Drawing for Anxiety: Benefits, Easy Exercises, & More (2022)

Drawing for Anxiety: Benefits, Easy Exercises, & More (1)Share on Pinterest

Ever catch yourself doodling during a tense moment, perhaps while on a frustrating phone call or waiting for an appointment you weren’t looking forward to? You may not have realized it, but you were using a simple form of art therapy.

Art therapy refers to any use of art for a therapeutic purpose, including relief from anxiety and stress. The theory behind art therapy suggests drawing, coloring, painting, and sculpting can help you tune into and express painful or difficult feelings you have trouble putting into words.

Drawing and coloring can be a helpful tool for anyone seeking new ways to manage anxiety symptoms. Not an artist? That’s OK — you don’t need any special skills to give art therapy a try.

Since its introduction in the mid-1900s, art therapy has helped people address a range of mental health symptoms.

Kelly Lynch, a licensed mental health counselor and registered art therapist in Seattle, WA, explains that art therapy can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself — both through the creative process and the resulting artwork.

“The creative process promotes new perspectives that lie beyond the structure of language,” Lynch says. “Art uses metaphor, symbolism, and dynamic thoughts to represent the human experience in a way language cannot. This is particularly important for people who feel out of touch with their emotions or sense of self.”

Here’s how art can help:

It can help reduce stress

A constant undercurrent of anxiety threading through your day-to-day activities can leave you in a regular state of unease. This can start to affect everything from your sleep schedule to your appetite.

Putting pencil to paper allows you to give yourself some space from unwanted, often uncontrollable, thoughts and engage in an activity you can control. You decide what to draw and what colors to add to your design. While focused on the creative process, you aren’t giving energy to your anxiety.

There’s also some research to back up the stress-relieving effects of art:

(Video) How to Draw Your Feelings + Painting Emotions / Easy Art Therapy Activity Demo for Beginners

  • In a small 2007 study, participants listed 10 of their most significant worries. They then spent 20 minutes drawing or sorting through art prints. Participants who spent the time drawing reported greater improvement in negative mood symptoms than those who simply looked at art.
  • In a small 2016 study, adults who participated in 45 minutes of art therapy by sculpting clay, drawing with markers, or making a collage felt more relaxed and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after the art exercise.
  • Research from 2018 also suggests mindful coloring activities may help relieve test anxiety, a significant source of stress for many students.

Drawing can boost mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to your ability to stay present, engaged, and in tune with your thoughts, emotions, and sensations in your body.

If you live with anxiety, this might sound like a horrible idea. You want to get rid of anxious thoughts — not spend time sitting with them and fully experiencing them.

Yet as counterproductive as it may seem, spending some time with anxious thoughts can make it easier to release them.

Learning to identify and recognize difficult emotions is an important part of improved emotional regulation. Mindfulness can help you learn to accept painful feelings and let them go.

Getting in touch with the here and now through creativity can help you clear your head and better accept yourself in the moment, Lynch adds.

As you draw or color, distracting and unhelpful thoughts might pop up in your consciousness. Your attention, however, remains on your artwork. You focus on the movement of your hand across the page, the texture of the paper, and the brightness of any colors you add. You don’t engage with the feelings, and so they drift away.

The creative process also offers a chance for self-reflection that can yield some insight into the source of your anxious thoughts, an essential step in resolving those triggers.

Art can interrupt rumination

Drawing and coloring can distract you from the unwanted thoughts associated with anxiety.

Anxiety often involves rumination, otherwise known as repetitive looping thoughts. It sometimes seems as if fixating on the same worries can help you find a solution for them. But circling through the same thoughts often only increases distress.

When you want to find a way to take a break from distressing thoughts, drawing offers a way to focus your attention on something calming. Sketching, doodling, or coloring provides a way to ground yourself and get some peace from racing thoughts.

Art helps you find your flow

Flow describes an optimal state of mental engagement and focus. In a flow state, you might feel completely immersed in what you’re doing, to the point where you no longer notice outside distractions or troubling thoughts.

