Writing this post in verse and setting it to music was, frankly, beyond my capabilities, although well within my sprawling imagination. And that’s the theme today folks: how being creative with your mind and body can be amazingly beneficial for your health and wellbeing. Grab a front-row seat, dish out the popcorn, and read on!
It’s impossible to separate The Arts from anything else in life, in my opinion. They are a group of disciplines that allow us to explore and tell stories about our relationships with each other and our environment. Music, theatre, cinema, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, dance, writing, cooking, needlework, knitting...the list is endless and forgive me if I’ve missed off your favourite pastime. Essentially, anything that involves translating your imagination into something others can see, feel, hear, touch, wear, admire. If you’ve seen my media page, you’ll know I am completely and utterly entwined with making music. Even throughout lockdown, this has been possible online, in gardens, live over Zoom (this ultimately didn't work, so was a mixture of happy and frustrated tears), many Garageband compilations with family, friends, and (shrugs) myself. I follow an entertaining thread on Twitter called @NHSfilmchat which is another example of Arts bridging the lockdown divide, and recently did a cookery lesson with Migrateful, which I'd thoroughly recommend as a gift. You can link up with friends or family who may be hundreds of miles away and all create the same meal simultaneously!
If you go and see your friendly GP, no doubt their tiny creativity cogs will be whirring away, sifting through all the pieces of the health-jigsaw you’re relaying to them, and helping you put them together into a nice neat picture. We are creative thinkers and doers. We say things like “Let’s try…” or “Can you imagine…” or “Think about one thing you could change…” and “Can you tell me about the worst time…”. We try to bring out the creative thinker in our patients too, because it’s absolutely vital that you can believe or imagine a time when you might feel improved or better, so that you trust the plan hatched together in the consultation room.
And now, friends, allow me to convince you that this can be neatly sheepshanked with greener healthcare. The thing is, many of us turn to The Arts for entertainment or hobbies. When was the last time you had the radio on in the car? Binge-watched something everyone else is talking about? Sang in the shower? Turned on the shower to obscure someone else’s singing (whilst highly amusing and often effective, this is super bad for the planet! At least shove someone in there at the same time, yes?)? Many people have missed the ability to go and be in or see live performances, such as comedy, theatre, concerts, and going to the cinema. If I had £1 for the number of patients saying they were fed up of doing their ‘social entertainment’ things online, I’d be rich enough to be in the running for a government contract for [insert anything that is currently floundering]. The simple fact is, we are entertained by The Arts, and we like to share them with others. We find them moving, funny, exciting, thrilling, harrowing, educational, mind-boggling; an amusing contrast to the working day, or an escape from whatever is going on in life right now, positively impacting on our mood and improving our wellbeing.
But remember that stimulating or high-adrenaline entertainment can have negative effects late at night. Are you sleeping? Are you feeling low? Is it difficult to wind down? Or do you feel empty? Uninspired? Or lacking direction? I frequently ask my patients what they watch in the evenings. What video games are they playing? Are they listening to heavy metal immediately before bed? Are they reading horror stories? Following sad or negative threads on social media? Doom-scrolling? Well, maybe there are things to try before (or at least in addition to) considering sleeping tablets or antidepressants? Remember that for many (not all) patients there are options before prescribing, and the benefits of that route include no side effects, no annoying packaging, and no need for blood test monitoring. Check our Mind.org.uk's tips here. Could they incorporate a podcast or audiobook on the way to work rather than listening to the news? What crafts or hobbies did they used to do before they developed the condition they are seeing me for? And consequently, how can we rekindle that, or find a suitable substitute?
Please ring your friendly GP if you are struggling with any of the issues above. We are happy to help and have experience and knowledge that you won't always find on social media (winks and eyerolls). And finally, this week your challenge is to pick up your pen, your paintbrush, a niche recipe book or knitting needles, some manuscript paper, or a camera. Make something! Share it with others and enjoy their reaction. And then take a nice low bow.
Well done you (virtual applause and clapping emoji)!