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Art Therapy

World of Psychology

3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety

Art therapy can be valuable in navigating anxiety. It can become another healthy tool in our collection whether your anxiety is occasional or chronic. One big benefit of art therapy is its ability to calm the nervous system: When we’re focused on creating, our attention shifts away from worrisome ruminations.

“When our attention has shifted, our nervous system can begin to regulate. And we can have more access to the rest of our brains, thoughts, emotions, empathy and compassion,” said Doreen Meister, MA, MFT, a mindfulness-based, expressive art and depth psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif. This lets us process more difficult experiences, she said.

Art therapy also lets us express ourselves nonverbally, which helps us move away from our thoughts to see a visual expression of a situation, Meister said. This “can provide more distance from the situation; it can be containing and allow for a different perspective.”

Plus, “the simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner sense of vitality,” which can be invigorating, she said.

Below, Meister shared three activities from art therapy to help us explore our anxiety and access calm.

Anxiety Expressing Itself

This is one of Meister’s favorite techniques because it combines paying mindful attention to your body while drawing intuitively. She suggested doing this exercise when you’re feeling anxious.

First, gather the following: blank paper of any size; drawing materials (Meister likes to use oil pastels); tape; and any favorite materials. Tape the paper to your surface. Close your eyes. Check in with yourself, and notice how anxiety feels in your body. Notice where in your body you feel anxiety and how you know it is anxiety.

Next, open your eyes, and pick a color pastel (or whatever drawing utensils you’re using). Close your eyes again and draw a continuous squiggle without lifting the utensil from the paper. Do this “as if anxiety is expressing itself on the page. Stop when the movement [or] expression feels complete,” Meister said.

If your mind tends toward judgment or control, use your non-dominant hand. Now look at the squiggle you made. Turn the paper from side to side until you see an image emerge. “It might not make sense [but] try not to think too much about it.”

Using other colors or materials, develop the image. Then free-write for five minutes. You might write about the process of drawing your anxiety or the image. Or you might ask the image these questions: “What do you want me to know? Why are you here?”

According to Meister, anxiety often acts as our protector, so your responses might be: “I’m keeping you safe;” “I’m keeping you safe from difficult feelings;” “I’m making sure you do the right thing;” “I’m making sure you don’t end up on the streets;” “I’m making sure you won’t get hurt.”

A Collage of Calm and Safety

This exercise is about “creating a visual reminder of a safe place,” Meister said. “It’s helpful to soothe fear and vigilance.”

Gather blank paper, magazines, old photos, markers and a glue stick. Take several deep breaths. “Let yourself take a trip down memory lane, remembering any times that you felt ease, safe or pleasant.” This might be a location or with a person. If you can’t recall a memory, “imagine a location or person that would be relaxing and pleasant.”

Begin looking through your magazines. Cut out images that capture your attention and remind you of the memory or feeling of ease or pleasure. “Try to let the images choose you rather than seeking out the ‘right’ image,” Meister said.

That is, pick images that you’re drawn to even if they don’t make sense or fit in with what you’re thinking. Maybe you have “an inner feeling of like or attraction.” Maybe you linger longer on this image, whereas you move on quickly with others.

Once you have a collection of images, arrange them to create an overall image or metaphor, which speaks to what it’s like to feel safe or at ease.

After you’re done, you can use the image as a reminder of safety and serenity. “See if you can imagine yourself in that safe or pleasant place and what it feels like in your body; evoke all your senses to really embody the feeling.”

What Anxiety Looks Like

For this exercise use any materials or art-making techniques you like. You might paint or draw your responses. Or you might create a collage. Meister suggested considering these questions:

  • If anxiety had a body [and] personality, how would it look? How would it talk? What would it say? What does it care about?
  • What does your body [or] life look like under the grip of anxiety? How would it look if anxiety was no longer present?

It can sometimes seem like anxiety is the ultimate enemy. It just feels so uncomfortable, maybe even terrifying. Plus, it might prevent us from doing things we really want to do. Art therapy can help us get curious about our anxiety and better understand its motives. It can help us access calm, reminding us that ease is actually within us.