Some experts suggest this state may promote creativity and emotional wellness by helping relieve stress.

There are plenty of ways to enter a state of flow, but art activities like drawing or coloring are great ways to get started.

(Video) Neurographic Art Tutorial : Mindfulness In Art

The trick to achieving flow lies in finding an activity that challenges you just the right amount. A flow state requires some mental involvement, but you still don’t need specific artistic abilities to benefit.

Try creating and coloring your own mandala, sketching a simple design, or carefully outlining and coloring something more detailed.

If you haven’t thought much about art since your middle school days, you might feel a little intimidated by the lack of guidelines or structure. After all, the last experience you had with art may have been a project with clear expectations: drawing a house, your family, or a basket of fruit, for example.

With art therapy, though, it’s the process itself that benefits you, so you really can’t go wrong. Anything you draw can help you express your feelings and attune you to the present moment.

Doodling

You don’t need fancy pencils or an artist’s sketchpad to draw. Just keep a small notepad and a pencil or pen close to hand. When anxiety starts to creep up (or when you suspect you’re about to face some stress), break out your notepad and let your fingers guide you toward a more relaxed state of mind.

The act of doodling itself may help calm you, but you could notice some added benefit if you end up expressing your thoughts as you scribble.

Maybe you end up carving strong lines into the paper to relieve tension, or maybe you draw dark storm clouds to express a gloomy mood. Either way, doodling can act as an outlet for emotional overwhelm.

Doodling 101

Not sure where to start? Try:

  • simple symbols or abstract shapes, like stars, swirls, or waves
  • designs that resonate with you, such as a favorite flower or animal
  • elements of your everyday life, such as buildings, trees, or houses
(Video) Mindfulness for Beginners: Introduction by Jon Kabat Zinn

Drawing or sketching

If you have more time and space for drawing, and you plan to use art as a regular coping method, you might find larger sketches or designs appealing. A sketchbook, recycled printer paper, or a roll of butcher paper can provide plenty of creative space for anxiety relief.

Simply putting pen to paper and starting with some simple lines or doodles can help you jump into drawing without spending too much time thinking about what to draw.

As your hand moves across the paper, you may notice your work taking on a shape that reflects your anxious thoughts. Someone who feels trapped in a job or relationship and worried about potential outcomes, for example, might find themselves drawing boxes, cages, or locked doors.

Coloring

If you have a hard time creating simple sketches or doodles, don’t worry. Coloring a pre-printed design can offer some of the same benefits as drawing.

You can find adult coloring books at many bookstores or department stores. You can also find designs online for free. No printer? Check your local library — many offer free or low-cost printing services.

Some research suggests coloring a mandala might be more beneficial for anxiety relief than free drawing or coloring other designs. The mandala, a Buddhist symbol representing the universe, is a circular geometric design widely used in meditation.

Mandala coloring books and online printouts can get you started, but you can also try your hand at creating your own design.

You don’t need experience or artistic abilities to benefit from anxiety drawing. Art therapy does, however, call for an open mind and authentic experimentation, Lynch says.

Keeping the following tips in mind can help you make the most out of drawing or coloring for anxiety.

Stay in the moment

Find a quiet place that’s free of distractions where you can spend 20–30 minutes drawing or coloring. Relaxing music can help enhance a calmer mindset, but it might also help to turn off the TV and mute your phone.

(Video) 14 ANTI-STRESS DRAWINGS

To enhance mindful awareness as you draw, Lynch recommends paying attention to how your pencil, crayon, or pastel feels in your hands. How does it sound and feel as it moves across the paper? Does the paper feel rough, smooth, or cool?

Remember, there are no mistakes

As you draw, try to avoid:

  • going back and erasing
  • wondering whether your drawing is good or bad
  • worrying the proportions are off
  • getting stuck on making your art accurate and realistic

Try to let your drawing take you along as it develops instead of setting expectations for yourself. The process is what matters, not the technical skill behind your drawing.

