Improving Your Everyday Life Through Art Therapy Paint, Sculpt, or Color Your Way to Relaxation

Whether it’s rooted in work, school, the past, or personal relationships, stress is a huge part of our lives. Stress can have many negative effects on physical and psychological systems. An inability to positively control or manage stress may lead to inappropriate behavior such as alcohol consumption, overeating, or neglecting feelings. It’s important to know that stress can be managed effectively, at very little cost, and in a fun way. Art therapy is a great therapeutic approach that you can use in your daily life to keep your stress levels low and your contentedness high.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an approach that involves the creative processes of art to improve one’s life. For example, drawing, coloring, painting, doodling, and sculpting are all examples of art forms that can be used as a means of therapy. Using art as a medium for healing promotes self-exploration, understanding, self-esteem, and awareness. It is a way for a person to improve their mental, emotional, and physical states, as well as their overall health. When you use imagery, colors, shapes, and designs as a part of your therapeutic process, your thoughts and feelings can be expressed through your art, rather than words that are often difficult to articulate to others. This means that you do not have to verbalize how you are feeling.

Art therapy can be done in counseling, where you work one-on-one with a trained and certified art therapist. However, the healing potential of art is not only effective in a counseling or psychotherapy setting. Art therapy techniques and approaches can be done at home, work, or school without a therapist. In some methods of art therapy, you are your own therapist.

Who can benefit from art therapy?

You don’t need to be a talented artist to engage in art therapy or to enjoy its benefits. The goal is not to create a masterpiece but to express yourself freely through art. The artistic results are secondary to the emotional benefits.

Art therapy can help people who have been exposed to loss or trauma. It can support people in overcoming addiction and mental health disorders. It has even been used in hospital settings for cancer patients. It’s also a common expressive therapy for children. The great thing about art therapy is that it can help the lives of so many people – even if you do not have a major concern or illness. Art therapy is beneficial to anyone who experiences the stress of everyday modern life.

Have you ever noticed how expressive arts therapy is calming and peaceful? Have you ever come home from a long work day in front of the computer and needed an outlet that wasn’t a screen? Engaging in art techniques can clear the mind, let us put feelings and thoughts onto paper or canvas, and leave us feeling accomplished and calm. It’s a great option for people who experience any sort of stress or upset in their lives, however big or small.

Your brain on art.

When we engage in the creation of our own art forms, we receive big benefits to our minds, both physically and mentally. When we produce art with our own hands, there is increased neural connectivity in the area of the brain that deals with introspection, memory, and self-monitoring. This means that this area is more active when engaged in producing art. Mentally, we become more psychologically resilient, we have increased positive perspectives, and become more self-aware. This helps us to cope with future problems, stressors, or events. It is said that the pairing of actually creating the art (motor processing) and thinking about expression (cognitive processing) is what makes art therapy so beneficial.

Types of art therapy for different feelings and emotions.

To do art therapy, you can either take a nondirected or directed approach. A nondirected approach is flexible, and less structured than a directed approach. For example, you would draw, paint, color, or sculpt without guidelines. A directed approach is more structured in the sense that you choose an art therapy activity that relates to certain feelings and emotions. With either approach, your feelings are expressed, and your stress levels decrease. The benefits of art therapy are provided in both approaches. Here are some examples of art therapy activities related to feelings and emotions that you can try:

Emotions.
  • Paint or draw your emotions. Here, you want to think about how you are feeling and put that feeling into paper, however you see it.
  • Create an emotion wheel. You’ll want to use lots of color for this activity! Label each emotion with a color that fits for you.
  • Design a postcard that you will never send. This activity helps with releasing anger in a way that never has to be presented to someone else.
  • Coloring books for emotions. You can buy, or print, certain coloring pages that were created to release emotions.
Happiness.
  • Make a collage related to a quote that speaks to you. Turn words that mean a lot to you and turn it into a visual that is inspiring.
  • Draw a wild invention. This activity will get your creative juices flowing and will most likely be wild and funny!
  • Draw animals you love. For some people, animals are a source of love and happiness. Draw the ones that you love the most (your own pet included).
  • Draw, color, or paint your idea of the perfect day or perfect home. This activity will help you create a visual of spaces and things that feel safe and warm to you.
Relaxation.
  • Paint or color while listening to music. When art and music are paired together, our brains and bodies can relax.
  • Make a mandala. You can either print one off or draw your own – this is a meditative symbol that is relaxing to look at and work with.
  • Draw something very big! Get out the large pieces of paper or a big cardboard box and get your body moving.
  • Choose colors that are relaxing and calming to you and only use those. Sometimes certain colors elicit different feelings for us. Choose ones that speak to you.
  • Draw, paint, or sculpt outdoors. The sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the outdoors, when paired with art, are very relaxing.
Trauma and Loss.
  • Create a collage of your worries. Put whatever worries you in your life on paper.
  • Turn illness into a masterpiece. If you or someone close to you is ill, turn those feelings into something meaningful.
  • Paint someone you have lost. If you have lost someone close to you, remember him or her and make that special person close to you again.
  • Draw a safe space. You can refer to your safe space when you need a reminder.

