Boost Your Mood & Energy with this Quick Creativity Exercise


Creativity is one of my go to wellness tools. It breaks me out of ruminating if I’m anxious. Gets me inspired when I’m craving sunshine and there is none. When things are going well, it keeps that fire going.

Science Shows Small Simple Acts of Creativity Help us Flourish

There is a LOT of science to back creativity as an effective tool to improve well-being. In this recent study researchers found individuals engaging in small daily acts of creativity experienced more “flourishing and positive emotions like energy, enthusiasm, and excitement the next day”.

For people struggling with mental illness, flourishing may seem out of reach. But the scientific definition of flourishing is at the heart of recovery. Flourishing is defined as “an overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection”. Recovery is about a good quality of life despite the presence of symptoms. It’s about having a reason to get out of bed.

‘Everyday creativity’ it isn’t about talent, quality or quantity. It’s about bringing something into being out of nothing. It’s about making different choices, instead of excuses. Like adding a new twist to an old recipe. Small victories of creativity. Learn more about ‘everyday creativity’ in my Psychology Today post.

Use Free Writing to Help you Flourish (difficulty level: easy / time: 5 – 10 mins)

Try the following simple creativity exercise to boost your mental health. If you’re a health professional, share it as a wellness tool with your clients. As a corporate leader, try variations of it at staff meetings to creatively find solutions. Shout out to Natalie Goldberg, writing coach, author and Buddhist, who I learned this from in her book, Writing Down the Bones.

Basically, these are the ground rules: keep your pen/fingers moving. Don’t correct mistakes. Let yourself go. For a fuller outline of guidelines, check out my The Crazy Naked Truth Cheat Sheet for Writing with All Your Heart.

  1. Check in with how you feel before you start. Jot that down. Or rate the intensity of your anxiety if that’s what you’re experiencing.
  2. Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Begin with the prompt “I know with my whole heart that…” or “I remember…” and let the flood gates open. For finding solutions, craft a tailored prompt that relates the challenge at hand. Keeping your pen moving and see where it takes you.
  4. Stop when the timer goes off.
  5. Check in with how you feel now. Record anything you notice that different.

You may find free writing can be as good as power nap, a piece of fruit or cup of coffee to wake you up and recharge you.

Suggestion: Do this for 5 or 10 minutes every day for a week. Try any number of prompts. Start with a word, like blue and go!  Track how you feel before and after. Jot down if you notice improvements in energy, sense of purpose, less anxiety or more positive thoughts. If you do, try if for another week. Maybe it can be a part of your wellness toolbox too.

This exercise and every day creativity helps shake up your thinking, gets your energy moving and helps you meet yourself in a way you never have. It paves the way for more wellness patterns in your life.

Tell me! Tell me!

When you’ve tried your hand at it, or pen in hand as the case may be, share what your experience was like in the comments below.

© Victoria Maxwell

Depression: No Laughing Matter—Or Is It?


Recently, I was standing at the check out line at my not necessarily so friendly local 7-11. I usually giggle at the Hollywood tabloid headlines: ‘Oprah Delivers North America’s First Alien Baby’ or ‘Brad Pitt Is Really a Girl’. But what happens? Nothing. Instead, I cop an attitude; surreptitiously buy 4 jumbo-sized Snickers bars and a family sized bag of Doritos so I can lay into a self-induced carbohydrate coma.

Then worse: I’m watching my favorite rerun of ‘Friends’ – the one where Joey screams and scrams because Monica’s dancing with a frozen turkey on her head. And I don’t laugh. I always laugh when Monica has her head in a frozen turkey. Crap…I laugh if anyone has their head in a turkey. Or I thought I would.

My shrinking sense of humor is the canary in the coalmine – the alarm signaling clinical depression is slithering around me.

I have to get to work. Find humor in something, anything or risk falling into the ‘no laugh, no color, everything tastes like cardboard, not just chicken and who cares anyway’ kind of zone. Because humor is my lifeline to my vitality, to hope, to the idea tomorrow will be better or at least not worse.

