comes from a participant at today’s RCNet Monthly Forum. We’ve fleshed it out a bit. 

No. 43: Ten Words

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice using poetry to express myself. I will use the short ‘Ten Words’ writing exercise to sort out my thoughts, centre myself and express what is going on for me.  By making myself aware of what my current moment is all about, I will be able to move beyond responding in the moment based on my emotions, by getting a better understanding of what they are about. This will help me to better express myself to others if I want to.

After the writing exercise, I will turn to a support, engagement, mindfulness or self-soothing exercise if I am still feeling distressed, pressed or stressed in any way. Understanding things is a great tool, but it does not automatically mean that we will feel better. This writing exercise doesn’t guarantee we form the most accurate or expansive understanding either. To do that, we need to talk to other people.

This week I will do the writing exercise at least one time a day, keeping in mind that it usually takes 90 repetitions of something new before it becomes an automatic, easy way of responding.

Once I’ve gotten used to writing poems, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of expressing myself when I am experiencing stress or distress.

Ten Words Writing Exercise

Step 1: Write down ten words that come into mind when you think about what you are experiencing in the current moment (that’s right now). If you can’t think of ten, just write down however many you can think of.

Step 2: In any order you want to, write one sentence to expand on how each word is relevant. You can simply explain why you wrote the word down or you might like to describe the way the word is experienced or felt or compare it to something that it reminds you of.  If you would like to get creative, this exercise can be used to write a short story or a poem. This is a useful thing to do, because these can be often be read to others.

For example

1. Stress | 2. Stretched | 3. Jittery | 4. Responsibility | 5. Racing | 6. Commitments | 7. Money | 8. Hunger | 9. Love | 10. Value

stress: my stomach holds it, acid-tongued.

Stretched: i am my own god of destruction and creation, i want to reach in all directions like Siva

Jittery: i pull myself these ways, the pulse running to keep time with the mind

Responsibility: so many rocks i’ve got to hold up above my head and balance there

Racing: while i send my brain stem messages of ‘calm. the. hell. down.’ and ‘this. is. not. a. survival. moment’

Commitment: and i have promised things i mean to keep, which also is heavy

Money: and there is never enough of the things that we need

Hunger: and there is so much we want to get out of all this

Love: and i’m still struggling to let you love me and trying to relinquish my controls.

Value: it is still easier for me to trust the dark in a stranger’s eyes than let the light in yours reach me, but i am learning.

If I take out all my ‘inspiration words’ and join up my lines, they become a poem! This is something I could read to a friend or family member to communicate what I am dealing with at the moment.