The Healing Power of Art

The Healing Power of Art

On the job, nurses are compassionate and focused during stressful work conditions. However, this kind of work can drain nurses’ emotional energy to care for themselves and put them at risk for burnout and compassion fatigue, according to an article by the Holistic Nursing Practice. During times like these, it’s easy to forget about creative pursuits, like art.the-healing-power-of-art

Engaging in art can actually make us happier and calmer. At the University of New Mexico (UNM) Hospital, nurses at work participated in the UNM’s Arts-In-Medicine program to practice creative activities such as poetry reading and creating paper flowers and gift cards for positive wellbeing. As a result, more nurses felt relaxed, peaceful, and ready to complete their assignments.

Although we can’t always make paper flowers at work, engaging in art can significantly release negative emotions and feel more centered.

How Creating Art Helps Mental Health

Art is a great way to decrease stress. Studies have shown that engaging in art decreases cortisol and leads to better memory, resilience, and self-esteem. Other benefits of art-making include healing from trauma and expressing creativity on a deeper level, which can decrease anxiety and depression.

Many people from different fields, including nurses, have found art to be a way to cope with difficult times and use it as a relaxation method. Art that involves different uses of the senses also helps with emotional regulation.  

In UNM’s arts-in-medicine program, hospital nurses who participated in art workshops like clay making, guided art walks, and other immersive experiences “learned to relax” and had greater self-awareness by paying attention to the shapes, colors, sounds, and textures of what they were making.

What Types of Art to Do

When we think of art, we might imagine painting a large canvas and getting intimidated in the process. However, art can also mean buying an adult coloring book with some markers or taking pictures of nature scenes on your phone. Our practice can be whatever we feel comfortable doing.  

Painting isn’t the only form of art; other types of art we can explore include:

  • Doodling, coloring, or scribbling
  • Writing or journaling
  • Sculpting (e.g., clay making)
  • Scrapbooking
  • Needlework crafts
  • Jewelry making
  • Dancing
  • Photography

It’s better to make the practice as low-stress as possible so that you’ll continue with it over time. If you find it hard to start an activity, think about what type of creative pursuit you’ve always wanted to try. Is it making an art college online or designing a vision board using magazine clippings?

Remember, you don’t have to frame your art when you’re done creating it. This can be for your eyes only. 

You can also buy a drawing prompt book to give you ideas for your creation. For those who want to try painting, you can find paint-by-number kits at your local craft store or online at mass-market retailers.

Using Art as a Tool for Self-care

Some art exercises are based on art therapy, which can help release lingering stress. Using art is also a unique way to get in touch with how you’re feeling. For example, drawing whatever comes to mind without making the lines look nice can help deal with perfectionism or a lack of control in life.

It’s important to note that if you want to try activities similar to art therapy, it’s best to find a certified art therapist to support you as you experience challenging emotions.

Many forms of art use therapeutic ways of relaxing, so consider the following art therapy-based ideas to help you become more expressive:

Use colors that calm you. What are some colors that calm you? Finding tones that help soothe you can be an easy way to feel more at peace.

Make a collage related to a quote you like. Maybe you have a quote you’d like to remember more when feeling anxious. Recreate aspects of the quote visually and turn the words into your inspiration. To create your collage, use stickers, newspaper clippings, paint, or other design elements to make the college stand out.

Or, collage your joy. If the last idea sounds too hard, consider what brings you joy (your pet, family, plants, etc). Then, find aspects of those things for gratitude the next time you feel lost.

Create a happiness jar. A jar is filled with moments of happiness, memories, or motivation for the future. This could be a good idea if gratitude doesn’t come easy. All you need is a jar, some scraps of paper, and a pen or pencil to write down your moments of joy.

Draw a place where you feel safe. Draw or paint a safe, peaceful, real, or imaginative place. Consider doing this practice and discussing how it felt with a trusted professional, such as a therapist.

When we’re busy in our careers, it’s easy to forget that we deserve to have fun and let loose once in a while. Picking up a brush or coloring pencil can be a great way to feel like a child again and discover our creativity.

Making Self-care a Priority

Making Self-care a Priority

As a nurse, youre empathetic and compassionate and go out of your way to ensure you provide your patients with the best possible care. But when it comes to looking after yourself, self-care may get prioritized far down the list – or not at all.making-self-care-a-priority

Such a mindset may be harmful to you and, ultimately, your patients. Nurses are great patient advocates, but “we do need to start advocating for ourselves because you can’t keep helping everyone. Then you dont have anything left in your reserves,” said Linda Roney, EdD, RN-BC, FAAN, associate professor, Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, Fairfield University.

“I think you have to be selfish, which is hard in a selfless profession to balance, but I think that is one of the ways that we can keep ourselves healthy. You have to prioritize yourself,” said Crystal Smith, DNP, RN, NE-BC, director of the medical-surgical unit at Childrens Nebraska.

As healthcare professionals and organizations celebrate Nurses Week with its theme of Nurses Make the Difference,” now is a perfect time to assess your attention to self-care. In this article, well offer practical strategies to help you care for yourself.