I also recommend the Color me calm books!

Color Me Calm: 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation

by Lacy Mucklow, Angela Porter (Illustrator)

Tips for Anxiety…

A great article by the Huffington Post about Anxiety Tips!

People with anxiety disorders often face a sense of worry or dread and spend hours ruminating over worst case scenarios, which can get in the way of professional goals, personal relationships and a good quality of life. But there are ways to cope.

Here, experts offer their best techniques to work through situations that might drum up anxiety, which may help you or someone you know keep worry or fear at bay:

1. Put your worrisome thoughts on a schedule.

If you are going about your day and notice anxious thoughts, identify the thought stream and then postpone thinking about it until later, Ricks Warren, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. Warren calls this technique “worry postponement” or a “worry scheduling” skill, which can be very effective.

For example, you might be at a movie and find yourself becoming anxious about an upcoming work presentation. To postpone and schedule, pause and metaphorically put that whole worry on a shelf. Say to yourself, “I’m not at work right now. I will think about this tomorrow at the office.”

Later on, when it is time to consider what was making you feel anxious, you might consider discussing the issue with someone you trust.

MONICA RODRIGUEZ VIA GETTY IMAGES

2. Develop a “catastrophe scale.”

Draw a line on a piece of paper. Write the number zero at the beginning of the line, 50 in the middle and 100 at the end. This is what Warren calls a “catastrophe scale.” Then ask yourself, “What are the worst possible things that could happen?” Write those things down on the side with the highest values.

“When you think about a child dying, or a terrible accident, it helps people put things in perspective,” Warren said. “Not everything gets a 100.”

Being late for a job interview or a blunder at a party are unfortunate events. But, as Warren hopes you’ll come to believe, they’re not scenarios you should be terribly hard on yourself about in the scheme of things.

The goal for the rating system is that you eventually break down what you’d need to do in order to cope with it. This could be rallying a supportive group of friends, making a phone call or simply working out to reduce your stress and let it go.

3. Break big projects into small tasks.

Worry and anxiety can find their way into the workplace, showing up in the form of procrastination, says Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

“[People with anxiety] often want to show up on time, wanting to complete the work. Anxiety is what paralyzes them,” Humphreys told HuffPost.

Humphreys suggests breaking down overwhelming projects into the smallest possible task.

Small goals are effective for those dealing with social anxiety as well. If going to a party feels overwhelming, don’t worry about becoming the life of the party. Just set one small goal such as greeting the host, or talking to one person you do not know.

SHANNON FAGAN VIA GETTY IMAGES

4. Prove your anxiety wrong.

Research from the University of California, Los Angeles’ Anxiety and Depression Research Center found that when people with anxiety expose themselves to their anxiety trigger, it actually helps them cope better. By showing yourself that the worst didn’t happen, you’ll minimize the fear you experience.

For example, say you are afraid of riding the subway and your worst fear is that you’ll get stuck for ages without help. Head underground with your worst fears in tow. After you ride the subway, without getting stuck, you successfully disprove your worst hypothesis. This can be an empowering exercise, Warren says.

5. Force your body into a state of calm.

Your body already has a built-in stress reliever, it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

“Focus on your breathing, put your feet flat on the floor. Smile even if you don’t feel like smiling,” Humphreys advised. “Tense your muscles then let them go, then tense them again and repeat. Relax your body and a lot of people will find your emotions will follow.”

ASCENT/PKS MEDIA INC. VIA GETTY IMAGES

6. Cultivate acceptance about your anxiety.

According to Warren, there’s a big difference between accepting your anxiety and accepting yourself as someone who experiences anxiety.

“People put themselves down for being anxious,” he explained. “Accept yourself with anxiety and notice that you’re not alone.”

And it’s true: An anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the country, with nearly 40 million American adults experiencing it over their lifetime. It’s critical to cultivate self compassion about your condition.

“Support yourself with anxiety, just as if a friend was there supporting you,” Warren said.

