Art Therapy For Stress Relief

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What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a form of behavioural therapy which utilises the creative process of art to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. There is no single definition set in stone as to what art therapy is, it can mean different things to different people. This versatility allows for creativity and flexibility when it comes to practising art therapy.1

Importance of stress relief

Chronic stress can have detrimental effects on our physical, mental and emotional health. Stress relief helps prevent these adverse effects promotes a higher quality of life and also maintains healthier relationships, productivity and performance.

Understanding stress

Definition of stress

Many attempts have been made to define stress. Scientifically, it can be explained as the bodily response to a stimulus which is greater than it can withstand.2 In simple terms, stress can be defined as the natural response to challenging situations, which prepares our body to deal with them. We all face stressors in different forms from time to time. However, intense or prolonged stress can be injurious to our health and well-being.

Causes of stress

Stress can arise from various stimuli for different individuals, ranging from major life events, school or work commitments, financial reasons, and relationship issues to daily events like household chores, traffic jams and environmental factors like pollution. Commonly, it is internal pressure evolving from factors like self-criticism and unrealistic expectations that cause stress.

Effects of stress

Stress gives rise to several chemical and hormonal changes in the body, manifesting as a variety of symptoms affecting physical, mental, and emotional health. Chronic stress has been shown to lead to cognitive dysfunction, mental health disturbances like anxiety, depression, eating, and sleep disorders, and also diabetes, autoimmune conditions, cancers and cardiovascular disorders.3

How art therapy relieves stress

Arts have been proven to improve social bonding, maintaining group motivation and a shared identity.4 It helps individuals find an expressive outlet for their thoughts and emotions. It promotes relaxation and helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of their inner self. It helps develop coping skills to deal with adverse situations more effectively, and gives rise to a sense of self-confidence and enables us to thrive.

Applications of art therapy:

  • Improve cognition
  • Develop emotional resilience
  • Create a sense of self-awareness
  • Build self-esteem
  • Enhance social skills
  • Personal growth

Techniques used in art therapy

There exists a variety of approaches to art therapy based on individual needs and preferences. Art therapy is focused on the process of creation rather than the outcomes. Through different artistic modalities, participants can be encouraged to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a manner that is best suited for them. 

Expressive art therapy can include:

  • Language arts like writing, poetry and journaling
  • Visual arts such as painting, modelling, sketching, mixed media art, etc
  • Dramatic arts such as acting, storytelling
  • Movement and sound, which includes music and dance

Benefits of art therapy

Reviews of studies are able to demonstrate that art therapy can be used to treat a variety of symptoms in different age groups. The benefits of art therapy for stress relief can be summarised :

  • Emotional expression
  • Mindfulness and relaxation
  • Self-exploration
  • Social connection
  • Empowerment 
  • Prevention of burnout
  • Distraction and relaxation
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Personal growth
  • Improved mental and physical health.

Practical tips for introducing art therapy into daily life

DIY exercises can be incorporated to include art therapy into daily life. Setting aside a few minutes every day to take part in activities such as doodling, colouring and journaling with art can make a significant difference in mental health. Another option is to seek guidance from professionals specialising in art therapy. One can take up a few sessions with an art therapist to understand the techniques of art therapy, and to find out the best suited one for the individual.  It is important to set aside time for self-development and take time to reflect on your art therapy works to make the best of it.


Of course, one needn’t be a professional artist to engage in art therapy. It is for everyone and anyone willing to participate in it. Tapping into one’s creative potential can help navigate life’s challenges and find mental peace. Incorporating art therapy into our mental health routine can be a means of self-growth and healing on a path to improved mental health and happiness.


  1. Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review [Internet]. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019 [cited 2024 Feb 18]. Available from:
  2. Butler G. Definitions of stress. Occasional paper (Royal College of General Practitioners). 1993 Aug(61):1.
  3. McEwen BS. Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European Journal of Pharmacology [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2024 Feb 18]; 583(2):174–85. Available from:

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Iniya Ezhilarasan

PG Cert, Medical Education, University of Warwick

Iniya is an International Medical Graduate from India and a soon-to-be NHS doctor and an aspiring Obstetrician-Gynaecologist. She is a passionate doctor and is interested in Heath Education and Medical Writing. She completed a Diploma in Women’s Health from the Royal College of Physicians Ireland and is working towards her PG Cert in Medical Education from the University of Warwick, and also to establish a career in medical writing.

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