Art Therapy: Self-Expression Reduces Stress
Self expression, as a way of collaborating with others, and making sure one's own needs are met, is an innate part of what makes us human. Yet self-expression comes more easily for some than it does for others, and trouble communicating can leave a person feeling frustrated and stressed.
For these people, self expression through the arts can be a helpful way to release pent up thoughts and feelings privately, without fear of judgment. It isn't about skill level; one needn't be a great artist, musician, writer, or dancer to receive the benefits of involvement in these activities. Try reducing your stress with one or all of the mediums below.
Angry, sad, overwhelmed, frustrated, or scared; allow yourself to process negative thoughts and feelings and attempt to sketch them out. Anger might be represented by an angry person, the source/s of your anger, or just jagged lines of red. Sadness could be shown as a sad person, the source/s of your sadness, or sloping blue lines.
There is no right or wrong way to do it. Acknowledging and expressing your feelings through art is beneficial no matter what ends up on the paper. Also, while it's useful to represent negative feelings through drawing, it can be equally useful to represent the things that help lift your mood. Try drawing some of the things that make you smile or some of the wishes you have for the future. Once again it's not about the end result, it's about appreciating the beauty in life and allowing positive thoughts and goals to lift you up.
While you may not be a trained singer, there are great benefits to be gained from the act of song. "When we sing instead of speak, we have intonation, melody line, and crescendo, which gives us a broader vocabulary to express ourselves," says Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music. "Because singing is visceral (relating to, or affecting, our bodies), it can't help but effect change." In fact singing has been shown to:
- Improve mood
- Lower blood pressure
- Motivate and empower
- Promote learning
- Reduce pain
- Reduce stress
While simply listening to music can reduce stress, singing has the added benefit of expression and involvement, which focuses attention. So next time you're feeling stressed, try belting out your favorite song. Pick a song that has a positive association for you, as dark and depressing music may actually make things worse. If you're self-conscious, sing when you're by yourself in the shower or car. You'll find the more you do, the better you'll feel and before long you'll be singing everywhere you go.
Another excellent way to promote a relaxed mind is to write out your stress. Journaling at all can be tremendously beneficial to mental health, but when you focus your writing on your feelings and stressors this effect is multiplied. In fact, in a study of 42 cancer patients, researchers found that the 21 that wrote about their feelings slept significantly longer with fewer interruptions than the other 21 who simply wrote about their diet and exercise. Dr. Pennebaker, who headed this study, recommends setting aside just 20 minutes a day, for at least four consecutive days, to sit and write about your feelings. Find a quiet place where you won't be distracted and don't worry about the end result. It's the release of negative thoughts and feelings that will reduce your stress and help you sleep better at night.
Our body and brain are not their own islands, but instead work together to keep us both physically and mentally healthy. Often signs of mental health are expressed physically. We might jump for joy and crumple into a ball when we are sad. It is because of this connection that it is possible to trick our brains into happiness by mimicking happiness with our body. With this in mind, there is barely anything we can physically do that is more joyful than dancing. In fact, when you think about it, it's practically impossible to dance without smiling. Just try it!
Like the other forms of self-expression discussed here, the benefits to be gained from dance have nothing to do with skill level. Endorphins are released when you get your heart pumping and combined with the therapeutic nature of music and the tendency dance has to make you smile and laugh, you're sure to feel better for it. When you're feeling stressed, turn on an upbeat song and leap, spin, shake, dance however you feel moved to and enjoy the wonderful release of negativity dancing provides. What is your favorite way to relieve stress?