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Art Therapy 1- How to Relieve Stress Through Drawing

Updated on May 29, 2013

Materials Needed

  • paper
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • eraser
  • mirror

Are you overwhelmed by stress? Drawing out your feelings can help. This article will show you what factors could be causing your stress, how drawing can help release that stress, and what exercises you can do to relax it away.

What Causes Stress?

Stress can occur for a number of reasons. Finances, work, school, and the pressures of society are the typical triggering factors to stress. Stress can be exacerbated by chemical imbalances in the brain, poor diet, insufficient exercise, or overall bad health. Remember, if you are overwhelmed by stress, please consult your physician. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand and are both key elements to general well-being.

Often, we are afflicted with an irrational desire to be perfect. Perfection is unattainable. Our flaws are what make us human. When we tell ourselves things like "I need to get an A on my exam" or "I need that promotion", what we are really saying is that a failure would be catastrophic. We do not need these things to survive. By placing a desire in the category of a need, we unnecessarily set ourselves up for a panic.

How Does Drawing Help Stress?

Sometimes when we are stressed, we are unable to let go all of our emotional baggage. We bundle everything up inside so that we can focus on the tasks at hand. Keeping our feelings locked up inside is not healthy and can lead to serious health problems.

Did you know that the same neurological process for catharsis, or a release of emotions, is also used when we engage in creativity? Drawing a picture can have the same therapeutic effect as venting your problems out to a friend. The creative process has also been shown to increase our levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that play a role in increasing happiness and relaxation.

Ever lose track of time working on a creative project? This is because our concept of time exists in the left hemisphere of our brain. The creative process exists mainly in our right hemisphere. If we focus our attention to the right hemisphere, we give our analytical left side some much needed time to rest. The exercises below will help you let go of inner turmoil and switch your brain into creative mode.

For these exercises, take a few minutes to relax and clear your mind. Make sure you have time and are in a space where you will not be disturbed.


By now, you probably know how to scribble. Chances are, you've scribbled in your notebook during class when you were at school. Most of us have. School and work can be stressful and sometimes our brains need to find a way to let go of that stress. Like a scribble, life can be chaotic and unpredictable. We put entirely too much pressure on ourselves to succeed. Those wildly moving lines across your notebook are your brain's way of telling you to take it easy on yourself.

Take several deep breaths and relax the muscles in body. Take your pencil and let the movement flow naturally and automatically. Remember, this is a scribble - not a masterpiece. Don't try to make it look good, or like anything in particular. Do not lift your pencil from the paper, just let your it glide across the paper as gently or intensely as needed. To help you get into a more relaxed state, you can put on some music that corresponds to your mood. Let your pencil move to the rhythm of the music. Keep marking the paper until you lose track of time. Try to scribble on for at least 5-10 minutes.


Expressive Self Portrait

The face is a universal symbol. We often show our emotions through our expressions. However, sometimes we keep our emotions inside or are not able to express them fully. You can use this exercise to portray how you feel on the inside.You do not need to be a skilled artist to express yourself. Again, this exercise is not about creating a masterpiece; however, you may be surprised at what you can create!

  • Sit comfortably facing a mirror.
  • Take your pencil and lightly sketch simple oval for your head shape.
  • Draw a line horizontally across the center of the oval to provide proportions for the eyes
  • Next draw lines across for the nose and mouth
  • Take a deep breath and look at your eyes in the mirror. Do they show worry, anger, frustration? Do they accurately convey your inner feelings? Are you so overwhelmed by stress that it feels as if your eyes are about to pop out of your head?
  • Do not draw your eyes how they look in the mirror. Instead, draw them how you think they look on your inner self. Are they squinting with anger? Are they wide with panic? Are the blood vessels prominent?
  • Do the same for all your face features. Exaggerate where needed.
  • Do you feel like your thoughts are about to burst out of your head? Then draw gestural lines emanating from your head. Do you feel trapped in a cage? Then draw prison bars in front of your face.
  • This is not meant to be a masterpiece. Just as in the scribble exercise, you are letting the pencil run freely across the page.
  • Do not draw what you see, draw what you feel.
  • You can draw other images and use words to show your inner thoughts.



Mandalas are sometimes referred to as healing circles. A mandala is a complex circular design that centers around a single point.Mandala drawing is used in both spiritual prayer and meditation. There are countless possibilities when designing a mandala and is an excellent tool for art therapy.

If you wish to learn how to draw a mandala, there is a simple and easy guide on this link:

Visit the Mandala Project website for more information about how mandalas provide people with inner peace.

You can also follow this relaxing YouTube tutorial below:


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    • profile image

      Frida Keaton 4 years ago from Wyoming

      I am reading a book on art therapy now. I agree that the creative process is inherently therapeutic. I enjoyed!

    • artandbrain profile image

      artandbrain 4 years ago from United States

      Thank you for your lovely comment! Music and dance are definitely forms of therapy as well and so is writing. I will try to write a hub on the subject of music therapy soon. I recently interviewed a music therapist for a research paper and learned about the amazing healing effects that music can have. That's why I added the tip to put on music during the scribble technique. Drawing to the rhythm of music is a professional technique that I learned about from my interview.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Artandbrain, creative tools can certainly be used for therapy. A friend of mine believes very strongly in art as a form of therapy and I personally believe that music and dance does....I have attended lots of workshops on these! Thanks for presenting yet another creative outlet!

    • artandbrain profile image

      artandbrain 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks! You're right, art therapy is used often for children who have difficulty communicating. Of course there are many reasons why adults have trouble communicating as well. Hope you find these techniques useful! :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      thanks for sharing this unique hub. I heard of kids with communication problem could "talk" thru drawing. Never realized that adults stress could be display thru drawing too. Next time when I feel stressed, I will follow your idea. Scribble all the way !! Voted up

    • artandbrain profile image

      artandbrain 4 years ago from United States

      Thank you very much for your comment. More artandbrain hubs coming soon! :)

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 4 years ago from India

      This is great, an informative hub. Stress relief through drawing, i have gone through your interesting article. Thank you