Time to get creative with your self-care routine. Self-care is becoming important for people to make a priority because having a routine can boost self-esteem and improve mental health and your overall well-being. But contrary to what people (and the social media memes) say, self-care is more than just bubble baths, manicures and a 60-minute massage. It’s about making sleep a priority, meditation, moving your body, spending quality time in nature or with family members.
It’s also about art.
In fact, for some, art therapy activities are the foundation of their self-care routine. Art therapy dates all the way back to World War I when artists, Red Cross volunteers and occupational therapists used art therapy exercises to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The practice grew during World War II and by the early 1940s, the term “art therapy” was coined in the book Art Versus Illness by Adrian Hill. Formal training programs began training art therapists in the 1960s, and since that time, art therapy has evolved into a standalone mental health profession that requires Masters-level training and board certification. So, if the practice of art therapy was effective then, what can it do for people now?
Here’s why art therapy is important and how you can incorporate art therapy activities into your self-care routine.
What is Art Therapy?
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as a type of therapy that allows for creative expression that can overcome the limitations of language. In other words, if negative emotions are too difficult or painful to articulate verbally, you could try drawing, painting, sculpting, coloring, sewing, collaging, journaling, a scribble or other methods of expressive arts to overcome the limitations of language. (We love SCRIBEdelivery for super-cute journal supplies!)
Art therapy is about using creativity and art-making to help people understand themselves, find a voice and “communicate things for which there are no words,” says Dr. Christianne Strang, PhD, ATR-BC, CEDCAT-S, president of the American Art Therapy Association and assistant professor in the behavioral neuroscience program at the University of Alabama.
The idea with art therapy techniques is to engage the mind, body and spirit, says Dr. Strang. Appointments consist of having a patient do art projects and rather than analyze the artwork, art therapists will talk to patients, work with emotions through the art and use that to establish treatment goals. Using art therapy interventions can help improve things like cognition and sensory-motor function, self-esteem and self-awareness, emotional resilience, insight, social skills and handling conflict.
Benefits of art therapy include relaxation and decreasing anxiety
Letting go and creating art can be helpful with self-care because you’re accessing difficult experiences and emotions through a different outlet. “People really respond to pain and loss with creativity,” Dr. Strang says. “Coloring in an adult coloring book is the most obvious medium, where people zone out and relax as a way to decrease anxiety. Some people doodle, and other people are very comfortable making art on their own, or they make art for the sake of making art, which is in itself a form of self-care.”
Finding a medium you enjoy, whether that’s drawing a self-portrait, grabbing a paintbrush and painting, sculpting or crafting a dream catcher, is the key to using art therapy as self-care. And even though you may not feel overly “creative” while you’re creating art, your mind is making creative decisions every time you pick up the crayons or paintbrush. “It’s an entry point into the arts,” Dr. Strang says. Doing an art project each month, with the help of a monthly delivery like Create-Joy, can inspire processing and self-care. Which, in turn, helps patients heal negative emotions through art.
Coloring, painting or crafting at home can be a cheaper way to let off steam or ease mild anxiety. However, if you’re suffering from a more serious condition that’s negatively impacting your life, you may need to seek the help of a licensed art therapist.
8 Art Therapy Activities to Practice Self-Care
If you’re ready to introduce art therapy as a way to practice self-care, the following activities are a great starting point.
Activity 1: Create a collage of emotions
A great therapy practice is to acknowledge, honor and hold space for your emotions, especially negative ones (that we tend to push away). If you’re feeling stuck, create a collage based on that emotion using old magazines and newspapers. Look for images, colors and shapes that express how you’re feeling. As a general rule of thumb, the collage is more about processing the feeling than whatever it is you’re making. Get a jumpstart on your collage with the Scrapbooking Store, a monthly subscription that delivers all the scrapbooking supplies you need including stickers, cutouts and embellishments.
Activity 2: Draw your mood
If stress and anxiety have got you down, try drawing exactly what that mood looks like. Try not to tell yourself whether it’s right or wrong and let your mind go. Express the mood through colors, shapes or any images that come to mind. Notice how it feels in your body and imagine it flying away as soon as it came. Taking a few moments each day to focus on your mood in a creative way can be a great addition to your self-care routine.
Activity 3: Blindfold drawing
Think of something in your environment, whether it’s a loved one or an abstract thing like a tree and draw it without looking at your paper. If you need to blindfold yourself, do so. The drawing can be realistic or abstract. The idea of drawing without looking is to help let go of outcomes and become less attached to them. You may feel uncomfortable at first but continue to cultivate self-compassion for yourself and keep going. Self-care IS self-compassion.
Activity 4: Tell your life story
Rather than the typical life story that includes only words, this art therapy activity focuses on telling your story through art. If you need a prompt for figuring out how to tell your story, Plume is a unique monthly subscription that delivers motivation for creative writing, along with creativity-stimulating extras like tea, writing prompts and soap.
Activity 5: Practice mindful drawing
With coloring, the idea is to empty your mind and relax through an activity that doesn’t require much thought. With mindful drawing, you can focus on a specific subject and then try to draw the details as accurately as possible. As feelings come up you can process them as you draw. Need a monthly subscription of things to color and draw? Listen-Color-Relax has you covered. Combining color therapy with calming music, each box includes 12 adult coloring pages, a CD with relaxing music and note cards.
Activity 6: Explore what you’re creating—and letting go
Have something in your life that doesn’t serve you anymore in your everyday life? Let it go through art! For example, you might explore letting go of a relationship or limiting belief like poor body image. Or you can explore cultivating a new habit. To do this art therapy activity, you just need to focus on going with what feels right and not forcing it. The Craft in Style Box can help you let go and focus on self-care by crafting a Pinterest-worthy DIY project. Each box includes easy-to-follow instructions and all the supplies you need to complete a fun and useful craft project like tiny terrariums, candle pouring, gold gilding and clay marbling.
Activity 7: Use art as a release
If you’re suffering with regret, resentment, tension or trauma, try using art as a form of surrender or release. Write down everything you’re feeling whether it’s words or images that represent the negative experiences you want to release. Next, you’ll take the paper and in a safe place, carefully light it on fire. While the paper burns, imagine yourself releasing and surrendering those things you wrote about.
You can also use this activity as a way to set new intentions. Think about how you want to feel instead, craft a new page and post it somewhere visible. Want to make this art therapy activity a monthly goal? To produce your best creative works, you’ve got to have the right goods and gear for the job. Paletteful Packs sends top-level art supplies each month meant to ignite those inspirational sparks.
Activity 8: Host an art party
Another vital part of self-care is connection. To nourish yourself – and your relationships with others – consider hosting an art party. Invite people over to make art and create a space where others feel comfortable nurturing their own creativity. The Adults & Crafts Crate can take your art party to the next level. You’ll get materials, accessories, tools and step-by-steps so you can immediately get to crafting.