My mom is a stress sleeper. It’s good that she’s not a pilot.
I have written about how making time to practice art can be stressful. Learning new things, adding one more thing to your schedule, and going through that phase where everything you make looks terrible aren’t always very fun. But, that does not mean that art has to be a difficult chore.
While perfecting skills and technique are important, they are just one side of art. Art can be joyful. I think it’s good to experience both sides of art.
Kathy Decker told me once that when she paints she feels like she’s in another world and she could go on for hours. Making art can help you forget things for a moment, just like a good nap or watching a good movie. It can be a form of meditation, giving your brain a break from overthinking.
According to studies, making art can reduce stress hormones and release dopamine. It’s a healthy way to relieve stress. ( See: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-reduces-stress-says-study-521051 and https://bebrainfit.com/benefits-art/ )
When trying to relieve stress with art, the important thing is to have fun. Let go of the need to produce something that looks good. Embrace the process and not the product.
So, what are some of the things I do when I am making art for fun and stress-relief?
I doodle whatever comes to mind.
I color in pictures with crayons or colored pencils or markers.
I draw something for my kids like mazes or paper dolls.
I play with salt dough.
I fold origami figures.
I write the names of my family members in swoopy fancy handwriting.
I press flowers in books.
I take close up pictures of plants. (Especially trees. I love trees.)
I work through a problem with collage.
I read an art book or visit a museum.
I draw pictures of whatever is stressing me out as goofy-looking monsters.
I draw pictures of my favorite characters from stories I’ve read or movies I’ve watched. They do not have to look very much like the characters at all.
I do an art or craft project with my children.
I write out a favorite quote in fancy letters. Sometimes I decorate it.
I try a new braid or hairstyle with my daughter’s hair.
I sing or whistle, often to my pet birds, who like any music and are a fabulous audience.
Sometimes I attempt dancing to music, but only if I’m home alone. It’s a lot of fun when you don’t worry about looking goofy.
I try to draw things the way a three-year-old would.
I look for faces and shapes in wood grain or textured tile or tree bark or clouds.
I try to make a flower chain. Or a chain out of candy wrappers.
I draw a map of someplace imaginary.
I could go on. There are so many things to try. Do a search for art projects or artist dates or art therapy, and you would probably find more things than you’d ever have time to do.
It’s important to regularly find joy in art, and it’s good for your stress levels too. I think making sure to do something fun at least once a week is a good plan. If you’re feeling extra stressed, have fun more often. It doesn’t have to take long, and it really can help.
How does art bring you joy? What art projects do you do just for fun? How often do you try to do something artistic just for the joy of it?
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The cup theory says that your ability to handle stress is like a cup. As things occur during the day, good and bad, stress fills your cup. When your cup fills and you keep adding things, your cup overflows. That’s when you melt down.
When you start the day already overwhelmed and worried, or in pain, or depressed, or otherwise stressed, then your cup starts out partly filled. You can handle less. Even if it’s good things, or things that you normally can handle without too much difficulty, if your cup is full, you can’t handle it today.
That’s why there are some days where you can’t make yourself do one more thing, even if it’s something that would only take five minutes. That’s why there are days where you have to hide away so that you don’t snap at people for laughing too loud. Have you ever felt out of control and it scared you? This might be why.
Adding new things to your schedule can be difficult on stressful days. On those days, you may be struggling to complete your normal schedule. That’s okay. Worrying about what you can’t do will just add to your stress.
So, what does this have to do with me and my art? Well, as an introvert, days and weeks where I’ve had to socialize a lot are stressful. I have to recover from them. Even when it’s people I like and I’ve enjoyed the social event, it’s stressful. Good stress is still stress.
While I’m recovering, something has to give. I can fit less into my schedule. The easy thing to give up is my art. Learning something new is more stressful than a familiar activity, and so dropping it temporarily is such a relief.
Yet, just because it’s the easy thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. If I find that I’ve been dropping my art or procrastinating it and running out of time for more than two weeks, I need to take a close look at my schedule.
It’s not good to be regularly stressed and overwhelmed. If that’s happening, I may need to give some things up, even if they are good, positive things. Or I may need to ask for help. Either way, I need to find a way to lower my stress levels and bring my life back in balance.
In this way, my art practice can act as an early warning system. If I’m too stressed to do something that I want to do and enjoy doing, and it keeps happening, something is wrong. It’s good to have that warning before I get sick or start snapping at people.
I once went to a talk by Nancy Young. (Her family runs this remarkable website:
https://www.alyoung.com/ and publishes the Storybook Home Journal.) She said that she knew she’d been away from home too much if her little laundry room started overflowing and her youngest child became clingy. They were areas in her life that could not absorb neglect. She said it was like a barometer, measuring the pressure on her home and family. When she saw the signs, she knew it meant that she had to cancel some outside commitments and spend more time at home.
What are the signs that you’re under too much pressure? What areas in your life cannot absorb neglect? Have you ever felt like your cup of stress is too full? What do you do to bring things back in balance?