Art therapy for stress reduction. Does it actually work?
Stress has become a huge and dominating part of our day-to-day life. It is one of the world’s largest mental health problems leading to burnout, exhaustion, weak immune system, anxiety and even organ damage. Every day we are hounded by stress of home, stress of workplace, stress of meeting different deadlines etc. Our jobs, our homes, our families are at the moot of our stress. However, there is no way to run or hide from stress. We need to find a way to deal with our stress head-on and survive. The best way to get rid of stress is to use art therapy for stress reduction. Let’s dive in deeper and find out how art therapy can help reduce our daily stress.
Art therapy for stress reduction
Even though art therapy can be considered as a different field, self-directed art therapy can also be used to express one’s creative side, get in touch with one’s feelings as well as to reduce stress. Almost all of us understand the power of art at an instinctual level. As kids, we have spent a lot of time drawing pictures, coloring images, etc. We understood art from the time when we were little. Almost all kids enjoy sculpting, playing with play dough, finger painting or drawing with crayons and watercolors. What may look like doodles when done by kids are not actually doodles if looked closely. This is their way of expressing their emotions.
As adults, we do not use art as a medium of expression. We try to talk about our problems. However, talking is not a solution for a lot of people. When people cannot talk, these emotions get bottled up inside and these can lead to further problems. As an adult, you may think that creating art or drawing is not worth your time or you are not good enough to draw or create something beautiful. However, creating art is the most valuable ‘me’ time and the best way to relieve the stress of daily life, even for those people who may not think of themselves as artistically inclined. This is where art therapy for stress reduction comes into the picture.
Art therapy for stress reduction. How does it work?
It does not matter, whether you can draw like Pablo Picasso or you cannot even draw a hangman, art is for everyone and is possibly the best way to get rid of the daily stress. A study published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association had observed that only 45 minutes of creative activity every day can reduce stress even if those people who do not show any artistic talent or inclination.
The following are the primary ways how art therapy can help reduce stress:
Reduces cortisol production
A study was done in 2016 which was studying art therapy for stress reduction. It was observed that patients who engaged in a 45 minute art making session had lower production of cortisol compared to those who did not engage in art for the period of 45 mins.
Cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone. It is primarily produced in response to stress, dangerous situations or fight or flight circumstances. The cortisol was measured in the saliva of participants before and after engaging in art activities. This shows that art therapy for stress reduction works and can be employed in one’s daily lives.
Art therapy can act as self-care:
Most of the times, our busy life, day-to-day activities and commitments make us forget to take some time out for our own self. If you manage to take out a few minutes on an everyday basis to work on a hobby, it can help self-rejuvenate. When you indulge in art therapy for stress reduction, there is a high chance that at the end of your self rejuvenation session you will be left with something interesting, beautiful or worth having a discussion about.
Art can help you meditate:
When you start to draw, sculpt or make something, your entire attention gets focused on that one work which you are doing. You want to design something which is meaningful to you, thus you put your heart, soul and mind into the task at hand. Meditation works on similar grounds. During meditation, you are asked to focus on one thought, one point and not think about anything else.
Psychologists have observed that art therapy can lead a person into a state that is so engrossed in the activity at hand that the person does not think about anything else. A person can experience this mindfulness type state when they are drawing, painting, sculpting, practicing an instrument, gardening, writing or even playing a sport. Art therapy for stress reduction stills your mind which enables it to detoxify itself of all the stress.
When one finishes with their art, they are left with a refreshed mind and an increased ability to tackle the task at hand.
Helps take your mind off different things:
Our day-to-day life gives us a lot of things to constantly worry about. The best part about art therapy for stress reduction is that, when you are creating art, your mind is completely focused on the work at hand. It does not wonder about all the difficulties you have faced in the day or all the tasks that are pending to do or all the deadlines that you have to meet. When creating art, there is only your art and you. There is nothing else in that plane of existence. Your complete focus on your art makes it impossible to ruminate about all your problems. Furthermore, when you finish, you are left with a much clearer head which makes it easy for you to deal with your problems.
