During a crisis like a pandemic, people need art more and not less, as a way to be generative, keep living, and holding on to our vitality. In our online therapy sessions, we understand that art making can be a healthy and powerful tool particularly for relieving anxiety. Drawing on her expertise as an art therapist, Nora Dankner was recently featured in two articles in Martha Stewart, explaining how art can help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as suggesting some specific mediums for readers to try.
In “Try These Meditative Crafts to Help You Stay Relaxed At Home,” Nora tells writer Caroline Biggs that anxiety can be conceptualized as a build-up of energy in the body. Art making can be a way to direct that energy, particularly when we are all sheltering in place. As Nora says, “In a time of crisis, where the response to anxiety often can’t or shouldn’t be an action, we need a safe place for some of that energy to go…Art is a fantastic way to do something creative that gives back to ourselves, and gives the anxious energy a productive place to go.”
Nora emphasizes that while art making can seem intimidating to some, you don’t have to be an expert to try a new project. She recommends: “Overall, I think now is likely not the time to try to take on an ambitious new craft or art skill…Instead, set yourself up to succeed by returning to familiar materials. Do you have memories of enjoying crafts like paint-by-numbers, latch hook, or Sculpey when you were a kid? It’s a great time to restock those things and connect with those materials again.”
What are some forms of art Nora suggests for anxiety? Craft such as knitting or crocheting can be useful because they’re “very repetitive in motion, so it’s easy to multitask…and when you have a lot of time to transform, there’s a comforting and healing way that they become a productive record of time.” Nora also highlights collage for its convenience: “You can make creative use of whatever you have on hand at home (materials can be as simple as catalogues you receive in the mail plus paper, glue, and scissors), and it’s kind of like putting together a puzzle where you don’t know what the final picture is supposed to be.”
Music can also be both a stress reliever, and a way to connect with a community, particularly during the 7PM clap for essential workers by using pots and pans as instruments. “This creative expression has turned into a moment for people to feel connected with their neighbors and cheer on hope for our healthcare workers,” Nora observes.
Similarly, in the second article “15 Paint-by-Number Projects That Will End Up on Your Gallery Wall,” Nora speaks to both the therapeutic value of the messiness of painting, as well as the accessibility of paint-by-numbers specifically. “It removes the variables of composition, mixing colors, or creating an image, and makes painting really accessible for those who are new to the medium,” she says.