A Time for Creativity and Feeling

My 13 year old daughter asked me last night if I would be awake when she came to my bedside in the morning. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trigger for many, especially survivors of traumas. I am writing as a parent, breast cancer survivor and educator who has worked intensely in public health over the last two years to support the emotional well-being of children, teens and families impacted by cancer, grief and loss. 

My commitment to public health, education and social work stems from my own breast cancer diagnosis and my father’s death from brain cancer three days later in 2017. Since my father’s first cancer diagnosis when I was seven, I have been dealing with my own panic, depression, and anxiety, compounded by divorce and family mental health issues. I often kept my feelings inside, especially when they felt difficult (my sadness, my anxiety). I didn’t want to burden people. I wanted to appear strong and composed, an inspiration to others. I heard people say,  “Don’t cry,” “Turn that frown upside down,” “Are you ok?” “Did you have a good day?” These messages told me that uncomfortable emotions should be avoided.

But I knew that my body housed a range of feelings. And it was keeping track. I could feel tension everywhere. In private, I shook in panic. I sobbed. I suffered. In public, I smiled, laughed and spoke up. I tried my best. No one could tell. My emotional suffering was quiet, practically invisible. 

Since my cancer treatment began, I turn to my art supplies, pen and paper to make sense of my difficulties. In the face of Stage IIIa breast cancer, being creative helped me thrive.

Writing a blog is new for me, one the many mountains I am climbing since cancer. In the weeks to come, I will share arts and emotion activities that helped my family and many I have worked with to cope with traumas. I hope the activities help your family too, as we all shelter in place to flatten the Coronavirus curve.

Emotions complete us.

Feeling Wheel: Gather paper and drawing tools. Use a feeling list to select some emotions and sensations you experience during the day. On your paper, create a circle divided into four or more sections. Write a range of emotion words in the spaces. Draw pictures or paint in the feelings wheel. Use your wheel to talk about how you feel during the day.
Find Feelings in Your Body: Draw a picture of your body. Name an emotion you feel. Use a feelings list and/or your feeling wheel to help. Put stars next to parts of your body where you feel that emotion. Talk about your feelings and body sensations:
When I feel __(emotion)__, my __(body part)__ feels ____.

The arts heal us.

Paint Your Feelings: Gather paper, tempera or watercolor paint, brushes, paper towels, and a cup of water. Put on music with different moods. Paint your feelings while listening to each song, then talk about how the music makes you feel. Try using lines, shapes and colors to express your feelings during each piece of music, rather than making it realistic. Later, think or talk about the paintings you made and the emotions you felt as you created.

Mindfulness calms us.

The winter gardens. Photo by Gillian, age 13.

Grounding Your Senses. Step outside for this calming exercise. Take several deep breaths. And play “Eye Spy,” as you count down.

5-Say five things you can see. Describe them.

4-Say four things you can feel in your body.

3-Listen to three sounds around you. Name them.  

2-Name two things you can smell. If safe, smell them.

1-Say one thing you can taste. Notice it.

Take several deep breaths to end the grounding. 

Just Breathe Jars: Use a plastic jug or water bottle. Gather bottles of glitter or small items (sequins, beads, buttons). Put the glitter or items in the jar. Fill the jar with water and close the lid tightly. Shake the jar and watch the glitter or items swirl. Take breaths while it swirls until it settles to the bottom. Watch the short film: “Just Breathe”

Breathe along with the video. Afterward, talk about what the experience. What did you think about? How did you feel? How do you feel now?

Especially for Teens

What’s Up with That?  Do you ever wonder how the world ended up this way? Why adults do what they do? Why media, companies and governments make the decisions they make? Do you want things to be different than they are? Here’s one way: Become an ARTIVIST! Use your art to take action. The world is waiting to hear your story. For inspiration, check out Favianna Rodriguez, visual artist and immigration rights activist. 

As Each Day Closes

I breathe a sigh of relief as I collapse on the couch. I have helped everyone around me (with homework, housework, giving care), and I have loved every minute. But, sometimes, I forget to take care of myself. I stop and notice the moment. I breathe. I ask my daughter to breathe too. We give ourselves permission to feel everything. To observe without judgment. To be. Especially during this difficult time.

Sharon Chappell, PhD, is the Executive and Artistic Director of Well Beings Studio. She is a teacher educator, breast cancer survivor, parent and artist.

If you would like to contribute to this blog (family activities for emotional well-being, your thoughts on the arts and healing, your artwork), please contact us: sharon@wellbeings.studio

Mental health is important. If you need support, contact MentalHealth.gov. The US Health and Human Services Department will help you talk about your concerns, and connect you with resources, such as a therapist or hotline. You can also visit your local 211 website (in Orange County, CA ours is www.211oc.org). If you are in crisis, please dial 911.