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10 Therapeutic Art Activities For Stress & Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are a universal aspect of the human condition, as we all experience times of illness, frustration, loss and interpersonal conflict. However, anxiety can become overwhelming in frequency or degree when you fall into erroneous thinking patterns that perpetuate anxiety.

Part of overcoming anxiety involves identifying and challenging these faulty beliefs, which can be accomplished through thought-stopping, positive self-talk, and identifying realistic and unrealistic fears. Doing so can help you understand the importance that attitude and motivation play in reducing stress, and it can also help you to focus on the positive aspects of your life instead of dwelling on the negative.

The exercises listed below can help reduce your anxiety through a variety of therapeutic art techniques that are intended to promote cognitive restructuring, stress reduction, self-soothing, and mindfulness.

It's important to remember when working on therapeutic art activities that the end result is not the main concern. The process is what matters most. Before you begin a therapeutic art activity, remind yourself:

I give myself permission to create.

My creative energy is limitless and boundless.

I will practice non-judgment on the end result.

Beauty of Butterflies

In a realistic or abstract manner, draw or paint a grouping of butterflies. Then add sketches, photos and images of beauty in the background.

Benefits: Observing butterflies or other serene images tend to help us feel brighter and calmer. A feeling of well-being often replaces negativity when we are viewing the splendor of nature.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. In which ways do you find nature soothing?

  2. What are some ways you can surround yourself in nature on a daily basis?

Anxiety Tree

Draw the outline of a tree that fills most of the page. Then, fill in the tree with anything that causes you anxiety or dread, including your problems, worries, concerns or fears. Under the tree, fill the space with anything that helps ground you.

Benefits: Increasing your awareness of the people, places and things that create anxiety is the first step toward dealing with anxiety and eventually lessening and perhaps eliminating it. When you draw or write about your stress, you are better able to distance yourself from it and gain more control. This exercise allows you the opportunity to also analyze what helps ground you when you're feeling stressed or anxious. A wonderful balance of relieving anxiety and coming back to yourself.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel after completing this activity vs. how you started this activity?

  2. Are your fears or worries realistic?

  3. Are your worries within your control?

  4. How can you use this art piece to help ground yourself in times of stressful situations?

"Here to There" Design

Create a drawing that depicts where you are now and where you want to be. As you create your drawing, think about your environment, home, work situation, relationships, health, financial statues, etc.

Benefits: Working on this exercise enhances self-awareness by allowing you to explore future goals and ways to achieve them. Possible frustrations about present circumstances may be identified, analyzed and worked upon to increase motivation and improve life satisfaction.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel about your current situation?

  2. Are your goals (the "there") attainable?

  3. What steps do you need to take in order to reach your goals?

Self-Care Pie

Draw a big circle and divide it into as many pieces as you'd like. Then, fill it in with ways to tolerate stressful situations.

Benefits: Tolerating stress helps you function and cope with everyday life. It enables you to view situations from more than one angle, and it helps your body relax and work effectively. It keeps you from staying stuck in the mud. This exercise can remind you to ask yourself, "What are ways I can help myself during this stressful situation?"

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Which slice do you think will be most effective?

  2. How can you use this art piece to help you cope with stressful thoughts or situations?

Illogical Mode

Draw what your mind looks like when it is in illogical mode. Think about the patterns, shapes, colors, connections and disconnections that characterize your mind in this mode. Examples of illogical thinking is the fear that everyone dislikes you or that you will never find another job.

Benefits: When you become aware of illogical thinking, you are able to utilize coping skills, such as sensory awareness and deep breathing, in order to think more rationally. You become more reality-oriented, gain better self-control and feel less disconnected and fearful.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What happens to your brain in illogical mode? What do you notice about the activity that takes place in your brain during this period of time as it relates to your artwork?

  2. Are there specific triggers that may create irrational thinking or behavior?

  3. What self-care activities and coping skills do you think may help?

Filling My Worry Cloud

Draw a large cloud covering most of the paper, and fill it in with drawings, images, symbols, or magazine photos that symbolize your concerns, fears and worries.

Benefits: Engaging in this exercise allows you to externalize your worries and concerns. By distancing yourself from your anxiety, you can more effectively problem solve how to deal with it and facilitate positive change.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How full is your cloud? Is it being weighed down or is it light and airy?

  2. Which worries take up the most space in your cloud?

  3. What are some ways you can release these worries to allow the cloud to float away peacefully?

Draw or Paint Your Stress

Using colored pencils, acrylic paint, or a medium of your choice, draw or paint your stress. Allow it to flow out of you naturally with no agenda. This may be an abstract art piece, a pattern, shapes, layers, etc.

Benefits: Releasing your stress artistically expands creative growth, cultivates emotional growth and stimulates an optimistic attitude.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel after finishing this activity vs. how you started this activity?

  2. What do you think the colors you chose say about your feelings of stress?

  3. How can you find the beauty in a stressful situation (or your painting)?

Drawing Breath

Using a colored pencil of your choice draw lines as you exhale. The lines can be straight, zig-zag, wavy, or whatever comes naturally to you as you exhale slowly on each breath. The goal is to draw the line from one side of the paper to the other, and repeat.

Benefits: Focusing on your breath helps reduce anxious thoughts and relaxes the body.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do the lines look like? Do they change as you filled the page?

  2. How do you feel after completing this activity vs. how you started this activity?

  3. Did your mind wander as you worked on this activity or were you focused?

Face Your Fears Painting/Drawing

Paint or draw what you fear the most in life. This may be a person, situation, illness, death or even living a mundane lifestyle.

Benefits: Painting or drawing your fears provides the opportunity to literally face the situation as you create and work to overcome your uncomfortable feelings about this fear in life.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Why do you fear this most in my life?

  2. Do you feel differently about this fear after painting or drawing it in front of you?

  3. What are some ways you can work to overcome this fear?

Anxiety Break

Draw what an anxiety break would look like for you. For example, it may involve walking on the beach, hanging out with friends, going on vacation, getting a massage or taking a nap.

Benefits: Taking a break from anxiety and engaging in self-care is important in reducing stress and promoting self-compassion. Giving yourself a break from anxiety will help you relax, reboot and feel more energized.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How does your artwork reflect your current needs and goals relating to self-care?

  2. When was the last time you gave yourself an anxiety break?

  3. How can you incorporate an anxiety break in your daily routine?


“Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.” - John Lubbock


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