Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” It’s no surprise, then, that many people around the world use art as a means to deal with stress, trauma and unhappiness – or to just find greater peace and meaning in their lives. (1.)
There is a rich literature of studies showing effective benefits of engaging in artistic creative activities such as making music, writing, dancing and crafts. Artistic creative activities have been shown to modulate emotions (rapidly-changing reactions to events in the external or internal environment), influence our moods (more generalized, less intense states of feeling lasting longer periods), and affect our mental health [1–4]. (National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2019) As a result, everyday artistic creative activities can impact simultaneously on immediate, mid-term and longer-term emotional states and help develop good practices toward emotional regulation
Below are 30 fun and creative exercises we adapted from the article “100 Art Therapy Exercises to Make Your Mind, Body and Spirit Sing” (Fellowship Hall, Nov. 2018)
Deal with emotions like anger and sadness through these helpful exercises.
Draw or paint your emotions. In this exercise, you’ll focus entirely on painting what you’re feeling.
Create an emotion wheel. Using color, this activity will have you thinking critically about your emotions.
Make a stress painting. Choose colors that represent your stress and jab, scribble and paint your problems away.
Put together a journal. Journals don’t have to just be based around words. You can make an art journal as well, that lets you visually express your emotions.
Use line art. Line is one of the simplest and most basic aspects of art, but it can also contain a lot of emotion. Use simple line art to demonstrate visually how you’re feeling.
Art therapy can be a great way to relax. Consider these exercises if you’re looking to feel a little more laid back.
Paint to music. Letting your creativity flow in response to music is a great way to let out feelings and just relax.
Make a scribble drawing. With this activity, you’ll turn a simple scribble into something beautiful, using line, color and your creativity.
Make a mandala. Whether you use the traditional sand or draw one on your own, this meditative symbol can easily help you to loosen up.
Draw in the dark. Not being able to judge what you’re drawing or having to worry about whether or not it’s “right” can be very liberating.
Draw something HUGE. Then something very small. Getting your body involved and moving around can help release stress as you’re drawing.
Art can not only help you deal with the bad stuff, but also help you appreciate and focus on the good. Check out these activities all about reflecting on your personal happiness.
Draw your vision of a perfect day. Think about what constitutes a perfect day to you and draw or paint it. What about this drawing can you make happen today?
Take photographs of things you think are beautiful. No one else has to like them but you. Print and frame them to have constant reminders of the beautiful things in life.
Make a drawing related to a quote you like. Take the words of wisdom from someone else and turn them into something visually inspiring.
Create a drawing that represents freedom. This activity has you think about the concept of freedom and what it means to you, creating a work of art that showcases just what it means to you as an individual.
Document a spiritual experience. Have you ever had a spiritual experience in your life? Draw or paint what it felt like.
Often, a great way to get to know yourself and your relationships with others is through portraits.
Create a future self-portrait. This drawing or painting should reflect where you see yourself in the future.
Draw a bag self-portrait. On the outside of a paper bag, you’ll create a self-portrait. On the inside, you’ll fill it with things that represent who you are.
Draw a portrait of someone who changed your life. If someone has ever helped change your path, for better or worse, draw this person.
Draw yourself as a warrior. Start thinking about yourself as a strong, capable person by drawing yourself as a warrior in this activity.
Draw a mirror. This activity is based around a Piet Mondrian quote: “The purer the artist’s mirror is, the more true reality reflects in it.” You’ll need to figure out what is still cloudy in your own reflection of yourself, drawing a mirror and depicting those elements on paper.
Trauma and Unhappiness
These activities will ask you to face some unpleasant aspects of life, but with the goal of overcoming them.
Draw a place where you feel safe. The world can be a scary place but in this project you’ll create a place, draw, painted or sculpted, that makes you feel safe.
Create a mini-diorama. This diorama can showcase an important moment in your life or some trauma that you’ve experienced.
Create a collage of your worries. What worries you in your life? Cut out pictures from magazines to represent these worries.
Draw something that scares you. Everyone is frightened of something and in this project you’ll get a chance to bring that fear to light and hopefully work towards facing it.
Make art that is ephemeral. Sometimes we have a hard time letting go, but this project will teach you that it’s ok if something doesn’t last. Use materials like sand, chalk, paper or water to create art that you will destroy when it’s done.
Lastly, but surely not least - GRATITUDE!
Gratitude makes you happy!
Each day as we practice gratitude, we can help these neural pathways in our brain strengthen and ultimately create a permanent grateful, positive nature within ourselves.
Here you’ll find a collection of projects that will help you be happy about what you have and express your gratitude for it.
Document your gratitude visually. What things are you grateful for in your life? Paint or collage a work that represents these things.
Create a family tree of strength. This exercise honors those around you who support you. Paint those close to you who offer you the strength you need.
Make something for someone else. Making something for someone else can be a great way to feel good and help someone else do so as well.
Make anchor art. Who are the anchors in your life? In this project, you’ll make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
Draw all the positive things in your life. Everyone has at least one good thing in life, so sit down and figure out what makes you happy– then draw it.
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