Mind Matters: Taking a creative approach to positive mental health

Psychologist Jane Shaw shares her tips for introducing more learning and creativity in your everyday life. Jenny Lee writes

Being creative, whether that involves making art, gardening or cooking, can have a positive effect on our mental health

FROM watching theatre or visiting an art gallery to colouring in or gardening, the power of creativity and art to improve psychological wellbeing is well known.

This month, Belfast's MAC theatre is the venue for a three-week festival of powerful new theatre that focuses on the complex and pressing issue of male mental health.

Edgefest also features a weekend of interactive events providing practical advice and discussion about emotional wellbeing, including yoga, mindfulness and a pop-up pharmacy.

"It was important for us in raising the topic of mental health in our art that we also provide some positive solutions to dealing with mental health issues – it’s about empowerment for the individual and also a necessary destigmatisation of an all-too-common experience which can make people feel isolated and very alone," says Emma Jordan, Director of Prime Cut Productions and co-collaborator behind Edgefest, alongside Tinderbox Productions and the MAC.

"We are grateful to The Arts Council of Northern Ireland for their continuing support and this work helps make the very clear link between the value of art in improving the lives of people in Northern Ireland."

Co Armagh craniosacral therapist and Jungian psychologist Jane Shaw will be holding two free workshops during Edgefest on Saturday February 24. The 'learn' workshop will focus on ideas to get your creativity flowing again, while the 'connect' workshop will demonstrate importance of engaging with others.

"It's very easy to get isolated, but your nervous system needs to regulate by engaging with other people," says Jane, who encourages people to sign up to community classes as a way of socialising.

"I haven't sung since school, but recently took the courage to start singing at the Crescent Arts Centre and am having a real laugh. I also did a wood-turning course recently," adds Jane, who worked as an accountant and ran a successful PR agency in London before realising she needed to leave her stressful life and feed her inner self 15 years ago.

Teaching mind-body medicine practices internationally, she also runs a craniosacral therapy practice in Gilford, specialising in trauma recovery, and is currently completing a doctorate in the creative potential of the unconscious.

"There are two ways of engaging with art – firstly doing something and creating art yourself and secondly watching or engaging through someone else's creativity. Both can have a really positive effect as they access parts of you that maybe you have hidden. Perhaps that's buried grief, anger, a longing for love or even a passion," adds Jane, who is herself passionate about encouraging people to introduce more creativity into their everyday life.

Even getting out of the house and doing photography in your local park, window shopping or viewing public art are all ideal ways to begin thinking creatively.

Sewing, knitting, writing, drawing and cooking are other creative options.

"I sing and dance when I cook," laughs Jane, who has even used the creativity of make-up art to help her cope with losing her hair due to alopecia two years ago.

"It was horrendous at first and I thought I could hide behind a wig, but that's not me being authentic. Somebody made me realise my face was a blank canvas to work on and it has ignited a passion and creativity in me."

:: Edgefest continues at Belfast's MAC until March 3. For tickets and info see

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