The Art of Creativity for Managing Stress

By Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian

“When we strike a balance between the challenge of an activity and our skill at performing it, when the rhythm of the work itself feels in sync with our pulse, when we know that what we’re doing matters, we can get totally absorbed in our task. That is happiness.”  

When we consider creativity, the quote above by Ariel Gore hits the term flow directly on the head.  Flow refers to a state of mind where we’re completely involved in an enjoyable activity so much so that we lose ourselves in what it is that we’re doing.  And it’s the losing oneself in that process of creation that helps to lessen stress and anxiety, and build resilience and self-confidence.

Creation and Expression: 2 Sides of the Self-Exploration Coin

potter creating bowl on wheelThe act of creating something is closely aligned with personal expression.  Both open the doors to self-exploration; while creating something, like a piece of artwork, gives us the room to explore our thoughts and feelings with new and different materials to aid us in that process, engaging in something creative also gives us new avenues to express ourselves without the use of words.  The key here is yielding to the process, or immersing yourself in what you’re doing without self-judgment: give yourself permission to just sit back and enjoy playing with your paints and brushes, clay, or whatever materials you’re working with, and resist the urge to question how well your piece is coming along.  Ignore any mind chatter that says the tree you’re painting looks weird-we are our own worst critic, after all.

The use of our hands in the making of art is also useful in our self-expression when we intentionally channel what we’re feeling into our piece.  So, if we’re feeling weighted down and off-kilter by what’s troubling us, directing those emotions into our piece- through the use of bold brushstrokes, vivid color, or other materials for added texture, for example-can help clear our heads and hearts.  Thus, pouring our energy into creative outlets helps us get out of our own way, emotionally speaking, because it interrupts those persnickety negative thought patterns that drive our stress and anxiety.  The end result?  A work of art that gives voice to our emotions, plus a fresh perspective from which to tackle what’s been on our mind.

Why This Works

Numerous studies on creativity have found that engaging in a creative activity for as little as 45 minutes is enough to bring about a sense of relaxation, boost one’s mood, and improve well-being.  This is because when we’re occupied in this way, the amygdala, the part of brain that’s activated when we’re stressed, dramatically lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while other parts of the brain release a feel-good cocktail of chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamine, and endorphins.

Self-Care That Builds Resilience

Because devoting time doing something creative that we enjoy doing gives us the necessary escape from our problems and the day-to-day business of life in general, it’s a form of self-care that can bring more joy into our lives.  Additionally, people who rated themselves as creative were found to be more resilient, since they tend to view difficulties as challenges to be overcome.  Creative people overall were also found to be more likely to reframe mistakes and setbacks as opportunities for change and personal growth, which are also aspects commonly associated with resilience.

Get Going with These Tips!

Here’s a few ground rules for channeling your inner creative muse:

  • Don’t Judge-yourself, your ability, your choice of materials, projects, or the finished work.
  • Flow is about the process-let loose and let loose the process of creation.
  • Go with your gut-punch, pull, or pile your clay in whatever way feels right; experiment with different paint types and colors; try out different brushes and strokes; use your imagination in your choice of materials, methods, and subjects.
  • Check out this VIDEO by Independent Living’s own Robert Ferrer for more on the benefits of creativity on stress.

Visit Independent Living Inc on Facebook, Instagram, or on the web at for more tips and videos on stress management techniques and coping strategies.  Prefer to talk?  Call us at 845-762-2275 to speak to one of our trained Project Hope Counselors – we’re always happy to share information on managing stress or to offer a compassionate, listening ear.


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Frank, P. (2017, Dec. 6). 10 easy art therapy techniques to help you de-stress. [Web article]. Retrieved from Techniques To Help You De-Stress | HuffPost

Kobre, F. (n.d.). How using your hands creatively can reduce stress and anxiety. [Web log]. Retreived from

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