• Hannah Phillips Hale

5 Art Therapy Activities for Managing Anxiety

Updated: Feb 8

So many things in our daily world can be anxiety provoking. Whether these are internal or external, within our own minds and bodies, or occurring in the outside world and society, they impact us. Expressive and creative arts can be an effective, and often fun, way to process and relieve ourselves of these worries.

As we all might be experiencing additional anxiety at this time, due to the coronavirus concerns (or whatever might be keeping our brains overly active!), it is important that we care for ourselves. As mental, emotional and behavioral health affect our physical health, and vice versa, engaging in healthy habits to address our whole selves is achievable.

Below are some art activities that you can do at home on your own, or with friends, family members, neighbors, whomever. Remember that there is no right or wrong!

Just create and go with the "flow", to see what emerges. Though I might mention certain materials in the activities below, please know that you can use whatever feels good and comfortable to you.

Experiment and have fun!

1) Mandalas:

The word "mandala" comes from the Sanskrit language and means "circle". Because it is a circular shape, it has no breaks in the connection- no beginnings or ends. This can then represent the whole, and might offer meaning in regards to establishing a sacred space where there is containment. The circular mandala can serve as a central place which offers a focal point when trying to calm thoughts. Mandalas generally have one identifiable center point, from which emanates an array of symbols, shapes and forms.

Mandalas can contain both geometric and organic forms, including whatever symbols, shapes, words, colors, realistic or abstract designs that the creator chooses to add.

Designing your own mandalas can be both inspirational and therapeutic, as they represent the person creating it, and whatever thoughts, feelings, situations might come out onto the paper.

1. To start, you can use a bowl or something round to trace a circle around that item, onto whatever surface you'd like.

2. Find whatever materials you want to use, whether these are paints, pastels, colored pencils, markers, crayons, pen or pencil, etcetera.

3. Create! (Don't forget that there are plenty of mandala coloring pages out there too, if you prefer to go this route. Simply use Google or whatever search engine you like, and type in "mandala coloring pages". Voila!)

2) Zentangle:

This is a technique that is very similar to drawing a simple doodle, but typically involves more structured patterns. These patterns are called "tangles". Anyone can create tangles with a combination of lines, curves, dots, circles and other shapes. The Zentangle can be broken apart into different spaces or "tiles", and can then be assembled together into a larger mosaic type artwork as well.

Zentangle art is non-representational and spontaneous, which allows the person creating it to focus on each mark as it is applied and to not worry about the result.

The artwork can also be moved upside down or sideways at any point, and more designs added. It can move and change in whatever way feels good. You don't need to know what a tangle is going to look like to draw it. You only need to be open to trying something new, being curious about your process and honoring the beautiful result. As people use the Zentangle Method to create images, they often experience increased focus, creativity, self-confidence and a sense of well-being.

  1. To start, grab a pen, pencil, marker, colored pencil, and just start drawing! Or you can trace your hand or foot, any item or object, and begin adding lines or swirls inside of it.

  2. Go from there to experiment with crisscrossing, repeating shapes of hearts or moons (anything!), filling in with solid color, or just letting your hand move wherever it wants and seeing how the lines overlap each other or move alongside one another.

3) Collage:

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the term "collage" has two definitions:

1. an artistic composition made of various materials (such as paper, cloth, or wood) glued on a surface and 2. a creative work that resembles such a composition in incorporating various materials or elements. This is the key- collage can include any materials or elements that the creator chooses to use!

Making a collage can be soothing because it takes some of the intimidation out of creating art.

You can choose what is already existing to then assemble, layer, remove and replace, cover or cut, creating something new from what was. Collage offers a sense of control and the ability to move at your own pace. Sometimes, just experiencing the materials themselves is relaxing. Try using your senses of sight, touch, and smell with the process. Your creation can be 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional, built up from a flat surface or taking on a more pronounced shape.

1. To start, gather things that attract your attention. These can include anything from magazine pictures and words, feathers and beads, different colored macaroni or beans, fabrics and yarn, papers and flower petals, pieces of broken plates and machine parts, or torn tissue or news paper. Anything goes!!

2. Scissors can help cut things into smaller pieces, but tearing with hands also offers an easy way to have smaller pieces and give texture to the edges.

