When choosing to go into battle, one must choose precision weapons. To fight anxiety and depression my weapons of choice were art materials. My healing began when I wasn’t concerned about what my art looked like. The process was much more important than the product. This post shares some of the materials and activities I have used in my own healing, as well as in healing retreats that I have led with others.
My first experience of using the right materials began with a plain masquerade mask. Feathers, beads, tissue paper and old watch parts were strewn across a table. Markers and paint were already provided. The instructor said, “It is time to address the things we are hiding.” While decorating my mask, I had time to think about what I didn’t want people to know about me. Certainly, my mask was not visually appealing, however the process was one of introspection and clarity.
When addressing my depression, watercolor was the medium of choice. My emotions were given room to breathe with this method. Thoroughly wetting watercolor paper allowed the paint to cascade freely. As I named each color with an emotion, I was able to let my emotions bleed across the paper. With repeated use of this technique, I was able to clear many emotional strongholds. The strongholds of resentment and disappointment; forgiveness came later.
When addressing anger, chalk pastels works quite well. Some may be intimidated by their messiness. If that’s the case, oil pastels may be the better option. This medium helped me express anger in ways that watercolor couldn’t. Pastels can be pressed hard and layered. That’s what my anger needed! Once my paper was covered with pastel, I was able to tear it apart and use the pieces to create a new work of art. Again, the process was crucial for dealing with and helping heal my anger.
None of the exercises I’m sharing so far healed me overnight. I’m only sharing ways in which art materials can be used again and again to access parts of oneself that might not otherwise have come to light.
When my black and white thinking showed its ugly face in a manner that was harming me, construction paper was the material to use. Starting with a black sheet of paper and adding white paper over half of it was the beginning of addressing right or wrong thinking. Things weren’t all good or bad, right or wrong. Using lots of gray construction paper started me on the journey to see all the gray areas in life that represent the people I know. The varying shades of gray allowed me to name people and add them to my art. They were positioned between the black and white sides of my paper. I saw the beauty in all the grays. Letting the gray areas be in my art helped me to realize the richly colored life I had and how important it is to allow people to be who they are and live how they want without any judgment from me.
Other easily accessible materials are varying boxes and magazines. This can be another exercise in finding oneself. Cutting out images that are appealing and uplifting can help in knowing what makes one happy. This can even be followed up with a bit of sharing after everyone completes their box. To be heard and known is healing. Encourage writing about the experience if some are uncomfortable sharing.
When the issue of anxiety or depression comes to the surface, I have found using art materials can have a profound effect in the healing process. I am not speaking about the clinically diagnosed, just those who could benefit from understanding themselves more clearly by using different art mediums. Art educators have been given a great gift for helping mental wellness. It is my hope that they will use it wisely.