Using art to improve our mental health

The stress of university life can be overwhelming, and it’s not always linked to our academic studies. Money worries, strain between housemates and feeling homesick all contribute to feelings of negativity and anger. As we progress through university and grow as people, how we choose to deal with these emotions becomes a defining factor of who we are. We’re at university to gain qualifications to develop a career, but we also must develop our emotional skills and learn how to cope with the stress life will throw at us.  

How do I do it? 

Improving and maintaining our mental state is a fantastic way to mature emotionally, and one easy and therapeutic way to do this is by using art. This doesn’t mean you have to set up an easel and paint a photo-realistic masterpiece, in fact the most therapeutic art can just be nonsensical. Throw some paint on a canvas, scribble with different coloured pencils, even ripping up bits of paper and creating a collage.  

Here are some ideas to get you started; 

• Writing down how you feel, ripping it up and turning it into a collage,  

• Splattering paint across a canvas, using colours to represent your emotions,  

• Painting what you think your emotions would look like, for example a rain cloud or bright sky,  

• Squeezing clay in your fist, then painting over it once it’s dried.

What if I do it wrong? 

It’s not about how good your art turns out, it’s all about how you interpret it and how you want your art to be perceived. If the point of your painting is to allow you to release your anger, then you’re doing it right. If the idea of your mosaic is that no one else will see it and it will help you ground yourself, then you’re doing it right. If you’re interpreting art in a helpful and mindful way, you won’t be doing it wrong. 

Does it actually work? 

Expressing emotions through art is an accredited and recognised form of psychotherapy, used to help people display the emotions they’re feeling without having to use words. It can help you feel like you have more control over your life and emotions, and there has been research showing that it can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and low mood.  

A lot of people have trouble expressing their emotions, which can be especially difficult when you’re already facing a lot of strain from your coursework or assignments. Expressing it by using art can be a fantastic way of getting those initial emotions out before you try to put them into words.  

So, should I do it?  

Yes! Even if you don’t like it, or find that it’s not for you, it’s worth trying. You might find something that really works to help relieve your stress, or it might be a pathway to finding another coping mechanism. It’s evident that art plays a very important part in our brain’s chemistry and exercising the creative parts of our brains is always something worth venturing into.

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