Most of us experience anxiety in varying degrees. Your anxiety might be a daily struggle or it might only come up when you’re facing a stressful situation. I specialize in facilitating a wide range of expressive arts modalities, and I offer insights into how to use the expressive arts for navigating anxiety. Below, I share my thoughts about the deeper meaning of anxiety, along with how creative self-expression can help.
In my experience, anxiety is a mind-generated “cover-up” for the deeper emotions that we are afraid to feel. Anxiety sits “on top” of difficult emotions that are stored in the subconscious. Anxiety arises from the inner conflict between the “social self” that we present to the world, and the other aspects of self that we have repressed and disowned.
Self-rejection fuels anxiety. Self-love calms anxiety. Anxiety is most often a resistance to the aspects of ourselves that we fear expressing, whether they be dark or light. If you are struggling with a great deal of anxiety, you can gently begin looking for the emotional need for acceptance that has not been met by other people.
Invariably, the root of all anxiety points to your genuine need for unconditional self-love. If you are experiencing anxiety, you can begin to search for the emotions, drives, desires, and aspects of self that feel out of alignment with who you are “expected” to be in your family and social groups.
Finding the emotions hidden within your anxiety can be done through spontaneous art making and story writing. These two modalities balance both sides of the brain.
The left side of the brain is logical, sequential, and it relies on the security of memory to feel safe. (The left brain likes to write memory-based stories.)
The right brain is the home to your unpredictable intuition, the subconscious storage of your emotions, and the rich symbolic imagistic language of your bright originality. (The right brain likes to create intuitive art.)
Creating Expressive Art Helps With Anxiety
Creating expressive art can help with anxiety in a variety of ways. First and foremost, expressive art can facilitate the release of emotions. If you are feeling heavy-laden with unprocessed emotions, I suggest engaging in daily creative writing and/or art practice to facilitate what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called “symbol release.”
Uncensored self-expression is a benevolent helping process. Siphoning off the excess build-up of emotional energy through spontaneous writing and art-making is a cathartic form of anxiety release unto itself. And, upon deeper reflection, art and writing can reveal the limited patterns of thinking that incited your anxiety in the first place.
The simple meditative process of making art can calm anxiety as well. Taking your mind off your problems with an all-absorbing creative activity creates a quiet space for new growth solutions to “pop up” from your subconscious mind. Giving yourself a break from your anxious thoughts leaves space for healing ideas to arise.
4 Simple Ways to Calm the Mind and Body Through Art Making
"Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety." ~ Jack Nicklaus
1. Colouring for Calm – The popularity of adult colouring books speaks to the calming effect that concentrated focus brings. I have seen this calming phenomenon in my therapeutic art studio work. I saw people who suffered from anxiety calm down profoundly when offered art projects that had intricate patterns to colour and paint. Painting and colouring within detailed designs can concentrate the mind’s focus so profoundly, anxieties are forgotten for a time.
2. Zen Doodling – Zen doodling is a popular method of relaxing the mind through doodling. It can be a good structure for a beginner or advanced artist who simply wants to relax through the detailed drawing of repetitive patterns. If you prefer not to doodle from your imagination, there are many good books on the market that provide design ideas.
3. Scribble Drawing – Scribble drawing is a tried and true spontaneous art exercise that works well as an introduction to spontaneous drawing. Scribble drawing was developed by art educator, Florence Cane. Her sister, art therapist Margaret Naumburg implemented scribble drawing with children.
Method for Scribble Drawing:
a. Create a quick and spontaneous scribble, or as Cane described, “play with a flowing line” on your page – with your eyes open or closed.
b. Scribble until you feel finished, but avoid making your scribble too dense.
c. After you have finished your scribble, turn your drawing around to contemplate it from all angles.
d. Similar to seeing shapes in clouds, allow your unconscious mind to pick an image out of the scribble.
e. Develop your found imagery with heavier lines. Embellish your imagery with details, doodles, patterns, and colours.
f. After you are finished, intuitively name your drawing.
4. Spontaneous Collage - Spontaneous collage involves choosing images “randomly” from a book or a magazine, and glueing them down in a non-rational way. Using the principles of projection, your inner emotionality will choose imagery that it resonates with. The pictures that stand out the most strongly can be contemplated for deeper self-understanding.
Expressive Art Books
It is important to create new symbols of strength after processing your emotional pain. You can unknowingly “recycle” your emotional pain by repeatedly expressing your limitations in your artwork. For many years I made this mistake in my own expressive art practice. After repeated emotional catharsis through my drawings, I began to feel discouraged by the consistent negative patterns that I saw in my art. Thinking I was releasing my pain, I realized that I was drawing the same limitations over and over.
You can heal anxiety at its root by asking your body for inspired imagery to meditate upon to help you emotionally heal. For this reason, I love the transpersonal approach to art and healing in the books Art and Healing, Visual Journaling, and Drawing from the Heart all by Barbara Ganim. Ganim’s transformative approach to artmaking involves creating symbolic representations of wellness to meditate upon after emotional pain has been released.
It is helpful to understand that imagery often expresses emotions that your socialized mind might not want to accept. Many people are afraid to “let loose” in the spontaneous creative process for fear of what might be revealed. It might be comforting to know that your subconscious mind will generate images of unhealed emotional pain first, and images for healing will be revealed after.
Ignoring the natural timing of your emotional healing process can create great anxiety. It is helpful to know that whatever you are presently feeling is healing. Because emotional struggles are often expressed symbolically through pictures before they become verbal, sustaining a regular spontaneous art-making practice can facilitate a precognitive emotional release that calms anxiety at the root.
Your self-healing potential can be accessed through the open-ended process of spontaneous art-making. The symbolic release of emotional pain through expressive art-making invites something new to emerge. Emotional release calms your body and provides “space” for your deeper mind to generate new symbols for growth. Meditating upon self-generated healing symbols can lead to the tranquillity of body, mind, and soul.
I invite you to explore the symbolic release of your emotions HERE.