11 ways to tackle postnatal anxiety and depression with creativity

Many of us in the same boat (or similar boats) to me know that horrible, gnawing, nervous anxiety that eats away at us and keeps us on edge all the time only too well. And most of us have probably heard that this is caused by a surge of adrenaline when our bodies think we are under attack – the ‘fight or flight response’. But as the attack is not a physical one but an assault in our own minds, we’re not able to use the adrenaline by either fighting or ‘flighting’ so it stays rattling around our bodies and coming out in negative thoughts unless we do some exercise to use it up. It’s a primal thing. Also a primal thing is the need to create. Luckily we don’t need to spend our days building a shelter to sleep in or fire to keep warm by, but we are moving further and further away from getting our hands dirty and making stuff with the rise of gaming and technology – why bother making a den in the garden when we can build a whole world on Minecraft? Why bother digging out paper and pencils and pens when you can download a colouring-in app? Making pancakes? There’s an app for that. Gardening? There’s an app for that. Playing the piano? You get the idea. So I think it’s really important to make sure we still get our fix of creating from somewhere. And we don’t have to be any good at any of these things. It’s about the process of doing it, not the outcome. I love drawing, for example, but technically I’m pretty rubbish. And I like baking, but some of my cakes leave a lot to be desired. So have a look at this list and see if anything grabs you…

1. Write

Whether it’s with a pen or on the computer, just write something. It could be a story, poem or song if you’re feeling artsy. Perhaps a letter, an article or informative piece about something you’re passionate about. Or write about how you feel by starting a diary, journal or blog. Honestly, I had no idea how much I would enjoy writing this until I started. If you’re writing by hand, mix it up a bit and use a pencil or felt tip or charcoal, or use the opposite hand to the one you usually write with, or write with your eyes closed…

2. Draw or paint

This is something I don’t do as often as I would like but love it when I get around to it. Like with a lot of things, the more you practice, the better you get too. A friend bought me a ‘One Sketch a Day’ book which is like a diary or art journal and made from beautiful cartridge paper. I made a real effort to draw in it everyday until I got pregnant and very sick. I’ve been meaning to pick it up again ever since. You could paint in there too or stick bits and pieces in and make little collages or mood boards. I also have a mindfulness colouring book. We know how good practicing mindfulness is for our mental health because if we could manage to live in the present moment we wouldn’t be constantly caught up in the stressful movie of the past playing over and over in our heads or scaring ourselves with anxieties about the future. So the idea is that the intricately patterned colouring pages require enough concentration that you don’t think about your worries for a while.

It’d be lovely to take a sketch pad and sit outside for a couple of hours with a palette of water colours and a paintbrush, but realistically not many of us can manage that with a baby/small child attached to our hair/hip/leg but it’s something to bear in mind. Doodling counts too and it doesn’t all have to be in pencil; Sharpies are great and you can draw on all sorts. I bought and decorated mugs for Christmas presents one year with a Sharpie…

3. Create with yarn and fabric: knit, crochet or sew.

Up-cycle old jeans, get on the sewing machine, do some cross stitch or learn the art of lace making. Apart from hanging out with Mabes, this is my absolute favourite thing to do, especially crochet. I’m a proper crochet geek. It’s easier than knitting, I think, and there are loads of things you can make. I find the whole process therapeutic but also get a huge sense of satisfaction when I’ve finished something. In fact, I have an Etsy shop called Charcoal Beach where I sell some of my creations, from crocheted greetings cards and scarves to baby wear and handmade blankets. You can visit here if you’re interested.

4. Play music

As with all of these ideas, you don’t have to be any good at it to enjoy it. Matt bought me a keyboard for my birthday which I had used a grand total of zero times in the last year, what with the seemingly never ending vomiting and then a little cherub to look after. But recently I’ve managed to squeeze in a bit of piano time and actually really enjoyed it. I mean, I’m no Mozart; I’m just slowly relearning the same couple of tunes I’ve been playing since I was a teenager but it doesn’t matter (except to Matt who has heard the same two pieces churned out over and over again). Also, Mabel is happy to listen or join in so it’s not even something you have to make baby-free time for.

5. Sing and dance

I’ve never been a singer, unless you count being part of Junior Choir at school, but love belting a tune out when nobody is around, whether it’s an old favourite tune or one of Mabel’s songs. Even the Iggle Piggle or Upsy Daisy songs are allowed but only because they make Mabel laugh. If you want something a bit more structured you could try joining a choir. There are loads around when you start to look and lots of different types; gospel, rock, contemporary, classical, church and even barbershop. Some places even have adult choirs where you can take your baby along. There are definitely dance groups you can take little ones to; a friend of mine loved ‘Sling and Swing’ group where you wear your little one in a carrier or sling and dance…

Upsy Daisy and Iggle Piggle from TV’s In the Night Garden (for those of you lucky enough not to know already)

6. Bake and cook

Try out some new recipes or make up your own and tinker about in the kitchen. I’m not a huge fan of cooking but have actually discovered that I quite enjoy cooking Mabel’s meals and I do like baking. (Come on, who doesn’t like cake?) The only reason I don’t do more of it is because I just eat it all which is not terribly helpful when I’m trying to eat a little more healthily…

7. Grow something

Green fingered folks have loads to choose from in terms of gardening. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a garden, why not look at renting an allotment or getting a window box? For something a bit lower maintenance, house plants don’t need to much looking after and cacti even less, or for something to grow with the children try good old cress which will even grow on a wet paper towel.

8. Make or build something

I get a big sense of satisfaction from mending things or doing little house jobs like putting pictures in frames onto the wall or putting together a piece of furniture and I’m sure that’s why I enjoyed preparing Mabel’s nursery so much; I made bunting, a patchwork quilt and some cushion covers (see number 1!) and then hung the bunting on the wall, put her cot together complete with handmade quilt and hung personalised prints in frames on the walls. The internet is full of ideas for things to make and at home, like ornaments, soaps, candles, notebooks, fridge magnets, picture frames…the list is endless. Or build a den or tree house or something with Lego, or shape a creation from clay or Play-Doh.

9. Take photographs

Get your digital or instant camera out and be a tourist in your own town. We can all be photographers now that smartphones have such great cameras on them. I love the whole process of taking a photo, tinkering with the filters and putting it on Instagram, though that’s probably more to do with the fact that all the photos I take are of Mabes and I like showing her off.

10. Upcycle furniture

I know, this sounds a bit ambitious. I certainly haven’t the time or inclination to start sanding old TV cabinets and smothering them with shabby-chic Peach Whisper furniture paint, but it’s a very popular hobby and (I’m told) quite easy to get started. Just grab yourself a bargain dining chair for a couple of pounds from a charity shop, give it a lick of chalky paint, staple a new bit of fabric onto the seat and voila! There’s a helpful little vid here.

11. And finally, if you still crave the technology…

If you really insist on sticking with the computer or tablet, there are apps, apps and more apps; compose a piece of music on Garageband, make a digital collage of happy photos on Pic Collage or Baby Pics, or do some drawing or doodling on an art app – there’s a good article here. But only if you must..

I hope you find something here helpful. Do you have any creative activities that help you? I’d love to hear from you.

And if what I have written wasn’t enough to convince you, listen to one of the greats instead:



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