Art is a powerful way to navigate anxiety. This is true whether we’re painting, writing stories, or creating collages. Art helps us express ourselves. It helps us to better understand and communicate contradictory emotions and nebulous fears. It gives our anxiety a path to move through.
Art can be serious or silly. It can be a blend of both.
Art engages our imagination, and it is liberating and limitless. Which is vital, because anxiety and fear can feel restrictive and suffocating. They can narrow our lives.
“Taking part in creative activities is akin to taking part in any other kind of mindfulness activity, including meditation,” write Yaddyra Peralta and Elina Diaz in their wonderful book, Anxious Art: A Creativity Journal to Help Calm You.
They further note, “Since you are focused on the task at hand—such as writing or painting—as well as accessing your imagination, you are distracted from your feelings of distress and anxiety. You then take part in what visual artist Louis Bourgeois powerfully describes as a healing process: ‘Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented—which is what fear and anxiety do to a person—into something whole.'”
(They also mention this 2016 study, which found that engaging in art making reduced cortisol levels.)
When you’re feeling anxious, consider art as one tool you can use. Below are 10 creative prompts from Anxious Art, which you can play and experiment with:
- Write a short story set on the moon.
- Doodle your biggest source of joy.
- Write a short story only using lyrics from an album.
- Doodle your biggest fear.
- Write a play in which your anxiety is a character.
- Write a short story in which Chapstick plays a pivotal role.
- Doodle things that rhyme with doodle like poodles and kudos.
- Write a play that has exactly four characters (one of which is a potted plant).
- Doodle a lot of spirals.
- Doodle what music sounds like.
We can make art in all kinds of ways, and use it to help us process and cope with our anxiety. You can dance, letting the anxiety traverse through you. You can cut out images from different publications and combine them to create funny collages (using humor and taking anxiety lightly is a great way to deal with it!). You can take a watercolor class. You can write poetry about your anxiety. You can bake bread.
You can make things out of clay. You can snap photos of objects and people that make you happy. You can write letters addressed to your anxiety. You can write letters addressed to others who are struggling with anxiety. Because, after all, you’re absolutely not alone. Anxiety is universal.
The key is to accept and acknowledge your anxiety. It’s to remind yourself that even though anxiety can be annoying and frustrating and scary and overwhelming, even though it can make us feel helpless and powerless, it’s not some awful monster.
It is an adaptive emotion and process. And, even though that emotion and process can sometimes feel out of control, you are not helpless or powerless.
So the next time you feel anxious, turn to art, or pick another coping strategy that resonates with you. Or consider working with a therapist.
Either way, you are powerful, too. Remember that.