Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 8 April 2019
  • 7 minute read
Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions

We’ve all experienced how singing along to your favorite tunes or trusting your thoughts to your diary can make you feel better. But did you know that regularly engaging in creative activities actually boosts your happiness and health?

Art therapy is a kind of therapy that uses creative self-expression in the form of painting, drawing or sculpting to support the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems. Other creative activities like music, dancing and writing are also praised for their health benefits.

Studies show that art therapy not only provides distraction, but also relieves stress and improves your mental health. Because visual art transcends language, it helps people express emotions that are hard to put into words. Even celebrated artists like Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh probably turned to painting as an emotional outlet, to help them cope with disability and mental illness. What’s more, being creative can evoke positive emotions like joy, awe and inspiration – all of which help build your resilience.

Art in all its forms can even promote your physical health. Recent research reveal that art therapy reduces pain when offered during acute hospitalizations. Listening to your favorite music also results into requiring less pain medication after surgery and boosts your brain health. Finally, dance training turns out to be a helpful tool in rehabilitation settings, to improve the balance and gait of patients with reduced mobility.

Pretty impressive, right? So how can you apply art therapy in your own life to boost your health and happiness?

First of all, you should know that art therapy has less to do with being ‘artistic’ than you might think. It’s about expressing yourself in a creative way, for your own pleasure and self-development. You don’t need special skills or difficult techniques. So silence your inner critic and perfectionist tendencies and take a look at these 44 creative ideas to get started.

This blog post contains affiliate links to resources I thought you might find helpful, at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own. 

Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions

44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness

Even when your energy and mobility are limited, you can still express yourself creatively. Maybe not as ‘perfectly’ or elaborately as you’d like to, but that’s not the point of art therapy anyway. From crafting to writing, here are 44 creative activities that will support your health and happiness.

  1. Write a letter to someone means a lot to you.
  2. Get your pencils ready for some soothing coloring for adults.
  3. String beads into a beautiful bracelet, necklace or keychain. You could even use the end result like a rosary or fidget cube, to calm your mind, focus mentally and stay grounded.
  4. Did you know that the music you loved listening to during your teens and early twenties formed the strongest emotional reactions in your brain? Dust off your old albums for a good listen and a trip down memory lane.
  5. Read accessible poetry like Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey or Instructions for Traveling West by Joy Sullivan.
  6. Take a page from Julia Cameron’s bestseller The Artist Way and start each day by writing 3 morning pages. No need for a well-crafted stay or minding your grammar – just go with the flow and jot down what’s on your mind.
  7. Fold origami birds. According to Japanese folklore, creating one thousand origami cranes grants you one wish. This tradition has become a worldwide symbol of hope during times of illness.
  8. Take a virtual museum tour. More and more cultural palaces like the Louvre, Guggenheim and British Museum are opening the digital doors to their collections.
  9. Write a haiku. Haiku is a compact Japanese form of poetry, written in three lines of respectively 5-7-5 syllables.
  10. Paint 3 self-portraits of your past, present and future self. This transformational art therapy exercise helps you express what’s happened to you, who you are today and how you’d like be in the future.
  11. Start a reading challenge. Pick 10 classics you’ve always wanted to read, 6 stories starring in countries you’d love to visit someday or 7 books from different genres.
    Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions
  12. Document your daily life in photographs. Explore your neighborhood with your camera or look at everyday situations from a new perspective. You can learn the secrets of taking gorgeous photographs here.
  13. Cooking is where art meets science. Try an exotic cuisine or learn to make a new recipe.
  14. Enjoy knitting or crochet? Use some of that back-up yarn to make a comforting blanket for people in need or knit a hat for premature babies.
  15. Make a helpful play list with upbeat music, calming sounds or sad sing-alongs for every mood.
  16. Do you struggle to start or keep a journal? Escape the fear of the blank page with the quirky prompts of the Wreck This Journal.
  17. Browse Pinterest for tons of ideas for cooking, crafting and home decoration.
  18. The Family Sculpture is a popular art therapy exercise that depicts family relationships and dynamics. You should not try this without supervision from a therapist if you suffer from emotional trauma, but molding family members could provide helpful insights for slightly disturbed relationships.
  19. Turn trash into treasures by upcycling old pieces of furniture. You could even repurpose cans, crates and shipping boxes.
  20. Get creative with food and make a nourishing meal from the leftovers in your fridge and cupboards.
  21. Keep a gratitude journal.
  22. Zentangle is an easy-to-learn method to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. According to fans, the ‘doodling’ acts like a creative mindfulness exercise, which releases stress and releases stress. What’s not to love?
    Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions
  23. Bored with your standard Friday nights? Take ‘dinner and a movie’ to the next level by pairing your movie with a matching menu. Enjoy an Indian curry while watching Slumdog Millionaire or follow up a romantic French dinner with Midnight in Paris.
  24. Put on some music and dance like nobody’s watching. Simply move your body in any way that feels good.
  25. In need of a healing dose of literature? Choose a book that’s related to your own troubles. By identifying with the main character, you might gain helpful insights or discover new ways to deal with your problems.
  26. Create a physical mood board with inspiring images, magazine clippings or motivational quotes.
  27. Paint or draw with your whole body to release pent-up emotions.
  28. Do you spend more time on online entertainment than you’d like to? Go analogue for a day and reconnect with your creative side.
  29. Play around with washi tape.
  30. Build a personal ‘altar’ as a physical reminder to keep your focus on your intentions, goals and dreams.
  31. Learn to play a new song on your guitar or piano.
  32. Are you drooling over the beautifully hand-lettered quotes and stationary on Pinterest? Put your pen to paper and break out your cursive skills.
  33. Watch a moving music drama like Bohemian Rhapsody or A Star Is Born.
    Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions
  34. Creating doesn’t have to be ‘artistic’. It can be as simple as arranging flowers in a vase or making a wellness latte instead of your regular cup of coffee.
  35. Has someone hurt your feelings? Write a letter with all your grievances. Then, burn the letter and let it go. In the end, forgiveness is something you do for yourself.
  36. Sing! It’s the most fun way to boost your mood, lower your stress levels and improve your breathing capacities.
  37. Find the recognition you’re searching for in illness memoirs like When Bodies Break, ‘10′: A Memoir of Migraine Survival or Get Well Soon.
  38. Browse your local library or book shop for inspiring reads.
  39. Love making needle-felted animals? Maybe you can craft a felt cutie as a gift for a baby shower or donate some to refugee children.
  40. If you struggle with chronic illness, grab a giant piece of paper and ask a friend to draw the contours of your body. Next, get your paint brush or crayons out and make a visual representation of your illness. How does it feel, where does it hurt, what is your body trying to tell you?
  41. What’s a more creative act than growing plants from seeds?
  42. Baking can be oh so therapeutic. This mindful activity that engages all your senses only comes with one warning: don’t eat all those cupcakes and cookies at once!
  43. Looking for an emotional outlet on a regular basis? Join a local choir, drama club or (expressive) dance class.
  44. You can frame your past, personality or problems in a more constructive way by (literally) rewriting your story. Dive into the ideas of narrative psychology and tell a new interpretation of what happened to you.

As you can see, ‘art therapy’ doesn’t have to be clinical nor complex. Any creative activity that combines pleasure, self-expression and/or mindfulness will help you boost your health and happiness.

Have you ever consciously tried art therapy? Which creative hobbies make you feel or cope better?

Art Therapy: 44 Creative Ideas to Support Your Health and Happiness | The Health Sessions

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