Whatever gets you through the night…

Buckle, Claude, 1905-1973; The Peak District
Buckle, Claude, 1905-1973; The Peak District

As well as therapy two things are often suggested as ‘cures’ for trauma – art and yoga. This can be annoying, for its simplicity and the potential imposition of someone else’s ‘cure’ for your ill. However in my research art and yoga have indeed come out as positive experiences. So what’s the truth to this?

Yoga is thought to reduce anxiety and switch the body from an anxious state to a calmer one. More here about that. Art and anything creative is seen as a safe way to express trauma. So why don’t they work for everyone? Why isn’t this THE answer?

Reading my participants responses, about what helps their recovering, I found great similarities whether they were describing creating art, writing, performance poetry, financial management, reading, music, gardening, dancing, walking, karate or even cross country jumping on a shire horse. They all described activities that were somewhat challenging (but achievable) and so absorbing that they lost all sense of time. They talked about rhythm, motion and a feeling of mastery over their environment. Something that engendered a sense of pride in their achievements.

This phenomenon is called ‘Flow’ and it was described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. When we reach that flow state we don’t have space in our minds for anxiety. He suggests that we try to move from chasing pleasure to enjoyment. Pleasure is a momentary ‘hit,’ a mouthful of chocolate, for example. Enjoyment is something that creates long term growth, like a really good deep conversation with a friend.  They are both good but one has more positive effects on the future for that individual – they learn something, they change and they grow – that is where we find happiness.

The responses from my participants and this idea of flow has really made sense to me. Indeed I am researching precisely because I enjoy it – when I find that flow through my work I lose myself in it, I am truly happy and this is why I want to make it my career. This is why people say that you should do the thing you love and then you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m nearly 50 and am aiming for the rest of my working life to have more flow.

Coming back to the art and yoga issue. They don’t work for everyone because they don’t always lead to flow and enjoyment. It really is a case of ‘whatever floats your boat.’ I have created a mental list of fun activities I do where time zips by; researching, drawing and painting, gardening, cooking, music, watching a good documentary, model making, playing a computer game, meditating, a good chat with friends, lego with my children, laughing with my husband – my list will be different from yours but I’m planning on doing more of these things. I also understand why other things people love just don’t work for me.

This idea of creating flow can be minimised into encouraging people to do their hobbies but really its much wider than that – it is about learning to find that flow in as many activities as possible – setting ourselves goals to achieve even in the smallest things – gamifying life.

The most important thing about it is that it comes from the individual and really can’t be imposed from outside.

References:

Csikszentmihalyi, M., (2002). Flow: The Classic Work on how to achieve Happiness 2nd ed., London, Sydney, Auckland, Johannesburg: Random House (Rider).