Stress relief isn’t just a nice-to-have for me. It’s literally about mental and physical survival. I’ve had more than a few doctors tell me “you need to lower your stress levels” over the years. They’ve told me to take deep breaths, try yoga or meditation, or take some time for myself. And I’ve usually managed not to laugh out loud. I’m pretty sure none of them ever mentioned art therapy.
I work from home with four kids and a house full of random creatures. Deep breaths isn’t gonna cut it. One doctor introduced me to the idea of stress inoculation – that if I could lower my baseline stress level, the crazies wouldn’t make me so…crazy. But all those typical stress relief methods just didn’t work for me. I’d sit there trying to meditate wondering what the kids were up to, or listening for the dog to get into the trash, or mentally going over my to-do list. I’m just not good at zen.
DIY Art Therapy Plan
A couple of years ago, I found something that actually worked for me. It worked so well that I’m here, in a room filled with easels and gesso and brushes, writing about it. I started practicing art, and something strange happened: the panic attacks stopped. My sleep improved. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
I don’t know if a professional would call what I’ve done art therapy, but it’s definitely therapeutic and it’s art, so I’ll go with it. In case what I’ve done can help you, I’ll give you a step by step overview:
Stage 1: Toe-Dipping in the Art Therapy Pool
I’ve always had this weird relationship with art. I love looking at it, being involved in a piece of art, but I’ve also had this idea cemented in my head that I couldn’t actually create the stuff. (Long story…) I’ve tried learning to draw or paint several times and eventually I’ve given up when what ended up on my sketchbook or canvas looked barely recognizable.
Sometime in 2015, I started seeing Zentangle floating around in my social media feeds, and it excited me because it seemed like maybe – maybe! – I had found a way that I could actually draw. It wouldn’t be realistic, but it would be something. So I bought the books and the special tiles and started to learn the patterns.
I think it took about a month before I was bored with simply recreating set patterns. I had been following a handful of mixed-media artists, and started watching their tutorials on YouTube. Here was another way of making art that I could do! It wasn’t overly realistic, and was more focused on layering, color, and the process than on drawing.
Stage 2: Wading into the Shallow End
At some point, I went from watching YouTube tutorials to deciding to follow along. I signed up for a free art journaling course, and took a deep DEEP breath and hit the art supply store for a few basic materials. That first course – if you’re interested – was Book of Days Boot Camp by Effy Wild. This was a totally different kind of art class than any I’d ever seen before! There was no pressure. Zero. It felt like sitting around a comfy studio with a friend while she created, and explained her process.
That’s really when I noticed the difference art made in my sense of well-being. As I dabbed paint and glued down tissue paper and covered the whole thing with a layer of thinned gesso, I realized that the knot of panic that I’d gotten so used to wasn’t there. The chaos and craziness of life faded into the background.
The thing is, it didn’t end when I cleaned my brushes and cleaned up my mess. I kept feeling less stressed out and overwhelmed. I found myself looking forward to my next chance to paint, and building more and more art time into my schedule.
Step 3: Off the Diving Board!
Fast forward to today. I’ve jumped into the deep end of the art pool and have no intention of climbing out. My office has transformed into a full mixed media studio, I’ve started a self-directed MFA (that’s another post!), and spend a few hours every day with a paint brush in hand.
Art isn’t a replacement for traditional mental health treatment, but as a supplemental practice, I’ve never found anything that offered this level of stress relief. If you want to give it a try, here’s a short list of great – free! – starter classes:
- Book of Days Boot Camp with Effy Wild
- Art, Heart, and Healing with Tamara LaPorte
- Jane Davenport Mixed Media Workshop featuring Jane’s custom line of art supplies
- Check out my Mixed Media Classes & Tutorials board on Pinterest for more ideas
Final Thoughts on Art Therapy at Home
Art therapy isn’t for everyone – and it isn’t only for those touched by creative madness! (My husband, for example, tenses up at the idea of paint and happily leaves the creative stuff to me while he goes off and kills digital dragons.) But if you’ve always been a little bit drawn to the idea of painting or drawing or collage or whatever, and haven’t pursued it because of the frustration of perfectionism, give some at-home art therapy a try. It’s easy, (relatively) inexpensive, and doesn’t require pre-authorization from your insurance company.
In my experience, making time to create art is just as much a healthy living practice as cooking nutritious meals and going to the gym. It really is ok to set aside daily time for art – especially if it helps you deal with the rest of life.
If you’re already using art as stress relief – or if you give it a try – come back and let me know how it went! I’d love to cheer you on 🙂