Interestingly, it’s the foraging and fighting for my sense of humor that’s the remedy. Not necessarily finding it. Rediscovering my sense of humor is a by-product of my willingness to look for it. Something about looking for ‘the funny’, that act of faith there is some, somewhere, though I can’t sense it, expels bits of cemented depression from within. The rummaging around allows a little light in, and slowly, very slowly, my funny bone moves back into place.

First? Seek out what I call ‘memory or phantom laughs’. Those times when I know normally I’d be giggling but instead, I’m just remembering I would; that ‘if I weren’t so depressed I’d be laughing’ feeling. Bittersweet insights, but helpful ones. Memories of laughing are better than no laughing at all.

Second? Size doesn’t matter. I don’t worry about the BIG guffaws. I’m on the lookout for anything making me remotely smile, just want to smile. What makes the corners of my mouth stir slightly; my cheeks subtly lift?

That’s my body telling me I’m near my funny bone. And bones don’t disappear; they just get weak. The solution? Fortify them, anyway I can.

So I rent my favorite movie: ‘Big’, watch ‘Two and a Half Men’, flip through People magazine’s issue of ‘Worst Dressed Stars in Hollywood’. (How can anybody with that much money, dress badly – don’t they all have stylists?)

When I do this, it doesn’t mean things all of a sudden seem hilarious, but it’s a distinct advantage over curling up on the sofa, listening to weepy Vince Gill songs about a cowboy who looses his woman, job and dog. That’s definitely not a humor ‘honer’.

When I feel inklings of depression or even when I’m deep in its clutches, I set aside time every couple days to give myself a chance not to laugh outright, but to witness things I know are funny to me. Eventually the lighter side gets the better of me. Not right away, not for long, but it’s a start.

Implementing this ‘laugh-able’ strategy doesn’t eradicate depression of course; I’m not that naïve but it can make it more bearable.

Once I’m out of the darkness, I fortify that funny bone with some kind of humor every day. It may sound simplistic. But to this day, my relentless pursuit to find something, even marginally humorous everyday is one of my best coping tools to date. My sense of humor is as valuable to me as the medication I take and the therapy I do to stay well.

Where to Turn When Mental Illness Enters Your Life


I get heartbreaking messages every week. Parents email me because they desperately want to help their adult child who has a mental illness, but refuses help. A teacher who’s struggling with bipolar disorder but doesn’t know where to turn. A manager sees one of his employees grappling with anxiety and depression and wants to know how to best handle the situation.

This is all excellent. I don’t mean it’s good people are suffering. But it’s good people are reaching out for help more. The shame and stigma of mental illness is still present to be sure, but it is diminishing, if only because the pain people are no longer willing to endure.

I’m not a therapist or doctor, but I am an expert by experience. Over the course of the past 20 odd years (and trust me, some years were really odd), I’ve learned to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and recovered from disordered eating.

There are thousands of mental health websites and resources available. The ones I’ve put in this downloadable mental health resource and tips e-guide are the ones I trust most. They have been a crucial part of my wellness journey. It’s important to me that you have the same tools to lean on and have some next steps to follow to help you on YOUR way. You will also find it available on my resource page.

Some are region specific, many are not. Not all will be applicable to your particular situation, but many will be. Some are for loved ones searching for effective ways to support their family members. Others are for individuals living with a mental health issue who want to find guidance to build a better life. I encourage you to explore and then reach out to the organizations or people listed below that fit your needs.

In addition, you may want to read my post Psychology Today post “How to Find Help When the Person You Love has Mental Illness” to learn concrete strategies to navigate the confusing mental health system.

Things may feel heartbreaking, but it’s never hopeless. I know. I’ve been there.

