Art Activities for Stress Relief

These Art Activities Are Proven By Research to Relieve Stress

Many people who are artistically inclined say that the creation of their art is a wonderful stress reliever. The creation of art can provide a catharsis for difficult emotions, a distraction from stressful thoughts and experiences, and a chance to get into a state of "flow" that can be restorative in many ways. Plus, it produces a beautiful piece of art in the end. 

Even those who are not artistically inclined can still benefit from artistic creation. Studies that examine the effects of art on stress and mood don't analyze the talent of the subjects or the quality of their creations—just the effects on how they feel afterward—and these effects are highly positive! So if you're looking for a great way to relieve stress, you may want to try delving into an art activity anyway. Here are some great ideas to get you going.


Art Activities for Stress Relief

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Studies show that art therapy, coloring mandalas, and drawing in general can minimize anxiety and combat negative mood. Most of the studies have people drawing or coloring for about 20 minutes, so it’s really not necessary to be a gifted or serious artist for this stress reliever to be helpful; no artistic ability is required, in fact! (See this article for more details the research on art therapy and art for stress relief.

One reason drawing and coloring may be helpful for stress is that the act itself brings us to the present moment—it can be an exercise in mindfulness

Also, the creation of something beautiful can be soothing and engulfing, as we know from research on gratifications. There are many ways you can engage in artistic activities to soothe your frazzled nerves, or just to deepen your inner peace and express yourself, and each has its own appeal, based on your personality and needs.  Here are some of the more beneficial ways to go about coloring yourself into a place of peace.


Create Something Beautiful for Stress Relief


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Some people are deeply talented artists who can create lifelike drawings, amusing cartoons, powerful animae drawings, and other pieces of art with relative ease. Others struggle to draw stick figures. 

When it comes to stress management, the end product doesn’t really matter; it’s the process of creating a piece of art that counts.

One study divided slightly stressed subjects into two groups and found that creating a picture (rather than simply looking at and sorting famous pieces of art) relieved anxiety and decreased negative mood. In this study, they chose between using charcoal pencils, oil pastels, or even regular colored pencils, and the drawings themselves weren’t evaluated, just the anxiety levels and mood of the people after they were done. So whether you are someone who already enjoys creating art but doesn’t make time for it, or you’re someone who doubts their own artistic ability, let go of results; create something that’s just for you in a drawing journal, a canvas, or whatever you have handy. 


Create Your Own Symbolic Mandala

Woman drawing a mandala

Hand drawing Zentangle motif / Getty Images

Carl Jung was one of the original proponents for creating mandalas as a therapeutic tool, and a legion of therapists and art enthusiasts have joined in recommending this practice in the decades since. Mandalas are circular designs that include often intricate patterns and symbols within them.

One study found that creating mandalas minimized the symptoms of trauma in PTSD patients a month after patients engaged in this activity just three times. Creating a mandala allows you to process some of what you are feeling by including symbols that represent what you have been through in your life, triumphs that you have had, challenges you’ve faced, or anything else that is important to you without getting into the “story” of it, and potentially triggering rumination. The practice also allows you to root yourself in the moment as you create a piece of art, and can free you from concerns about whether the pictures look “good” or even realistic. Your mandala can look however you want it to look, and it can be rich with meaning or just a bunch of shapes and squiggles that look good to you. All you need to do is have fun. 


Color a Mandala (There Are Books For This!)

Mehandi Mandala design

Mehandi Mandala design / Getty Images

If creating a mandala sounds like a lot of work, there is an easier way. If you haven’t noticed them already, there are several mandala coloring books on the market, and they take the necessity to draw out of the equation—you simply choose your colors and create something beautiful the way you did with coloring books when you were a kid! There is some creativity involved and a beautiful finished product, but less decision-making is required. And if you are uncomfortable with your artistic abilities, this couldn’t be easier. There is also research supporting the simple coloring of mandalas as a stress relief tool: a study of 50 college students found that coloring pre-printed mandalas reduced anxiety in people more than coloring a plaid pattern or drawing a picture. 


Join an Art Class

Adult students in art class

Hero Images / Getty Images

 If you have the time for a regular art class, this can be a wonderful option. 

The social support of a group class can be a stress reliever in itself, and a supportive, non-competitive class can be very nurturing. 

Another benefit of a class is that it cements the activity into your schedule; you don’t have to work as hard to find time for drawing because you already have time for it planned into your schedule. Also, if you are someone who worries about your artistic skill, this can help you to improve your abilities and make that less of a distraction. However, if an ongoing class is more of a commitment than you have time for, many communities have one-time workshops or evenings where participants enjoy a glass of wine with a standalone art class. Look into your options, and see what might work best for you.


If All Else Fails ... Doodle!

Drawing on an arm

Catherine MacBride / Moment / Getty Images

If you don’t have time for art classes, and a 20-minute drawing session sounds like more than you have time for, you can always embrace your inner doodler. While there's not a lot of specific research on the stress-relieving effects of random doodles, there is enough information on drawing and art, in general, to suggest that it can be at least somewhat helpful, and it certainly can't hurt. 

You can have a journal just for 5-minute doodles, and keep it somewhere handy. At night, you can draw quick pictures of hearts, flowers, or smiling faces for a minute or two instead of maintaining a journaling practice, or in addition to a gratitude journaling practice—just beautify the margins! The trick is to let your inner artist come out whenever you have time and to enjoy. 

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Martin L, Oepen R, Bauer K, et al. Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention—A Systematic Review. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018;8(2):28. doi:10.3390/bs8020028

  2. Bell CE, Robbins SJ. Effect of Art Production on Negative Mood: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 2007;24(2):71-75.

  3. Mantzios M, Giannou K. When Did Coloring Books Become Mindful? Exploring the Effectiveness of a Novel Method of Mindfulness-Guided Instructions for Coloring Books to Increase Mindfulness and Decrease Anxiety. Front Psychol. 2018;9:56. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00056

  4. van der Vennet R, Serice S. Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety? A Replication StudyArt Therapy. 2012;29(2):87-92. doi:10.1080/07421656.2012.680047

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.