Art as Therapy

Everyday our lives are bombarded with a growing to-do list, and as many of us climb the professional ladder, start families and/or pay off student loans, our stress levels continue to increase as well. In response, many of us try to offset stress with mindful morning meditations, after-work crossfit sessions, and/or routine check-ins with our therapist, but what if you could get some of the same benefits with a coloring book and a pack of crayons? 

A recent study looking at the levels of reduced cortisol in correlation with giving a group of adults limitless art supplies, no firm directions, and the space to make art for 45 minutes revealed that maybe art class is the answer to modern burnout after all.

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Here are 5 ways making art helps reduce stress:  

Less Anxiety

Engaging one’s mind in an artful way provides an almost-instant relaxation boost. One 38-year-old female participant, who worked on collage art, reported that “after about 5 minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need[ed] to get done.” Feeling stressed? Try a 5 to 10 minute doodling break to ease your mind.

Increased Problem Solving  

In a season of high stress, being able to clear one’s mind can increase your problem solving skills. This is where creating art comes in. By allocating time in the day to make art or do a creative activity – like free writing – the brain is allowed to relax, and as a result, individuals can see previous problems with a fresh perspective.  

Freedom from Constraints

When we fill up our lives with too many duties or expectations, we can often constrain our productivity. Creating art can loosen those constraints. Likewise, after working on a mixed media art project, a 24-year-old male participant remarked, “I was tentative and careful at first, but once I found my concept...everything flowed naturally and freely.”

Childhood Revisited 

Being an adult with adult responsibilities can often prohibit us from accessing the carefree feelings of childhood. Not surprisingly, most participants in the study reflected on how art was absent from their daily lives and the experience of making art conjured up nostalgic, childlike sentiments. Think about arts and crafts class at summer camp and how much fun it was.

Self Discovery

The absence of boundaries and rules is essential to creating art and self discovery. As noted by a 29-year-old female participant who worked with modeling clay, “I found the experience of making this piece to be enjoyable and ‘liberating’ in that I didn't have to be restricted by rules or procedures.” Sometimes you have to break the rules to have a breakthrough.

In many ways, making art helps us not only reduce stress in our lives but brings us back to a better, richer understanding of ourselves and the world around us. So, the next time you’re feeling anxious, pick up a paint brush or coloring book to calm your nerves and relax your body, mind and spirit.

By Kimi Pace

Kimberly PaceComment