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Art Therapy as a Stress & Anxiety Buster

A bit of a deep topic but very important to discuss nevertheless. Did you know that research shows that art therapy can be an impactful tool in treating mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and even some phobias? It is a powerful tool to express your emotions without words, process complex feelings to find relief.

With much of the world coming to a screeching halt last year due to the pandemic the reliance on mental health tools and services have increased. While spreading positivity through physical workout routines and baking (yes, I am serious, it was one of the sought after ones) seemed to be the general theme of 2020 there is a lesser known tool that overthrows the benefits of these and that is art. There is scientific evidence that creating art has behavioral and cognitive benefits. A growing body of research suggests that art therapy, or the practice of treating patients with mental health disorders with art-related activities, can reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve symptoms of neurological and age-related disorders. I truly believe that art therapy practices doesn't get the recognition as much as mainstream practices like yoga or meditation.

Do you or someone you know have triggers leading to persistent anxiety or longer term depression? Start with a small, simple exercise of creating a piece of art with them. It could be an hour's worth of your time but I will swear by the outcome. The goal is not to come out with a masterpiece so don’t be self-conscious about the quality of art work. Now, I am not suggesting that this replaces any and all forms of medical treatment but creating art can augment the benefits of clinical treatment in patients. Think hospital walls and retirement homes for senior citizens. There is a reason why there is art on the walls.

If you think the creative experience can only have the desired benefits, you are mistaken. In fact, the emotional benefits of viewing art can supersede the outcome of the artistic endeavours. I believe that being in an art gallery can help lower the body’s concentration of the stress hormone cortisol and increase that of the pleasure hormone dopamine very similar to the impact of a good workout or a nature walk.

Let's be honest here, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to live in the moment more than ever. Look at how we have all changed a bit, albeit small but hopefully in the right direction.

Over the course of the last several months I have had many people approach me with the same questions, how can I rest better? How can I sleep better? I am pretty burnt out at work, can art help? To that I would have just one piece of advice. Please consider picking up a paintbrush or viewing and bringing home someone else’s creations.

The beauty of creative art techniques is that they can be practiced for as long or little as you wish, depending on the amount of time you have. Even as small as a few minutes of self-directed art therapy can make a world of difference in the quality of your day and reduce the levels of stress or anxiety life throws at you. Hopefully next time you see a painting or a sketch you won’t rush through quickly...make sure you take time to have a dialogue with it. The state of mind it gives might just be crucial for your well-being.

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