Discovering art’s healing power can improve your mood and decrease stress. But it’s also a way to honor Mental Health Awareness Month this May. Although one might think it’s for children, art therapy is just as useful for adults. It can help those who might be resistant to the idea of traditional therapy, says Joni Antonia, a local therapist who uses the practice for her clients. For those who are unfamiliar, art therapy is the idea of using art-making and the creative process to enrich the lives of families and communities, according to the American Art Therapy Association, a nonprofit aimed at growing the practice.
“It doesn’t really feel like therapy,” Antonia says. “It’s not the activity itself but the way it helps us facilitate what’s going on in our lives. Once you use the skills, you can take this with you through any point in your day.”
Josie Sullivan, an artist at Columbia Art League who studied art therapy and counseling, says the practice is not at all about the end product but about the process of making the art and how it eases the mind. “When you’re doing art, you’re not thinking about the thing you’re obsessing over in the moment,” she says.
But you don’t have to empty your wallet to try out art therapy. Instead, you can get started on your own. If you’re looking for new ways to decrease your stress levels and want to have fun in the process, try these art forms for an at-home remedy.
Adult coloring books
No, coloring books aren’t just for kids. Sullivan says the act of coloring helps with anxiety. “It forces the brain to be present with what you’re doing, which leaves less room for obsessive thinking that can be stressful,” she says.
Coloring is a low-stakes activity where people don’t have to worry about the outcome, according to health.clevelandclinic.org. Even if you mess up, there are no real consequences.
Grab some old magazines, cut out a few of your favorite things, and make a collage. Describing your feelings in pictures is beneficial for managing life events that cause stress.
“Sometimes you have to go away from words to cope with something that is happening in your life,” Sullivan says. “It calms many people down because of its free form; you start to learn things about yourself.”
You don’t need fancy clay and materials to try sculpting; just buy a couple jars of Play-Doh. The experience of making something with your hands provides a sense of ownership, Antonia says.
According to arttherapyresources.com, the multidimensional artform shows people that tough situations are multifaceted and can be approached with different points of view.
Drawing and painting
This is a simple way to express what’s going on in your life. Illustrating the events in your day could help you come to terms with what is happening, Antonia says. Drawing is often used to help children describe how they’re feeling, but it can benefit adults as well, Antonia says.
For those who struggle with control, the structure of drawing might be better than the fluidity of paint. ￼