Instead of doubting your skills, focus on the creative process. If your art helps you manage anxious thoughts, it’s accomplishing its purpose.

Use what you know

You might want to try a coloring book to gauge the relaxation benefits for yourself. But, if you’re already in the habit of doodling, there’s no need to invest in any new materials (unless you want to, of course).

Your favorite pen and some scratch paper will do just fine. Remember, your art is for you alone, so it doesn’t have to look pretty or perfect.

“Therapy using the creative process can offer an important key to understanding emotional expression and experiences,” Lynch concludes.

Drawing, coloring, and other art therapy approaches can serve as helpful tools to cope with anxiety symptoms on your own.

That said, many therapists offer art therapy as part of a combined approach instead of a standalone treatment. Art therapy alone may not relieve serious or persistent anxiety. A trained therapist can help you explore other treatment options.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.

FAQs

Does drawing help with anxiety? ›

The short answer is yes. Drawing, painting, and other forms of creativity can be used as stress relievers for most people who try them. Studies have shown that most people who try art as a form of therapy or stress relief have experienced significant reductions in their cortisol levels when doing so.

What do you draw when your anxious? ›

Mandalas

In a 2020 study , researchers concluded that mandala drawing could reduce negative emotions and improve spirituality. And according to a small study in 2005, coloring a mandala was shown to reduce anxiety much more than coloring other designs or on a blank page.

Why drawing is good for your mental health? ›

There is a positive connection between art and mental health—artistic activities such as sculpting, painting, or drawing are known to lower stress levels and promote mental calmness. Creating art takes your mind off of your everyday life and provides a relaxing distraction.

What are the benefits of drawing? ›

11 Health Benefits of Drawing
  • Increase Your Brain's Activity. Yes, this is a real thing that drawing can do for you! ...
  • Improve Your Creativity. ...
  • Improve Your Memory. ...
  • Improve Your Communication Skills. ...
  • Stress Relief. ...
  • Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills. ...
  • Improve Your Fine Motor Skills. ...
  • Increase Your Positive Emotions.
8 Sept 2022

Why is drawing relaxing? ›

Drawing and the relaxation response

The rhythmic and repetitive motion of drawing helps synchronize hand and eye, body and mind, and can be used to elicit what Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, has identified as the relaxation response.

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

Is drawing good for your brain? ›

We use our brains when we draw, and this not only releases endorphins, but helps build new connections and pathways. When drawing, we actively use both sides of our brain, the right for creativity, and the left for logical thinking. This strengthens both and helps develop the ability to focus and think strategically.

What is the main symptoms of anxiety? ›

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

How drawing can relieve stress? ›

Drawing and coloring can distract you from the unwanted thoughts associated with anxiety. Anxiety often involves rumination, otherwise known as repetitive looping thoughts. It sometimes seems as if fixating on the same worries can help you find a solution for them.

How does drawing affect your body? ›

Studies show creative expression helps maintain our immune systems and that art is clinically proven to reduce stress, elevate mood, and lower blood pressure. In fact, research also shows that patients who are exposed to art during a hospital stay actually heal quicker and have a better overall experience.

How does art make you happy? ›

Art in any form, whether while creating or observing, reduces the stress hormone called cortisol. It also releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins which help you combat stress and pain. By letting you enjoy a sense of fulfillment, it transforms you into a more positive, well-rounded human being.

What can you learn from drawing? ›

Drawing helps you explain concepts, illustrate new ideas, create new designs, and communicate thoughts in ways words can't. And schools can easily integrate drawing with the rest of what students learn.

Does drawing help you focus? ›

Recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design shows that doodling can help people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information. A blank page also can serve as an extended playing field for the brain, allowing people to revise and improve on creative thoughts and ideas.