Art therapy activities for stress management
There are many art therapy activities for stress management. However, I have summarized the most prominent ones for you here:
You can keep a sketchbook to help you relieve stress
Keeping a sketchbook is one of the easiest ways to deal with your stress. Look at it as a form of art journaling. Just like journaling, it can be creative, cathartic as well as stress-relieving. Journals or sketchbooks have become a part of art therapy for stress reduction as they help in the following ways to tackle your stress:
Maintain a dream journal
Dream journals are a very important part of art therapy for stress reduction. They are generally used to help the therapist identify the patterns the patients see in their dreams. It helps people analyze which are the points in their lives which need a bit of extra attention. The symbols and images of the dreams must be interpreted by a psychotherapist.
To start dream journaling, just keep a journal and a pen right next to your bed on the nightstand. The moment you wake up in the morning, pick the pen and journal, draw the first symbols words or images which pop up in your head. It does not matter whether you are good or bad at drawing. Your journal is meant for your and your therapist’s eyes only.
Draw your feelings
Another part of art therapy for stress reduction is to draw your stress. This can be done as an abstract representation or literal representation of the issues which are causing you stress. Draw abstract representations of parts or things that are causing you stress. This can help you express emotions that are difficult for you to explain verbally.
Maintain a gratitude journal
You can also have a gratitude journal to catalog what you are grateful or thankful about. You can personalize your gratitude journal by drawing the faces or places which make you happy and write them down. Draw the people who make you happy, draw the places which give you a sense of peace. Sketching places or people can help you freshen up your mind and can act as a stress reliever. These images can also bring you peace when you look at them in the future.
Coloring images and pictures
Coloring is not an activity that is only meant for kids. Coloring plays a very important role in art therapy for stress reduction. Adult coloring books and games have now come into the market. These can help those people relax who want to create something beautiful but are not artistically inclined.
Painting for stress relief
Painting for stress relief is my go to method in the arsenal of art therapy for stress reduction. When life gets hard, I start painting. It not only takes my mind off the stress which is nagging me, it also helps my mind focus on just one thing at one time which is the painting in front of my eyes. The only thing I think while I am painting is how will I achieve the scene I am looking for.
Does looking at art relieve stress?
Yes! You don’t have to be an exceptionally amazing painter or sculptor to gain the benefits of art therapy for stress reduction. Even the simple act of watching an art come to life can be stress relieving. It relaxes the mind and transports you into a world of colors. The effect is soothing, gradual and calming for the mind.
I have gone one step further and instead of just using art to get rid of my stress, I also upload my work on my YouTube channel. Watching a painting come to life can have therapeutic effect as well. If my paintings can relieve someone of their stress for even a few minutes, then I have achieved my goal.
What are your thoughts on art therapy for stress reduction? Do you have any favorites amongst all the art therapy activities for stress management which I have mentioned above? Have you tried to be non-judgmental towards yourself and just draw your feelings? When you looked back at the images you drew, what did you feel? Did doing some artistic work help you alleviate your stress? Did it help you freshen up your mind? I would love to know of your experiences with art therapy for stress reduction, so please put your views and experiences in the comment section below and let’s help each other out. In case you didn’t already know, my favorite method is painting for stress relief.
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Frequently asked questions:
What kind of art relieves stress?
- Dream Journaling
Is art good for stress relief?
Research has observed that art causes lower cortisol production which is also referred to as the stress hormone. So yes! art is very good for stress relief.
How do crafts reduce stress?
Crafts can enhance relaxation. Craft can act as a coping mechanism for grief and anxiety. it can also help distract a person from their stress and depression while building self esteem and confidence.
Does painting relieve stress?
The act of indulging in painting not only reduces stress, it also increases the production of happy hormone. When a person paints, his or her mind shifts from survival mode to creative mode which boosts self confidence and self esteem.
What can I paint when stressed?
You can paint anything you wish. You can draw symbols or shapes or animals or sceneries. What you choose to draw is entirely up to you.
Is painting good for anxiety?
Yes painting has been known to work amazingly well on anxiety.
- Painting calms the mind
- Distracts the person from the stress
- Encourages mindfulness
- Enhances self confidence and esteem.