Until recently Kim Alvarado worked in administration at Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.
But after working during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the long-time nurse decided to retire, putting an end to her 36-year career in health care.
“I think I did burn out,” said Alvarado. “There were nursing shortages, we were doubling up patients in rooms that were meant to be single rooms, I hadn’t seen anything like it in my career and it really did take a toll.”
Now, for a change of pace, she is enrolled at Fleming College Haliburton School of Art & Design in the fibre arts program to decompress from pandemic stress.
“It made me realize that I needed to do something for myself,” she said. “It has been a real transition in terms of unwinding and being different in the world, thinking a little bit different. It helps to relax me and just to create, and that creative aspect is very fulfilling.”
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And she isn’t alone. Enrollment at the school is up, certificate programs are full and second terms have been added for both ceramics and artist blacksmith courses.
DeAnn deGruijter is an instructor in the expressive arts program. It’s a course that encourages self-exploration through art – aimed at individuals, or professionals in fields like psychology, education and health care.
“It’s not therapy, but it is very therapeutic,” she said. “You can pick up an extra invaluable tool for healing and self-discovery and joy.”
She said using the arts as a method for healing goes back thousands of years.
“If someone in your group was sick we might use botanicals to heal them, but we might paint on our cave wall or dance or chant and have almost shamanistic experiences that would incorporate all of those arts,” said deGruijter.
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And it may be important to incorporate them, or other coping methods, now more than ever.
Jack Veitch with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Peterborough, Ont., said they’ve seen a consistent influx of calls since the onset of the pandemic.
“For many, we have spent a lot of the last few months in a crisis state, that stressed state and I think for many it is that feeling of being worn down,” he said.
Veitch said it is important to find something you enjoy to help to relieve stress or contact a professional if you need additional help.
And he said creative projects can be helpful, that they can actually prompt a physical response in the body.
“What we call cortisol, the stress hormone, we’ve seen research from the University of Alberta that shows when you engage in creative art you actually lower cortisol levels in your body,” he said.
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Back in class, Alvarado said she doesn’t know what comes next, but that that is kind of the point. For now, she said she is just living in the present, doing something she loves.
“This has been like a real blessing for me,” she said.
For more information on Fleming College Haliburton School of Art & Design you can visit their website.
And if you are struggling with mental health you can reach the Canadian Mental Health Association online or by phone at (705) 748-6687.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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