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A Simple & Soothing Activity To Relax The Mind From Creative Zai Divecha

"I think many people take comfort in gentle, repetitive actions like that ⁠— knitting, holding prayer beads or rosaries, or playing with fidget spinners, for instance."
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Need a little something to sooth your mind and also keep your hands busy? Us, too. Zai Divecha is sharing how to do just that, and also how she is coping and staying calm as a creative in quarantine.

I find paper folding to be a very soothing exercise. It's quiet and meditative. I love getting into the flow and doing the same motion over and over again. I think many people take comfort in gentle, repetitive actions like that ⁠— knitting, holding prayer beads or rosaries, or playing with fidget spinners, for instance. These kinds of activities give your brain and your fingers a little challenge to work through, and that can sometimes help quiet the mind a bit.

I grew up making these paper stars as a child, as did a lot of Asian American kids in the 90s. It's a fun and quick way to transform a familiar, ordinary material into a tiny piece of art. You could make just one, or fill a whole jar with them. And you don't need anything special to get started⁠ — you can make these paper stars out of printer paper, construction paper, or a page ripped out of a notebook. In a pinch, even an old receipt will do. This is a very stressful time for a lot of people, and I hope this tutorial brings a few moments of calm into your day [see video below].

Zai Divecha Paper Star Tutorial - 2

What other techniques do you practice to stay calm and collected? 

  • Following the CDC guidelines to protect myself and my community. There are a lot of things we can't control right now, and that's scary. But there are a few things that are within our control: Choosing to stay home, washing hands, sanitizing phones, and staying at least 6 feet away from other people. It actually helps reduce my stress to remember that I have some agency — my actions will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in my community.

  • Nature, fresh air, and movement. Getting outside a few times a day is really helpful. I have a dog, so she keeps me on a schedule. Simply being around grass and trees for a few minutes here and there can really help make me feel more normal. Moving my body also feels good. If you like doing yoga, definitely check out the Down Dog app .

  • Helping others. It's corny, but sometimes helping someone else can take your mind off your own problems for a bit. There are a lot of folks who are really struggling right now, either financially or emotionally. If you're in a position to donate to funds for people in need, or make purchases to support small businesses in your area, do it. If you have friends or neighbors who are struggling with the social isolation or anxiety, reach out to them and set up a phone call. Caring for others in your community can be surprisingly healing.

  • Distractions. I'm all for watching movies or shows as a way to manage stress. Sometimes you need to just turn your brain off for a bit, and that's okay. If you're into podcasts, I've got some recommendations for you! I put together a list of my current favorites in a blog post. My top podcast recommendation for this time is Twenty-Thousand Hertz. It's a fascinating podcast about sound design, and it always puts me in a calm, curious mood.

  • Deliberate use of social tools. There are two sides to this coin. I've found social media to be immensely comforting, because it reminds me that we're all in this weird, stressful situation together. But when it gets to the point of mindless scrolling, I know I need to pry myself away. And as for video-chatting, I've found that seeing my loved ones' faces always comforts me. But the big group video chats are exhausting and stressful, so I try to prioritize one-on-one conversations instead. One last tip: If you like getting chores done while talking on the phone, stick with regular old phone calls over video chats. It's hard to get things done around the house while staring at a screen.

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Are you exploring anything new during this time?

Yes! Since I can't go into my studio right now, one of my goals for this period is to get more comfortable shooting and editing videos. It would benefit my business if I had more tools for sharing tutorials or behind-the-scenes stories. Specifically, I'd like to learn how to use Adobe Premiere to edit videos. I've been putting this off for years, and I'm finally ready. If you're looking to learn a new skill, check out LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) and Creative Live for online courses geared at creatives.

I also have some new hobbies outside of work. In the last few months, I've been teaching myself the acoustic guitar, and I started taking voice lessons (which are now done by video chat). Making music has been a comfort during stressful times. I'm a total beginner and definitely won't be performing in front of other humans anytime soon, but I've gotten a lot of joy out of it. It's been fun to work on a brand-new skill that's totally out of my comfort zone.

And just a quick note on these self-improvement projects: For me, learning new skills is a form of self-care. It's helping me cope. I recognize that not everyone has the desire — or bandwidth! — to learn new skills. For instance, I can only imagine how tough this time must be for parents and folks in caregiving roles. Take care of yourself in whatever way you need. Trust your gut, and do what you need to do in order to survive. 

Zai Divecha-finished paper folding

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