7. Remember that anxiety disorders are highly treatable.

“If it’s serious and you’re paralyzed with anxiety everyday, there are mental health treatments that really work,” Humphreys said.

And if you are not experiencing this condition, but know someone who is, try to be as empathetic as possible to what he or she is going through. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25 percent of people with a mental health disorder feel like others are understanding about their experience.

Above all, it’s important to remember that you deserve to feel calm and healthy. Despite what your anxious thoughts might lead you to believe, the stakes are a lot lower than you think.

“We would worry a lot less what other people thought of us if we knew how rarely they did,” Humphreys said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-tips-to-actually-manage-anxiety-on-a-regular-basis_us_5862b420e4b0de3a08f640e8?ir=Canada&

CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

http://anxietynetwork.com/content/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

If we are serious about overcoming an anxiety disorder, we need to approach anxiety from every positive angle and perspective that we have available to us.  Therefore, we focus on three main areas, all three of which must be addressed in therapy:

1. COGNITIVE

(thinking/belief processes)

Here we learn new methods and ways to change our old thinking patterns and habits.  If we’re always thinking and expecting the worst to happen, then we will continue to suffer.  We can train or condition our minds to think and respond differently than we have in the past.  Or think of it this way – our brain was conditioned to think and feel negatively, but NOW we can be reconditioned to think rationally and healthfully.

We have many dozens of specific methods and strategies that we use to overcome anxiety — and you only need to find several methods that work well for you.  We usually start CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) at this stage.

Some effective cognitive-behavioral  techniques are:

Slow-talk/slow walk/slowing down/relaxing

Stopping automatic negative thinking (ANTs)

The acceptance paradox: how we keep the fires burning and how to put them out

Rational and helpful self-statements that become permanent and “automatic” thoughts

Continuing to move forward, step by step

Whose voice are you listening to, anyhow?  Do we have to listen and believe all the old lies?

The determination factor: becoming more focused and determined.  Determination is a powerful process.  It does not involve aggression or any other negative emotion.  It is a postive emotion that means, “I am serious about overcoming my anxiety.  If I work on therapy daily, and give it time and patience, I know I will gradually reduce my anxiety in these situations.

Focusing: What are you paying attention to?  Are you paying attention to what is rational?  Or, are you still seeing things from an irrational, skewed perspective?

Later, it’s important we address perfectionism, anger, frustration, setbacks, and our view of the world.

2. BEHAVIORAL

(what we DO)

The behavioral aspect of therapy is the part where we actually put everything into place — in everyday, real-life, practical situations where we are bothered by anxiety and depression.

This area is always handled at the same time or directly after cognitive therapy, because we need a strong foundation of cognitive and emotional skills and strategies so that we can begin living and acting differently before we confront real-life challenges.  Each and every anxiety symptom has a direct strategy that works, given your determination, time, and patience.  There are no roadblocks that cannot be overcome.

This stage is essential for people with anxiety problems (such as social anxiety disorder) and serves as a powerful adjunct to individual treatment for others.

3. EMOTIONAL

(relaxation/peaceful/strength, and power strategies)

It is important to have some type of relaxation or “de-stress” strategy that is accessible whenever we need it.  In this area, calmness and peace are the goals.

The more your brain is quiet and relaxed, the easier therapeutic information can get into it and be processed.  This is simply another way to let the therapy reach your brain and gently sink in.

Our focus is on peace and calmness here.  We do not focus on decreasing anxiety by using these methods.  Why?  As peace and calmness become a little stronger, it tends to “crowd out” the anxieties and fears we have.  Therefore, we never need to focus on the anxiety, the nervousness, or the fear.  Our attention is on healing, healthiness, and inner peace.

All of this is achievable in a good cognitive-behavioral group.

