Self-medicating with art: A guide

Let’s define self-medicating first.

Self-medicating is the use of alcohol or drugs, or any external influence, to manage physical or psychological afflictions. Almost anything used in excess to deal with or escape negative emotions can be considered self-medicating.

Self-medicating is often harmful because we tend to go for negative influences. We have a drink or three. Light a cigarette. Eat in excess. And, most commonly, endlessly scroll through our social media feeds.

But, what if, instead, we self-medicated with art to banish our boredom and anxiety? 

Art is a diverse range of activities that help us express our imaginations and deepest selves. There’s a reason art therapy, a creative method of expression used as a therapeutic technique, is gaining momentum. 

Changing the way we view our negative habits and replacing them with artistic endeavours can be a powerful way to maintain our psychological well-being.

In the wonderful novel, Ada’s Rules: A Sexy Skinny Novel, Alice Randall takes us through Ada’s journey to change her body to reflect the life she wants to live. It is a book about the emotionally fraught war Ada fights with herself to take control of her life and make genuine changes.

What caught my attention the most was the part Self-medicate with art: banish boredom and anxiety: “What if you start rewarding yourself with reading a great poem, or listening to a great song, rather than eating ice cream? What if you start treating yourself to a foray into foreign culture by downloading a zouk song in French, watching a steamy Telemundo melodrama, rewatching Tampopo, or taking in a Bollywood extravaganza instead of chowing down on fajitas, or saag aloo, or pancake house crepes, or California roll and tempura and miso and lettuce salad with sweet and fat, orange, never-seen-in-Japan dressing?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get lost in the world of creativity and art whenever we feel anxious, restless, or bored instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media? While the Internet keeps us distracted and searching, it rarely leaves us satisfied.

There are a million ways to self-medicate with art. You don’t need to be an artist or a creative to indulge in art either. I can’t paint, draw, sculpt to save my life but I’ve found ways to use art to soothe my soul.

Books. Books can take us on a journey of our heart’s wildest desires. We can fall in love, travel to exotic places, feel overwhelmed with adoration for a person, find inspiration to be the best we can be, and so on by simply reading different books. Get lost in a story. It is the easiest, and perhaps the simplest, way to treat our boredom, anxiousness or restlessness.

Films. Documentaries, foreign movies, old films allow the viewer to explore different cultures, traditions, people, and ways of life around the world and across generations. Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, and All by Myself – The Eartha Kitt Story are some personal favourites.

Writing. Writing, whether keeping a diary or creative writing, is a great tool for self-discovery and self-exploration. It can serve as a form of self-therapy; a way to make sense of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Want to make it a social activity? Attend online or in-person writing classes.

Music. Listen to an album in full. Rediscover old favourites on YouTube and jam out for the afternoon. Switch Spotify accounts with your partner or a friend and discover new music from their favourite artists or genre. Sing along.

Try embroidery. Embroidery is a great hobby to relax the brain while keeping our hands busy. That’s the best way I can describe my experience dabbling in it. You can buy a beginners embroidery kit for less than $20.

Go to galleries/museums/concerts/etc. Immerse yourself in the creative energy and beauty of other people’s art: it can be just as fulfilling. It definitely beats scrolling through Instagram. Google online events.

Self-medicating with art is a radical but simple idea.

Art is good for the soul. Art heals. It is also accessible. The public library has access to books, music, films, at no cost; both print and digital. Art supplies can be bought for very cheap. The internet gives us access to a wide variety of creative content to indulge in.

Of course, everything in moderation. Although, it is better we overindulge in writing or painting than overindulge in alcohol.

Until next time…

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