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Be Still My Beating Art

High school is hard—there’s no doubt about that. In current times of uncertainty, it can feel like the stress of school is constantly mounting on your shoulders. Having to worry about college applications, grades, and extracurriculars, we tend to ignore something crucial: our mental health. Though it can be hard to find ways to destress in our stress-inducing society, there are many well-researched ways to calm, ground, and focus the mind. One of the simplest, and perhaps most enjoyable techniques is a method I’ve professionally researched myself—art therapy.

Art therapy is the process of employing art-making as a way to find relaxation, relieve stress, and gain an opportunity to discuss bottled up feelings of negativity. A plethora of studies, including one I’m currently a part of, have found art therapy to be incredibly effective in allowing participants to find a creative safe space, and release built-up stress from their daily lives. 

A common misconception about art therapy is that one needs to be skilled in the arts to find the activities fulfilling; yet, today I’m going to explain some basic art therapy activities that anyone, artist or not, can engage in to find respite from the chaos of the world. 

One frequent activity in the art therapy community is the coloring of mandalas. Mandalas are traditionally Buddhist and Hindu representations of the universe, in a symmetrical geometric design. These symbolic compositions serve as great backdrops for the soothing act of coloring. The symmetry and simplicity of the designs can provide a sense of calm and order for the viewer, and the act of coloring the mandala can introduce artists to a “flow” state: a state of complete focus and relaxation, as the mind becomes freed of all other worries and preoccupations. Additionally, seeing the finished product can provide the creator with a strong sense of accomplishment and a rush of dopamine, something hard to come by during current remote learning and stay-at-home orders. Most importantly they are easily accessible, as a simple google search can provide thousands of blank mandalas for you to start on your art therapy journey. 

Similarly, a coloring book or page is an incredible way to begin integrating art therapy into your life. The designs are already given, relieving the pressure of having to create something entirely new, and allows beginners and experts alike to have the carefree, childlike experience of coloring. Though it may seem elementary, the prevalence of adult coloring books in recent years has proven that coloring can be not only mature but enjoyable and relaxing. Taking time out of your busy schedule to crack open a coloring page can allow for a structured pause in your day and also open up your “flow” state, easing stress and allowing for more productive work. 

Perhaps the most personal art therapy technique is drawing from memory. Using prompts such as, “Draw the best day of your life,” or, “Draw a time when you were overwhelmed with joy” can allow creators to reflect on happy moments throughout their lives, and conjure memories that distract from the seemingly endless stream of bad news. This also fosters positive emotions and thoughts such as the hope to experience such moments again in the future. These drawings can also help open up conversations on what brings one joy and give them the opportunity to reintegrate those activities into their lives. Simply drawing what makes one happy can open the door to feelings of happiness once again.

Art therapy is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to find stress relief in the chaotic modern world. Implementing art therapy into our daily lives there is no doubt that we can better ourselves and find the inner peace we are all searching for.

- Skylar Sena

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