Permission to Play: Reclaiming Creative Mindful Activities

        People who are home bound or in nursing home are usually due to severe physical and /or mental disability from advanced medical disease. Therefore, in this population, anxiety, frequent outburst and recurrent hospitalizations is common and difficult to manage. As a provider, when there is a simple remedy that reduces these things, you pay attention. In my time working in nursing homes and making home visits, I noticed that my patients with the least amount of hospitalizations, less anxiety , less reports of pain and were generally more content , had one thing in common. It wasn’t a medication, a new Medicare incentive, it wasn’t a procedure, it was a HOBBY, specifically a creative mindful activity. Whether the patient was bedbound, had intellectual disability from childhood, whether they had dementia or anxiety from chronic disease; patients who crocheted, colored or played puzzles were more relaxed , more content and quite frankly less sick. These clients had less symptoms, less exacerbations and a happier disposition.

The reason why activities like coloring books, sketching or even knitting resulted in improved outcomes was because they are all associated with  
  • concentration and  attention
  • instead focusing on images or breaths like with meditation, the participant is focused on the creative activity
  • investing in and creating a finished product creates a sense of accomplishment, worth and sense of purpose
  •  the activities stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that allows your body to relax, recuperate

         If simple activities could help clients with little to no autonomy, poor functionality and chronic disease, imagine what it could do for the general population, especially during times of stress or anxiety. Over the years , I’ve tried to encourage my patients to pick up a hobby. People are sometimes resistant, they don’t feel like they have the time, energy or creativity. However, that when it’s the best time, 20-30 minutes to focus on self, has a huge impact. When you find yourself at the end of the day needing a drink or watching mindless TV, that the best time to pick up a pencil or puzzle piece. Some people find crocheting on their commuter train relaxes them before or after work. Some use the time after the kids fall asleep. Some wait to the weekend and enjoy their down time.

         Each year the government rolls out a new million-dollar plan to reduce health care cost, but blindly focuses on medication, procedures and doctor’s office, forgetting to look at everyday activities. There is no double -blind randomized study to prove that playing with legos could lower blood pressure and or reduce anger. There is no money in that. Studies are disproportionately done by pharmaceutical companies who want to continue dependence on medication or large research institutions who survive of of large grants. No one will fund research project or salaries based on coloring books and puzzles. However, coloring, sketching, and puzzles are slowly being recognized as mindful activities that may have benefit. Even highly reputable academic medical centers are placing coloring pencils and coloring books in waiting area .

  As a clinician of 15 years, I don’t need the rest of the medical world to recognize the benefits of these activities to know it works, I’ve seen the effects. My goal is to convince those who walk through my office doors. #permissiontoplay , is our way of spreading the message that a few minutes of enjoying your inner creative child is not only okay but beneficial. If you draw, journal , play with puzzles and found that it helped you during a tough time , please share your story .

Dr A Isable
Health Empowerment for All.


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