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From Creating to Calm

How can art help transform your mental health? Can it help YOU with the stresses of everyday?

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. This is a day to raise awareness of the many different mental health issues around the world and of the help that is and should be available. Many people that I know have suffered at different times in their lives, myself included. Returning to Art helped me in so many ways after many years teaching and having a family. You can read more of my story and how art has helped me in my other blog posts.

We can all be impacted by stress, overwhelm, anxiety or one of many other circumstances or conditions that impact our mental health. Different circumstances can all impact us differently, what is ok for one person to manage may not be for someone else. One thing is that is sure in each case is that art can provid a form of self help.

You don’t have to be able to draw perfectly to do art ! This is important and a block for many who say “I can’t draw though” ….. or “I’m not artistic” (what does that even mean?) Our own worst critic is our own inner voice but once we begin to create and engage in art , it can be beneficial for our mental health in several ways: Here are some of the ways you can benefit.

  • Stress Reduction: Creating art can be a form of mindfulness and relaxation. Focusing on the creative process can help reduce stress and anxiety by diverting your attention away from worries and daily stressors.

  • Increased Self-Esteem: Completing an art project can boost one's sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Seeing tangible results and improvements in your artistic skills can provide a sense of pride and self-worth.

  • Enhanced Concentration and Focus: Creating art requires concentration and focus, which can be a form of meditation. This can improve your ability to stay present and mindful, reducing ruminative thinking.

  • Distraction from Symptoms: For individuals dealing with mental health challenges, art can provide a welcome distraction from symptoms like depression or anxiety. It can give them something positive and engaging to focus on.

Using art to improve mental health doesn't require any particular level of artistic skill or expertise. Here are steps anyone can take to start using art as a tool for mental well-being:

  • Gather Basic Art Supplies: Begin by collecting some basic art supplies, such as paper, pencils, markers, coloured pencils, crayons, or watercolours. You don't need expensive or fancy materials to get started. You could even start with an old toothbrush and coffee! …. and yes I’ve done that .

  • Find a Safe Space: Where will you do some art? Sitting on the sofa? At a kitchen table? Outside at a park bench? If you don’t want people to see you creating just yet, think about where and when you could make a start.

  • Engage in Mindful Art: Practice mindfulness while creating art. Focus on the present moment, paying attention to the colours, textures, and shapes as they emerge on the paper. Let go of judgment and self-criticism. Let go of trying to make what you do “look” like something.

  • Explore Different Mediums: Experiment with various artistic mediums and techniques. Try painting, collage, sculpture, or digital art. Exploring different options can keep the process fresh and exciting.

  • Be Realistic! : Don't set high expectations for your art. The goal is not to create a masterpiece but to enjoy the creative process and express yourself.

Remember that the primary goal of using art for mental health is self-expression and self-care. There are no right or wrong ways to create art in this context, so focus on the process rather than the outcome. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey.

So where do you start?

Starting with simple and accessible art activities can be a great way to begin using art to improve mental health, especially if you're new to art or feeling hesitant. Here are some easy art activities to get you started:

  • Colouring: Colouring books for adults have become increasingly popular for their calming and meditative qualities. You can find intricate designs or patterns to color with coloured pencils, markers, or crayons. Colouring can be a relaxing and enjoyable way to ease into art. Colouring books for adults has a huge market now and something that many find relaxing.

  • Doodling: Grab a piece of paper and start doodling. Doodling involves creating spontaneous and often abstract drawings without any particular goal in mind. It can be a simple and fun way to start.

  • Collage: Collect images, photographs, or magazine clippings that resonate with you. Create a collage by arranging these images on a piece of paper or canvas. Collage allows you to express your feelings and interests visually.

  • Free-Form Painting: Use watercolors, acrylics, or any available paint to create a free-form painting. Let your emotions guide your brushstrokes and color choices. There's no need to create a specific image—just go with the flow.

  • Silhouette Art: Draw or paint a silhouette of a subject, such as a tree, an animal, or a person. Then fill in the silhouette with colors, patterns, or images that represent your thoughts or feelings about that subject.

Remember that the goal of these activities is not to create a masterpiece nor a photographic representation of something but to use art as a means of self-care. Don't be overly critical of your work; instead, embrace the process and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of art. Over time, you will find that your artistic skills and confidence improve. Some of you may even make art a much bigger part of your life.

Give it a go... pick up some paper.... something to make marks with and get started.

I'd love to hear how you get on or if art has already helped you.

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