Engaging with Art, self-care

Art and Colouring: Practices that Build Calm During Stressful Times

I have two things for you to think about (with your eyes closed) before you go onto reading this article:

a) When was the last time that you engaged in drawing/colouring/painting?

b) How did engaging in this activity make you feel?

Once you have answered these questions, try to make yourself aware of the bodily sensations that have come along with these thoughts; a body scan would help. How does that feel? If this activity has worked for you, then by now you must be aware of the feeling of calm that comes on visualizing or creating art. And this sense of calm is just one of the benefits of engaging in art and colouring.

My article today focuses on the benefits of art (drawing) and colouring in reducing anxiety and stress and improving the overall mental state.

But before that, I’d like to make you aware of some of the misconceptions that people have about art:

  • Some think you have to be creating masterpieces and sculptures to be considered a real artist.
  • Others believe that you are either born with talent — or not.
  • Many who don’t consider themselves to be artistic feel that there is no point in creating art since they won’t be satisfied with the results.
  • Another myth is that you have to work with an art therapist to get any therapeutic benefit from doing art. Yes, working with an art therapist opens doors to another level of self-awareness but it does not mean that you cannot engage in any art activity if a therapist isn’t around to process it. We are all born with an innate desire to express ourselves and art encompasses a wider range of activities than you might imagine.

Art is for everybody – no matter what your skill level, it’s something you should try to do on a regular basis.

So, what happens in our brains and bodies when we engage in art and colouring?

  • It activates the reward centre in our brain- which means that you feel good, and get pleasure out of this activity.
  • It facilitates interaction between the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
  • It lowers stress and decreases the cortisol level in your brain. Cortisol is a hormone that is activated as a result of stress.
  • It lets you focus deeply and also opens the pathways to imagination. Focusing deeply on one activity allows you to be in the present moment and pushes your usual thoughts away. This, for a lot of people, is an experience similar to meditation.
  • For a lot of people, engaging in art and colouring helps them clarify their thoughts and often come up with new perspectives to problems they might be experiencing.
  • Another reason why colouring can be so relaxing is because when we colour, we are taken back to our childhood days, when life, for most of us was simpler than it is now. We had less to worry about and less stressors in life. We connect with our inner child.
  • Colouring also helps to replace our negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Art and colouring also help us to focus our attention on details and help us stay in the present moment. Both drawing and colouring needs us to focus and concentrate, and this in turn helps us to shift our attention from our everyday worries.
  • Apart from mental health benefits, art and colouring also have tons of physiological health benefits, like improved sleep, balancing blood pressure, and improved appetite.

When I talk about art and colouring to reduce stress and anxiety, I do not mean that you need to create a masterpiece. All you need to do is express yourself.

Here are some activities you can try:

  1. Doodling, sketching, or just scribbling with your crayons
  2. If you want to create a drawing and colour it, that works too! Something as simple as a scenery, with birds, mountains, a river, a house and a tree can also be drawn after which you can colour it. The feeling you get is soothing. 
  3. Using colours to express your mood: For instance, if you’re feeling down and low, try choosing a colour that resonates with your current mood and scribble on a blank sheet. Similarly, when you’re feeling very positive, you could choose a colour that resonates with your mood and scribble.
  4. Here’s another simple activity that I have done and has helped me, so I’m sharing it with you. Start by drawing an outline of yourself on a blank white sheet of paper. Next, get your awareness to your body and try to pinpoint what you are feeling and in which part of the body are you feeling that. Stay with this feeling and choose a colour that resonates with this feeling. Use this colour to highlight the part of the body (on outline that you have drawn on paper) where this feeling lies. Expressing yourself in such a concrete way also helps you acknowledge your feeling.
  5. Drawing and colouring mandalas is another popular way to release anxiety: This form of art therapy has become popular among adults as well as children because it is a relaxing exercise that can take your mind off of other things. Studies have shown that the geometric circles known as mandalas can be particularly beneficial over other types of drawings.

What are mandalas?

In Sanskrit, the word mandala means “circle.” Circles are a powerful symbol found in every culture. We see them in halos, prayer wheels, and other religious symbols as well as architecture and nature.

The main circle shape of a mandala is filled with a variety of geometric shapes and symbols. These are known as zentangles. These are often repeated in symmetrical patterns using bold colour schemes.

Drawing a mandala can seem difficult at first, but it’s actually the opposite. The intricate look of a mandala comes from following a rhythm, which turns a little effort into a stunning result. Doing the same thing over and over is very rewarding and gives us a sense of accomplishment.

Colouring mandalas is a fun way of de-stressing. People who colour mandalas often experience a deep sense of calm and well-being. It’s a simple tool that doesn’t require any expertise, but it can be remarkably soothing. Mandalas not only channelize your attention but also allow you to express your creative side, which many of us neglect in our daily lives. Nowadays you’ll find a whole lot of adult colouring books which have pre-drawn mandalas in them for you to colour. The repetitive process of colouring the geometric shapes within a mandala can be beneficial to people of all ages. Try to avoid the notion that colouring is just for kids. Instead, use it as a constructive way to find some quiet time to soothe your thoughts from any stress and anxiety you may be feeling.

Consider engaging in an art-based activity at least once a week if not more. A quick boost of dopamine never causes harm.

To learn more about therapeutic benefits of art and colouring, you can check out these links:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/11/795010044/feeling-artsy-heres-how-making-art-helps-your-brain

https://www.verywellmind.com/coloring-mandalas-as-a-meditation-technique-4161160

Author

Khyati

I am a practicing psychologist. I’m interested in art and design. Mandala art is my stress buster. I’m also into the upcoming field of fashion psychology. Binge watching on Netflix is one of my current pastimes!

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