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Art therapy activities for stress management

While art therapy is its own field, you can also use self-directed art to express your creative side, reduce stress, and get in touch with your feelings. Most of us understood the power of art instinctively as kids: Virtually all children know the joys of sculpting something with play-dough, painting something with fingers, or drawing with crayons and other materials.

Other than making random doodles in the margins of a page, if you’re like most adults, you probably don’t express yourself with art as you did when you were a kid. You may not think you’re any “good” at creating art, or you may not think it’s worth your time, but art is actually a valuable pastime.

There are many reasons that art is a great stress relief tool, even for those who don’t consider themselves artistically inclined.

Benefits of Art Therapy

Whether you could give Vincent van Gough a run for his money or can barely draw a stick figure, art is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Results of a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that just 45 minutes of creative activity can reduce your stress, regardless of artistic experience or talent.

Here are some ways that creating art can help alleviate stress:

  • Acts as a form of self-care: Sometimes, with all of life’s responsibilities, we forget that we need and deserve downtime and self-care. Taking even a few minutes on a regular basis to devote to a hobby can give you more of what you need in this area. With art, you have the additional benefit of being left with something beautiful (or at least interesting) to show for it.
  • Helps you tap into a “state of flow”: Some psychologists describe flow as becoming deeply engrossed in an activity. Similar to meditation, flow can improve performance and lower stress levels.


     You may experience flow when you’re practicing an instrument, playing a sport, gardening, writing, painting, or drawing.

  • Takes your mind off things: Creating art can take your mind off of whatever is stressing you, at least for a few minutes. It’s difficult to keep ruminating on your problems when you’re focused on creating. If your problems stay with you, you can incorporate them into your creations. Once you’re done, you should have a clearer head with which to tackle your problems again.

Sketchbooks for Stress Relief

Keeping a sketchbook is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress. It can be a form of journaling, and like journaling, it can be cathartic, creative, and stress relieving. You can use a journal for personal art therapy and stress management in the following ways:

  • Begin a dream journal. A dream journal can help you identify patterns in your dreams, which point to areas of your life that need extra attention. Try keeping a notebook and pen next to your bed. As soon as you wake up, draw the first images, symbols, or words that come to your mind. Don’t worry if you’re not “good” at drawing. Your dream journal is for your eyes only.
  • Draw what you feel. Draw your stress. Drawing literal or abstract representations of what is stressing you out can help you express emotions that may be difficult to put into words.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Many people keep a gratitude journal to catalog what they are grateful for. Personalize your gratitude journal by drawing the faces of those you love, places that bring you peace, or other things that you are grateful for. The process of sketching can be a great stress reliever, and revisiting your creations can also bring you some peace in the future.
  • Start coloring. These days, coloring isn’t just for kids. Adult coloring books can be especially relaxing for those who don’t feel artistic, but still want to create beautiful pictures.

A Word From Verywell

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress and it starts to interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor. They might recommend a therapist who can offer support and techniques for managing your stress.


Create Your Own Symbolic Mandala

Woman drawing a mandala

Hand drawing Zentangle motif / Getty Images

Carl Jung was one of the original proponents for creating mandalas as a therapeutic tool, and a legion of therapists and art enthusiasts have joined in recommending this practice in the decades since. Mandalas are circular designs that include often intricate patterns and symbols within them.

One study found that creating mandalas minimized the symptoms of trauma in PTSD patients a month after patients engaged in this activity just three times. Creating a mandala allows you to process some of what you are feeling by including symbols that represent what you have been through in your life, triumphs that you have had, challenges you’ve faced, or anything else that is important to you without getting into the “story” of it, and potentially triggering rumination. The practice also allows you to root yourself in the moment as you create a piece of art, and can free you from concerns about whether the pictures look “good” or even realistic. Your mandala can look however you want it to look, and it can be rich with meaning or just a bunch of shapes and squiggles that look good to you. All you need to do is have fun. 

Life can stressful, but according to scientists, therapists, meditation experts, and artists from around the world, art can help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. So, keeping in mind that art is the focus, we want to share some of these proven and time-tested art activities for stress relief.

1. Coloring in Mandalas, and Even Creating Them


One of the easiest ways to relieve stress in terms of art is through some simple coloring. Basic coloring is fine, but even better is coloring mandalas. Mandalas are geometric symbols that you can focus your attention on during meditation. They are both creative and stress-relieving in nature.

The intricate patterns you color can be very satisfying. For one, it allows you to feel in control because you can choose precisely when, what, and where to color. Moreover, coloring is a great distraction that can take your attention off the rigors of work and life in general. If you are thinking about coloring, you aren’t thinking about work.

