Managing stress effectively is one of the most difficult challenges in life. What works for one person may not always work for another, but incorporating creativity when dealing with it opens up a new dimension in our points of view. This article talks about stress relief through art, and how it can powerfully shift the way we live.
Why do we need creative stress relievers?
“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt
This is a powerful quote that has inspired many people, but I would like to change it up a little bit today. Do one thing every day that inspires you. That sounds more encouraging, right? Countless books, articles, and blogs have been written about the different ways of stress relief through art. Each of us has experienced stress in one way or another, and I’m sure that most can attest to the fact that stress creates a toll on our well-being, productivity, and relationships. The best way to alleviate stress is by actively setting aside time to do the things that we love. How so?
CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in psychology refers to a treatment method focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviours, the assumption being that most of life’s problems stem from our pessimistic thoughts and unhealthy habits. Since we are all different, each treatment is also very personal; but in a nutshell, CBT pushes us to do the things that make our hearts grow fonder. Have you tried keeping a gratitude journal? How about finally pushing through with the creative pursuits you are interested in without listening to the naysayers? By attending to these interests, we allow the child-like excitement inside of us to flourish, and we see the world in a purer way.
Taking the time to enjoy our creative stress relievers can also have many health advantages. Today, let us discover a few activities we can incorporate in our daily or weekly schedules. This is a perfect read for anyone, especially those who feel overwhelmed with work and mothers trying to balance career, self-care, and family.
What is its importance in our lives?
Creative stress relievers allow us to see the details. It engages us and helps us become present and in the moment. Stress relief through art is also a way of exercising a different part of our brain, helping us feel more rested and at ease instead of being stressed out or anxious all the time.
ZenART co-founder Ardak Kassenova working on a batik painting, Health Retreat, Bali, 2018
In an experimental study in 2016, researchers investigated the impact of visual art-making on the cortisol (our body’s main stress hormone) levels of 39 healthy adults, regardless of gender, age, and time of day.
“Results indicate that art-making resulted in a statistically significant lowering of cortisol levels. Participants’ written responses indicated that they found the art-making session to be relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints, an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution, and about flow/losing themselves in the work. They also reflected that the session evoked a desire to make art in the future.” – Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making (by Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray & Juan Muniz, 2016, pages 74-80)
This is a strong example of how humans are drawn to creativity. When we practice art without hesitation, we invoke our imagination – which is a productive and constructive use of our mind. By focusing intensely on a creative task, we can achieve a state of “flow”, a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, defined as the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Creative stress relievers do not only help us relax, unwind, and be truthful to what we really feel inside; it encourages the development of our optimal selves, too!
How can we begin to practice stress relief through art?
The beauty of creativity is that it is a state of being, and once we have developed this, we can never run out of things to do each day. Any seemingly ordinary task can be turned into a source of joy and art therapy stress management, when we look at it in a creative manner. Today, we will provide you with a few creative stress relievers you can try one by one, that will help you manage stress effectively.
They say that we design our own lives. When we plan properly, each goal that we create and accomplish is a step towards where we want to be — in our best possible self, with our dreams slowly coming into fruition. Journaling as a therapy is an often overlooked way of stress relief through art, but practising it allows us to live a life of intentionality. It is where productivity and mindfulness meet, and our beliefs are aligned with our actions. Jotting down our random thoughts, to-do lists, and everyday reflections is an act of attention that allows us to become aware of our thought process and realise how we react to our surroundings. It is definitely one of the oldest forms of art therapy stress management.
A page of Ardak Kassenova‘s personal journal, 2019
Going out in nature and sketching
Inspiration comes in many ways, but the most accessible ones are the things that we see and encounter every day. Enjoy this art therapy stress management by taking a long walk in your neighbourhood park and bringing a trusty, well-sized sketchbook with you. When you look at nature close enough, you will see a lot of wondrous things. Seeing a flower grow, the chirping of birds in the morning, the leaves that have fallen on the ground, the details of random rocks you see on your way to work. Practice seeing the beauty in the tiniest details of nature. With a pencil, start sketching this on your sketchbook in your own artistic style. Write down the date, your experience, and your thoughts beside the sketch. You may also take photos that can be used as a reference for any future painting you might want to create.
A spread from Ian De Jesus’ (@ravenfox13) ZenART Supplies sketchbook together with ZenART Faux Squirrel no. 8 round watercolour brush from the Turner Collection
“When I’m out in the landscape I am responding directly to my subject as quickly as I’m able. It’s more of a spiritual experience than painting in the studio because I’m immersed in my subject and am utilizing multiple senses simultaneously. There’s so much information in front of me, and I feel a sense of urgency to document my environment before the light shifts significantly. It’s a wonderful experience.”
