Can art help with anxiety?

In this article we will discuss whether art can help with anxiety.

We will also explore what art therapy is, and what are some art therapy activities that you can try at home to cope with anxiety. 

Can art help with anxiety?

Yes, art can help people cope with their anxiety symptoms. 

There have been plenty of studies and reviews that have been conducted regarding the use and efficacy of art and art therapy for the treatment and intervention of anxiety disorders as well as for other mental disorders that provide conclusive evidence regarding the positive impact of art therapeutic interventions.

A case study of a 54 year old woman who has been suffering from anxiety since childhood and diagnosed with panic disorder, agoraphobia, claustrophobia and hypochondria, detailed how art therapy had an effect on her symptoms. 

The case study followed the woman’s 14 session long art therapy along with the positive impact it had on her symptoms. 

The study recorded reductions in anxiety, improvement of emotional regulation and also executive functioning which indicates that art therapy not only reduces anxiety but helps with overall positive state of well-being. 

Along with these improvements, the subject of the study also self-reported more acceptance towards her condition and self compassion towards herself and her struggles which implies that art therapy has more applications than just reducing and treating anxieties. 

The positive state of emotional regulation that these participants reported seem to have some link with reduced types of anxiety which is also supported by the following study. 

A 2019 study explored the effectiveness of art therapy on adult women who were suffering from anxiety as an effort to bridge the gap in research and scientific evidence in the effectiveness of art therapy. 

59 participants were considered who were between the ages of 18- 65 who were diagnosed with various anxiety disorders- generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder or panic disorder, with moderate to severe anxiety symptoms.

Out of the 59 participants, 47 completed the entire tial and there was a significant reduction in anxiety in those who completed the trial.

Along with the reduction in anxiety, the quality of life also improved as well as a positive state of emotional regulation and these positive effects also lasted for up to 3 months during the follow up period. 

The researchers also noted that along with emotional regulation there was also positive intention and effort towards goal oriented action and behaviours in the women which were related or linked to the reduced anxiety. 

These studies indicate how effective art therapy is when it comes to a specific population of women who have been diagnosed with anxiety. The next study also considered the application and effectiveness of art therapy in individuals who have not been diagnosed with anxiety.

A 2021 review explored the effect of art therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer and are being treated for it. 

The review of literature was conducted on studies that have been published between September 2009 up to September 2019 related to cancer patients and a total of 731 publications were assessed.

Out of the 731 publications, Seven papers met the inclusion criteria of the study and data was collected from these seven studies. Out of these seven studies four articles reported positive effects of art therapy on anxiety in adults with cancer.

The researchers concluded that art therapy could have some positive impact in decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression in adult cancer patients as well as improve their quality of life. However, the researchers stressed that more research is required in this regard. 

What is art therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association (2013) Art therapy is, 

“…an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

Thus, it can be understood as a field of therapy that combines both art and psychotherapy to help develop self awareness, explore emotions, and address unresolved issues through a creative process, 

Art therapy is also used to develop social skills and raise self-confidence in young children and seeks to help individuals- even young ones- overcome emotional challenges and also develop a higher level of well-being. 

The process of art therapy does not require you to be gifted in artistic ability, rather it is a process of exploration without rights or wrongs; it simply teaches you to use creative outlets to support their own process of healing and learning without being hard on one’s self with judgement.

What are some art therapy activities?

Here is a list of exercises related to art therapy activities that you can try at home to help you cope with anxiety and improve your mental well-being. 

Colouring books

Get yourself some colouring books and use them to colour when you feel stressed or anxious. 

Coloring can be a way to help you use colours to express yourself as well as help you focus and clear your mind of worries and anxieties that intrude your thoughts. 

Make mandala art

You can make mandalas, create them, and colour them in as a way to meditate and get your mind off things that stress you out. 

Here is a link for you to follow to help yourself learn how to make mandala art. 

Paint 

You can get yourself a few paint supplies, some brushes, and some canvas. Use these materials and the colours to express the way you feel when you are either happy, sad, anxious etc. 

Take time to work on small details or large pictures without much thought of the quality of the work that you are doing- what matters is that you are doing it- even if you are doing it without purpose. 

