ArtBreak: Creative Outlet for Releasing Stress

ArtBreak: Creative Outlet for Releasing Stress

Apr 20, 2019

ArtBreak: Creative Outlet for Releasing Stress

by Kritleen Bawa

52% of college students report feeling highly stressed during the academic year. Stress over assignments, anxiety to meet professors, stress about their grades and future all add together to create a high amount of pressure. Under this constant stress, performance levels, mental state and grades can start to fall, adding to the pressure and eventually leading to a vicious cycle. It can be very hard to get out of this state and seek help due to various reasons like being unaware of the mental health services provided by their educational institution, uncertainty about the need and the efficacy of treatment, and belonging to low socioeconomic status or certain racial backgrounds.

Last year, I and my group of friends at the University of Toronto decided to form a club called ArtBreak that uses art as a form of therapy by organizing drop in sessions for students, staff and non-UofT members, giving them a platform to come together and use creative mediums to relieve stress. Our goal was to create a safe, judgment-free space where students can take a break from their hectic schedules and express themselves through various forms of creative expression such as painting and drawing.

Because of our personal experiences with art as a stress buster, we decided to open the medium to our peers. Art therapy has been shown to have positive effects on the mind and the body in various populations, and not just students. These populations include employees suffering from work-related stress, cancer patients, bullying victims, people with a low socio-economic status, and also the geriatric population. Both experimental and observational studies have reported the benefits of art on mental health.

Art therapy aims to improve the well-being of patients and their families by integrating creative expression with psychotherapy. It allows participants to draw or paint the feelings that they may not be able to express verbally and can prevent hidden feelings from escalating to further psychological distress. It not only helps an individual be more self-aware, but also allows the person to better connect with people around them.

Long-term art interventions have been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Lower anxiety levels and emotional distress, measured by questionnaires, have also been reported after long-term art intervention sessions. Practicing art has also shown to improve spiritual wellbeing of the participants in comparison to control groups who were subjected to standard care. Professionals working in stressful workplaces such as oncology healthcare teams may also prevent burnout by engaging in art interventions. The majority of the research participants in the studies reported feeling calmer after the sessions. In different studies, sessions lasted between 10 to 50 minutes but still showed to have improved effects on mood of the participants regardless of the session length.

The experience of our art club as well as research shows that art is an easy and affordable intervention that can have short and long term effects on quality of life and can improve participants’ self-esteem and awareness by allowing them to actively engage in their overall wellbeing. It also provides people with an opportunity to talk to others about their feelings but distraction through art making has been proven to be more effective than venting to tackle depressed feelings. Hence, engaging in an art therapy session may act as a rejuvenating session for some.

Art interventions are simple to set up and anyone can participate regardless of their ability or experience. This can be done alone or with a group of friends or family. So the next time you are feeling stressed, get some art supplies and gather your friends for a fun paint night!

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