Art Healing for Stress Management

May 7, 2019

Are you looking for new ways to cope with stress and other feelings, such as anxiety or feelings of depression? One way to help manage stress is to add art into your life.

Research shows that incorporating art and creative outlets into your life can relieve tension, improve anxiety, and speed up healing.

The article, The Connection between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature finds that “art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness.” The research identifies how art helps fill occupational voids, distracts from depressive thinking, improves spontaneity, and enhances social networks.

We sat down with Iona’s Art Therapist Susan Lee for tips on how to incorporate art into your life. Doing this can help you to better manage stress, and address chronic health conditions, or other challenges.

Susan holds a Master’s in Art Therapy, and is educated in art, counseling, and psychotherapy. She works with Iona participants—many who have memory loss or other chronic conditions—in our Wellness & Arts Center.

Her art therapy sessions use writing, painting, acrylics, and more. The goals of the sessions are therapeutic—to help participants find new forms of self-expression, boost confidence, improve physical and mental well-being, relieve anxiety or stress, and other benefits. Susan witnesses these goals unfold through the work that she does every day.

A leading activity that Susan sees participants gravitate toward is collage. She says it brings participants together, while uncovering their individual ideas. In Susan’s art therapy sessions, she explains that her job is to facilitate self-expression in the way participants want. She focuses on each participant’s needs and meeting them where they are.

While art making at home doesn’t include professional therapy, you might still enjoy some of the healing benefits.

Wherever your art journey starts, Susan urges you to keep the following advice in mind—see how research supports her tips.

  • Start with what you like. For instance, if you’ve always enjoyed doodling, start with that!
  • Focus on self-expression. There are so many different ways to express yourself besides visual art. Consider creative writing, poetry, or journaling. Journal writing has been linked to creativity, spiritual awareness, and expansion of the self.
  • Be cognizant that sometimes art and artistic expression can bring about hidden or unwanted emotions. If that happens to you, try writing about what you’re feeling, or listening to music. Results showed that the therapeutic effects of listening to music affected increases in relaxation, and decreases in tension among those tested. In trying either of these methods, you might discover a new coping tool for processing your pain and gaining new control over it.
  • Find joy in playing. Start playing with different mediums and see what sticks. We suggest trying out textiles, card making, collage, pottery, watercolor, or acrylics. Molding clay is another great option. Research finds that molding clay can be a powerful way to help people express feelings of grief, and cope with or escape intense emotions associated with illness.
  • Try to incorporate movement into your art healing. Research finds that movement-based creative expression such as theater or dance improves problem solving, self-esteem, and your psychological well-being.
  • Susan notes that in art, “It’s not about the product. It’s about the process.”
  • And finally, “It’s not just one day. It’s a journey.”

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be artistic, Susan still encourages you to try. “Give it a chance, as you might be neglecting other aspects of yourself,” she says. Don’t limit your creative possibilities or yourself!

While art making can help improve your mood, increase energy, and enhance your overall self-worth, it’s also FUN! Grab your materials and enjoy the many benefits of art making today.