When I was in grad school one of my classes included peer counseling, and my counselor gave me the homework assignment of playing guitar for half an hour three times weekly in order to alleviate stress. Since I was feeling stressed because I was working a lot of hours as well as carrying a full course load, I was somewhat resistant to the idea of giving up an hour and a half of what little time I had to play my guitar. I thought my peer counselor didn't know what she was talking about, but soon came to realize that she was pretty smart. Despite my initial grumbling about wasting time I came to look forward to the half hours I spent with the strings and found that afterwards I felt refreshed and better able to tackle my work load with increased efficiency. Those little breaks nourished me and introduced the idea that perhaps it is when we are most tempted to surrender our creative play time is when we most need to honor it.
Creative play helps us think in new ways. It is exercise for your mind and can actually open new neural pathways to increase brain function. Practicing creativity does not necessarily mean that you have to dedicate a lot of time to take up painting or learn a complicated new art form. Start simple; take something that you already know how to do and run with it. Let it expand or contract in accordance with your vision. Color outside the lines. Write a little story, do a little dance and see what happens. Doodle. Indulge the artist inside you and play with your food. Paint some furniture. Take a walk and daydream. Dig in the dirt, play with wood or wool or clay or fabric or whatever your hands like to touch. Introduce new elements and see how they interact. Play with it. Make it yours and have fun with it. The outcome is not nearly as important as the process.
Self care means attending to all of our parts to keep us moving forward in balance. You can build a structure in your life that allocates time for creativity by making it a priority and part of your routine, and you may have to stimulate your creative juices just to find a way to do that. See what it is like to take a creative play break for 15 minutes during your day on Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of having that snack or smoking a cigarette or playing a computer game. Or let twenty minutes of playing with color or singing or fiber fun be your reward at the end of your work day. Take one night away from whatever screen you tend to stare at in the evenings to do something that engages your hands and mind and maybe even your feet! Find a way to incorporate creativity into your life and then celebrate with a little smile because you have done something good for yourself.