2 Fun Ways To Use Art Therapy To Manage Anxiety

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Health And Wellness

If you have anxiety, you may want to try your hand at art therapy.

Anxiety doesn’t feel good — heart palpitations, worrying thoughts, a constant feeling as if something is wrong or "off," and there's often the sensation of a pit in your stomach that hits when you least expect it.

Yet, anxiety might just have a bad rap.

In my work as a therapist, I've seen time and time again that the different parts of ourselves are all just trying to help us make sure our needs are being met. Sometimes, they just go about it the wrong way.

RELATED: 5 Ways Expressive Arts Therapy Heals You

Anxiety is no different. It's possibly a misunderstood part of you that's really aiming to have your back, keep you safe, or play some helpful role.

Art therapy is a great way to explore what’s going on with anxiety in a creative, non-linear way. Drawing your anxiety and coloring the body are two simple and effective approaches to get to know anxiety.

These practices don’t require any sophisticated materials, just paper, and colored pencils, markers, or crayons.

Here are 2 fun art therapy practices that can help you manage your anxiety.

1. Draw your anxiety.

Start by centering yourself as much as possible and notice how you feel about the anxiety.

Do you want it to go away? Are you mad it has taken so much of your time and energy? Or are you curious? All these feelings are valid.

Honor all your feelings and see if you can move towards a sense of curiosity and interest in the part of you called anxiety. Once you're ready to look with curiosity, start drawing anxiety onto the page, as it feels and appears to you.

For some, it may appear as a gray blob or a black cloud. Or perhaps it’s an animal or a creature of some unknown origin.

There's no right or wrong way to draw your anxiety, and it certainly doesn’t matter how "good" the drawing is. This is not about good or bad.

The most important part is for you to introduce yourself to the part by getting it outside of you and onto the page.

Take your time to complete your image, noticing your breath and body as you draw. After you complete your drawing, stand back and take a look. Notice how you feel.

If you like, give your image a name or title, and place that on the page. You can then interview the anxiety — using the name you gave it — to learn more about what its role is in your life.

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What are you here to do for me?
  • What’s your job?
  • What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t around?
  • When did you first show up?
  • Was there anything happening then that made you show up?
  • How can I help you, so you no longer need to do your job in this way?
  • If you weren’t doing your job in this way, what would you rather be doing?

Listen to the answers, write them down, and ask additional questions that arise within you. If, at any time, you feel overwhelmed, take a break.

Give yourself time and self-compassion as you explore. You may choose to do this with a therapist or a trusted person. You also can do this over several days or weeks, revising this part to learn more.

Complete your process by putting away your materials and preparing to move back into the world around you.

You can reflect on what you learned and choose how to use that information to better manage anxiety in the future. Be sure to thank yourself and the anxiety for having the courage to show up.

As you prepare to move on from the practice, honor what you need at the moment.

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You can move and stretch your body, take some deep, present breaths, drink some water, or engage in an activity that will bring you back to your environment.

RELATED: Why Art Therapy For Kids Is More Than Just Arts & Crafts

2. Color the body.

When we have anxious thoughts, the body responds by contracting and restricting. The mind often follows by noticing the tightness and then generating additional anxious thoughts about the body.

One way to move the energy is to use a body cut out or to draw your body onto a page and fill in the parts where you feel the tension. You can find and print out free body shape cutouts on the internet, or you can draw the shape of the body yourself.

Coloring the sensations in the body helps you to become aware of where you are storing anxiety in your body, so that you can release it intentionally.

Start by scanning your body from head to toe and notice where the body is holding the anxiety as tension or tightness. Then, fill in the parts of the body where you notice the sensations.

Use different shades of color to indicate the intensity of the sensation. You can give the colors a shape or form, such as scribbles, sharp lines, or dot shapes, to fully express the inner sensation.

Once you've fully filled in these sensations on the body cutout, take a look at the image and take note of the empty spaces. Then place your attention on those parts of your body that are not colored in.

Notice if these parts of the body feel more grounded, calm, or neutral. You can choose to either color in those parts, or simply breathe and allow your mind to notice what calm, grounded, or neutral feel like in your body.

As the saying goes, "Where attention goes, energy flows."

If you choose to color in these parts, intentionally focus your thoughts on what it's like to feel free of constriction as you color. In this way, you're giving your mind the signal to also relax its hold on the body as if to say, "There's nothing to worry about here."

By increasing awareness of all the sensations of your body, including pleasant ones, you open up more possibilities. Once you are done with this process, scan one more time to see if the sensations in your body have shifted.

Often, by simply placing your attention on what’s happening in the body with presence, the natural intelligence within can do the job of working out the kinks and letting go of what was previously being held onto so tightly.

You can do this practice multiple times — it doesn’t have to take long. Follow what feels right and good to you, and you can’t go wrong.

By expressing anxiety outside of yourself, you can gain a perspective that you are not the anxiety. Rather, it's a part of you that like most parts, needs your attention, love, and care.

Getting acquainted with anxiety in a new way, you give yourself an opportunity to befriend this part that may have seemed like an enemy for so long.

Once any resistance against anxiety is softened, you can then discover and meet the underlying needs that may have been hidden all along.

These are just a few art-therapy practices to release anxiety. You can continue to explore more creative ways to befriend and release anxiety.

RELATED: The One Mindfulness Technique That Eliminates Anxiety —​ Without Medication!

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Angela Luna, LMFT, is a seasoned expressive arts therapist, trauma specialist, and creative wellness coach, who uses an integrative approach to support clients in transforming old patterns into new possibilities. If you are ready to access your innate creativity and go from "meh" to mastery, sign up now for a free discovery consult.

This article was originally published at Angela Luna Therapy. Reprinted with permission from the author.