Drawing Therapy Techniques to Relieve Stress


Drawing can be an act of self-care – releasing stress, stimulating creativity and promoting mindfulness.

Drawing therapy, while not an official name, is essentially drawing as a form of coping and self-care.

Many believe that art (and other forms of creativity) can heal. Drawing – and other art forms – can help you release stress and anxiety.

You can draw at home to stimulate your imagination and creativity, to be more mindful and grounded, and to relieve anxious thoughts. You can also work with an art therapist to help you deal with mental health issues or trauma.

The term “art therapy” is often used to describe the art like therapy, but there is also a type of psychotherapy called art therapy.

According to the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB), “Art therapy uses artistic media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork as a therapeutic and healing process.”

Anyone can use art as a form of self-care, a mindfulness practice, or a way to cope with stress. But in art therapy, you typically work with a trained mental health professional to manage symptoms and conditions — often working on issues that are harder to put into words, like trauma.

Essentially, art therapy is art more psychotherapy.

A large body of research of varying quality and size has explored the benefits of art and art therapy for mental health.

In one research review 2010, the researchers said that engaging in art had noticeable positive effects on health. When you make art, you exercise your creativity and imagination, which can help you find your identity and your ability to heal.

According to the ATCB, art therapy can benefit people by helping them to:

experts also noted that creative art therapy can help ease the burden of physical and mental health symptoms and help you cope in stressful situations.

Many researches have shown potential benefits, including:

  • A 2018 study found that students were more attentive and less anxious about tests, whether coloring or free-drawing.
  • A small 2020 study of 60 undergraduate students reported that whether they were instructed to draw a picture, color a picture, or draw to express negative thoughts, students’ anxiety decreased, as well as their cardiac frequency.
  • A 2019 trial suggests that 10 to 12 art therapy sessions reduce anxiety and improve quality of life for women diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

It is important to note that most research studies art therapy – artistic activities under the guidance of a mental health professional. Still, you can find many personal benefits in making art on your own.

‘Stress drawing’ to relieve stress

With the amount of things you can do to relieve stress and prioritize self-care, you might ask yourself: why choose drawing?

  • It’s accessible. All you really need is a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Unless you want to treat yourself, it’s affordable and you can do it from anywhere.
  • It’s flexible. You can do it alone or with friends, virtually or in person.
  • It’s good for everyone. All ages and identities are welcome.
  • You don’t need to be an artist. You might think that some drawing skill is necessary, but that’s not true at all. This is the drawing process, not the art produced.

You may find that drawing helps you express yourself, ground you, or just distract you from your ruminating thoughts.

If you’re ready to draw to relieve stress or connect with your creativity, here are some ways to get started:

  1. To prepare. Take your supplies, whatever they are. You don’t have to go shopping – you can use whatever supplies you already have on hand. You can start with a blank sheet of paper, plus pens, pencils or markers.
  2. Find your space. Sit in a space where you can (hopefully) have at least 20 minutes to yourself. Consider sitting down with a glass of water (or bonus: a soothing tea!) and sitting comfortably.
  3. Set your timer and breathe. You can set a timer for 20 to 60 minutes, although you may want to start with 20 and progress gradually. If you want to add a bit of mindfulness, once you hit start, start with a few deep breaths (5 or 10) to ground yourself in the moment.
  4. To design. Try to be present while you draw and remember: there is no judgment here. You can doodle circles for 20 minutes if you want – it doesn’t have to be museum-worthy.

The content of what you draw doesn’t really matter if it brings you joy or a moment of release. If you’re still not sure where to start, here are some options you can try at home.

1. Doodling

Some people thrive with a blank canvas, while others may find the possibilities too overwhelming.

You might want to start with a blank sheet of paper and see what happens. Try doodling to your heart’s desire.

Remember that you don’t have to create something beautiful. Think of it as a stream of consciousness, but with shapes, squiggles, and words.

2. Draw shapes

If directionless doodling just isn’t working for you, you can define yourself some shapes. You can draw tons of small circles in a big square, lines or a mixture of shapes like creating your own Tetris art game.

Whatever form (pun intended) your design takes, leave it.

3. Drawing Prompts

Whether you’re a professional artist or just have a #2 pencil, there are thousands of prompts online to inspire you to draw.

Here are a few you can try:

  • Draw designs that resonate with you, such as your favorite animal, flower or memory.
  • Draw at least 10 things that symbolize or express what you are grateful for. (Bonus: Gratitude can also help improve your mood.)
  • Draw what you see from where you are sitting – the surface, what you are drawing with, the window, the decor.
  • Draw to express how you feel right now. Sketching out your negative thoughts or stress about a situation are two good examples. You can even split the time between opposites by drawing negative thoughts for 10 minutes and then logical positive thoughts for another 10 minutes.

4. Mandalas

Mandala drawing has a long history, but made its way into psychology with Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology.

Mandalas are spiritual symbols, often in circles with geometric shapes. Complex patterns and repetition can promote mindfulness.

In one study 2020, the researchers concluded that mandala drawing can reduce negative emotions and improve spirituality. And according to a small 2005 study, coloring in a mandala was shown to reduce anxiety significantly more than coloring in other designs or on a blank page.

You might want to color pre-made mandalas or create your own (and then color them!). It can be a meditative act as well as a creative act.

You can search “mandala drawing prompts” for hundreds of ideas, or start here.

5. Sketch

If you’re done with shapes but can’t do it freehand, drawing can be a great option to try.

Sketching involves tracing pictures, often done with lighter tracing paper placed over what you want to draw. You can draw mandalas, magazines, photos – the limit does not exist.

Consider coloring your sketch afterwards for continued creativity.

6. Coloring

While some may argue that coloring is not drawing, art is art. Additionally, much of the art therapy research involves coloring activities, so it can grant us the same stress relief without the need to draw something from scratch.

Coloring options are plentiful, with pages you can print online and plenty of adult coloring books. You can also color your own drawings or add color to your drawings with colored markers, ink or pencils.

7. Mixing mediums

Drawing is one of the most accessible types of art therapy, but you don’t have to stop with a pen or pencil. If you have supplies lying around or feel like expressing yourself in more than one way, you can mix and match art mediums.

To consider:

  • add paint, crayons, colored markers, etc.
  • create a collage with your drawing by pasting pictures or magazine clippings into it
  • write around your drawings (like things you are grateful for, for example)

You can also add the benefits of music by playing something soothing or your favorite songs while you draw.

Including more art in your life can be as simple as picking up a pencil and paper.

Still, if you think you could benefit from real art therapy, you can find an art therapist through the American Art Therapy Association’s art therapist locator or Art Therapy Credentials’ art therapist search. Board (ATCB).

If certified by the ATCB, they will usually have ATR (certified art therapist) or ATCS (accredited art therapy supervisor) credentials.


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