Books

Here is a list of books for coping with anxiety:

Stop Obsessing!:How To Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions

by Edna B. Foa, R. Reid Wilson

Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Beverly Beyette


The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

by Eckhart Tolle


Retrain Your Anxious Brain

by John And Daylle Deanna Tsilimparis & Schwartz


Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith


The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

by Alan W. Watts


The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of 
Meditation

by Thich Nhat Hanh


The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad 
Thoughts
by Lee Baer

The Power of Silence

As a human we experience thousands of thoughts a day. We hold on to the ones that evoke an emotional response, happiness, sadness, loneliness, despair, shock and so on. From the thoughts we have held on to, we start to create a personalized connection with the idea, “why did I have that thought?” or “this is truly what I want” or “I can’t wait for this to happen”. This habitual response to thoughts has been a roadblock to combating mental health and ultimately living more content and fulfilling lives. Imagine an Internet webpage that is receiving thousands of pop-ups a day. Some are about finding love, winning the millions, luxury vacations others are viruses, pornography and scams. What do we do? We close the pop-ups, we install pop-up blockers, and we continue on to use the webpage. If we use this analogy for our mind we can see a similar pattern, our mind is the webpage and our thoughts are akin to pop-ups some are fantasies others are nightmares. If we just allow the pop-ups to be pop-ups nothing more, we can develop a pop-up blocker within our very own consciousness to sever the response towards these ideas.

I know it sounds odd why wouldn’t we want to enjoy our fantasies of winning millions or falling in love? The reason is the flip side of this is much more harmful when we allow ourselves to fall into these ideas. Fantasizing about love actually leads to feeling alone, fantasizing about money actually leads to amplifying the lack of money you currently have. All these “wishes” highlight the “lack of” in the present. This leads to us feeling more inadequate, and less fulfilled. I am not proposing that we don’t want to better ourselves, or achieve things, or that we should just accept our circumstance. I am merely suggesting that not being able to feel content within our current situation will lead to not being content when our wish list is achieved either. Because this isn’t a mechanism that can be fixed by the external, it is an internal habitual behavioral pattern that we have to recalibrate. So, when we are trying to accomplish things or better ourselves it is not coming from a place of lack of, or it is not coming from a place of inadequacy. It is coming from a genuine place of ambition and inspiration. Meditation taught me how to use the practice as a tool to recalibrate my distorted thought patterns.

How meditation works:

There is not a one size fits all when it comes to meditation, there are many different approaches. I will share what I find most effective in my practice:

I like to meditate first thing in the morning, I find this helps start off the day refreshed and positive. I like to find a quiet spot in my house, or even just sitting on my bed. When I first started I did 5-10 minutes every morning, it was difficult for me to get into meditation because I was self conscious about if I was doing it right. I even felt a lot of anxiety at the beginning, because I was forcing myself to sit with my thoughts. The very thoughts that drove me crazy. Anytime I found myself getting too anxious I would take a break, breathe and try again. Overtime it got easier and more natural, and eventually a beautiful thing happens. I started to observe my thoughts and did not allow myself to be consumed by them anymore. I tried my best to not identify with the noise and overtime I learned the powerful tool of mindfulness.

It is not just the act of sitting silently in a specific position that matters with mediation  it is the act of being mindful of your thoughts that can ultimately loosen the grip anxiety has on us.

Meditation takes time and practice, at the beginning I really challenged myself to meditate by making it apart of my routine. I had a calendar beside my bed that after each day of meditating I would cross off the date. Eventually, after seeing my commitment the momentum kept pushing me to keep at it.

Here are some great tools that can help in the meditation practice:

https://www.calm.com/

Anxiety

Life is hard, that is true for every person no matter what culture, upbringing, intelligence or beliefs. Life is full of experiences, these experiences shape our memory and our memories follow us for the rest of our life. We hold onto pain, happiness, grief and so on. We maneuver through future events with those lasting imprints. We all are interconnected, characterized by the need for affection, love and accomplishment. As a child we start off by being curious, ignorant and most of all innocent. Then “life” happens, parents, relationships, health, and our careers may let us down. Some people come out unscathed, some are extremely impacted and others will be slightly impacted. For those of us who are left impacted in the collateral damage of our “life” we enter a journey. The journey: of trying to figure out how to sever the tie between our mental state and being happy.

