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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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