Drawing the Line on Stress: Why Healing Art Is Important to Your Health


“Let’s build a happy little cloud. Let’s build some happy little trees.”
Bob Ross, famed TV painting instructor

If stress were an academic pursuit, I’d have a PhD in it. Needless to say, I’m always inspired to come up with ways to minimize it because, as we all know, there’s no way to avoid it.

I’ve written about stress before, most recently in the article “11 Ways Realists Can Manage Stress,” I briefly mentioned setting aside time to do things you enjoy, including painting, which is meditative. This also holds true for adult coloring books. (No, not “adult” in the sense that you’d only be using flesh tones.)

For this article, though, I’m going to focus on painting.

I come from a family of artists—my grandmother was a painter, my great aunt was a writer, and my great grandmother was an opera singer. As a teenager, I picked up painting as a hobby, but once I went to college, I set it aside and delved into writing. (I never picked up singing. I know my limitations.) Now, however, because I write for a living, I can’t really do it for fun anymore. So after 23 years, I started painting again to lead my mind away from replaying the tapes of daily stressors. And man did it work! It worked so well that I had to do some research on painting for stress relief. I had to tell the world about this new form of stress therapy.

But, it turns out, art therapy isn’t new. It’s used in psychology to help treat patients of all ages with a wide range of issues, including emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, and stress. Although this healing strategy has been used for hundreds of years, it wasn’t actually formalized until the twentieth century.

Painting truly connects the mind, body, and spirit. For this reason, some spas and resorts incorporate art into stress relief packages that may include a spa treatment, a glass of wine, and a painting session led by an art instructor.

In addition to a calming effect, there are other reasons to paint, including the joy you feel if you gift them to loved ones. I do this often on Facebook. I post my work, and sometimes I surprise friends, family, and co-workers with a painting, notifying them with a tag or a private message. Sometimes I even sell them. I don’t charge much because the primary reason I paint is for mental health, but a few bucks to go back into art supplies doesn’t hurt.

Now, if you’re interested but aren’t sure how to get started or are worried about what your paintings will look like, relax. There are many beginners’ videos on YouTube, and most art supply stores sell starter kits. However, before you begin, you may want to look at the pros and cons of each type of painting to decide which medium best suits you:ww_chart-1.png

And if you’re worried what your paintings will look like, take this advice from Vincent van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Create without judgment and allow each brushstroke to become a pleasant path for your mind to wander.

For more information about art therapy, visit American Art Therapy Association.

PHOTO: (top) The author's homage to the late Bessie Smith. Acrylic on canvas, 2015.

Lisa_Bio_Photo.jpgBy Lisa Sykes 
Lisa Sykes is a regulatory affairs and sustainability manager for Universal Companies. She also serves on the advisory council and co-chairs of the personal care product committee for the Green Spa Network. At Universal Companies, she leads a variety of regulatory and sustainability activities related to proprietary brand raw materials, finished products, labeling, marketing claims, and packaging to ensure compliance with cosmetic laws and regulations. She also develops and implements company sustainability measures and serves as a liaison between the company and counsel, third party certifiers, formulators, professional affiliations, and the local community.

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