What is super cool about mandalas is that you don’t have to be an accomplished artist – if you can color in the lines, you can color mandalas. Even better is if you want to draw your mandalas because that adds a new level of creativity. In itself, creativity is an excellent stress reliever.

Creating your mandala can be additionally therapeutic because you can include your meaningful symbols and imagery. Therefore,  it can serve as a great emotional outlet.

2. General Drawing and Painting

We don’t want to talk too much about drawing and painting, primarily because there are so many other types of art and activities. However, freestyle drawing or painting, whatever fits your style, can serve as a great emotional outlet.

You can draw or paint anything you want and use colors of your choosing. More often than not, the fact that you feel in control when painting or drawing is all you need for stress relief and relaxation. You can choose every single aspect of your drawing or painting.

3. Create a Post Card

Many art therapists recommend that their patients draw, color, and create postcards. This is an excellent activity for people who have trouble putting their emotions into spoken words and those who want to say something to someone, such as a boss or loved one, but cannot say it face to face.

Moreover, these postcards are not intended to be sent to the person you are writing to. This exercise is just for you, so you can verbalize your emotions. This allows you to draw something neat that lets you get rid of pent-up emotions, and it will enable you to say things that you would otherwise never say.

4. Dark Drawing

Another activity for people who need to de-stress is dark drawing, otherwise known as drawing in absolute darkness. The point is that you get to draw, express your emotions, and be creative, all without anybody criticizing or judging your work, and yes, this includes you. We are often our own worst enemies and our biggest critics.

If you find yourself criticizing your own work, you will not be able to relax, even with art activities intended for relaxation. Therefore, an excellent way to relieve stress and express emotions without heavy self-criticism is to draw or paint in the dark.


5. Write a Poem or Create a Poem Word Collage

Writing can be seen as an art form, and it can be relaxing and cathartic in nature. Poems can help you express your emotions and words in a way that you might otherwise not be able to. No worries – no one is telling you to go to a slam poetry night and share your work with a room full of strangers, but writing a poem is a fantastic creative and emotional outlet.

If you’re not a fantastic poet, you can find poems that you really like or that mean something to you, and cut out the words and create a collage out of a combination of your favorite poems. Not only does this allow you to create your own unique poem, but it also allows you to observe and analyze the work that others have created and perhaps find inspiration.

6. Fingerpainting

Think about how sensuous paint feels on your hands. Use your fingers or even your whole hands to channel your inner self and apply your paint on a canvas. In terms of relaxation and stress relief, fingerpainting is one of the best things around. There is just something about getting your hands dirty that feels good.

Using your hands to create something can give you an increased sense of accomplishment. Not only is finger or hand painting very satisfying in this sense, but it also acts as a fantastic emotional outlet, not to mention that it is ideal for people of all skill levels.

7. Create a Forgiveness Box

A forgiveness box is something you can do in terms of art to help relieve stress. This box can be made out of anything you want.

The point of a forgiveness box is to allow you to forgive somebody or those you have negative feelings toward, and this can even be yourself. So, make a charming box with words or phrases on it that remind you of the good things about that person.

You can also include drawings, mementos, and anything else that inspires positive thoughts. This is especially good for people who have bosses they don’t like or for people who need to keep working for bad bosses and need to find a way to deal with it.

8. Make a Sculpture or Pottery

Until now, the art activities we have talked about have been relatively simple, usually just requiring some paper and art supplies.

However, if you like being more hands-on and physical, sculpting and pottery can be very beneficial as you can use your hands to release emotional tension. These activities allow you to be in control, they allow for creative and emotional release, and when you are done, they can provide a sense of accomplishment.



Other than Art, What Can I Do to Relieve Stress?

Besides art, many other things can help you relieve stress, including cooking, exercise, a hot bath or a trip to the sauna, playing with your kids and pets, and yes, sleeping too.

Are Yoga and Pilates Good for Stress Relief?

Besides being fantastic for strength, balance, stability, and flexibility, not to mention excellent for your cardiovascular system, yoga and Pilates are incredible stress and anxiety relievers, particularly yoga.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy works by combining the creative process of art with psychotherapy, aiming to help facilitate self-understanding and self-exploration. Images, colors, and shapes are a big part of the art therapeutic process, as art allows people to express emotions that they have trouble putting into words.


Whether you want to make your own mandala, color in pre-made mandalas, sculpt a statue, make some pottery, use watercolors, play music, or anything in between, art is a stress reliever. Just remember that you aren’t making art to sell or to put up in a gallery. It’s just for your own purposes, so don’t worry if your sculpting skills aren’t quite up there with Michelangelo or you can’t shred riffs like Metallica’s James Hetfield. You are not looking to impress others, just to relieve stress and relax.

Looking for art supplies, visit Amazon for everything you need to do any of these 8 great art activities.

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