– Whitney Knapp Bowditch, on her thoughts about plein-air painting
Plen-air painting on-site, Ardak Kassenova, Art Retreat, Italy, 2018
These days, the act of painting outdoors is a flourishing creative stress reliever. You can do it alone for a very special personal experience, or with a group of artists who regularly conduct paint out excursions and workshops. It is a powerful act of paying attention to nature, and taking time to slow down and simply revel in its beauty.
Painting en-plen-air with Katerina (@katy_in_wonderland) using ZenART’s Infinity Series Oil Palettes
This is one of the major motivations of our co-founder, Ardak Kassenova upon the creation of ZenART Supplies. All ZenART products were designed to be easily carried around for plein-air painting. The brush sets for oils & acrylics, and watercolours come in practical roll-up carrying cases, while the oil paint sets are in a compartmentalised hard box where you can mix and match paint tubes of your own liking. Furthermore, the sketchbooks and bullet journals are just about the right size (B5 and B6), and everything can easily be inserted into a travel bag. Handy and sturdy, Ardak made sure that these products are not just sourced ethically and created mindfully, but will surely stand the test of time.
Travelling to new places
Travelling truly does wonders to our soul, and is one of the most scientifically proven ways of providing stress relief through art. More importantly, we grow a better appreciation of the world around us. A good vacation can help us to reconnect with ourselves, operating as a vehicle for self-discovery and helping us get back to feeling our best. When you travel, allow yourself a lot of me-time and bring your handy journal with you. Write down what you think, how you feel, and what you see along the way. Visit any place that you have never been to! It does not matter if it’s the neighbourhood park you’ve never been to, the garden in the next village, or the night market in the next town. The idea is to see new things and approach them with a fresh, child-like perspective.
A great mindfulness tip for travellers is to pack light and carry only the things that are essential for your survival, keeping your luggage to a bare minimum. It sounds like an extremely minimalist approach, but it does not have to be. When you cut down on your material things, you will experience a profound sense of freedom by not having to literally carry so much on your back. It is a philosophical approach to lessening our unnecessary burdens, although we do not always see them as such.
Our co-founder Ardak Kassenova (@ardak_zenart) was inspired by the book Ultralight | The Zen Habits Guide to Travelling Light And Living Light by Leo Babauta and has been trying to practice this philosophy and share it with other people, too. It talks about how packing less in travels is a mindfulness mindset that can definitely help us live better. Mindfulness is something that we at ZenART strongly abide by, and has been the greatest factor in the creation of the brand. We carry the most essential and practical art products, with our popular brush sets containing every multi-functional shape you will need. Our oil paints, on the other hand, are packed in beautiful, minimal yet sturdy sets that you can easily carry around.
Listening to new music or seeing a live band
Scientific studies have well-established the soothing power of music as a creative stress reliever. Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies – especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions: slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. Music, in short, can act as a powerful art therapy stress management tool in our lives. As music can absorb our attention, it acts as a distraction while encouraging us to explore our emotions.
Try listening to music outside your usual genre, or see a live band altogether. Fresh, unfamiliar tunes can not only help our minds relax as stress relief through art, but it allows the forming of new connections inside our brains, too.
Taking up a new hobby
Wood carving activity with Ardak, Health Retreat, Bali, 2018
Regular engagement in things you enjoy can definitely be a great creative stress reliever. Hobbies allow you to relax and seek pleasure in activities you actually like that aren’t associated with work, chores or other responsibilities. They give you room to breathe and just enjoy being yourself. To develop a new hobby, you have to learn how to do something that is brand new to you. Have you always wondered how fun it would be to learn how to play the piano, or bake new flavours of cookies? Check your neighbourhood if there is anyone offering classes that interest you, and you just might be able to provide help to others, too. There will always be a learning curve, and you will need patience in order to build your skills, but the results are most definitely worth it. Having a hobby can not only provide stress relief through art, but can also help your social life by providing an outlet for you to create a bond with others.
Mindfulness is an awareness that arises through paying attention, and being in the moment. Our co-founder, Ardak (@ardak_zenart) regularly does these mindfulness activities and she says that it makes her perception of the world much, much better. It allows her to harness inner peace that she can practice in her daily life. She also encourages us to join in on Deepak Chopra’s (one of the most famous advocates of alternative medicine) free 21-Day Meditation Challenge that any one of us can begin to practice.