Being able to separate thoughts and our conscious mind is integral when combating mental wellbeing. Our brain is wired to try and find solutions to problems, the mind presents the solutions and we hold on to the ones we believe are logical. The key thing here is that we believe they are logical, not realizing that the gatekeeper of these thoughts can actually be illogical. For example, lets use negative self talk: “I am fat”, “I am never going to find someone”, “I am not productive”, “I am unworthy” and the list goes on…This negative self talk can be excruciating, and difficult to get out of. The mind starts to play this recording over and over again, and because it feels real it must be real, I must be genuinely not worthy. These feelings turn into suffering and the mind has now impacted our ability to disconnect from these ideas.

I know this because I was there; I never realized that there was a difference between my thoughts and myself. I always believed that if I thought something that it came from me and that it is connected to the core of my existence. I genuinely believed that the thoughts represent who I am as a person. It took me a while to understand why I suffered with panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and constant worrying.

Life with anxiety is extremely difficult, demoralizing and can halt the ability to get up and live day to day. There is also an unfortunate stigma connected to anxiety, I know personally that I felt weak and afraid. I finally hit a breaking point last year when I could not tolerate the agony of my anxiety anymore and pushed myself to start searching for tools to help me with my mental health.

The past year has been a beautiful and life changing experience for me. I discovered incredible books, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy. I want to provide the resources that helped me so much to others, and try and normalize the conversation around mental health.

Gratitude Journal

A wonderful idea from Intelligent Change:

https://www.intelligentchange.com/blogs/news/the-ultimate-guide-to-keeping-a-gratitude-journal

Imagine how it would feel starting every day in a positive mood, energized, ready to take on the world. Instead of mentally replaying all your life’s problems and pulling the covers over your head, you chose to take control of your mind and focus on the good.

Day by day you appreciate life more and find yourself feeling happier. Stop rolling your eyes. It is not that crazy of a concept. Today, we will show you how using a gratitude journal.
If you ever considered keeping a gratitude journal or currently keep one, we’ve compiled the Ultimate Gratitude Journal Guide based upon our years of research, from thousands of customers, from our very own gratitude journal, The Five Minute Journal.

What exactly is a Gratitude Journal?

On a very basic level, gratitude journaling involves writing about things for which you are grateful.

grateful jessica

On a deeper level, gratitude journaling helps unwire any negative patterns you may have. By keeping a journal, you develop a practice that keeps you accountable to getting the results you want while developing appreciation and enjoying happier days.

How CBT impacted me…

Cognitive behavioral therapy is structured around the idea that our thoughts influence our feelings and behavior. The idea being that if we can change our  reaction to the thoughts we can in turn change our behavior. Over time something that used to be triggering no longer is, and something that usually would become trigger no longer has the same hold on an individual.

When my anxiety got really bad, I started searching the web for answers on how to cope with anxiety provoking thoughts. I ended up finding lots of information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I started to look for a CBT trained therapist and ended up finding one who uses CBT and Mindfulness. The process was not easy at all, but definitely worth it.  I was able through working hard and being guided by my therapist to challenge my thoughts and ultimately change my perspective.

For example, the idea that I was inadequate would before evoke a response of “I feel inadequate so it must be true” after cognitive behavioral therapy the response changed to “ I accept the presence of this thought, and I know it is just a thought”. The most gratifying experience of cognitive behavioral therapy is when I was able to recognize that I not only had a pattern of negative and self-consuming thoughts, but I had thousands of thoughts. When I was able to observe the other thoughts, I then was able to push the self-consuming thoughts in the same backdrop. I had no response to them, they were just the same as the thousands of other thoughts I had. I started to view my thoughts differently, and was able to watch them come and go with no judgment and no attachment.

I also learned that my thoughts were not connected to the core of who I am as a person. And that the “What if…” is not something that can ever be answered no matter how long and how much time I spent ruminating about the thoughts.

I still have moments of anxiety, but I now have the tools and resources to tackle it much more effectively. My anxiety is no longer crippling, and I am able to live a much more healthier and fulfilling life.

“You are not your mind.”
– Eckhart Tolle