In the psychology community, art therapy continues to gain traction for outstanding results and benefits, all backed by valid and reliable research. In Indigenous communities, it has always been known that art, in several unique forms, can be a way of healing. To top it off, some exercises are so simple they don’t require professional facilitation. They can be done from the comfort of home, in a school setting, via teleconference, or in a clinical setting!
Reports of anxiety for both adults and children are at an all-time high. Understandably so when we are facing a global pandemic! So let’s walk through three different art therapy exercises that focus on anxiety.
- Create A Mind-Body Connection
As adults, we are aware that our bodies and minds are closely connected. Youth need to be taught the concept about how mental and physical health are interwoven and are not separate. This exercise helps achieve that.
First, ask the child you are working with to draw the outline of a body. If they are not able to do this, print out the outline of a body.
Next, ask the child to think about feelings in their own body when they are anxious. Ask them to think if there body is feeling tension, pain, or discomfort. Depending on the child’s age, you may want to consider using simplified vocabulary.
Have the child pick a coloured pencil, crayon, marker, or paint for each physical feeling (ex., red stands for pain). Then, have the child colour in the areas of the body accordingly. Take a look at the example photo below:
- The 1 Minute Brain Dump
Want something efficient for discovering the cause of anxiety for your student or child? The 1 Minute Brain Dump is great, and is also super effective for groups!
- Simply ask your child to draw a large circle. This large circle is going to be a thought bubble.
- Set a timer for one minute.
- Tell your child to write down all of the things that are making them anxious in that thought bubble before the timer goes.
The key to this exercise is that having such a short time frame to write down feelings allows the child to “dump out” anxieties without overthinking, minimizing, or rationalizing them away.
After this minute is up, be sure to go over each topic the child has listed. Having a healthy dialogue about these topics, offering reassurance, and helping problem-solve can help dissipate feelings of anxiety. For example, a child could list the name of a friend as a source of anxiety. They may say that they are worried they aren’t friends anymore because they have not got to spend time with them since school closed. You can tell your child, “I understand you feel that way. What can we do about it?” Brainstorming tangible steps, such as calling the friend, making them a picture, or sending them a letter will not only teach your child problem-solving skills, but will also help ease anxiety.
Take a look at an example of a Brain Dump below:
- Affirmation Cards
You may have heard of or seen affirmation cards before. Perhaps you have some yourself! What makes these affirmation cards unique within art therapy is that your child or student can create them specifically to their own needs, thus making them that much more effective!
If you haven’t heard of them, don’t worry! They are a series of affirmative statements written on cards. You can also draw images and choose colours associated with the affirmation. When an anxious thought intrudes, your child can look through the affirmation cards, say the affirmation out loud, and ground themselves in the present. Affirmation cards help get us in the “here and now” instead of staying stuck in anxious cycles in our heads. They can be placed in a desk, carried in a backpack or purse, or simply in pockets! Examples of affirmation statements are:
- This too shall pass
- Breathe calmly
- The future is good
- I am free
- I am not in danger, just uncomfortable
- I have control over my thoughts
- Find gratitude for three things
Check out the example below!
A reminder for all art therapy exercises is that they do not have to be works of art. No one has to see the finished product, unless the child wishes to show it. The idea is for the child to produce a physical extension of what is going on in their body and mind to facilitate discussions with a trusted adult, and most importantly, to move in the direction of healing.
Art Therapy Resources. (2020). Art therapy resources for anxiety. Retrieved from: https://arttherapyresources.com.au/therapy/anxiety-disorders/