Reach for your sketchbook
Stressed? You’re not alone. Fortunately, there are a number of stress-reduction strategies that can easily be included in a fast-paced and busy lifestyle.
One such strategy is art. Studies have shown that making art is a powerful tool to combat stress. Here are some ways in which the visual arts can help knock stress out of your life.
A lot of stress is caused by ruminating over past events or worrying about the future. Shifting attention to our senses can land us more fully in our bodies and in the present, helping us let go of anxious thoughts.
This mindfulness can be achieved by bringing attention to seeing or sensing, hearing or tasting, as is done in meditation, but visual art can offer a further tool by providing a focus for sensory perception. Sketching a peach, we can take note of the fuzzy texture of its skin, the subtle shades of pink and orange, and the late afternoon light tinting it. As we do so, we can become more fully present to the moment.
Releasing and expressing emotions
Repressed emotions can blind us to stressful situations or encourage us to internalize strain. While having a crying fit in the middle of an important meeting or lashing out at a colleague can prove problematic, art, on the other hand, can provide a safe space to express, let go, and work through stuck emotions.
Often, we may be stressed and not even know it. Gaining greater self-knowledge can help us identify why and when we are stressed, giving us the capacity to remove stressors or find ways of supporting ourselves when in stressful situations.
Visual expression can help us connect with parts of ourselves that may have been blocked off. Working visually, we can access our unconscious with greater ease, where we can find out more about our true selves.
Taking time out to enjoy ourselves is crucial as it helps us exit the vicious circle of stress and recharge our batteries. The visual arts can help us regain our sense of play as we delight in color or experiment with new materials. And when making art, we can bring about the profound satisfaction of activating the creative self, an essential part of our makeup as human beings.
Two exercises to try
Photographic visual diary
Pay attention to the world around you and inhabit the present more fully by keeping a visual diary.
Photograph what you find intriguing, moving, or beautiful. Play with contrasts such as close/far; empty/full; and light/dark. Title and date your photos, arranging them in an actual or virtual diary.
Access your inner life and enhance your self-knowledge by creating a dream collage.
Think of a dream. Select images in magazines which evoke it. Cut and paste, experimenting with composition and color. Let the final image speak to you, writing down thoughts elicited from the work.