How Using Your Hands Creatively Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety
By Faigie Kobre
“Making something, even imperfectly is empowering because it’s an expression of the self.” ~Alton & Carrie Barron MD
Do you ever suffer from stress or anxiety?
If so, you’ve probably tried to find relief, but finding something that works for you can be quite hard. We all react differently to different remedies, and what works for one person may not be the best remedy for you.
I used to suffer from stress and anxiety a lot. After trying lots of different remedies, I finally found relief in an activity I never considered would help.
I was locked into a life dependent on templates for everything that wasn’t basic living. Without clear instructions, clear steps, and a clear understanding of the desired end, I couldn’t get myself to start a project, journey, or activity, no matter how big or small.
At every seminar or webinar, I asked a million questions. I needed to know everything in excruciating detail. The thought of missing or misunderstanding something would send me into a panic.
Just the thought of doing anything without knowing every step in advance caused me tremendous stress and anxiety. Even in something as innocuous sounding as in creating art.
I always loved art. Art materials always made me salivate, but I never made the time for it because I didn’t know what to do with those gorgeous materials.
Years ago when I was a kindergarten teacher, I used to love watching how the kids expressed themselves creatively in their art. It brought me so much joy that I eventually became an art teacher.
This got me involved in reading any and every book on art and creativity I could find.
How I First Heard of This Unlikely Cure for Anxiety and Stress
Not until I started reading voraciously about all kinds of creative art for adults and how healing it was did I discover the connection between stress, anxiety, and using your hands to create.
If I could bottle its effects, I would make a fortune.
I read a wonderful book called Painting Your Way out of a Corner about the amazing meditative effects of different types of unplanned and improvisational art.
Then I read The Creativity Cure by Alton and Carrie Barron, both doctors who talk about how healing creative hand use is, which is the act of using your hands along with your imagination to create something new.
From those books, I learned that creative hand use that focuses on process rather than result can relieve anxiety and stress. I also learned that the creative activity couldn’t rely on following a template.
Creative hand use is supposed to help you by expressing yourself. When you follow a template, you are not expressing yourself; you are expressing the person who designed the template.
When we make something, even imperfectly, especially imperfectly, we are truly expressing ourselves, which is what helps us relieve our stress and anxiety. This is why art that focuses on the process as opposed to the product is so much better.
According to the books, creative hand use, when done right, could relieve anxiety and stress in the following ways:
You gain more self-awareness.
Painting and doing art from imagination evokes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that block us in normal day-to-day experience. It loosens up our thinking and leads to notice how we make decisions.
Do we hide from our mistakes or try to cover them up? Can we let go and be responsive to the moment or do we need stay in control? Are we scared of making a mess, looking silly, not being good enough? All of these things come into play as we create without preconceived ideas and embrace the results.
Once you have this new awareness, you can use it to make better choices and be more effective. This will help clear up your anxieties thus making you happier and less stressed.
You become more resilient.
As you create, you might find that sometimes you try something that doesn’t work out quite as you thought it would. You learn to accept this and simply continue with the process. You continue and try to make the best of what you’ve got. After a while, you’ll notice that when things in your life don’t go as planned or when you’ve made a mistake, you can more quickly recover and move on.
You become more confident in your decisions.
By valuing the process of what you are doing, you learn how you make decisions. Simple projects need many small decisions that lead to larger ones. As you make decisions and notice that you can deal with any of their outcomes, you begin to have less anxiety and more confidence in your decision-making.
You experience peace of mind, tranquility, and sense of well-being.
Certain types of creative work put you into a meditative state as you focus on what you are doing by being strictly in the moment. This will also give you all the benefits that meditation promises, like peace of mind, tranquility, and a sense of well-being that leads to a less stressful life.
So Did Creative Hand Use Heal My Stress and Anxiety?
I had to see for myself if it was true.
I chose mixed media as my creative activity because it seemed to fit the criteria the best; you need no skill or template to do it. It uses a combination of painting, doodling, pasting, stamping, and stenciling, and there is no wrong way to do any of it.
Creating without some guidelines can lead to chaos and anxiety, so to begin, I gathered the most exciting project ideas that I found from all of my notes, bought some materials, and then started a small class in mixed media art with some neighbors.
As we started, I quickly realized that I needed everything to be perfect even before we got started. I needed to check my materials and my notes to see if we had everything I might need; just beginning was quite a hurdle for me to overcome.
When I began, a refrain would run through my mind, “It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be,” over and over again as I struggled with things not being exact.
Only as I continued with the art did my anxieties start to resolve over time.
What a freeing, relaxing feeling.
Over time, I also noticed I had fewer problems with my stress and anxieties in everyday life. I noticed I could start projects earlier without obsessing over every little detail. I found that I wasn’t as anxious in the face of big decisions. I discovered that, in general, I felt more calm, relaxed, and at ease.
Get Rid of Your Stress and Anxiety Once and for All
Just because I chose mixed media art to be my art vehicle does not mean that you cannot get the same benefits with other forms of creative hand use as well.
Unplanned watercolor painting (as discussed in the book Painting Your Way Out of a Corner), sculpting, or clay work can give you the same benefits.
If art is not your thing, then other types of creative hand use are available such as gardening, crocheting, knitting, woodworking, or even cooking.
You will express yourself, and you will become more self-reliant, productive, stress-free, and happier as you get absorbed in something greater than yourself—your creative handiwork.
The important thing is to choose one of these creative activities that you feel drawn to and then to make serious time for it.
Once you get hooked, you won’t know how you handled your stress before you got creative.
And a wonderful new world will open before you.
Painting image via Shutterstock