18 Quotes to Get You Through Instead of Going Under

I am not so naïve as to believe a Pollyanna quote can perk me up when the dogs of depression are hounding me or the tremors of anxiety are shaking my foundation. What I do know is the act of reading a quote says even though I feel like crap I have a morsel of faith I might feel less crappy in the future.

And that says a lot. Taking any action when in the midst of a crisis, minor or major, is enormously significant. Reading a quote in a book, glancing at one on twitter or googling for inspiration on-line may be a small step, but it IS a step and one towards health.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, I sat with mild depression. An oxymoron at best; depression no matter how mild, feels really bad and extremely scary when you know what it can become. So before my head hit the pillow, I grabbed one of my favourite writers, flipped to ear marked pages and scoured for the underlined and the highlighted. I swallowed Pema Chodron’s (an American Buddhist nun) words whole: “we consciously train in gentleness…developing a nonjudgmental attitude. One of loving-kindness…an unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in our mind.” Difficult to imagine as I sat twisting uncomfortably in my heaviness. Friendliness is not the first quality that comes to mind when I feel depressed. But even so as I read the words, I felt ever so slightly less dead, slightly less alone. Still afraid, still rather lost and sad, but somehow more relaxed in my awkwardness of blue.

Quotes are odd things. What resonates with one person may not with another. But regardless, they can make us feel less alone. For me it’s because I see that somehow, somewhere, at some time, someone else felt similarly to me and got through it. It gives me permission to feel overwhelmed, but encourages me to go on. So I do. A quote may not save a life, but it can make suffering momentarily easier.

I also have to be careful though, because sometimes my self-talk is so malicious it turns these effervescent quotes into wet leaves with which I flog myself.  ‘Oh yeah, Victoria – you think you’ve got it so bad – what about that Viktor Frankl guy who lived through a concentration camp. Don’t be such a wimp. What are you complaining about, huh?’

I need to be cautious and kind when I read quotes, reminding myself that my suffering is as valid and that to deny how much I am hurting only perpetuates the self-violence I am wanting to move through. It is through the acceptance of my pain and the willingness to see how we all suffer (but for different reasons) is what brings me closer to feeling more at peace.

So it is with this hope I offer some of my other favourite ‘strings of life’ from some of my favorite players (and even one from yours truly). These are from those who managed to escape graggy rock faces and re-entered fields of, not happiness, but ‘human-ness’. When that frightening feeling of depression descends, I don’t want to feel happy, I want to feel myself. I want to feel part of humanity again. These warm words seem to point me to the place of hope (and at times, humor) and hold me there even if only a second.

1. Even from a dark night, songs of beauty can be born. – Mary Anne Radmacher

2. Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground. – Anonymous

3. Once we make our decision, all things will come to us. Auspicious signs are not a superstition, but a confirmation. They are a response.  – Deng Ming-Dao

4. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

5. We are not to blame for our illness, but we are responsible for our health.- Victoria Maxwell, BPP (Bipolar Princess)

6. Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ – The Talmud

7. Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.  – Viktor E. Frankl

8. My only advice: stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it. -Judy Blume

9. The Truth shall set you free…but first it’ll piss you off. – Gloria Steinem

10. Even if you’re on the right track…if you just sit there, you’ll still get hit. – Will Rogers

11. Action is the antidote to despair. – Joan Baez

12. Try to love and live the question itself. Don’t search for the answer. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. – Rainer Maria Rilke

13. When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else. – Joseph Campbell

14. Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.      – Kahlil Gibran

15. I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes, several attack me all at once. -Ashleigh Brilliant

16. Life is the art of living with uncertainty, without being paralyzed by fear. – Dr. W. Dillon

17. Oh great, here comes AFPGO: Another Freaking (or f#!king) Personal Growth Opportunity. – Unknown

18. Never underestimate a person’s potential for recovery – Victoria Maxwell, BPP

What are quotes that help you get through when you feel like you’re going under? Email me or leave a comment here or on Facebook. I can always use more. Like great (well-fitting, comfortable and snappy) shoes, you can never have enough great quotes!