People with anxiety may benefit from art therapy. Creative activities may help people manage their emotions, cope with stress, and promote relaxation.
Although there are many ways to treat anxiety, such as therapy, counseling, and medication, art therapy is an approach that is growing in popularity. Art is a fun and low risk way to help people express themselves and release feelings, which can help reduce anxiety.
This article explores art therapy for anxiety and how people can use art to help them manage their mental health.
Drawing and art therapy can help treat anxiety. A
The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as a process that enriches peoples’ lives by actively creating art while guided by a professional art therapist. It encompasses drawing, painting, sculpting, and clay modeling to help people express themselves in a nonverbal way while reducing stress.
Art prompts the neurological system to calm down and influences brain chemical levels.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that can decrease in individuals with anxiety and depression. Because art therapy increases these brain chemicals, it helps people feel happier and more balanced.
Art also helps an individual relax and get in touch with their emotions. Some people can find it difficult to express their feelings verbally. Art allows them to work through emotions in different, creative ways.
When people engage in creating art, it also increases mindfulness and helps them become aware and conscious of their thoughts and state of mind. Mindfulness helps reduce the body’s chaotic response to stress and allows a person to create a buffer of emotional space.
People of all ages and artistic abilities can benefit from art therapy. There are no rules or specific techniques that one must follow. The focus is on the process, not the product.
Some people may feel anxious about trying art therapy as they believe they need to be “good” at art. However, it is the act of creating — not the result — that is therapeutic.
People can do art therapy individually or in a group setting. They can also use any medium, including pencils, paints, clay, or words. The important factor is for the individual to find something they enjoy and want to do again.
Several art exercises can help people with anxiety. The best place to start is with a professional art therapist. Here are some things you might consider trying on your own.
Doodling is one of the easiest ways to start in art as a means to address anxiety. It requires only a notepad and pencil or pen. There is no need for paints, brushes, or other specific materials.
The advantage of doodling is that a person can keep a small notepad at hand no matter where they are. If they begin to feel anxious, they can doodle and let the art guide them as they relax.
People may want to try patterns, such as stripes or swirls, or shapes, such as stars, or circles and see where their doodles take them.
There is no wrong way to doodle — the process can be as simple or complex as the individual desires. The goal is not to draw something specific but to let the pencil lead the way to see what shape emerges. There are no mistakes in doodling, and a person can stop at any time.
Drawing or sketching
People can use any medium they are comfortable with to draw or sketch, including pencils, pens, charcoal, or crayons.
Some people may feel anxious about drawing. They may feel they have no artistic skills and that what they produce would disappoint. However, the focus is on the process of drawing, not the result.
If people feel intimidated by a blank canvas, they may find it helpful to research pictures they can draw from. Once they have chosen an image, they can focus on replicating the shapes and lines. Again, the goal is not to create a perfect copy but to become “lost” in the drawing process.
The idea of drawing or doodling may not appeal to some individuals. Another option is coloring. Filling in pre-printed designs offers similar benefits to drawing and doodling.
It is now possible to buy adult coloring books online and on the high street. People can also find free coloring designs online that they can print at home or in their local library.
People may find that various creative therapies help their anxiety. Creative art therapy (CAT) uses a certified art therapist for creative and artistic expression to improve mental health and reduce anxiety. It encompasses various activities, including:
- expressive writing
These methods can help decrease anxiety and depression levels and increase a person’s quality of life and interpersonal skills.
For example, a
Learn more about different types of creative therapies here.
Art therapy, such as drawing, may help other mental health conditions besides anxiety. Some evidence suggests that art therapy is a low risk way of helping people with various mental health to cope. It may help individuals living with:
- bipolar disorder
- trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- self-esteem issues
Exposure to art therapy plays a key role in its effectiveness. The more sessions or treatment hours with a certified art therapist an individual has, the greater the benefit.
For example, according to a 2019 review, music therapy has a dose-response relationship with modest benefits observed following 3–10 sessions and further benefits seen after 16–51 sessions. So, even if a person tries art therapy and does not feel any immediate benefits, it may be worthwhile continuing.
Anxiety is a challenging condition that can prevent people from leading full and productive lives and participating in the things they love. Drawing may offer a way to reduce anxiety and improve mental health.
Drawing is a researched approach to treating anxiety. This approach uses methods such as drawing, painting, sculpting, music, and drama to boost mental health by providing an outlet for creative expression. It is a low risk way to help a person cope with anxiety and requires few materials or expensive equipment.
If someone is experiencing anxiety issues, they should talk with a doctor or therapist about whether drawing and art therapy are suitable options and ask about a referral to an art therapist.