What are the best things to draw? ›

Easy Drawing Ideas Inspired by Real Life:
  • The interior of your living room.
  • A houseplant.
  • Kitchen utensils, like a whisk or slotted spoon.
  • Your self-portrait.
  • A family photograph that you cherish.
  • A famous person you admire.
  • Your feet (or someone else's feet)
  • Your hands (or someone else's hands)
31 Mar 2022

Why do people get anxiety? ›

Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.

Why do so many people have anxiety? ›

We still experience many traditional causes of anxiety such as poor health, difficult relationships, unemployment, poverty and disadvantage, loneliness, work stress, and exposure to violence, trauma, and conflict.

Why does anxiety happen? ›

Anxiety may be caused by a mental condition, a physical condition, the effects of drugs, stressful life events, or a combination of these. The doctor's initial task is to see if your anxiety is a symptom of another medical condition. Anxiety disorders are different from normal anxiety.

Does drawing improve memory? ›

Across a series of experiments, researchers found drawing information to be a powerful way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double.

Is drawing a natural talent? ›

Drawing is a skill you can learn even if you don't have talent. Drawing requires a vast set of skills that people do not acquire at birth. Although some people may naturally draw better than others initially, practice and study are the factors that differentiate a good artist from a common one.

Is it good to draw your feelings? ›

Draw your feelings is a great check-in activity for helping people express feelings for a retrospective meeting. Drawing enables people to express their emotions.

How do you express emotions in drawing? ›

Express Yourself! How To Express Your Emotions Through Art - YouTube

How do I stop my anxiety thoughts? ›

What to do when you feel anxious
  1. Think of yourself as a firefighter. Put out the flames of anxiety with some cool breaths. ...
  2. Cool down anxious thoughts. “Thoughts like, 'I can't stand this; this is awful! ...
  3. Get some perspective. ...
  4. Soothe your system. ...
  5. Talk it out. ...
  6. Don't ignore. ...
  7. Rule out other causes. ...
  8. Wait it out.
24 Mar 2022

How can I reduce anxiety immediately? ›

How to calm down quickly
  1. Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
  2. Name what you're feeling. ...
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
  4. Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
  5. Run. ...
  6. Think about something funny. ...
  7. Distract yourself. ...
  8. Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)
22 Jun 2021

Does anxiety make you tired? ›

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms associated with anxiety, panic disorder, chronic stress, depression and other mental health disorders.

Can drawing help with anger? ›

Results of this study reveal that Art therapy is an effective intervention to reduce anger and its dimension.

How is drawing used in art therapy? ›

Therapists use drawings as a means of communication when working with chil- dren. Drawings broaden the individual's experience of expression by allowing the safe expression of feelings and attitudes in ways that words cannot (Hagood, 2000; Landreth, 1991; Oster & Gould, 1987).

What happens to brain when you draw? ›

We can absorb information by simply listening, seeing images, or reading words, but drawing brings out a multi-modal reinforcement that forces our brain to use that input in a new way. Drawing involves the imagination and forces our brains to create a mental image of a subject or idea in our brains.

What part of the brain is for drawing? ›

The left side processes information in a linear manner, analyzing and drawing conclusions based on any information it is given. Your left brain is a smart cookie that will help you gain an understanding of the rules and systems you need to create a good drawing.

What part of the brain affects drawing? ›

The researchers used machine learning to discover similar patterns of brain activity across both tasks within the occipital cortex, an area of the brain important for visual processing. This means people recruit the same neural representation of an object whether they are drawing it or seeing it.

Why is art so important? ›

Art can communicate information, shape our everyday lives, make a social statement and be enjoyed for aesthetic beauty.

What happens in your brain when you make art? ›

There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence that proves art enhances brain function. It has an impact on brain wave patterns and emotions, the nervous system, and can actually raise serotonin levels.

How art can make you feel? ›

ART MAKES US HAPPY

Art gives a feeling of joy and boosts a good mood. Artwork fosters the feeling of relaxation, creativity, and inspiration. Any form of creativity can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and encourage the good hormones endorphins and dopamine in our brains.

