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A Therapist's Guide to Using Art to Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety, Coping Skills, Therapist Guide
4 min read
hand holding paintbrush dipping into watercolors

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. Perhaps, you get nervous mingling in a crowd of people or speaking in a job interview. If you suffer from anxiety, you are most likely familiar with that awful feeling when your heart races, you start to sweat, or you feel like you just want to run. In other words, anxiety is an uncomfortable but fleeting feeling that pops up on occasion during particularly stressful times. Anxiety is a natural dialogue between our brain and body and signals that something might be going on in our surroundings that requires our attention. Anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental illness in the United States. While anxiety can feel debilitating, there are ways you can manage it. Keep reading to learn the benefits of how art can be a tool to improve an anxious mood.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a therapeutic approach that combines psychotherapy processes with creative outlets such as painting, writing, collage, and drawing to help one use creativity to express emotions, gain self-awareness, and help you cope. Art therapists are licensed mental health professionals who have advanced training in the use of art mediums and psychotherapy. Art therapy has been successfully used to improve self-esteem, relieve stress and anxiety, and improve symptoms of depression. Art therapy is a great option for people who have a difficult time understanding their own emotions or speaking about them. Art therapy requires no artistic experience and can be an additional tool to reach treatment goals.

3 Ways Art Can Help with Anxiety

     1. Making art can be a tool to help express your anxiety from a different angle.

For example, you could draw what your anxiety looks like by paying attention to details such as body shape, colors, accessories, and even personality traits. Seeing your anxiety from this lens can help reduce your fear of anxiety especially if your drawing depicts your anxiety in a comical way.

     2. Making art can channel using multiple senses which can result in a decrease in overwhelming thoughts and lead to a calmer mood.

For example, while making a collage, which is a visual arts method that involves cutting and ripping images from newspapers, magazines, etc. and creating new patterns, one can listen to music. Listening to music, cutting images, and creating your pattern can help one get lost in the process of creating and reduce an anxious mood.

     3. Allowing yourself to engage in the process of making art without focusing on results can decrease anxiety as your focus will not be on the finished product but the experience which can allow you to relax, let loose, and be more present.

Engaging in art making can relieve feelings of anxiety by helping to distract you from overwhelming thoughts. The next time you’re feeling anxious feel free to try one of these exercises at home:

  • Coloring in a coloring book
  • Making a collage
  • Drawing a picture of a calming place (paying attention to details)

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About the therapist: Marian Cooper is a licensed clinical social worker with advanced clinical training in art therapy counseling. Marian works with clients struggling to overcome unhelpful patterns, live in the moment, and stop chasing perfection. Marian is licensed to see clients who live in New York and Texas. Connect with Marian, or view more of her work on their Frame profile.