Creative ways to manage stress and anxiety

Life is filled with daily moments that can trigger anxiety within you. These moments can build and build until you are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. This can lead to physical symptoms including shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating and tightness in your chest. How do you handle it so you don’t feel so stressed everyday? The important thing is to recognize what your triggers are and where you feel the anxiety in your body. Recognizing these are extremely important so you can intervene sooner than later with some coping skills.

Coping skills are what you do or say to yourself to help yourself to feel better when experiencing a negative feeling or situation. Some people don’t do anything to cope which leads to an increase in anxiety. It is essential to try a variety of coping skills to find what works best for you. Think of it like an experiment, you don’t know what will work for you as an individual, you must keep trying and not give up to find the right combination of skills.

The key to begin this process is to focus on your breath first. “To control your life, control your mind. To control your mind, control your breath,” –Stephen Richards. Practicing deep breathing is the key to begin gaining control over your anxiety. There are a variety of breathing exercises you can try including some apps you can download on your phone. The most basic way to practice is to breathe in through your nose to the count of 4, hold it for a count of 4 and slowly let it out through your mouth for a count of 4. Practice this twice daily when calm for at least 10 breaths to begin teaching your body how to slow down your breathing so it will be easier for you to calm down when you do become anxious.

Creative expression allows you to fully engage the senses to let out of the stress, anxiety and worries inside you. At times it can be difficult to verbally for you to use your words to express what you are feeling. Creative expression allows you to safely manage your negative emotions and the process itself can be therapeutic. The most difficult part of developing coping skills is finding the right ones that match your individuality.

  1. Remember how excited you used to be to get your Crayola box of 64 crayons? Adult coloring books are all the rage now. Research shows that it lessens depression and anxiety. Give it a try, using crayons, colored pencils or markers. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Notice if your negative feelings change after some time coloring. It can be great way to unwind after a difficult day. I’ve used it before when I had to solve a problem.

  2. Create playlists of music that includes upbeat songs to play when you are in a depressed mood. Remember to always pick the opposite kind of song from what you are feeling. Feeling anxious? Find some relaxing and soothing music to calm you down.

  3. Use some clay or playdough to create a symbol of what is upsetting you. You can them transform that symbol into something that uplifts you. An example would be to use playdough to create a symbol of your depression like dark cloud. You could then transform it into sunshine. The simple act of using playdough, squishing it between your fingers or just playing with it can be a fun way to relieve stress (even as adults!).

  4. Painting can be a very calming experience. Remember to focus on the process of doing it, not the product! Using some watercolors, paint straight lines across on your paper starting with blue, then purple and then use green. Just keep yourself grounded in the experience, feel your arm moving across the paper as you paint and blend the colors together. This can be a very soothing experience.

  5. Journaling can be a very effective way to get out your feelings in a safe way. Sometimes simply the act of simply writing all of your worries and concerns on paper can be a therapeutic process. Remember not to edit as you write and simply get it all out on paper. Go back to what you wrote a few days later and determine if it still seems as bad as you originally thought. Time can change your perception and help you to keep perspective on your problems.

Keep in mind the importance of experimenting with different ways to use creative expression. Keep an open mind and be willing to try new things. You never know, you may find something you are passionate about to help better manage your stress.