Evening meditation, Ardak Kassenova, Health Retreat, Bali, 2018
In yoga, there are terms called sun and moon salutations that could help us become more mindful of our every day. Each morning, the sun rises, bringing light and heat to the world. It is a time of awakening and getting started. When we move through a Sun Salutation in a yoga practice, we are honouring this aspect of our relationship with the sun. While Sun Salutations represent the sun’s power to awaken and invigorate, Moon Salutations are more calming and reflective. Where the sun cultivates warm, masculine, outward energy, the moon is cooler, feminine, and more inward-focused.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, or “The Master of Light” is an Impressionist who was famous for depicting an almost spiritual magnificence of light, as seen in nature. By the end of his life, his works were all about the sun. This tells us that even artists who paid great attention to the details of nature paid great importance and respect to the sun.
Sunset setting over a lake, J.W. Turner, Oil on canvas, 1840
Life gets hectic and out of control sometimes, so for a few minutes each day, stop with everything you are doing and focus on yourself. Pay attention to your breathing. Feel the rise and fall of your chest, the air entering and leaving your lungs. This technique will slow your heart rate and relax your muscles, and will help you be aware of your inner thoughts. There are a lot of health benefits that mindfulness practices such early morning meditation and yoga classes can bring you, and they can definitely act as a form of art therapy stress management. The benefits include having better sleep, lower levels of negativity, improvement of attention, reduction of anxiety, and management of any physical pain.
“Moon salutation”, ZenART’s Beatrice in Sperlonga, Italy, 2019 and Regina in Manila, Philippines, 2019
Read an inspirational book
A well-written book can transport you to other realms, and it is a proven fact that reading can serve as a creative stress reliever. Many of us take this simple act for granted, because we have so much required reading in our daily, but ask yourself this: How often do you read for pleasure?
Reading can be a wonderful (and healthy) form of art therapy stress management. Simply by opening a book, you allow yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from the present. It can also relax your body by lowering your heart rate and easing the tension in your muscles. If you fear not having enough time, just set aside 30 minutes to read every day in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
What book inspired you the most, in your whole life?
Take a digital detox
A lot of our self-induced stress comes from comparing our day to day lives with the highlight reels of our friends and colleagues. Oftentimes, we are too harsh on ourselves because we don’t take time to listen to our inner voice. Although the world is now governed by the internet, taking time off from using the internet and our gadgets can prove to be a really effective way of managing stress. Imagine the amount of time you spend each day on social media. Multiply that with the days you have in a week, in a month, in a year… How much time do you really have in your hands? Time is all that we really have, and we can choose to spend it doing something that you love. Instead of adding to our stressors, why don’t we choose to lessen them?
Taking a digital detox does not mean stopping its use altogether. You can begin by lessening your screen time by one to two hours daily, and spend this time reading a new book, or practising mindfulness and meditation. Instead of checking up your phone the very first thing in the morning, drink a glass of water and grab your journal. Write. Reflect on the quality of your sleep, and how you felt the moment you woke up. How’s the weather like outside? The reflections we realise and ideas we come up with when we’re not always checking our phones and tablets tell us a lot about what we need to attend to in our most personal lives.
The Importance of Mindset
Like what any successful person that has lived through many ups and downs in their lifetime says, having a positive outlook in life is the most important thing that we can have. Life is full of many external factors that we have absolutely no control over, and daily stressors are one of those. But the good news is this: We have total control of ourselves, our choices, and the way we think. These factors definitely create a ripple effect in our lives; so focus on what you want to expand, and the rest will follow. Begin by practising the creative stress relievers we talked about in this article. Accept, acknowledge, and allow yourself to go through this journey of life, and surround yourself with things that inspire you.
Visiting local temples, Ardak Kassenova, Health Retreat, Bali, 2018
Most importantly – always prioritise your health, your mental well-being, and your soul. Painting and creating from the heart will surely flow naturally after.
Did you like the creative stress relievers we discussed above? Which one is your favourite? Do let us know in the comments below, and let’s talk! 🙂 We would love to hear your thoughts!
— MEET THE AUTHOR —
Ardak Kassenova is mother, artist and ZenART Supplies co-founder. “My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I was dreaming to be an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I’ve been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums”.
After 20 years of a successful corporate career and with becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, she decided that it’s time to make drastic changes and link her life with Art. She started to paint again and decided to create her own art supplies brand that would help artists to fulfil their creative dreams and achieve their best results since the beginning using high-quality art materials without wasting their precious time and money. Say hello to @ardak_zenart on Instagram!