Paint away the stress

06.22.16 |

Stress plagues modern humans. Our bodies are hardwired to use stress to ensure our survival. If we saw a predator, our stress response would heighten our awareness and prioritize fight or flight, kind of like putting all power to forward shields in Star Trek so that we could come out alive.

Today, we are rarely in danger of being eaten by a wild animal. Now, the same programming that once gave us the boost we needed to run through a forest at full speed is triggered by things like our boss yelling at us, or an unexpected bill, or being late to an appointment because of traffic. These are very different threats from potentially being eaten, but our body responds the same way.

Worse yet, we just sit and stew. We don’t get to run-off our stress like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. If we have a bad day at work, we are stuck in our office chairs until quitting time.

The potential health consequences of stress are well known at this point, and you are also likely familiar with the stress-reducing benefits of exercise. Here’s a way to reduce stress that you might not know: make art.

In a small study published in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that 45 minutes of making art can reduce cortisol levels (a key hormone tied to stress). Regardless of skill level and medium—painting, drawing, sculpting—the research suggests that taking the time to be creative can be a reliable way to fight back against stress. This new research is consistent with the findings of previous research, so we can safely say that creating art could be a healthy addition to your routine.

Tips to get you started

If you don’t consider yourself an artist, that’s okay! You don’t need to be the next Picasso to create art.

You can get started today, and here some tips that might help:

  • Try a coloring book. Research on this is limited, but the data we have available suggests that the structured nature of a coloring book could potentially “induce a meditative state that benefits individuals suffering from anxiety.” Most bookstores carry adult coloring books now, so finding one you like shouldn’t be hard!
  • Discover The Joy of Painting. Netflix recently added Bob Ross to their collection if offerings, and this classic series combines accessible instruction with a host known for being upbeat, relaxing, and positive. Pick up a starter paint set from your local art store and set aside weekly quiet time with Bob.
    YouTube is full of teachers. If there is a style of art you’ve always wanted to learn how to do, chances are that there’s a YouTube channel for you. Fine art, landscapes, cartoon characters—You can find a tutorial for it. Here are a few that could help you get started.
  • Join an art class. In most towns, you can find art classes that are open to the public, and in many cases they are very affordable. This is a great way to combine your new hobby with a chance to meet new people. Check your local community centers and colleges for these kinds of classes.
  • Don’t worry about being the best. The idea behind making art to reduce stress is not to become an amazing artist. Yes, practice will make you better, but keep in mind that you are picking up art for fun. Resist the temptation to be overly critical of your work.

Is making art already part of your routine?