What does drawing do to your brain? ›

We use our brains when we draw, and this not only releases endorphins, but helps build new connections and pathways. When drawing, we actively use both sides of our brain, the right for creativity, and the left for logical thinking. This strengthens both and helps develop the ability to focus and think strategically.

Does drawing help with ADHD? ›

Expressing creativity through art also elevates serotonin and reduces stress levels. Used therapeutically, art-making can also improve the symptoms of executive function in children and adults with ADHD, adhd tips and the motor skills of specific children with learning disabilities, dyslexic children.

What tattoo represents anxiety? ›

If you're looking for anxiety tattoos, you've probably seen a lot of options with semicolons. Semicolon tattoos were inspired by Project Semicolon – a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention. Over time, the semicolon has been used to represent mental health awareness, including anxiety.

Does drawing release dopamine? ›

When the artist's hand begins a drawing, the mind releases dopamine. That tells the brain to “Pay attention—this will be rewarding in the end”. Motivated to see that reward, the brain focuses on the drawing, and then relaxes when it is complete: reward.

Does drawing improve memory? ›

Across a series of experiments, researchers found drawing information to be a powerful way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double.

Does drawing make you happy? ›

The scans show that viewing art triggered a surge of dopamine, the happy chemical, into the brain, which results in feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

What are 3 types of ADHD? ›

Three major types of ADHD include the following:
  • ADHD, combined type. This, the most common type of ADHD, is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors as well as inattention and distractibility.
  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type. ...
  • ADHD, inattentive and distractible type.

What artists have ADHD? ›

Many have speculated that Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso had ADHD. They exhibited many of the classic ADHD characteristics. These famous artists were passionate and creative geniuses with the ability to hyperfocus on their artwork, changing the way the world sees art.

What activities help ADHD? ›

Other fun activities to try include:
  • Indoor scavenger hunt.
  • Building towers out of cards or blocks.
  • Balloon volleyball.
  • Playing music and dancing.
  • Indoor obstacle course.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Hula hooping.
  • Jumping on a trampoline.
26 Apr 2022

What color represents anxiety? ›

Yellow is a strange colour: it is often associated with happiness, but also activates the anxiety centre of the brain.

What chemicals cause anxiety? ›

However, epinephrine is the primary chemical because it is directly involved in your anxiety symptoms. When you experience an anxious moment, the amount of epinephrine circulating in your body will instantly increase in response to whatever has triggered your anxiety.

What anxiety feels like? ›

feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax. having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst. feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down. feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you.

What part of the brain is for drawing? ›

The left side processes information in a linear manner, analyzing and drawing conclusions based on any information it is given. Your left brain is a smart cookie that will help you gain an understanding of the rules and systems you need to create a good drawing.

Does drawing increase serotonin? ›

IT MAKES YOU HAPPY: When you draw, you release Serotonin, Endorphins, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine. You don't have to be a famous artist to draw and doodle. Drawing also has calming effects, so if you're stressed out, you may try to pick up a pencil. Read more about how drawing relieves stress.

What part of the brain is used for art? ›

Frontal cortex—the frontal cortex has long been thought of as the hub or center of creativity, as it seems to be responsible for many of the functions that contribute to creative thinking (such as working (or short-term) memory).

Videos

1. How drawing helps you think | Ralph Ammer | TEDxTUM
(TEDx Talks)
2. Wendy Suzuki: The brain-changing benefits of exercise | TED
(TED)
3. How playing sports benefits your body ... and your brain - Leah Lagos and Jaspal Ricky Singh
(TED-Ed)
4. DAY 1: Agape and Forgiveness Education in Northern Ireland - Mr. Cormac McCabe and Mr. Philip Lavery
(International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.)
5. The benefits of good posture - Murat Dalkilinç
(TED-Ed)
6. The Science Of Yogic Breathing | Sundar Balasubramanian | TEDxCharleston
(TEDx Talks)

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