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 use the benefits of art to express your creative side and drawing skills to reduce stress and get in touch with your feelings. Most of us knew this instinctively as kids: virtually all of us know the joys of sculpting something (with play-dough), painting something (with fingers), or drawing (with crayons and other materials).

However, other than making random doodles in the margins of a page while you’re on killing time, if you’re like most adults, you don’t express yourself with art like 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, even for those who don't consider themselves artistically inclined. There are many reasons that art is a great stress relief tool, even for those who don't consider themselves to be artists. 

Benefits of Art Therapy

One of the reasons that clinical art therapy is effective is that the act of drawing and creating art can help you relieve stress in several ways. Read on to see why creating art doesn't have to fit a certain mold to be a great idea for you.

Here are some ways that creating art can alleviate stress:

  • Distraction: Drawing and art can take your mind off of what’s stressing you, at least for a few minutes. It's difficult to keep ruminating on your problems when you're focused on creating, and if your problems stay with you, you can incorporate them into your creations. And when you’re finished being engrossed in your sketches, you should have a clearer head with which to tackle your problems again.
  • Flow: There’s a certain quality of being called “flow” that experts say is very beneficial for us. This refers to a state of being completely engaged in something to the point of being in a near-meditative state. It carries many of the benefits of meditation, leaving you much less stressed when you’re done. You can experience ‘flow’ when you’re doing creative activities like writing and even gardening. You can also get it from drawing.
  • Self-Care: Just the act of having a hobby can make you feel more balanced in your lifestyle. Sometimes, with all of life’s responsibilities, we forget that we need and deserve ‘down time’ 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. And, with drawing, you have the additional benefit of being left with something beautiful (or at least interesting) to show for it.

    Art Project Ideas for Stress Relief

    A great way to use the act of drawing for stress relief is to maintain a sketch diary. Keeping a sketchbook can be a form of journaling, and it can be cathartic, creative, and stress relieving. You can use a journal for personal art therapy and stress management in the following ways:

    • Sketch pictures that describe your feelings related to things in your life that are causing you stress currently. If it’s in the back of your mind anyway, this could be a way of processing your related emotions, reducing some of the stress they carry.
    • Sketch abstract pictures that express feelings related to past stressful experiences, as a way of processing your emotions and healing. This can be a form of journaling but can be especially helpful for those who are more comfortable with ideas and emotions that don't need to be put into words.
    • Keep a "Dream Sketch Diary", and sketch scenes from dreams you’d like to remember or better understand. You can also keep a "Gratitude Sketch Diary" to catalog what you're grateful for in your life. There are several different types of sketch diaries you can create and enjoy.
    • Keep a sketch diary of what you think is beautiful in life. Draw the faces of those you love, places that bring you peace, or other pieces of beauty. The process of sketching can be a great stress reliever, and revisiting your creations can also bring you some peace in the future.
    • Start enjoying some of the adult coloring books that have become popular—they can be especially relaxing for those who don't feel artistic but want to create easy, beautiful, and stress-free pictures.
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    Article Sources
    • Bell, Chloe E.; Robbins, Steven J.  (2007). Effect of Art Production on Negative Mood: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, v24 (2), 71-75.
    • Peterson, C. A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006.

    • Van der Vennet, R.; Serice, S.  (2012). Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety? A Replication Study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Vol 29(2), 87-92.