A few weeks ago I was in a car accident. And not just a little fender bender. It was a full on airbag-deploying crash. I was terrified––I’d never even come close to experiencing that level of danger before. Luckily, aside from a few bruises and some soreness, I wasn’t hurt. But long after climbing out of the car and leaving the side of the road where our car sat, totaled, I still felt anxious. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t stop shaking. And my mind kept replaying the events of the accident. It was awful.
In an attempt to distract ourselves from the situation and relax, my boyfriend and I decided to go out to dinner that evening. But despite my best efforts, my mind continued to revert back to those anxiety-inducing ten seconds. Then, I noticed that the restaurant offered crayons and paper while you waited for your meal. Before I knew it I was drawing the words “just breathe” in a soothing blue-green tone with swirls surrounding them. Immediately, I felt calmer and my heart rate began to slow.
Using art to cope with anxiety is nothing new to me––I’ve been doing it for years. When I’m having a particularly rough day, I’ll paint a soothing design with watercolors, or pick out an inspiring quote to decorate a canvas with. The gentle brushstrokes instantly quiet my racing mind and put me at ease. And the final products serve as comforting reminders to slow down and take some time for creativity.
It turns out there’s actually scientific backing behind what I’ve experienced firsthand. A 2014 study found that incorporating art into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) treatment for people with anxiety disorders––specifically agoraphobia and panic disorder––resulted in fewer panic attacks. This seems to be due to the fact that making art can calm the nervous system. Bridges to Recovery, a residential mental health treatment facility company, explains, “art therapy activities are meditative, quiet, and calming, which helps soothe symptoms of stress, nervousness, and irritability.”
This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to see a professional art therapist. If you’re simply looking for a new method to cope with your anxiety symptoms or want to supplement to your existing treatment, there’s a wealth of resources online. Just google “art therapy exercises” and get to work. And the best part is, you don’t have to be artistically inclined. Art will work just as well at relieving your anxiety regardless of your artistic abilities.
Written By: Kara Cuzzone