By Jenny Chen
Amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic, it’s no surprise that we may find ourselves seeped in anxiety and overwhelmed by the chaos. How do we ground ourselves when it often feels like the comfort we once stood on is constantly being pulled from right beneath our feet?
In place of the things we are no longer able to do, many of us are turning to old hobbies or picking up new ones – such as knitting, paint by numbers, and photography. Art in its many forms and at any skill level, helps significantly reduce stress-related hormones in our bodies. In fact, even as little as 45 minutes can help reduce cortisol levels. When we are focused on creating, our attention shifts away from worries and stressful thoughts. Art making also allows us to express ourselves nonverbally, which can help us see things from a different perspective.
Here are two art practices you can try, for when you are feeling overwhelmed:
Connect and express your discomfort
Take a piece of paper and drawing materials of your choice (pencil crayons, pastels, water colour, etc).
Close your eyes. Check in with yourself, and notice if there is any discomfort. Notice where in your body you feel anxious and how you know it is discomfort.
Next, open your eyes, and pick a color from your drawing utensil. Close your eyes again and draw continuously without lifting the drawing utensil from the paper. Do this as though your discomfort is expressing itself, and stop when it feels finished.
Take a look and see if you can make out an image. Now, draw with your eyes open to develop and complete this image.
Once it is done, ask yourself what your discomfort may be trying to tell you. Perhaps it is something like “I am protecting you from difficult feelings” or “I am making sure nothing bad happens to you”. Use this as an exercise to understand yourself better and where your feelings may be coming from.
Grab a piece of paper, magazines, photos, markers, scissors, and a glue stick.
Take a deep breath, and allow yourself to reflect on the memories of times when you felt safe, at ease, or pleasant. If you can’t recall a memory, think of a place or person who makes you feel that way.
Use these feelings to guide you as you pick out images or designs for your collage. Pick images you are drawn to even if they don’t necessarily make sense.
Once you have your images, arrange them in a way that makes you feel secure and comfortable (feel free to add writing as well). Use this collage as a reminder of your peaceful and pleasant feelings in times of stress.
Coping with a pandemic is certainly not easy. Sometimes we may neglect our emotional wellness or block our feelings without even realizing it. Instead of waiting until our feelings demand to be heard and wreak havoc on us, consider incorporating regular practices that bring us comfort and relief. Art can open up a space for us to be honest, and to appreciate the beauty of our messiness, our feelings, and our strength beneath it all.