Angela Luna, J.D., M.A., LMFT on Apr 04, 2023 in Mood and Feelings
Art therapy can help manage anxiety, and no, you don’t have to be “good” at art to see benefits. These two art projects can be done by anyone and with minimal materials.
The Truth About Anxiety
Anxiety doesn’t feel good. I get it. Heart palpitations, worrying thoughts, a constant feeling as if something is wrong or “off,” and the pit-in-the-stomach sensation that hits when you least expect it. Yet, anxiety might just have a bad rap.
In my work as a therapist, I have seen time and time again that the different parts of ourselves are all just trying to help us get our needs met. Sometimes they just go about it the wrong way. Anxiety is no different. It is possibly a misunderstood part of you that is really aiming to have your back, keep you safe, or play some helpful role.
How Can Expressive Arts Therapy Help Heal Anxiety?
Expressive arts therapy includes the use of art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, and narrative therapy for healing and growth. You can read more about expressive arts therapy on my blog What is Expressive Arts Therapy and How Does it Work? Today we will be exploring two art therapy tools to help investigate anxiety.
Art therapy is a great way to explore what’s going on with anxiety in a creative, non-linear way. Drawing your anxiety and coloring the body are two simple and effective approaches to get to know anxiety. These practices don’t require any sophisticated materials, just paper and colored pencils, markers, or crayons. Here is some more in-depth information on how to engage with these art therapy practices to address anxiety today.
Art Therapy Idea: Draw Your Anxiety
Drawing your anxiety can help you get to know anxiety in a new way. Start by centering yourself as much as possible. Take a few deep breathes, sit still for a moment, and scan your body from head to toe to take inventory of how you feel in the moment.
Notice how you feel about the anxiety. Do you want it to go away? Are you mad it has taken so much of your time and energy? Or are you curious? All these feelings are valid. Honor all your feelings and see if you can move towards a sense of curiosity and interest in the part of you called anxiety.
Once you are ready to look with curiosity, start to draw anxiety on the page as it feels and appears to you. For some, it may appear as a grey blob or a black cloud. Or perhaps it’s an animal or a creature of some unknown origin. There is no right or wrong way to draw your anxiety, and it certainly doesn’t matter how “good” the drawing is. This is not about good or bad.
The most important part is for you to introduce yourself to the part by getting it outside of you and on to the page.
Take your time to complete your image, noticing your breath and body as you draw. After you complete your drawing, stand back and take a look. Notice how you feel. If you like, give your image a name or title, and place that on the page.
You can then interview anxiety, using the name you gave it, to learn more about what its role is in your life. Some questions you can ask are the following:
Listen to the answers and write them down. You can also ask additional questions that arise within you. If at any time you feel overwhelmed, take a break. Give yourself time and self-compassion as you explore. You may choose to do this with a therapist or a trusted person. You also can do this over several days or weeks, revising this part to learn more.
Complete your process by putting away your materials and preparing to move back into the world around you. You can reflect on what you learned and choose how to use that information to better manage anxiety in the future. Be sure to thank yourself and the anxiety for having the courage to show up. As you prepare to move on from the practice, honor what you need at the moment. You can move and stretch your body, take some deep present breaths, drink some water, or engage in an activity that will bring you back to your environment.
Art Therapy Idea: Color the Body
When we have anxious thoughts, the body responds by contracting and restricting. The mind often follows by noticing the tightness and then generating additional anxious thoughts about the body. One way to move the energy is to use a body cut-out or to draw your body on to a page and fill in the parts where you feel the tension. You can find and print out free body shape cut-outs on the internet, or you can draw the shape of the body yourself.
Coloring the sensations in the body helps you to become aware of where you are storing anxiety so that you can release it intentionally. Start by scanning your body from head to toe and notice where the body is holding the anxiety as tension or tightness. Then fill in the parts of the body where you notice the sensations. Use different shades of color to indicate the intensity of sensation. You can give the colors shape or form, such as scribbles, sharp lines, or dots, to fully express the feeling.
Once you have fully filled in these sensations on the body cut-out, take a look at the image. Take note of the empty spaces. Then place your attention on those parts of your body that are not colored in. Notice if these parts of the body feel more grounded, calm, or neutral. You can choose to either color in those parts or simply breathe and allow your mind to notice what calm, grounded, or neutral feel like in your body. As the saying goes, “Where attention goes, energy flows.”
If you choose to color in these parts, intentionally focus your thoughts on what is like to feel free of constriction as you color. In this way, you are giving your mind the signal to also relax its hold on the body, as if to say, “There is nothing to worry about here.” By increasing awareness of all the sensations of your body, including pleasant ones, you open up more possibilities.
Once you are done with this process, scan one more time to see if the sensations in your body have shifted. Often by simply placing our attention on what’s happening in the body with presence, the natural intelligence within can work out the kinks and let go of what was previously being help onto so tightly. You can do this practice multiple times, and it doesn’t have to take long. Follow what feels right and good to you, and you can’t go wrong.
Using Art Therapy to Manage Anxiety Symptoms
By expressing anxiety outside of yourself, you can gain a perspective that you are not the anxiety. Rather, it is a part of you, that like most parts, needs your attention, love, and care. Getting acquainted with anxiety in a new way, you give yourself an opportunity to befriend this part that may have seemed like an enemy for so long. Once any resistance against anxiety is softened, you can then discover and meet the underlying needs that may have been hidden all along.
These are just a few art therapy practices to release anxiety. I encourage you to sign up for a discovery session to learn more creative ways to befriend and release anxiety.