Art Therapy & Emotion Regulation: Redirecting our Emotional Guides
We all experience different emotions throughout the day, such as happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety. Even though some emotions are believed to be negative, they can all be helpful guides in our daily lives. Sadness can help us appreciate what we have; anger can motivate us to overcome obstacles; anxiety can prepare us for potential threats, and the list goes on.
Despite their guidance, our emotions can sometimes get out of hand. They may reach an intensity that becomes hard to handle. They may also lead us to do something that we later regret.
However, another great thing about our emotions is that they can be controlled, without having to eliminate them entirely. What I am referring to is emotion regulation, which simply means managing (or redirecting) your emotions so that you can feel more how you want to feel. This can be done in unhealthy or healthy ways, and one healthy way is by creating art.
Art Therapists (such as myself) use art and dialogue to encourage self-exploration, understanding, and surpassing personal challenges. However, we have also developed quick-and-easy directives to help people regulate their emotions.
Here are three Art Therapy directives that can help you with emotion regulation:
Pressing and Fading: Sometimes it helps to release the emotion outside of yourself. This can be done by literally pressing and fading away your emotion. 1) Express your emotion with acrylic paint on a sheet of paper. This can be done in any way that helps you release that emotion. You could create an image, or smear or splash a colour that represents your emotion. 2) After you finish painting, press a second sheet of paper on top of your painting, and then peel the second paper off of the first one. 3) Then press a third sheet of paper on the second paper, and so forth. Keep repeating this process with other sheets of paper, until you barely see paint on the paper you peeled off. As you keep releasing your energy into this process, your emotions will fade – both on the paper and inside of you.
Here is an example of pressing and fading anger:
Positive Distraction (e.g. Healing Place): Sometimes it helps to remove yourself from what is upsetting you, forget about your negative circumstance for a while, and let your distressing emotion fade naturally. This can be done by creating anything that you feel is positive, happy, relaxing, and/or safe. One example is creating a healing place: 1) Visualize a place in your mind (real or imaginary) that is positive, happy, relaxing, and/or safe. Consider all the details of this place (e.g. what is happening, what is there, the senses you experience, etc.). You control this place, and can make it whatever you want it to be. 2) Create this place using paint, markers, pastels, or whatever art medium you prefer. You can always reach this place by visualizing it in your mind, viewing your art, or creating the place again. Here is an example of positive distraction:
Stress Ball: Why buy a stress ball when you can relieve your emotions by both making and using one?
1) Take a palm-of-the-hand-sized clump of Plasticene and roll it into a worm-shape. Keep rolling out the Plasticene (and your emotions) until your Plasticene-worm can fit into the hole of a balloon.
2) When ready, place the Plasticene-worm in the balloon-hole. You can break the Plasticene-worm into parts to make it easier, and you can roll-out more Plasticene if you want to make your stress ball bigger.
3) When you are happy with the size of your stress ball, tie up the balloon and squeeze away!