Art; how can it help you to ease Anxiety?
Written by Karen Prince Date 18 July 2023
I remember the first time I saw the words “Mental Health Issues” in my Medical file and I was shocked, I was sneakily reading this upside down from an open file on a consultants desk.
I thought “that’s not me”, “I don’t have mental health issues” ”I’m not mad am I?”
Then the realisation hit because I had reached out for some help with my anxiety that’s why this label was in my file. I hadn’t really made the connection that having an issue with certain things stopping me from living my life as I wished was a Mental Health Issue.
This was a few years ago now, luckily more and more people are talking about mental health issues and I hope the tide is turning. The more we talk about it the more it will be less of a taboo subject, sometimes there is so much pressure for us to keep things together.
There are a whole bunch of issues that can cause anxiety, but my big triggers were….
- Watching my son having an anaphylaxis episode when he was 18 months old. It was terrifying watching him swell up almost beyond recognition and then struggling to breath. It also meant a lifetime of being vigilant with his food, eating out would never be the same again, or the weekly food shopping, having to read all the labels and the Epi-Pen training. After a second anaphylaxis episode, we found out he was allergic to Soya milk and soya protein too.
- I had a Brain Haemorrhage at the age of 39 with a then 2yr old and an 11 month old baby and in the middle of a building project. Luckily I didn’t need surgery and after almost a week in hospital I could return home.
However I was left with a long term health issue of Fibromyalgia. I was exhausted a lot of the time and working full time was not an option and the kids were still little, I am grateful for every extra day I’ve had with my children, to be able to see them grow.
My creative outlet
Before all of this I’d always been a tad anxious but I always had a creative outlet. Painting and creating has always been my passion since I was a child. I started with painting by numbers and playing with paper dolls. My art teacher was always encouraging and it was the only subject that I loved and was good at. (I went through school being Dyslexic but not diagnosed but then that was the norm in the 80’s) Anyway painting took me to my happy place and 4yrs at Art College. I had a creative career, numerous jobs in different creative capacities and my anxiety was pretty much under control. Then I guess having children took priority over my creative outlet and my health suffered for it.
As my children grew older, also to help with my recovery I started to paint and rediscovered my passion for Embroidery. I hadn’t done any Embroidery since leaving College and I found the repetitiveness of painting with thread extremely therapeutic. It calmed my mind, having a child with a severe allergy makes you always think the worst. We had quite a few trips to A&E, so much so I was getting calls from the Health Visitor. We discovered that he was also allergic to grass pollen, nope not just a bad case of hayfever! It took a few years before we had the right advice and the correct plan of action to get us through the summer months.
Discovering a new kind of Art
Fast forward to 2020 and we all know what happened then! However, for me it changed my life for the better. I was obviously very anxious like everyone else but a fabulous lady entered my life, in the form of Natasha Gulliford. I had been following Natasha on Instagram and I happened to comment on one of her paintings and she told me that she was going to be running a free Watercolour Workshop. So I signed up and every Monday there was a tutorial, sometimes my youngest son would join in.
Natasha’s Workshop was a distraction from the awful daily horrors of the Pandemic and I fell back in love with painting. So whilst I suppose so many people were maybe experiencing anxiety for the first time during the Pandemic, I was finally getting to grips with some of mine. Spending hours painting, managing my emotions and it really helped once the home schooling started. At the end of Natasha’s free course she explained that she was going to be running a workshop to develop people’s work into Designs and also showing us how to digitise our paintings. I took the leap and invested in myself. For six months I had the pleasure of connecting online with other creatives.
I guess we were our own version of Grayson’s Art Club..” we want to encourage everyone to express their creativity through Art. Art is good for you, whoever you are” Grayson Perry.
Natasha’s demos were so relaxing to watch, in fact I was so relaxed I would almost nod off.
Have you ever watched a Bob Ross painting demo? It’s well worth the time it’s hypnotic watching an image being created. The saying goes that it’s like “watching paint dry” well in some cases that’s not a bad thing. It will make you slow down and connect with what you are creating.
It might be how you are feeling, you just want to make marks, use bold brushstrokes that are full of energy.
It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re at your most relaxed and in your creative zone. I love painting florals and this has led me to wanting to grow flowers in the garden. Getting in touch and connecting to the Earth is magical and therapy in itself. Combining these two things is a real treat, my anxiety hasn’t gone away especially with the menopause in full swing, but I now have the tools to help me deal with my feelings. The colours and texture of paint can be such a joy and distraction, as an Artist/Designer I am constantly driven to explore and expand my creative process, self-discovery and growth.
My own work
I’m delighted to be able to share my work on Instagram…Karenprince69
This has led to my work being in a few exhibitions, I have had some on line sales and I’m back to designing Wallpaper and Bedding designs.
I also teach watercolour workshops. It’s such a privilege and a joy to see people pick up a paintbrush, possibly the first time since leaving school. Some people get quite emotional, some decide it’s not for them and realise why they haven’t felt the need to paint. But it really is fantastic when people leave promising to start painting on a regular basis. Most people leave the sessions expressing that they haven’t felt so relaxed in a longtime and they can’t believe how quickly time has flown by.
Art as self-care
We really do need to start making time for ourselves, to stop seeing spending a few hours painting or doing embroidery as a luxury. We need to think of it as looking after ourselves.
Many of us painted rainbows with our kids in support of our wonderful NHS workers during Lock Down, it was something to cheer us up when we couldn’t see our loved ones.
But if you feel that painting is too messy for you, try a colouring book, you can still be creative with this, in your colour choice or the marks you make with your pencils.
You could also start with something a little easier but very pleasurable like leaf rubbings or leaf printing,
I’m sure we all did this at some point when we were at Primary School. I love printing with leaves and incorporating them into a lot of my paintings, designs and embroideries.
There’s nothing better than being in tune with the seasons but sometimes they seem so fleeting and it’s brilliant being able to use leaves and give them a chance to be permanent in a piece of work.
We have so much inspiration at our fingertips and in the real World, next time you’re out having a walk , slow down and have a good look at the fauna and florals. Take your time looking at the textures and colours, nature really is amazing, since I’ve started painting again I notice things so much more. Have some away time from your screen and take yourself off for a little daily wonder. It doesn’t have to be long but just spend time looking and touching nature. It can be so rewarding, even better if it can inspire you to capture the moment by painting what you’ve seen. It will be your own expression in your own style, just have fun, your mental health really will benefit from it I promise you.
I love working in mixed media, I use concentrated watercolour as the colours are so vibrant and intense. Then I work on top with acrylics, so I can build some luscious texture.
My work is loose and expressive rather than realistic, but my style has changed over the years, just like my handwriting has changed from when I was younger. It’s about finding what flows for you, what works for you, about what comes naturally. Of course practice helps like everything else in life but the main thing is to have fun.
There are some fabulous artists on Instagram and YouTube who happily share their skills. Have a look, dip your toe into a new medium, look for a local art class where you can borrow the materials and then you can
See if it’s something you enjoy before investing in your own equipment. There are so many styles and mediums you can paint in, and fabulous new products being developed all the time. Also great brushes, they can make all the difference to your work.