3. Glue from a bottle works best for adhering, though glue sticks are strong enough to hold lighter materials.

4) Sculpture:

Sculpting includes a kinesthetic approach where the senses are more heavily used to create art. The term "kinesthetic" relates to a person's awareness of the position and movement of the parts of one's body, by means of sensory receptors in the muscles and joints. The kinesthetic arts play a powerful role in universal language, with a symbolic way of representing the world and allowing us to better understand other cultures.

They let us communicate with others, demonstrate human experiences, show insights, and solve common problems.

Kinesthetic arts also provide for health and emotional expression. They are found to enhance cognition, positive attitudes, and confidence and, in some cases, kinesthetic arts may help to grow new brain cells.

This type of art making provides an opportunity to enhance learning and contributes to the development of critical neurobiological systems, including cognition, emotions, immune, circulatory, and perceptual-motor.

This is why sculpting can be so healing to manage anxiety, as we get out of our heads and more into our bodies.

1. To start, get any clay like material (for non-toxic options, consider Play-doh, Sculpey, Model Magic or similar choices). 2. Using a flat surface allows for a variety of techniques. You may want to also cover the surface with a place mat, plastic table cloth, or large piece of paper, in order to protect the surface itself.

3. I encourage artists to experiment with squeezing the material and observing the shape that is made as it moves between fingers. Mashing the clay with hands, feet or elbows also offers a fun sensory experience.

4. Blending colors is a fun way to discover potential outcomes. Squishing or shaping the material with hands into a cylindrical, snake-like shape can lead to then coiling it into other creatures or containers.

5. Using a rolling pin to smooth and flatten gives a surface to cut from. Cookie cutters or other utensils can be used to cut the sculpting material, poke holes in it, or carve out shapes and designs.

6. Pieces of the clay material can also be attached on top for layering and building, either by using glue or "scoring" (carving crisscross designs on the top of the surface) both pieces that you're attaching and adding a bit of water to help them stick.

Remember to pay attention to whether the sculpture material you have will air dry, bake, or never dry and can be molded again.

If you do not have any materials at home, you can always use a recipe to make homemade sculpting material! There are many recipes out there and you can use your preferred search engine to find one that you like best.

A simple, fun and non-toxic recipe that I like uses 2 cups flour, 2 cups warm water, 1 cup salt, 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 Tablespoon cream of tartar (optional for improved elasticity) and food coloring (also optional- use liquid, powder, or unsweetened Kool-Aid or similar drink mix). To take it a step further with sensory experience, you can also add scented oils.

5) Construction:

Construction is similar to collage, but allows a more 3-dimensional approach. In the same way, the artist has an opportunity to design and take control by making choices and witnessing immediate results.

This immediacy can be gratifying and satisfying, because efforts produce change in the moment. Each new object chosen can lead the art in a different direction, literally and metaphorically.

Construction and building are especially important in developing spatial skills, fine-motor skills, and cause & effect understanding. (These apply to any art making practices really, but construction and building can be done with less prep and in a playful manner.)

Parallel creation is also an option for working next to others, or co-creating offers the an opportunity to work together on the same piece. In a time when it feels like everything might be falling down around us, constructing our own creations can be healing and empowering.

1. To start, gather blocks or containers.

2. Practice stacking and knocking over. 3. Popsicle sticks or toothpicks can be attached together with glue.

4. Paper and cardboard (even toilet paper and paper towel rolls) can also be used with glue, tape, or a stapler to create various structures.

5. Magnets and metals open up more possibility as well, with attracting and repelling.

6. After the artwork is constructed, color can be applied with paint, markers, crayons, pastels, or other materials.

Don't forget about other recyclable materials, such as plastic cups, bottles, cans, etcetera.

Though we can't always control everything that goes on around us, we can attempt some sort of control and sense of calm by engaging in things that we enjoy.
We must care for ourselves and remember that "this too shall pass".

Whether this means listening to music, dancing and moving around the room, experimenting with art materials, sitting and watching the rain or a colorful sunset, or feeling the textures of a nature made pine cone or man-made quilt, I encourage you to notice what is around you, what you are creating in the moment, and how that feels.

There is no right or wrong way.

There is only moment to moment, and how we grow from that experience.

Hannah Phillips Hale, LPC, ATR

Contact us if you're interested in exploring how art therapy can help you relieve anxiety or stress. We have several appointment times open.

PS: At the moment (March 16, 2020) we are also offering tele-therapy online.

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