An art therapist offers a guide to doodling, drawing, and scrapbooking your way to a better frame of mind…
If you’re struggling with the complexity of the world right now (and who isn’t?), you might consider an unexpected, but easily accessible, form of therapy: art.
I’m an art therapist at The Art Therapy Project, a nonprofit mental health organization that provides free group art therapy to people of all ages affected by trauma. In our work, we’ve learned that the art-making process helps people learn how to explore feelings, increase self-awareness, and cope with life’s challenges.
The art-making process is a unique activity because it engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. When you make art, you’re making choices and solving problems, activating the same parts of the brain that you use during real-life problem solving. Because of this, art provides a low-stakes practice ground that can help you navigate important personal and interpersonal issues.
What’s more, the kind of art you do, and the materials you use, can change the way you feel, and each medium offers distinct benefits.
Best of all, you don’t need to be an experienced artist to reap the rewards. Anyone can make a bit of time for art and creativity. It’s the process, not the result, that creates a more positive mindset. Here are five simple ways to shift your state of mind.
1. Need a Sense of Control? Collage
Cut, rip, tear, and create. Collage is a method that helps us to explore ideas about creation. It requires problem-solving skills to figure out how to deconstruct an existing composition and then piece together something new. It can be enormously satisfying to alter an image and make it one’s own through a series of choices, providing a kinesthetic release and igniting feelings of control. Collage also allows us to be creative without having to produce our own imagery from scratch.
2. Feeling Negative? Doodle Mantras for Positivity
Creating a mantra doodle helps to manifest relaxed feelings and introduces positive messages into your mind. Take two minutes in between meetings or calls to write down the message you want to hear the most. If you have time, you can embellish it with designs, dots, and illustrations. Doodling has been shown to quiet parts of the mind that are distracted and allow for sharper focus.
3. Anxious? Sketch or Color
Doing something as simple as making a line — curvy or straight — and coloring around it can help you take note of your thoughts and feelings. Repetitive strokes provide temporary relief from life’s stressors, and the focus required to color can keep negative emotions at bay until you are ready to address them on your own terms.
4. Stressed? Knit
The repetitive hand motions of knitting are an active-reward activity, in which the mind and body work together to complete a specific task. This can have a calming, meditative effect and has even been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
5. Feeling Helpless? Sculpt
Creating 3D objects can mirror the process of building up our egos. So, whether it’s clay or popsicle sticks, using materials to build up and out can help us feel more masterful and able to handle what life throws our way.