Do you notice anything as soon as you see the word on the page. Notice, just notice. Notice your body, is there a place or places where you feel anxiety, now notice your thoughts. You don’t need to do anything other than be witness to yourself and to notice whatever arises or does not.
Art. Art Therapy.
Now notice yourself again. Does the idea of creating art excite you, terrify you, leave you curious, or have you think/feel something else? Most of us have some kind of thoughts/feelings about creating art, just notice yours. If it heightens your anxiety, you are not alone. The good news is that there is no right way to create art, and studies have shown that it can help to alleviate anxiety. In fact, if you would like to give it a try, at the end of this article there is an exercise that uses the creative process.
How can making art make a difference?
Creating art can relax the mind; as you get engaged in the creative process, problems and worry about the future, a trigger for anxiety, can move into the background and melt away. And important to note, making art for the purpose of alleviating anxiety is not about the product you create, it is the process of creating that’s meaningful. And, art can be fun.
What is the difference between creating art that can feel good, and art therapy? The simple answer is that creating art can be healing, it can be relaxing and can lower cortisol levels, all of which can help to alleviate anxiety. So definitely create!
And, art therapy, is done with a master’s level, board certified, and in a number of states, licensed Art Therapist. It includes the creation of art, and as important, is the relationship with a highly skilled and trained Art Therapist. With an Art Therapist, you’re able to use the creative process to more deeply explore what’s at the root of your anxiety, and to develop long term strategies, shifts and solutions to anxiety and related stressors in your life.
Two common questions about Art Therapy
- Is art therapy just for children? The answer is an absolute no. Creating art is a powerful non-verbal tool to safely explore one’s internal world, to begin to see their past, present and future in new ways, to make connections that one would not necessarily see in simply talking things through.
- Do you have to be an artist to do art therapy? The answer is again, no. Art therapy is about the process of creating, not about making a beautiful product. The feelings and thoughts around doing (or not wanting to do) art are as meaningful as the creating itself. And all of this is done in the safety of working with a trained art therapy professional.
Below is an exercise that I have found to be calming when using in arts and healing workshops. This can be a relaxing and creative experience; it is not art therapy.
An art exercise
Materials for Part 1:
- One or more of the following: pencil/s, pen/s, marker/s, colored pencil/s
- Print out the body images at the bottom of the page, or draw your own
Materials for Part 2
- Pencil/s, paper, round plate or bowl to draw a circle
- Any or all of the following: Colored pencils, watercolor paints/brushes or magic markers
- If using paint: paper towel or tissue, a cup of water
Trace the outer edge of the plate or bowl to create a circle. This circle is called a mandala.
Lay the papers and drawing tools in front of you.
Grab your pencil, a pen, a marker/s, colored pencil/s, whatever you have at home. You can print out a copy of the body sketches, draw your own or use your imagination.
Now, let’s get back to noticing. Notice your body. Notice the places where you feel stress. Let’s scan through our bodies. While taking a deep, slow breath in through your nose and a longer deep breath out through your mouth, notice feelings of anxiety and/or tension in your feet; now breath again and focus on your legs; repeat and focus on your buttocks, your groin, belly, back, shoulders, arms, neck, face, and finally, on your brain
Continue to slowly breath and take it all in.
If you have printed or drawn the body sketches, you are now invited to put marks on the top two. One represents your front, the other is your back. Draw marks anywhere on the sketch that you noticed tension, stress, anxiety (draw an x, circles, scribbles, etc.). Draw as many or as few marks as you need. If you don’t have paper, just imagine putting marks on those areas. This can help you to remember.
For the next part, sit in a comfortable position. It is recommended that your feet be on the floor so you feel grounded. And, if you feel comfortable, after reading part 1, close your eyes. If that makes you uncomfortable, shift your gaze downward.
Once positioned, you are invited to imagine a beautiful garden, beach, or perhaps a place you have visited that’s brought you pleasure. While remembering to breathe, imagine yourself there, perhaps walking, or sitting under a comfortable tree; notice its beauty and experience your breath slowing down. To deepen the experience you can engage your other senses – sounds, tastes, touch and/or smells, which can add to your experience of calm. And always remember, this place is yours and yours alone. It is safe and calming. You can return there at any time.
During this exercise, your mind may begin to drift, just notice that it has and return to the image in your mind. You can stay there as long or as short as you like. And when you are ready, open your eyes. I do want to mention that if you did not see images, you are not alone, there is no right way; some of us do and some do not. Just notice what you noticed. And now you are ready to create your mandala.
Continue to be with your breath.
If you saw an image, you can use it to inspire you. If you did not see images, or are not comfortable drawing from life, then simply focus on your art materials picking up whatever you are drawn to and let your hand move. Simply allow colors, shapes, lines to emerge; remember there is no right way. Once you are engaged in creating, the art process, in and of itself, is generally calming. I suggest giving yourself 20 – 40 minutes for this part.
After you have finished the mandala, again take note of your body and scan it as we did in the beginning. See if there are shifts; note them, or the absence of them using the second two body images or your imagination. There is NO wrong outcome.
Lastly, you may want to do some free form journaling of any thoughts and/or feelings you noticed; some find this enjoyable as a way to deepen the remembering and to bring the exercise to completion.
Always remember that art can be a wonderful, calming and healing experience, and if you are having serious anxiety, please reach out to an Art Therapist or other mental health professional.
Art and the lowering of cortisol:
Art making is stress reducing. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07421656.2012.683748
Bedside Art and the decrease in anxiety of cancer patients (I can personally attest to this having done this for 3 years, 20 yrs ago)
Art and stress reduction in college students: