Art Therapy Activities for Adults
Are you wondering about art therapy for anxiety? During times of stress, it’s natural to want to find an outlet to help reduce anxiety. However, there’s a big difference between making art and using art as a therapeutic activity.
Art therapy for anxiety in the strictest sense refers to the use of art techniques as part of a therapeutic process with an art therapist. On the other hand, art therapy in a more casual sense often means using art activities to relax and reduce anxiety.
Regardless of what form of art therapy you are interested in pursuing, rest assured that there are no downsides to expanding your creative repertoire (and getting in touch with your emotions at the same time).
What Is Art Therapy for Anxiety?
As I already stated, art therapy can have two different meanings. If you talk with a licensed art therapist, they will tell you that art therapy should not be confused with using art as a therapeutic activity.
This makes sense since they are educated on how to use artistic techniques as part of therapy. An art therapist isn’t like a paint night instructor teaching you how to use different acrylic techniques.
Instead, the art therapist is there to help you express your emotions in a creative and non-threatening way. The art therapist is there to help you open up about traumatic events from your past. And, the art therapist is there to help you develop insights and have breakthroughs—all things you aren’t likely to experience in a random paint night encounter.
Art therapy differs from other types of therapy for anxiety such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). What’s the difference? With art therapy, there’s a medium of communication beyond just talking. This can be helpful especially if you experience social anxiety.
Art therapy can also be practiced in a group setting. Yes, this could be anxiety-provoking for some (especially the socially anxious). However, the goal is to help you create connections with other people, improve your social skills, and increase your self-esteem.
Being open to and learning to sharing your artwork can also help you to overcome the fear of being judged. In this way, art therapy can be a type of gradual exposure therapy for social anxiety when taken one step at a time.
Can Art Therapy Help with Anxiety?
A 2018 review study identified only three randomized controlled trials that investigated the impact of art therapy on anxiety. Based on those three studies (and 162 patients in total), it was shown that art therapy was helpful for a group of undergraduate students experiencing pre-exam anxiety as well as a group of prisoners experiencing pre-release anxiety.
Meanwhile, a 2020 review study that included fourteen studies found that mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) interventions led to improvements in anxiety, depression, and fatigue. The authors note that this new form of art therapy is a promising intervention.
Finally, the simple act of coloring mandalas was shown to reduce test anxiety in a group of 167 university students. This suggests that art-making as a mindfulness activity has value beyond the scope of therapeutic encounters.
This is good news for anyone with anxiety! It means that creating art may help you to relax, reduce stress, and redirect anxious thoughts. Art therapy in the strictest form is practiced by a professional. But, it’s possible to borrow ideas from art therapy to practice your own art activities at home.
Are you prone to overthinking? Engaging in art activities could be helpful because they require mindful awareness, or being in the moment. You’re no longer thinking. You’re just doing and expressing yourself.
Do You Need to Be Artistic to Use Art Therapy Techniques?
I completely understand your hesitation when it comes to the “artistic” part of art therapy! While I am pretty good at recognizing good art, I’m really not good at creating it. Fortunately, the benefits of art therapy are not limited by the extent of your artistic skills.
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As noted by Lexi Sorbara in her article on the Stanford Couples Counseling website, art therapy involves five different components, none of which require you to be artistic:
- Process over product. “Art therapy is about the process, not the product,” writes Sorbara. Art therapy is about creating for the sake of creating, not to create something that fits a certain aesthetic. Art therapy is a process for exploring and working through emotions, not creating a pretty picture.
- Seeing things differently. It’s about becoming playful and curious again, in a way that most adults don’t let themselves indulge in. Art allows you to experience the world in a different way by taking abstract concepts and making them concrete.
- Nonverbal communication. Art therapy allows you to communicate through symbols and metaphors instead of trying to verbalize what you are feeling. Art can also help you access stored memories that may not come up just through speaking.
- Self expression. There are no rules when it comes to art therapy. You might be surprised by what you create during the process. This wouldn’t happen if you were trying to create something to fit a certain aesthetic.
- Art as therapy. Repetitive forms of art like coloring mandalas doesn’t require any artistic talent and can help you to enter a state of enjoyment and living in the moment.
