Arts and Stress Reduction

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By News Team on August 26, 2021

Want to see how Carilion's health care heroes use art to manage stress? Check out the employee art show on Carilion Clinic's Facebook page! This year's theme—the Healers' Circle—was chosen to represent the wholeness and healing that exist within and between us. More than 100 employee-artists demonstrated their resilience with beautiful and striking works of art. 

A lot of us are suddenly spending a lot more time at home than usual—and as we all know, that can cause antsy feelings even under the most normal of circumstances.

“Exercising our creative capacities is especially important during times of uncertainty,” says Carilion Clinic's director of Healing Arts.

Kids especially may be feeling the effects of cabin fever and the interruption of their normal routine.

To fight boredom and reduce stress, it’s time to find your inner artist!

“Exercising our creative capacities is especially important during times of uncertainty,” says Katie Biddle, Ph.D., program director of the Keeley Healing Arts Program at Carilion Clinic.

“Creativity helps us cope with the unknown, adapt to changing circumstances and develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Making art connects the mind with the body and helps us gain awareness, express feelings and release energies that are no longer serving us.”

And, you don’t need to work with a professional artist or have a ton of special supplies to benefit from the healing qualities of art. You can get your creative juices flowing at home today with some suggestions from the Healing Arts team.

Literary Arts

Writing in a private journal about your thoughts or about events as they occur can reduce anxiety by helping you sort through what you are experiencing.  You don’t need to have a fancy, bound journal—a notebook or even a Word file on your computer works just as well.

Reading and writing poetry can both be therapeutic. You can read poems with a hopeful message to help reduce your stress, or poems that reflect your current feelings to remind yourself that many others have felt a similar way. When you write your own poems, you can safely express and explore your own thoughts and experiences.

“Black out poetry is particularly accessible,” says Biddle, “and combines a visual aspect with a literary art.”

To create a black out poem, start with an existing text, like a newspaper or magazine. Use a marker to black out most of the words – except for a select few that become the words of your poem. 

Or, create a found poem by starting with a sentence stem. “Find something, perhaps in your yard, that resonates for you,” suggests Biddle. “Begin a poem or story with descriptive sentences about the object using an 'I am...' stem.'" 

For example, if you start with a leaf: ‘I am new growth. I am a fresh start. I am emerging, reaching upwards to the sky.’”

Performing Arts

Dancing has been shown to release serotonin, an important brain chemical that helps promote happiness and the sense of well-being. Put on some of mood-lifting tunes and have a dance party in your living room. You’ll use some of that extra energy you have from staying cooped up indoors and get a good home workout while gyms are closed.

Singing along to favorite songs can be a great way to boost your mood. For a start, check out Healing Arts artist-in-residence, John Pence, performing John Denver’s “Country Roads.” “It’s a great sing-along song,” says Biddle.

Visual Arts

Is there anything more relaxing than coloring? We think not! Many people find that coloring reduces anxiety by promoting mindfulness (a focus on the present moment).If you have any coloring books—of the kid or adult variety—and some crayons or colored pencils at home, now is a great time to use them.

There are also a number of digital coloring apps, including Colorfy, Pigment and Garden Coloring Book.

Modeling clay
There can be something especially soothing about really using your hands (think stress balls and fidget spinners). That makes working with clay a great form of artistic stress reduction. You can even Google for homemade play dough recipes if you don’t have any modeling clay at home.

If you have a bunch of magazines or catalogues lying around, why not give those glossy pictures a second life as a collage? Or if you have zero art supplies on hand, just grab your laptop or tablet (no judgement if it hasn’t left your hands much lately) and download a free digital collage program or app.

"One of the most important aspects of creating art for stress relief is giving ourselves the freedom to experiment and explore without judgment,” says Biddle.

“The arts are for everyone, regardless of age, experience or artistic background.”
This article was reviewed by Katie Biddle, Ph.D., program director of the Keeley Healing Arts Program at Carilion Clinic.

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