Managing Anxiety

When bad things happen, people often experience anxiety. Anxiety is about protecting yourself from something bad that could happen, but it might not.

When kids and families come to the hospital, a very bad thing has already happened, but there is lots we can do to help. Even when they’re getting better, a serious illness can leave people feeling anxious, especially parents and siblings. Even when the bad things happen someplace else, we may still feel on edge. Since we can’t make every possible bad thing go away, it is important to have some tools to manage anxiety.

Working creatively is a great way to cope. When you are immersed in the creative process, your attention is focused on the present moment–it’s what people call the creative flow.  If you get your best ideas in the shower or at the gym or while driving your car, you have experienced “flow.”  Being in the flow lets you take a little vacation from your worries–you feel relaxed, refreshed, more “normal” and able to cope.

Drawing, coloring, working with play-doh or clay, knitting, scrapbooking, playing a musical instrument, gardening , walking, vacuuming–any activity that gets your hands busy and your mind relaxed can help you feel more calm. Even imagining a beautiful, safe, comfortable place can help your mind and body relax. In these anxious days, it is important to connect with the peace and strength within.

The photo below is one of my favorite images of a beautiful, safe, relaxing place. It’s a spot in the mountains full of bebalm and butterflies.  I have also included a drawing I made about that place. Maybe you will find that place relaxing too–but if not, you can probably find another picture that works for you.

Turk's Cap Lilies, Beebalm and Butterflies

Turk’s Cap Lilies, Beebalm and Butterflies

Butterfly and Beebalm

Butterfly and Beebalm

Art for Relaxation

In the world of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology the kids and their families have to spend a considerable amount of time in the hospital. Sometimes a visit entails a blood draw, an infusion, a scan and at times even surgery. Understandably, the hospital can become a place associated with fear and worry. Fortunately, art can provide a respite from this anxiety.  One very simple way to use art to relieve stress is to color a mandala.

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle and these ancient and lovely designs have been the foundation for prayer and meditation throughout Asia for centuries. Even in the West the mandala is found in the stain glass rose windows of churches. The power of the mandala lies with its circular shape, which is believed to be centering and able to produce a calming effect.

Recent studies conducted within the field of art therapy have supported these ancient notions- showing a link between coloring a mandala and the reduction of stress (Van der Vennet & Serice, 2012; Schrade, Tronsky & Kaiser, 2011; Henderson & Rosen, 2007; Curry & Kasser, 2005). In art therapy colors, lines and shapes drawn within the circle can be used to represent feelings. The circle can then, metaphorically, become a container into which these emotions can be safely placed.

As an art therapist, I often suggest coloring a mandala to patients and parents who appear to be struggling with the anticipation of a procedure or are feeling overwhelmed by the hospital experience. Mandalas are also a great way to engage teenage patients who might feel venerable or intimidated, but want to engage in the art making process.

You may want to give it a try! To get started you can draw a large circle on a paper (tracing the edge of a bowl is helpful) and create your own design. You can also find some free mandala coloring templates at: http://www.coloring-book.info/coloring/coloring_page.php?id=209

 

Footnotes

Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85.

Henderson, P., & Rosen, D. (2007). Empirical study on the healing nature of mandalas. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(3), 148-154.

Schrade, C., Tronsky, L., & Kaiser, D. H. (2011). Physiological effects of mandala making in adults with intellectual disability. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38(2), 109-113.

Van der Vennet, R. , & Serice, S. (2012). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 87-92.