Art Therapy Activities for Anxiety
As you can probably tell based on what I’ve told you so far, there are two types of activities that you could do as far as art therapy for anxiety. First, you could do genuine art therapy exercises designed to have an emotional component. Second, you could do art activities with the sole purpose of being present in the moment. Below I’ll share some ideas of activities that fit each of these types!
Art Therapy Activities for Emotional Healing
If you want to do actual art therapy activities as recommended by a licensed art therapist, you have a few different options. You could..
- Work with an art therapist. Find a local art therapist to work with you 1:1 or in a group setting
- Take an art therapy class. Take an art therapy class through Skillshare such as 26 Art Therapy Exercises by Tatiana Ambrose or Therapeutic Art Journaling: A Guided Workshop by Ashley Coxwell
- Use an art therapy workbook. Complete activities from a book written by an art therapist such as the one below
Art Therapy Activities for Relaxation
If you simply want to complete art therapy activities as a form of mindfulness or relaxation, there are numerous options to choose from! You could…
- Sign up for a subscription art box. If you choose to go this route, I recommend trying one of two highly rated boxes from Cratejoy: Adults and Crafts or Paletteful Packs. (Watch the video below to learn about the Adults & Crafts Subscription Box)
- Create a vision board. Shift your focus away from anxious thoughts and have a reminder about having hope for the future. I recommend this product from Etsy because you can download it right away and get started working on your vision board right away (plus it’s just fun!)
- Complete a paint by number kit. This can be a good option if you aren’t particularly artistic and just want a project to help calm your mind. I personally like Winnie’s Picks for Paint by Number because of the variety of paintings that they offer.
- Try your hand at carving and stone. Are you looking for a unique art experience? You might want to try your hand at carving or working with stone or sea glass. Trying out different projects like this can be a good option if you’ve tried other art activities but felt uninspired. This book is highly rated on Amazon for wood carving.
- Create a comic book. This idea is fun because it combines art and humor. It could be especially good if you have teenagers with anxiety who need an outlet. Purchase this blank comic book and create a comic strip to relieve stress and add some levity to your art therapy.
- Create sand designs. What could be more zen and relaxing than creating designs in the sand? You could purchase a miniature sand garden for your desk and make designs whenever you feel anxious. Or, plan a trip to the beach! Make an intricate sand design and take a photo to remember it.
- Use an adult coloring book. If you enjoy coloring, an adult coloring book could be a good choice as a therapeutic art activity. I love bringing along a small coloring book or a few pages on a vacation or holiday to help me slow down and relax. The Butterfly Garden Coloring Book is one of the most beautiful I have seen.
- Use an art journal. Art journaling is a method of expressing yourself and your emotions through art. Use art journal prompts to stimulate ideas for your art journal. Or, purchase one of the pre-made journals below to boost your creativity. There are several good choices on Amazon for art journals, but this one is great if you can’t find time to journal. I’m also in love with this little book about watercolor journaling (especially for taking along on a trip).
Related: 25 Art Journal Prompts for Anxiety
- Use a gratitude worksheet. A couple summers ago I wrote a post about gratitude and decided to create a little gratitude worksheet to go along with it. I was so surprised when that little gratitude worksheet started to take off on Pinterest! It’s been a top seller in my Etsy shop. I think people like it because you can download it right away and re-use it as many times as you want. You can read the post here and purchase the worksheet here.
Can Art Therapy Make Anxiety Worse?
It’s true that art therapy may bring up some negative emotions that you need to process. There may be a “yucky” period where you feel worse before you feel better. Having a good art therapist to work with you 1:1 is the best antidote to this problem.
However, if you feel as though you need additional help, you could also consider online therapy for anxiety. Online therapists utilize a variety of treatment methods. Betterhelp is one option for online therapy that offers sessions at an affordable monthly cost.
Most importantly, as you engage in art therapy activities, don’t judge what you are doing. The process is what is important, not the end product. Try to lose yourself in the process of creating and allow your mind to become still.
Have you tried art therapy or used art to manage anxiety? Feel free to share what you’ve learned in the comments.
Related Articles About Art Therapy for Anxiety
- How to Create a Mental Health Bullet Journal
- The Best Mindfulness Coloring Sheets for Anxiety
- 65+ Gifts for People with Anxiety
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What Is Art Therapy for Anxiety?
Here are some of my favorite social anxiety tools
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