Other types of art therapy.

Art therapy is available in adult coloring books that are affordable, easy, and even portable. It would be best to go look at these books and take a peek inside. Think about which ones elicit different feelings, and choose one that speaks to you and how you are feeling or what you are going through.

Another form of art therapy is paint nights. This type of art therapy is done in a group setting and often held at local restaurants and bars. You go with friends and sit with other people who are all painting the same picture. In the end, you see how everyone painted the same picture differently. You can also host your own paint night by gathering up some friends or family and purchasing some paint and canvas. You can designate a specific picture for everyone to draw, or you can leave it up to the group! Art therapy in a group allows for free expression in an environment that is safe and accepting.

Art therapy is an easy, affordable, and beneficial way to express feelings, reduce stress, and remind us of the happy things. We are able to put difficult feelings into something visual and meaningful. When we draw, color, or paint, our brains become active and are better at helping us out with any future stressors.

This post was originally published on www.partselect.com.


About the Author: Caileigh Flannigan

Caileigh is a play practitioner who uses forms of play such as exploring the outdoors and experimenting with loose parts as a way to promote children’s development and emotional healing. She is spreading the word about the importance of childhood development through free play in natural environments.

8 Comments

Sharon Hutchinson

Great article. Very helpful. I guess this is why adult coloring books are becoming popular. People are finding relaxation in them, even though the sketch is already provided.

I think writing should not be underestimated either. Putting your feelings, emotions etc. in written words can be one of the best therapies as well.

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juan reyes

wonderfull article. Standing alone in home my wife spend time cooking anything she find in the kitchen.
Other times she make embroidery. or using your puzzle book

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Pam

I’ve always been a sort of busy person. I have a real hard time just sitting at the table talking or watching tv, i almost always have some kind of art going, and it keeps me calm, I can do stuff and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t catch someone else, it catches me. I see all this stuff lately about zen doodling and now you can pay to take classes and sometimes there are even rules for it. I’ve been doing that since I was not even able to read yet and still get into it now. There is something so totally calming in doodling. You can get real picky with it and make your lines each the perfect distance from each other or circles all the same size, or you can go crazy all over the place but I guess what I like is that you find a certain rhythm to it and you can go off into almost a meditative state, you go inside and it’s so soothing and safe and you can let your mind wander. I think that’s the therapy part of it, because I think when you go deep inside of yourself, that is where you find your deepest mind. Almost like you find where God, however you call it or him, you find where He lives inside of you. And you are able to connect without really thinking about it. And it’s really wonderful when you are having a problem in your life, something is causing you pain or anxiety, and by going inside you can find what it is that triggers those feelings. And since you are in a safe place, you can examine it, really look at it, then you can begin to let go of it. This is where true healing happens, inside. And by not finding those things and not facing them down, you will always be bothered by them, most of the time not even knowing how much hard they cause. It’s a very healing thing when you can go back and even save yourself as a child. You can give her the love you missed that day, when you were left alone and scared . You can hug that child to you and tell her she will always be protected by you, and teach her to trust that she is safe with you. And let her know that you will not allow anyone to ever hurt her again. You will find in your awake self, that you aren’t quite as afraid as you were before. You will take a chance and do something cool and new, because you know you aren’t alone. We don’t need people outside ourselves to give us love, because when you depend on it from outside yourself, you can get hurt, no one else can make us happy. It comes from the same place love does, inside. We can’t really get love outside ourselves, we can only give it. You set yourself up to be hurt by trying to get them to fill the holes you have inside. But if you feel safe and secure in yourself, you also are not vulnerable to those that would use you.
I”m just learning all this myself, and I didn’t mean to go off on a lecture. Just go doodle, have fun, draw, play with clay, something that takes your mind off the world for a little while. Hugs to you and may you all find peace in your hearts.

