When anxiety starts to overwhelm you (and these days, there’s much to be nervous about!), what is your first impulse to feel better? With the rise of alcohol sales (55% growth in March 2020 vs March 2019 – and that’s just March!) and antidepressants (globally from $14.3 billion in 2019 to $28.6 in 2020) it’s clear that many are choosing those options. Other solutions include meditation, breathing exercises, regular exercise, putting your feet on the earth (aka “earthing”), or making a soothing cup of tea. Why not try a different approach? Play with your fears and draw a monster!
Playing with Fear
Play as an antidote to anxiety? Yes! Play is an integral part of having an adventure attitude. When you, as an adult, learn to play again it helps you to refresh and re-energize your brain, especially when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. (Note: this is joyful play versus escapist entertainment.)
Recently, when I was having a ‘down moment’ due to all of life’s changes and entrepreneur challenges, my friend Kara (founder of the podcast Playgrounding), introduced me to Creative Mornings. We both signed up for a workshop called “Playing with Fear: Turning Uncertainties Into Possibilities.”
I wasn’t sure by the title what was going to unfold, but learning new things and trying new things is one way I like to play. And, with the on-going sources of outside anxiety, I was willing to discover a different option. The solution is to draw!
Art therapy for Anxiety
One of the biggest tips for anxiety relief is to get out of your thoughts. Getting creative gives you something to focus on and gives your brain a chance to rest from all that fearful thinking. Art therapists often use drawing to help clients bypass their brains and tap into their subconscious.
If you think of drawing as play, it also helps overcome any self-judgement. Most people stop drawing at age 11 (by the time we leave elementary school!). Some forms of art therapy drawing have you not even look at your paper until the image is done, or ask you questions for what to add to your stick-figure self.
There’s a reason they say an image is worth a thousand words. Our brains not only process images faster than text but we engage and stay connected when a story comes to life visually. In fact, combining words, pictures and emotion improves retention by 65 percent.
Visual note-taking such as doodling increases memory retention rates by nearly 30 percent, and opens creative pathways, strengthens focus, and inspires self-expression.
Step Into Your Future Self
Gary Ware, the other co-host and the genius owner of “Breakthrough Play” states that when you’re in a play state, time flies. While playing, your brain is in a learning state. You can take bigger risks because your imagination is expanding. To help his audience be more open to playing with fear, he created a meditation. Before you begin this drawing adventure, find a few moments for quiet relaxation. Tuning into your emotional state guides you to being in touch with reality.
To make it easier for you, I asked Gary for his meditation. Lucky us, he’s sharing it with us here: “Step Into Your Future Self” What do you think of the meditation? (Tell me in the comments!) It took me a few tries of listening to this to “meet my future self”, but when I did – she rocks!
For this next part, go get yourself some paper and a drawing instrument. I used lined paper and a pen, as that’s what I had handy. If you have drawing paper and colored pencils, go for it! While you’re relaxed from the meditation (or even if you’re not), start your scribbles on the paper. No purpose in mind yet. Just make swirls, lines, ovals, curly-queues, dots, twisters…whatever doodle means to you. I recalled all those boring corporate meetings where I doodled in the margins!
Draw Your Monster
Take one of your doodles and turn it into a monster. If it helps, use the five basic elements to add features and shape to this critter. I like to tap into my inner child, the one at an age where my drawing skills were fairly basic.
Next, start labeling your monster and add notes about it. Remember that words + images are more powerful! Here are some questions to motivate you to describe your monster:
~Where does the monster live?
~What are its scary physical attributes (eyes, teeth, claws, etc)
~Is it wearing anything?
~How does it move?
~What bad things does it do?
The next important question, what does the monster need to feel better?
Drawing is a Tool for Anxiety
In the workshop we learned that drawing is a tool to move you away from fear. Are your fears imagined, or actual fears? Seeing your fears through your drawing can help you get to the root of the problem. Identifying the root problem can be scary, so remember to treat yourself with love, kindness and humor.
Instead of letting your inner fear rattle around in your brain as some unrecognized, generalized anxiety, you’ve now acted to identify your fears, real and imagined. Taking action hacks the nervous system and activates your senses. By focusing on the physical part of drawing, you’ve gotten out of your head, as well as put your thoughts on paper. Drawing from scribbles makes the monster look silly, which could lessen you fears. Journaling about the monster reinforces what the images mean to you.
Adventure in Drawing
Now look at your answer to what the monster needs to feel better. Was it chocolate and to be cuddled? Maybe it needs to throw up garbage. Maybe a long bath filled with bubbles. Whatever your answer, you now have clues to your next steps in self-care or steps to your future, fun you!
While not a cure-all to all the things that make us anxious, drawing a monster is a playful adventure. Identifying your fears may put you in your dis-comfort zone. Taking positive action to overcome your fears…that’s what having an Adventure Attitude is all about!
Play Anxiety Away
Let me know if you tried this, and any thoughts about it. Did you like it? Think it’s a waste of time? Would you prefer to do this in a workshop? I’d love to know!