This COVID-19 season, many of us have been dealing with different stressors at work, school, home, or even in our relationships. With our 24 hours spread across various responsibilities, finding time to take care of our mental wellbeing might seem almost impossible, and before we know it, many of us might have found ourselves feeling exhausted or burnt out. 

So how can we keep well in times like these, where struggles and challenges seem to come wave after wave?  One of the options that come to mind is often talk therapy — where we process life events with a trained professional. However, here’s another angle for us to consider — that therapy is not exclusive to “talk therapy” or the visiting of a mental health professional. There are various forms of therapy, and core principles of these modalities can be helpful to our mental well-being if we incorporate them into our daily lives as forms of self-therapy. Read on to find out how!

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy involves speaking with a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. By facilitating an understanding of your internal state, talk therapy aims to improve your overall wellbeing by:

  • Identifying unhelpful thoughts, negative feelings and unhealthy behaviours
  • Understanding what led to these thought patterns
  • Evaluating current coping mechanisms and their impacts on life outcomes 
  • Consider replacing current thoughts and behaviours with something more helpful

Adapting Principles of Talk Therapy into our Self-care Routine

These principles can be adapted and applied to our interactions with people in our daily lives. For instance, if you had to deal with a difficult colleague at work, our first instinct is often to simmer in anger or react impulsively. However, learning to slow down and giving yourself time to process your emotions can help you to cope with them better in the future. Some questions you can ask yourself while you calm down are: 

  • What was the trigger that caused these emotions? 
  • What are some instinctive responses I’m tempted to do?
  • Are there consequences in me behaving in a certain way? If yes, what are they? 
  • What should I do next? How can I break down the next steps into small steps to help myself do what I should be doing? 

If you experience trouble working out your thoughts in your mind, consider journaling down your thoughts. Writing has been proven to improve understanding of yourself, others and the world around you (Purcell, 2006). You could also talk things out with a trusted friend or family member. 

That said, there are also many who struggle with putting their thoughts and emotions into words. Are there alternative methods? 

Indeed, there are many alternative methods drawn from other forms of therapy that you can incorporate into your self-care routine.

Art Therapy

Art therapy involves creating artworks using various mediums like drawing, painting, craft and sculpture. The session is guided by a certified art therapist, who is trained in helping clients understand and process their thoughts and feelings by:

  • uncovering hidden trauma/revealing our internal states.
  • helping us resolve deeper issues through understanding our art.

Adapting Principles of Art Therapy into our Self-care Routine

Art can be a medium in which you express yourself without words. When we find it difficult to verbalise the intensity of our emotions, the limitless form of art can perhaps better represent what you feel and express. We should note that this form of expression does not have to be limited to negative emotions. For instance, art can also be used to express your gratitude towards someone when you do not know how to put it in words. Consider creating an artwork for them — think about what you want to convey and what medium would best suit the theme.

After the creation process, reflect on why you might have chosen that particular colour or medium. This helps you achieve some level of self-understanding of your inner state, and gives you the space to acknowledge even more difficult emotions and thoughts. 

  • How did you feel while creating the artwork? 
  • Which part of your art piece do you identify with the most, and why? 
  • Does any element of the art piece represent something you are feeling or thinking about?

In and of itself,  the process of creating art has been shown by research to be beneficial in relieving stress as we find creative forms of expression and release in ways that are not limited to words. In addition, the process of reflection helps you work through and better understand the emotions and thoughts that you have.

The benefits of creating art can be enjoyed with our families, friends and loved ones as well. Creating art together and sharing your reflections with those you care about can help you further understand and work out your thoughts. This allows us to forge deeper bonds and connections, a key factor in boosting our sense of wellbeing.  

Music Therapy

Music therapy is another modality through which individuals process emotions and express themselves. It has been proven that engaging with music:

  • improves moods through the release of endorphins
  • alleviates stress by inducing feelings of calm

Adapting Principles of Music Therapy into our Self-care Routine

Sometimes, we find ourselves exhausted after a long day — maybe you met someone rude, or a train delay caused you to be late for an appointment and nothing seems to be going your way today. Yet, you’re unsure of how and where you can release your stress and emotions. In times like this, listening to songs that are relatable to your current experiences can make you feel better. Music helps to relieve some of the grievances we may have as the lyrics give us the words to vocalise our emotions. Furthermore, identifying with key sentiments and similar experiences in the songs makes us feel less alone.  

Nevertheless, it is important to note that we do not always have to listen to music that aligns with our emotions; at some point, it might even cause us to stay in a negative state. When we sense our negativity building or remaining after some time, it would perhaps be more helpful to listen to music in line with emotional states we’d like to achieve, such as peace, calm, or contentment. The lyrics of these songs can serve to uplift our spirits and remind us of more positive thoughts that might reframe our perspectives.  

This applies to when we sing or play instruments as well!  When singing or playing an instrument, we might be inclined to use loud, dissonant chords when we are angry. However, research has shown that slower, soothing tunes might be more effective in helping to regulate your emotions and bring you back to a neutral state (Wong, 2021).

Find Out What Works Best

These are some techniques you can incorporate into your daily lives to improve your overall mental well-being. Having a healthy outlet of expression helps us make sense of our thoughts and feelings. As the techniques might not be for everyone, it is important to find what works for you!   

Do note that this does not replace our need for therapy. There are many times where we have trouble unpacking more complex and long-standing beliefs. As such, seeking professional help from a trained counsellor is still worthwhile. You do not have to sort everything out on your own! 

What’s important is finding out what works for you.” — Thomas Moore

References:

​​Wong, C. (n.d.). What to know about music therapy. Verywell Mind. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-of-music-therapy-89829.  

Odendaal, J. S. ., & Meintjes, R. . (2003). Neurophysiological Correlates of Affiliative Behaviour between Humans and Dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 165(3), 296–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1090-0233(02)00237-x 

Purcell, M. (2006). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721