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Emma

Thanks Caileigh! Your article has some really nice ideas on ways someone could use art in a way that could help them feel all sorts of positive benefits.

I’d love the article if you didn’t use the term ‘art therapy’! But I would say that almost all of what you describe is not actually ‘art therapy’ – it is ‘art for wellbeing’.

Art for wellbeing is fabulous and can be massively life-enhancing, as you say, and most of us would benefit from doing more of it. I absolutely agree that ‘the healing potential of art is not only effective in a counseling or psychotherapy setting’.

But I think there’s a widespread misunderstanding about what art therapy is – please don’t add to the confusion! Art therapy (also known as art psychotherapy) is a specific type of psychotherapy which is done with a practitioner who has at least a Masters-level training in this therapeutic modality. Art therapy definitely makes use of the healing power of art, but there’s so much more to it!

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Sharona Bookbinder

Hello Caileigh,

Thank you for your informative article. I’m a Registered Psychotherapist and Registered Art Therapist in Ontario, with 25 years of experience.
Although you had some good facts about art therapy, I feel that you may need to include the rigorous graduate training art therapists undergo and the potential for encountering psychodynamic issues when using directives that you suggested.

Art is a perfect way to explore your own emotions, and colouring books may be soothing and relaxing, but authentic art therapy occurs in the presence of a qualified art therapist who will keep the space safe and know how to effectively treat someone when experiencing strong emotions. I hope that your readers understand that art can trigger strong emotional reactions and that they should seek out support if embarking on an insightful journey using expressive media. I can recommend our national as well as provincial organizations that both have registries for available art therapists by region.

Canadian Art Therapy Association
http://www.canadianarttherapy.org/art-therapist-directory/

Ontario Art Therapy Association
http://www.oata.ca/find-therapist

Sincerely yours,
Sharona Bookbinder, MBA, RP

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Kim Isaacs

Hi Caileigh!
Encouraging readers to use artwork is wonderful. It is really distressing that it appears to have diminished in school curriculums these days.
What you are describing are ideas to use to stimulate emotional release and to explore past experiences.These strategies and tools can be very useful to employ when you are working through your “stuff” and are extremely beneficial when used with the accompaniment of a trained creative arts therapist. The therapist holds the space, creating a container to explore some difficult experiences, companioning the client whilst they uncover the past. The relationship with the therapist is important also as they bear witness to the difficult and painful things that arise in the exploration. A trained therapist will notice all aspects in the working together- and feed back to the client valuable observations to extend the work and help bring greater understandings. I believe that this is not possible to do alone. We make stories around our experiences to help us understand, make sense of what and why things have occurred. The stories serve us well at the time but do not necessarily continue to do so. A companion will out these stories, explore and support a client to re create meaning in the experiences and the responses chosen for the future.
Colouring books are great to use like a meditation and a wonderful alternative to blobbing out in front of the TV or during a glass or two or three of vino…. but they are not arts therapy

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Karen Young

The expression that comes from art therapy can help with discovery and exploration, and can certainly be done out of the therapeutic context. There are different processes involved when we do it by ourselves and with a therapist, but certainly it can be done on our own. The processes and the discoveries may be different, but not necessarily less important or less valuable.

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Larry W

Thanks for explaining how the goal of art therapy is to express yourself freely through creating art. My son has been struggling recently since having moved to a new town and saying goodbye to his old friends. He has been having a tough time connecting with other kids recently, but since he really likes art I think art therapy could help him find himself and have an easier time connecting with kids.

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Anxiety has a way of demanding ALL of the attention. It shifts the focus to what feels scary, or too big, or impossible, or what needs to be avoided, or what feels bad, or what our kiddos can’t do. As the grown ups who love them, we know they are capable of greatness, even if that greatness is made up of lots of tiny steps, (as great things tend to be).
Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
⠀⠀
Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.

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