The earth seems to be shifting under our feet. Nothing seems certain, and it’s easy to let our anxieties and fears grow. That is, if we focus on human affairs only.

Because out there, in nature, the world is going on. Lives are born and lives end. Trees that are already hundreds of years old, they keep steadily growing. Millions of small dramas, small wonders, and daily miracles are happening all around us. We just need to slow down, bring ourselves into the present, and open our senses.

But this can be hard. A thousand worries and tasks clamouring for our attention. Perhaps an internal monologue of fear, or even doom. Some people feel that if they don’t constantly worry about their loved ones, this means that they don’t care about them. But everyone needs to care for themselves too, so that we can remain happy and healthy. In that way, we can go on caring for our loved ones more effectively and for longer.

One method of finding joy and calm that always works for me is by writing and drawing. But I mean the kind of writing and drawing where I don’t set myself any goals or standards. Where I don’t put any pressure on myself for the writing or drawing to turn out in any particular way. No one else needs to see what’s in my journals. They are for me only. My own personal response to the world.

In my written journal, I just start writing about whatever is bugging me, and see what comes out. Often I write down questions, and then try to write through into an answer.

With my drawing, I find the best way is to go out into nature and find something that sparks my interest. It also helps to find a comfortable place to sit or stand. Then I give my attention to that flower, bird, tree, landscape, whatever, and try to draw it. It doesn’t matter what comes out.

If I’m really tired I’ll do a contour drawing. This is extra-low-pressure because this means I don’t look at the page, and I don’t take my pen off the page. I just look at the natural thing, and let my pen describe its outlines – its contours.

Sometimes I go out into nature, and write down impressions as I go. Sometimes I sit quietly, listen to all the sounds I can hear, and then try to draw a sound map.

All of these techniques have a similar effect on me. They slow me down. They shift my focus from worrying to one of close observation, of being in the present. Watching a little bird hop about, or studying the intricate beauty of a flower, fills me with joy. Something about putting pen to paper is both grounding and calming.

A written journal, about personal problems, can be cathartic too. It’s almost as if taking the thought and putting it on paper, away from yourself, both relieves the weight of the thing in your mind, and also gives you a better perspective to see the thing more clearly.

So in these strange times, please take some time to care for yourself. Perhaps try some writing or drawing as I’ve described here. More detailed descriptions of these exercises can be found in my book Make a Date with Nature that you can download for free here.