thoughts & ponderings
Art therapy can be a wonderful modality for working through and understanding anxiety as it has the ability to calm the nervous system by its very nature. Focusing on and engaging in creative activities shifts our attention from the negative thought patterns that we can play over and over in our mind giving the nervous system the opportunity to move back into a homeostatic state. Doreen Meister, a mindfulness-based expressive art and depth psychologist in California, states that we can process more difficult experiences once our nervous system begins to regulate and allow more access to the rest of our brains, thoughts, emotions, empathy and compassion.
Another way that art therapy is helpful is by moving away from verbal expression and into visual expression which activates the right brain often providing a more objective view of a situation allowing us to create a safe container and different perspectives of a situation. I have worked with clients who are amazed at the different perspectives gained in activities such as sand play therapy which has opened up a whole new view for them and given them a boost of positive energy and expanded their options.
Here are two activities that you can do yourself. The first is about exploring anxiety and the second is creating a place of calm.
1. You will need the following; blank paper, pencils, crayons or pastels, sticky tape and a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Allow yourself to take this time for yourself. Tape the paper to a surface. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths then bring your attention to your body and notice how anxiety feels in your body. Where it sits in your and how you know it is anxiety. When you are ready, open your eyes, and choose a colour pencil, pastel or whatever you’re using. Close your eyes again and draw a continuous squiggle on your paper without lifting the pencil or crayon from the paper. Do this as if anxiety is expressing itself on the page and stop when the movement or expression feels complete. Look at the squiggle you made and move the paper from side to side or rotate it until you see an image emerge. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to make sense, this is a creation of your creative mind not your rational mind. Now feel free to explore and develop the image using your other colours and drawing materials.
The next step is to write spontaneously for five minutes. This may be difficult at first because you will be trying to control your words. Five minutes is a good minimum time frame because it allow you to move beyond the need for control and let your words flow without needing them to make sense or to understand them. You might like to ask the image questions about what it wants you to know or you may choose to write about the process of drawing your image or anxiety.
2. You will need the following; blank paper, magazines and old photos, textas or markers and a glue stick. Again, a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted is ideal. Close your eyes and take some nice deep breaths. Now go back to times in your life where you remember feeling safe, peaceful or at ease. This may be connected to a particular place or person. If you struggle to find a memory just use your imagination to find a peaceful place or person that makes you feel relaxed.
Once you have that, open your eyes and look through the magazines for images that remind you of the memory or feelings around that memory. Go with images that jump out at you rather than trying to look for the perfect image that captures everything, even if they don’t seem to make sense at the time.
Once you have collected all your images start to set them out to create a collage which speaks to you what it is like to feel at ease or safe. You can keep this image as a reminder of how it looks to be at ease or safe. Imagine yourself in this space and notice how that feels in your body and evoke all your senses to really embody the feeling.
Sometimes it seems like anxiety is our enemy because it feels uncomfortable. It can stop us from doing things we really want to do sometimes and this can manifest in different ways even physically such as developing a bad headache or need to go to the toilet often. But when we explore our anxiety we find that it is sometimes trying to keep us safe. Art therapy can help us explore and understand our anxiety and what motivates it, thus allowing us to have a different relationship with our anxiety and connecting to the ease that is inside us.
While creative activities on their own have merit in relaxing us, working with a trained art therapist takes the experience to a much deeper level which has the ability to bring clarity, healing and insight allowing the client to resolve issues and create new paths in a safe environment.
© White Sage Wellbeing & contributors. 2017