How Art Therapy Helps Quell Anxiety

Posted On Wednesday, 28 November 2018
How Art Therapy Helps Quell Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., with around 40 million Americans (or 18% of the adult population) battling them.

According to a recent poll undertaken by the American Psychiatric Association, this percentage is continually growing, with some of the biggest sources of anxiety being safety, health, and finances.

If you are facing anxiety or panic attacks and you feel helpless, the good news is that there are so many ways in which you can attempt to limit or eliminate this problem, including controlled breathing, yoga, meditation, and, if you are creatively inclined, art therapy.

Art can help you in many ways, by promoting mindfulness and getting you in "the zone," and by helping you identify triggers and obstacles to a more tranquil life.

Art Therapy vs. Anxiety & Depression

A fascinating study carried out recently at the University of Gothenburg found that depressed people who were asked to draw a picture of how they were feeling, showed significant improvements in their symptoms after 10 sessions. "The focal point was that people felt like they were meeting themselves; that the picture served as a mirror where you could see and make new discoveries about yourself, a bit like coming to life, said Dr. Christina Blomdahl, art therapist. The study also showed big improvements in anxiety and sleep. The latter is important because resting well should be a vital part of your strategy to keep anxiety at bay. You don’t have to be trained in art to draw beautiful nature imagery or symbols that express your mental state. With a few simple lessons, you can learn the basics of proportion and perspective, and give life to increasingly artistic works that can highlight aspects of your life that may need change if you are to live a happier, more relaxed life.

Combining Art & Meditation to Battle Anxiety

To really lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, consider doing meditation as well as creating art. Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have found that a program combining these two stress busting methods resulted in changes in brain activity associated with lower stress and anxiety. The study was carried out on women with breast cancer, and considering that this disease can result in depression, anxiety, and panic, the fact that art therapy can help is powerful testimony to its abilities to boost our mental health and mood. Interestingly, another study showed that art therapy was able to reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and increase the ability to cope with stress, in patients with different types of cancer. Researchers noted that “Art provides a vehicle for expression. It may be preferential to some cancer patients who may be uncomfortable with conventional psychotherapy or those who find verbal expression difficult.”

Using Art to Make a Change

Sometimes, a persistent situation in your life may be your biggest anxiety trigger. If so, you may be interested to learn that art can help you identify new triggers you may not even have been aware of. In a fascinating report, art therapist Brian J. Horay notes that art therapy is an excellent way for people to identify the obstacles standing in the way of change. For instance, we may know that a relationship is unhealthy, yet find it difficult to let go. Art can help us identify how we feel about our current situation and, alongside a qualified therapist, consider small changes that can have a big effect on our health, happiness, and well-being.

There are many additional therapies that can help you battle anxiety in a natural way. These include Tai Chi, relaxation exercises, and journaling. Finding an activity you love and enjoy is an important way to consistently keep stress at bay, and to understand pent-up emotions and thoughts that may trigger anxiety. If you have never created art before, don’t worry. All it takes is a few lessons and a bit of practice, until you start creating imagery that is both beautiful to look at and symbolic of important issues in your life that may need change.

Jess Walter

Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.

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