"Relieve Stress, Be Creative"

0

Your Cart is Empty

Creative Stress Reduction

by Logan Ransley January 01, 2018

Can art art therapy reduce stress?

A recently published pilot study (Kaimal, Ray & Muniz, 2016) proposes that adults may experience a measurable reduction in their cortisol levels after a 45-minute art making session. Cortisol is often defined as a “stress hormone” that is correlated with levels of stress in the body and what is commonly known as the fight-or-flight response to threatening or dangerous events. The current study involved 39 adults, ages 18 to 59, who were asked to make art of any type using a choice of collage materials, modeling clay and/or felt marking pens. The participants’ saliva was tested before and after to evaluate cortisol levels and they were also asked to complete pre- and post-questionnaires to generate additional data on their experiences.

In brief, the study reports that nearly 75% of the participants had lower cortisol levels after art making than at the start of the session. For the remaining participants, cortisol levels remained about the same or were elevated. Prior experience did not seem to matter in the outcome—in other words, it may be possible to experience a reduction in stress despite any knowledge of art materials or processes. Future more comprehensive studies that include a control group (in this particular study, there was no control group) for comparison will likely help tease out additional data on these initially positive results.

"We found Paint By Numbers kits kits to be the most effective way for our participants to create artwork"

This current pilot study and similar investigations of art-based protocols focus on the collection of what are called “biomarkers” or physiological measures of participants. About these measures and art therapy research, Warson and Lorance (2012) note: “The field of art therapy is rich with opportunities for research that can enhance and validate what is already common knowledge to most art therapists and their clients: that art is life enhancing. What is not know is that the act of making art can have a positive impact on physiology. This type of research involves the collection of ‘biomarkers’” (p. 363). In addition to cortisol, Warson and Lorance underscore the roles of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems in stress and within their own research efforts on stress reduction and art activity. In brief, their pilot study examines the effects of coloring a mandala (circle) and working a maze puzzle (control group task) and measurements of cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase (SAM), IgA (immune response) and a standard anxiety inventory. Preliminary results support the idea that coloring the mandala design decreased SAM and increased immunity, and also that a variety of factors impact variations in cortisol levels.

If art therapy is indeed defined as a “relational” approach in which the helping professional plays an important role in facilitating change, then just what is the role of art therapy in stress reduction and changes in physiological measures of stress? One cortisol study does provide some emerging data on the impact of art therapy versus simply “art making” on stress reduction. Latvian researcher Dace Visnola and her colleagues (2010) investigated a specific art therapy protocol that examines not only cortisol levels, but also the perception of stress and reportable physical changes over time, demonstrating the complexities of stress reduction in clinical practice. The researchers devised art therapy sessions designed to reduce stress that included the role of the art therapist; they also employed specific interventions to facilitate change, self-concept, emotional expression and self-perception and thus sought to measure how stress levels are influenced by both art-based approaches and the therapeutic relationship (see References at the end of this article to access a PDF of their study).

While art therapists generally agree that the creative process of art making is life enhancing, the existing research efforts on art making and cortisol evoke a number of questions for this belief within the field. First, physiological measurements of stress include more than cortisol levels; also, while cortisol levels are fairly easy to obtain, it is not a “one sample only” procedure in order to demonstrate identifiable effects of any intervention. Secondly, art therapy is not just about “chilling out” (aka reducing stress or improving self-regulation) through art activity; that goal is achievable through many other avenues including activity therapy, recreation therapy, occupational therapy, rehabilitation, and even self-directed art making experiences. In contrast, art therapy as an approach challenges people to grow within their “windows of tolerance.” Art therapists, like most psychotherapists, offer what can often be modestly stressful experiences and strategic art-based approaches within the windows of individual tolerance; a little stress is often necessary for all of us in order to learn and achieve goals of behavioural change, emotional repair and resolution, personal and interpersonal growth, resilience and self-efficacy.

Finally, it is exciting to see the cumulative and emergent data that further the understanding of the impact of art making on stress. Perhaps the latest research in this area will inspire additional studies, identifying the distinct role of art making per se versus the practice of art therapy in facilitating health, including stress reduction and physiological measures of well-being. I believe that there are differences and that we can all look forward to deciphering what exactly those differences are in order to develop more effective art psychotherapeutic approaches in the future. 

Be well,

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD

© 2016 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD

Article was reposted from Psychology Today

Logan Ransley


Leave a comment


Also in The Health Benefits Of Art Therapy

Art Activities for Stress Relief
Art Activities for Stress Relief

by Logan Ransley May 17, 2018

Many people who are artistically inclined say that the creation of their art is a wonderful stress reliever. In fact, the creation of art can provide a catharsis for difficult emotions, a distraction from stressful thoughts and experiences, and a chance to get into a state of "flow" that can be restorative in many ways.
Read More
Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD
Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD

by Logan Ransley April 01, 2018

When I color during therapy, it creates a safe space for me to express painful feelings from my past. Coloring engages a different part of my brain that allows me to process my trauma in a different way. I can even talk about the most difficult memories of my sexual abuse without panicking.
Read More
Top 4 Reasons Why Making Art Is The New Meditation
Top 4 Reasons Why Making Art Is The New Meditation

by Logan Ransley January 28, 2018

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do.  Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings.
Read More

Official Community Newsletter

LIMITED OFFER