Stress is tension. Strain. An unease. A ripple—or a 50-foot wave—in the body’s normally calm waters. I like to think of stress as suitcases: different-sized luggage, from a laptop bag to a 30-inch suitcase. Because the word “stress” is a broad term that encompasses all sorts of concerns, sensations and reactions that require all sorts of methods, strategies and solutions. Which is why it’s helpful to have a collection of coping tools and techniques we can turn to.

One tool is creativity. Creativity helps us to express ourselves, to express our feelings, to express our frustrations, to explore what’s troubling us. Creativity lets our minds and bodies unwind. And even more than that, creativity is an opportunity to connect to ourselves.

I asked Amy Maricle, an artist, art mentor and creator of the Mindful Art Studio, to share some of her favorite creative stress relievers, which you can add to your collection. (If you remember, a few months ago, Amy discussed her creative process. It’s one of my favorite interviews to date.) Below are her tips:

Draw repetitive patterns. Repetition is relaxing. According to Amy, “I gain control over something by putting it in order, but I also let myself drift into the mystery of the art and let the pattern evolve as it will. Practicing letting go this way is good practice for life.”

You might start by picking a shape, such as a circle, square or triangle, and keep repeating it. Go with whatever feels relaxing to you.

Carry a portable art kit. “Having some ‘me time’ to draw, paint, or doodle in my journal makes me feel better when I’m running around,” Amy said. “It’s nice to know that instead of staring at my phone while I wait in the doctor’s office or in the parking lot that I did something creative for me.”

Amy’s art kit changes, but it usually contains: a moleskine 3.5 x 5.5 art journal; micron pens; gel pens; a mini acrylic or watercolor set; water brush; small art bits to collage; a napkin; and craft glue. She holds everything in a plastic zip pouch. She shares more specifics in this post.

Collect natural inspiration. Amy loves taking nature walks and collecting natural objects to inspire her art making later. (Plus, of course, walking and being in nature are both great stress relievers.) You might bring home leaves that you photograph or use in a collage. You might collect seashells to create a quick sculpture. I find that being in nature is a powerful way to put things into perspective.

Amy stressed the importance of prioritizing our creative time. “Once you do, you’ll be amazed at how your life will reorganize itself and you’ll see you had a little more time than you thought,” she said. For you, creative time might mean cooking or gardening or dancing or art journaling. It might mean drawing while you drink your morning coffee; painting while watching your favorite sitcom; crocheting for 15 minutes before bed; or making a monthly art date with a friend, as Amy suggested.

Stress is many different things. Which is why it helps to collect many different coping strategies—strategies that help you relax and reconnect to yourself.

How do you use creativity to cope with stress? 

 Photo by Aidan Meyer.