Craft a peaceful collage

Make a collage of various things that make you feel safe; it can be people, views, places, values etc that can help you feel calmer and remind you that you are safe.

This will help you be reminded and be mindful about the positive things in your life including values and attitudes that help you adapt better and develop resilience. 

Colour your feelings

This particular art therapy worksheet helps express your emotions or develop an understanding of what they feel or care about. 

To make use of his activity, Start by reflecting on what makes you feel happy or what they are currently feeling. 

Next, Create an outline of a heart and colour or fill the heart with various creative materials like glitter, paint, sequins etc. 

You can find out more about this activity here.

Panic book

For this activity, you will need

  • Sketchbooks or blank notebooks
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Magazines, newspapers, old picture books
  • Other decorative material like glitter if desired. 

Now, place your booklet that will become their panic book in front of you. 

Use all the materials to begin creating their panic book- you can start with creating a theme based on certain maerobies that bring you joy or peace. Or certain ideas and values that help you cope in stressful situations. 

You can divide the book into various sections with these themes, memories, events, people etc and decorate it the way you want it to look like. 

There is no need to do the entire book in one sitting, you can come back to it over time as you explore or find more of these reassuring themes or resources as you go about your day or your therapeutic journey.

Whenever you feel a moment of panic approaching, refer to it as a resource to focus on the things that evoke calm emotions and keep it close to you.

You can find out more about this activity here

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed whether art can help with anxiety.

We have also explored what art therapy is, and what are some art therapy activities that you can try at home to cope with anxiety. 

FAQ related to Can art help with anxiety?

Is anxiety linked to creativity?

Anxiety is often linked to creative people however, the experience of anxiety can differ from individual to individual however this link is not always adaptive nor do they always share a positive link. 

Why does art reduce anxiety?

Art reduces anxiety because it helps to calm the nervous system as art therapy activities tend to be meditative, quiet, and calming, which helps soothe symptoms of stress, nervousness, and irritability by redirecting focus and helping people express their emotions. 

Is painting good for mental health?

Art and mental health can have a positive connection and artistic activities like playing instruments, making music, painting, or drawing are known to lower stress levels and promote expression and emotional regulation which ultimately make these activities good for mental health. 

How does drawing affect the brain?

When we draw, our brain releases endorphins and these activities lead us to build new neural pathways. It also allows us to use both sides of our brain and activates pathways for creativity and logical thinking. 

This can lead an individual to develop logical thinking, problem solving, as well as help individuals to focus and concentrate better. 

Is anxiety an illness?

Anxiety when anxiety causes dysfunction and disrupts your ability to meet the demands of your daily life, work, and socialise or maintain social relationships, it becomes a disorder or an illness. 

Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition with symptoms that include feelings of nervousness, panic and fear as well as sweating and a rapid heartbeat which interfere with a person’s life. 

References

Mead.E. 15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises & Ideas for Children and Adults Positive psychology. 26th october, 2021. Retrieved on 19th November 2021. https://positivepsychology.com/art-therapy/

Cherry.K. What is art therapy? Verywell well. 31st August 2021. Retrieved on 19th November 2021. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-art-therapy-2795755

Stuckey HL, Nobel J. The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(2):254-263. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

Abbing A, Baars EW, de Sonneville L, Ponstein AS, Swaab H. The Effectiveness of Art Therapy for Anxiety in Adult Women: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Front Psychol. 2019 May 29;10:1203. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01203. PMID: 31191400; PMCID: PMC6549595.

A. C. Abbing, E. W. Baars, O. Van Haastrecht, A. S. Ponstein, “Acceptance of Anxiety through Art Therapy: A Case Report Exploring How Anthroposophic Art Therapy Addresses Emotion Regulation and Executive Functioning”, Case Reports in Psychiatry, vol. 2019, Article ID 4875381, 13 pages, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4875381

Bosman, J.T., Bood, Z.M., Scherer-Rath, M. et al. The effects of art therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in adults with cancer: a systematic literature review. Support Care Cancer 29, 2289–2298 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-020-05869-0

Cassata.C. Does Art Therapy Help You Manage Anxiety Symptoms? May 28, 2021. Retrieved on 11th January 2022.https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/art-therapy-for-anxiety-relief

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