When we think of art therapy, many of us refer back to images of young children in a room with a counselor drawing their feelings. But, in reality, the benefits of art therapy doesn’t stop at age 10, 12, or 16. Art therapy is an effective tool used alone or in conjunction with other treatment for a variety of challenges, including anxiety.
Most artists may say that part of the reason they create is that it gives them an emotional outlet. While almost all of us create in some way as children, many of us cease to do so as we grow older. But, in reality, art is an incredibly useful tool for self-expression, especially when talk therapy is difficult.
What Is Art Therapy?
According to Art therapist, Jess Kimmel, MSAT, LLPC, art therapy “is a modality of mental health treatment that relies on metaphor and introspection.” Therapists usually mix art therapy and more traditional methods through the course of treatment to provide their clients with optimal opportunities for self-expression.
Anxiety Art Therapy
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by “persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). People living with GAD find their worry incredibly hard to control, so much so that their everyday lives become very challenging. It can make the simplest of tasks difficult.
Anxiety Art therapy is one way for people living with GAD to express the intensity of this worry when words are not enough. Using a different sense of the body to express nuanced emotion helps the message come through in a clearer way.
Anxiety art therapy is not about the technical component of making art. No skill is required. All that is required by the client is that they create. Feelings naturally fall onto the art through no direct intention.
Anxiety art therapy has long been a popular tool used in conjunction with more traditional therapy methods because of its many benefits. It serves as an alternate mode of communication, it centers thoughts, breaks the cycle of rumination, gives dialogue direction, eases nervous clients, and provides an overall soothing, calming effect. The evidence of this latter point can easily be seen in the increasing number of adult coloring books that have been popping up in stores throughout the country.
Supplements/Complements Verbal Expression
Some people suffering from anxiety and depression are also very introverted. Introverts may feel less comfortable opening up, especially if they are still in the early stages of forming a relationship with a particular therapist. Anxiety art therapy is one way clients can express how they are feeling at a given moment easily without having to struggle to articulate them in words.
Another obstacle facing talk therapy is the reproduction of the catalyst behind anxiety related symptoms like panic attacks. Because the exact cause of the panic attack may be hard to pinpoint or verbalize, anxiety art therapy helps to “cognitively restructure” the attack without the need to articulate it verbally.
Improves Physical Health
A study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science examined the effects of mindfulness-based art therapy conducted with patients suffering from both Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and anxiety and depression.
Researchers found that a significant number of patients participating in the study reported reduced feelings of depression and anxiety as a result of the therapy in addition to reduced body mass index and significantly reduced blood pressure.
From this examination, researchers found that this type of therapy “induces changes in essential physiological factors that are easily affected by emotions, such as breathing synchrony and heart rate, and also boosts satisfaction among patients through physical integration.”
Interrupts The Cycle Of Rumination
Ruminating on past events or sources of worry can be one of the major contributing factors to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Rumination can be thought of a repeated cycle of thinking about a single instance or memory. The cycle is hard to break, and if it is broken, it can be returned to easily.
Anxiety art therapy engages other senses that require the mind to turn its attention away from the cycle of rumination and towards the present. By engaging the mind to visualize and create something with the hands, it has less ability to devote as much power to the thought or memory on which the mind is ruminating.
Provides A Dialogue Direction
Sometimes talk therapy alone can be difficult between client and patient if the client is having a hard time determining exactly what he/she is feeling. Clients may feel uncomfortable opening up completely in a verbal way. Or they may want to verbalize how they’re feeling but have a hard time doing so.
By engaging in anxiety art therapy, a client can express themselves using a different means of communication. Through their art, a therapist can find launching points to explore more deeply that they may not have been able to identify with a more traditional form of therapy.
Eases Nervous Clients
Someone dealing with anxiety may already feel very apprehensive about talking to a therapist in the first place. Getting them to walk through the door or even make eye contact can be incredibly tough for some people who are particularly anxious. Sessions may pass before a client begins to feel even remotely comfortable opening up about their feelings.
Anxiety Art therapy is one way to make a tough situation a little more tolerable. It creates an opportunity for a client to focus their attention on the task at hand and less on the uncomfortable position they find themselves in.
At the same time, therapists can use anxiety art therapy to help initiate the conversation with a client that may have otherwise taken much longer to begin thereby giving them a jumpstart on the road to progress, and giving the client access to some help more quickly.
Centers The Mind And Focuses Thoughts
According to the American Public Health Association, “There is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s creative efforts, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters.”
People dealing with anxiety may also be struggling with a restless mind, which can leave one feeling off balance and uneasy. Engagement in anxiety art therapy, no matter if it’s through a simple drawing, or creating something a little more complex, can help reduce these negative feelings and introduce relative calm during a therapeutic session.
Can Be Integrated With Other Therapies
Anxiety art therapy can easily be integrated with other therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and interpersonal therapy.
When used in conjunction with other modes of therapy, both therapy types can complement each other and serve as a propellent forward when a tough crossroads is encountered.
Luckily, given the technological capabilities we enjoy, therapy options have opened up widely. For those of us dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, we can seek help in myriad ways to include face to face counseling, in-person group counseling, mobile apps, texting services, or telemental health services.
The Importance Of Anxiety Art Therapy
Whether used alone or in conjunction with another form, anxiety art therapy can be very helpful to someone who is living with anxiety. Feeling anxious on a near constant basis that’s above normal expectations can be incredibly disruptive to anyone trying to feel normal. Dealing with anxiety by yourself can make matters feel even worse.
Seeking help from others, especially those who are trained and experienced in listening, understanding, and helping can go a long way in helping you feel like you’re on the road to a more normal, better sense of self.
Anxiety art therapy is just one of the many ways licensed professionals can help someone who is struggling with their anxiety.
- It’s a way to express your feelings without having to articulate them solely with words.
- The process of creating art has direct physiological effects that counteract the detrimental physical consequences anxiety brings about.
- It is one tool that you can use to interrupt a nagging and destructive cycle of rumination on past events or negative thoughts.
- Anxiety art therapy helps you show your therapist your feelings without talking about them, thereby giving him/her a direction in which to take further assistance.
- It centers and focuses your mind on the present, giving you relief from anxious thoughts and feelings
- It’s easily integrated into other therapies so that you and your therapist can come up with a custom-made plan
- Anxiety art therapy can help you feel comfortable in what can be at first a very uncomfortable situation.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, don’t hesitate to speak to a professional to find some relief. Therapy can come in a variety of ways and means, whether it be in person, over the internet, or on the phone.