Do You Use Art to Process Difficult Emotions? Here are 5 Tips to Do it Even More Effectively
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
As a therapist, I love exploring different ways to harness art and creativity to work through the challenges of life. Grief, anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, uncertainty--- these are all normal experiences. We need to be able to process these experiences and move through them, but it can be deeply uncomfortable. Many people find that creative expression helps.
For those of you who already find yourselves reaching to art (in any form) to cope with challenges, I have put together some tips to help make the most of the process.
1. Set your intentions. Think about what you need in the moment. Do you need a cathartic release to unleash intense emotions building up inside you? Do you need to calm your anxieties and recenter? Do you need to shift your focus away from what's troubling you? Consider what you need from your art in an intentional way before beginning.
2. Don't focus on the finished product. This can be a hard one for a lot of artistic types. There's often an internal expectation that whatever you create as you work through your emotions should also be moving, beautiful, provocative. Try really hard to let go of this. For now, just let it be about the process. After all, you might just need to sit down and scribble. Remember, you can always revisit ideas later.
3. Bring in the senses. Take the time to put on some music. Consider lighting a scented candle or burning some incense. Get something to tasty drink. You have a lot of power to create a mood that will enhance the process of making art simply by manipulating your surroundings. Make it an experience.
4. Close your eyes periodically. As simple as it sounds, it can be really helpful. Take a moment to intentionally pause, shut your eyes, and breathe. These little moments with your eyes closed give you a chance to check in with yourself and notice the changes that are happening for you as you go.
5. Make the end matter. When you finish, (try basing "finished" more on how you feel than what you have produced) create some type of conclusion. Notice what was internally accomplished for you as you worked. Decide what to do with your project. You can keep it, or you can get rid of it. Remember, it's about process not product. If you are throwing it away, it might feel good to wad it up in a ball, or to slowly fold it up as you conclude. I have talked to clients who have found a sense of resolution through burning a piece. Sometimes it may feel very important to keep your work, and that is fine too. It can be nice to look back on your creations later as you continue to grow and heal. If you are keeping it, where is a good spot to store it? Think about what feels right, and follow it.
You don't have to be an amazing artist to benefit from using art to cope with mental health challenges. Listen to your inner self-- your body, your mind, and your heart.
Miranda Featherstone is a mental health counselor based in Salem, Oregon. She writes about navigating changes, the experience of grief, and the embracing the benefits of creativity and engagement with nature. Those living in Oregon who are interested in counseling are encouraged to reach out through her website.