Art therapy isn’t something new. In fact, it’s been around since the 20th century. According to Girija Kaimal, “The impetus behind the creation of modern art therapy in the United States and Europe was to serve the needs of veterans from the two World Wars who were suffering from post-traumatic stress.” Why is art therapy so helpful, though, for improving our mental health? Art is a form of self-expression. It is a way to process trauma in a nonverbal and creative way. According to Sarah Kuta, “Research has found that making art can activate reward pathways in the brain, reduce stress, lower anxiety levels and improve mood.” I’ve personally experienced the mental health benefits art can provide. Here are some reasons art is great for our mental health.
Art Allows You to Live in the Moment
During the pandemic, I started watercolor painting. I particularly enjoyed painting animals. It left me feeling calm after, and allowed me to be in the moment, a normally challenging thing for me. When I painted, I was focused on the lines I was drawing, on selecting the right colors, then applying them in the right way. Watercolor painting can be particularly challenging where, if you smudge an area, it is difficult to rectify the smudge. So it requires great concentration, and attention to detail. Having to focus in that kind of way promotes mindfulness, a powerful tool for dealing with anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Art Enhances Self-Confidence
Creating something often gives us great satisfaction, and a feeling of accomplishment. This boosts our confidence and self-esteem. I often felt more confident after painting. In fact, I felt so confident, I even tried to sell some of my artwork on Etsy. I made a few sales before closing shop after getting my first full time job, and not having enough time to dedicate to the shop, but those few sales definitely boosted my confidence, too. Having a boost in self-confidence is a vital way to strengthen our mental health. Self-confidence can help combat anxiety and depression. It allows us to feel capable, capable that we can handle things, and handle our emotions., Because emotions are always temporary. This feeling of anxiety isn’t going to last forever. If we feel confident that we can ride it out, this will help us to cope in the moment.
Art Lets You Express Yourself without Words
Sometimes talk therapy isn’t enough to work through trauma. It is hard to put traumatic events into words, because to do so feels physically and emotionally painful. This is where art can come in and help. Sometimes unexpected things come out in art. We create things based on our emotions. It isn’t something that can, often, be planned. Art is raw, and exposes parts of ourselves not always visible to the eye. It is a great way to process emotions, something that is integral when dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
I’ll always be grateful to art for getting me through the pandemic, and giving me a therapeutic and creative outlet when I needed it. I am sure I will engage with art again in the future, but I currently have other passions occupying my time, and benefiting my mental health just as art has. Like this blog, and yoga and knitting. I would encourage anyone, though, struggling with their mental health to give art therapy a try. What’s the worst that can happen? Most likely you’ll find that you’ll create something beautifully unique, and hopefully, also, get some anxiety-relief along the way.