Art & Mind

4 Ways The Arts Can Help You Cope With End-Of-Year Stress

Gray File Stone During Daytime by Lisa Zoe

December is a busy time for many of us, regardless of our personal or spiritual beliefs. Around the world, people are planning to take time off, taking time off, working long hours in preparation to take time off, or juggling a little more than usual to accommodate family obligations, heavy workloads, and more. But before you dive head first into that unending to-do list, I ask you to take a moment to remember one thing: Take care of yourself.

Yes, that dreaded buzzword "self-care" is rearing its ugly head again, but I assure you this is not for clicks. I know that 2019 has been a harrowing year for some ... many ... most of us, and I'm personally making a point to finish the year -- and decade -- strong with the recognition that I'm more than my job(s) and my value isn't determined by my obligations. I ask that you do the same.

As this second decade of the 21st-century draws to a close, pledge to treat yourself (and each other) better, not just in the new year, but right now, in December.

Not sure how? Well, thankfully you have me, your artsy-phartsy connoisseur of culture and creativity to offer a few suggestions:

Take in a live performance

Christmas Aint A Drag image

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm a theater geek, so I'm biased. But hear me out. Live performance comes in many shapes and sizes. From your kid's middle school holiday "extravaganza" where you delight in the vocal efforts of 120 8th graders navigating a voice change to pausing during your hunt for the perfect present to listen to Christmas carolers as they work their way around the mall, a live performance not only allows you to forget about your to-do list for a while, but it also makes you appreciate the hard work, dedication and fearlessness artists put forward every day to share their gift with you.

For the month of December, I'm anticipating at least 2 live performances. On December 7th, I'll be saying "Cheers!" to an old friend while I enjoy his one-night-only special event, Christmas Ain't A Drag, at The Cutting Room in New York City. And on December 22nd, I'm treating myself to my first New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concert. But it's not just any concert. The guest conductor for the evening will be Roderick Cox, and the NJSO will be performing inside the breathtaking Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Astaire and Rogers DVD

Watch your favorite feel-good movie

Can't afford to take in a show? Don't feel like fighting traffic during this time of year? No worries. That's why we have an indoors. ;-) Again, this isn't necessarily about the holidays because not everyone celebrates, but everyone gets a little frazzled this time of year and everyone needs a time out. And I mean a real time out. No cleaning the house while you listen to the movie in the background. No folding laundry or paying bills as you sit on the sofa and the movie continues to play.

Just find out when one of your favorite movies that leave you feeling all warm-and-smiley inside is going to be on TV or pull it up on your preferred streaming service (or if you're old school like me, dig out the shiny DVD), sit back, and take in that beautiful visual cavalcade. Recite the dialogue word-for-word. Laugh a little extra hard at your favorite scenes. Smile from ear-to-ear when it all works out in the end.

What are some of the feel-good movies I'll be watching this month? When the pressure gets to be a little too much, I'm going to relax and enjoy my Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers boxset, Kate & Leopold, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- come on, even if you don't celebrate Christmas, Jim Carrey really pulled off the impossible with that one.

Make something with your hands

I know what you're thinking? No, I'm not suggesting you make a gingerbread house. Although if that would help you destress, I say go for it!

In the end, using the arts to help you cope with end-of-year chaos doesn't have to involve consuming the art created by others. Instead, you can take this time to flex your own creative muscle and channel it into something that perhaps you don't make as much time for anymore. Or perhaps there's something you've been meaning to try your hand at all year, but could never find the time.

Whether it's baking a dessert the size of your head, knitting a scarf to give you an extra layer when the temperature drops, or pulling out your guitar and writing a tune to pair with the lyrics you came up with a long time ago, diving into your own creative pool will help you release untold levels of stress you didn't even know you were carrying.

And what creative project will I be doing this month? Working on my next short story. That's all the details I'm giving you on that one. ;)

Read outside your comfort zone

New Bohemian Manifesto cover

Speaking of the literary world, remember when you made that New Year's resolution promising that you would make time to read more? Well, if you haven't checked that one off your list, there's still a few weeks left. And you can do it all in the name of self-care (there's that word again).

My suggestion: Take a few days out of the month to sit back and enjoy a little tome that most wouldn't expect you to read. If you usually read Young Adult (YA) fantasy, try some James Patterson. If you usually read political commentary, try some Nora Roberts. If you usually read self-help books that advise you on how to level-up in the next chapter of your life, go ahead and read that one, but also try Laren Stover and Paul Himmelein's book The Bohemian Manifesto. It has nothing to do with leveling up, and everything to do with embracing all that makes you you, which is just as important.

My reading plans for December? I don't know yet, but I'm open to recommendations. I usually read historical or humorous nonfiction, as well as the occasional dip into classic literary fiction. What do you think would be a good read for me that's outside my comfort zone? Leave me a suggestion in the comments, and maybe I'll select it to help me get through the next 4 weeks.

These are just 4 simple ways the arts can help you cope with end-of-year stress. I'm sure there are plenty of other artistic activities that are helpful, but I just wanted to get you started. Again, you are so much more than what you do for a living and for others. When the juggling becomes too much, pledge to treat yourself to a little culture and creativity, and remember to take care.

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