How to Relieve Stress With Art Therapy

Man sketching with colored pencils

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While art therapy is its own field, you can also use self-directed art to express your creative side, reduce stress, and get in touch with your feelings. Most of us understood the power of art instinctively as kids: Virtually all children know the joys of sculpting something (with play-dough), painting something (with fingers), or drawing (with crayons and other materials).

Other than making random doodles in the margins of a page, if you’re like most adults, you probably don’t express yourself with art as you did as a kid. You may not think you're any "good" at creating art, or you may not think it's worth your time, but art is actually a valuable pastime. There are many reasons that art is a great stress relief tool, even for those who don't consider themselves artistically inclined.

Benefits of Art Therapy

Whether you could give Vincent van Gough a run for his money or can barely draw a stick figure, art is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Results of a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that just 45 minutes of creative activity can reduce your stress, regardless of artistic experience or talent.

Here are some ways that creating art can help alleviate stress:

  • It can take your mind off things. Creating art can take your mind off of whatever is stressing you, at least for a few minutes. It's difficult to keep ruminating on your problems when you're focused on creating. If your problems stay with you, you can incorporate them into your creations. Once you're done, you should have a clearer head with which to tackle your problems again.
  • It can help you tap into a "state of flow." Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity to the point of being in a near-meditative state? If so, you might have been experiencing what some psychologists refer to as flow. Similar to meditation, flow can lead to improved performance and lower stress levels. You can experience flow when you’re practicing an instrument, playing a sport, or even gardening. You can also experience flow while writing, painting, or drawing.
  • It is another form of self-care. Sometimes, with all of life’s responsibilities, we forget that we need and deserve downtime and self-care. Taking even a few minutes on a regular basis to devote to a hobby can give you more of what you need in this area. With art, you have the additional benefit of being left with something beautiful (or at least interesting) to show for it.

Sketchbooks for Stress Relief

Keeping a sketchbook is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress. It can be a form of journaling, and like journaling, it can be cathartic, creative, and stress relieving. You can use a journal for personal art therapy and stress management in the following ways:

  • Draw what you feel. Draw your stress. Drawing literal or abstract representations of what is stressing you out can help you express emotions that may be difficult to put into words.
  • Start a dream journal. A dream journal is an easy and fun way to help you identify patterns in your dreams, which can point to areas of your life that may need some extra attention. Try keeping a notebook and pen next to your bed. As soon as you wake up, draw the first images, symbols, or words that come to your mind. Don't worry if you're not "good" at drawing. Your dream journal is for your eyes only.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Many people keep a gratitude journal to catalog what they are grateful for in their lives. You can make your gratitude journal even more personal by drawing what you're thankful for each day. Draw the faces of those you love, places that bring you peace, or other things that you are grateful for. The process of sketching can be a great stress reliever, and revisiting your creations can also bring you some peace in the future.
  • Start coloring. These days, coloring isn't just for kids. Adult coloring books can be especially relaxing for those who don't feel artistic, but still want to create beautiful pictures.

A Word From Verywell

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress and it starts to interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor. He or she might recommend a therapist who can offer support and techniques on how to manage your stress.

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Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cheron G. How to measure the psychological “flow”? A neuroscience perspective. Front Psychol. 2016;7:1823. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01823

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