No Perfect Time

When it comes to self-care, one of the biggest lessons for me is that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all,” said Roney. Nurses need to be aware of their unique needs.

Another awareness is not to wait for the perfect time for self-care. Roney said you can work on small, incremental changes” for five or ten minutes that can accumulate over a day. You might try habit stacking”: combining a potentially burdensome task with something enjoyable, notes Roney.

Days Off and Zen Dens”

Smith meets with her new nurses at Childrens Nebraska in Omaha to discuss a self-care plan. If a nurse is struggling, Smith can consult the nurses plan and see the measures that might help that person.

One self-care policy at Childrens Nebraska allows nurses to take a day off if they need to recharge—if your tank isnt full enough to come in and give all of yourself that day,” said Smith. There are no negative repercussions should a nurse choose to do so.

Nurses are also encouraged to disconnect completely when they need a break. Its very hard to get away from the work when youre at work,” Smith explained. Nurses are encouraged not to take their work phones on break but to trust that the staff can handle the patients while away.

Another self-care tactic involves Zen dens.” When the hospital opened a new tower two years ago, these rooms were built into each unit. Zen dens have a lock, a massage chair, essential oil diffusers, books, and low lighting. A nurse can connect a phone to a speaker to play quiet music. You can go in there and decompress how you need,” said Smith. 

Smith noted that accessibility of these Zen dens is key. We as organizations have always had places for people to do that, but never right on the unit. It’s tough to get a nurse or even a doctor to leave the unit where their patients are without any way to communicate with them.”

Added to these measures is a Thrive” team, a department dedicated to employee wellness, noted Smith. Two members of Thrive are Howie, a golden retriever, and his handler, David. They may, for instance, join the staff for a debriefing after a difficult patient or family situation. Besides Howie and David, Thrive has a team of trained peer supporters and group facilitators available 24/7 for clinical and non-clinical team members.


Howie, the golden retriever, and his handler, David, make their rounds

Whats more, staff are encouraged to go home after a death in the facility. Death in general is very hard, noted Smith, but I would say especially in pediatrics, its usually very traumatic. To expect the nurse who just went through that with a family and a patient to turn around then and take an entirely new patient, the mental load of that is really heavy. And so, to the best of our ability, we try to give them the option to go home.” At the same time, the facility understands that a nurse may want to stay at work instead of going home as a way of coping.

Back to Basics

As a nurse, you also need to take to heart the common-sense advice you probably give to patients about self-care, such as the following:

  • Sleep and downtime. You may want to spend some downtime on your phone, but be wary of it, noted Roney. You feel as if you are relaxing and having a positive experience. But all this time is going on, cutting into your sleep/wake cycle.”
  • Nutrition and hydration. If you talk to any nurse, most of us would agree we would put our needs after our patient, so there are many times we might miss a lunch break, or we may eat several hours later than we usually do because there might be something going on with our patient and we need to put their needs first,” said Roney. As a solution, really be intentional and plan on bringing your meals and snacks to work.” Stay hydrated throughout your shift, noted Roney.

Simple measures such as making sure to take your breaks, eat your meals, and use the bathroom regularly while on shift are a start for self-care, according to Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, clinical practice specialist, practice excellence team, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Next, prioritize quiet times and activities that bring you joy each day.

Moments of Gratitude

Practicing gratitude can also help with self-care. In talking to an experienced nurse who was struggling, Smith told her, You guys have to remember that the tiniest things you do make the biggest difference.”

Smith says, Sometimes we must find and center ourselves around those tiny moments of gratitude. Its easy to leave work and feel like your entire day was terrible. But really, you probably did many good things throughout the day.”

Mental Health Resources for Nurses

Mental Health Resources for Nurses

So how’s your mental health?

A year ago, most of us thought COVID would be long gone or at least a much less of a threat by now. Widespread vaccine access was on the horizon, and it looked like an important corner was being turned. But COVID had other plans.


As 2022 dawns, nurses are feeling a squeeze that’s unbearable and caring for patients who are desperately ill. Patients who are coming in for routine care aren’t out of the woods, and the psyche of the nation is suffering.

As the pandemic drags on, physical and emotional exhaustion is rampant. When it gets too much, reaching out for help will bring you to a better place. Helps looks different for everyone, but understanding when and how to get it is exceptionally important.

If you are in a mental health crisis or know someone in crisis, please


For a comprehensive list of mental health resources check out the Mental Health First Aid website. You’ll also find excellent resources and information in the Well-Being Initiative of the American Nurses Foundation and its partners.

Here are some resources to help you. You can also read Minority Nurse’s Strategies to Maintain Your Mental Health as a Health Care Worker for additional advice on self care and well-being.

Professional help

Recognizing that you’re not feeling yourself and that you need helps is the first step. Mental health professionals offer excellent support. Talking with someone helps you get things sorted out and will give you an opportunity to talk about everything that is weighing on you. Finding a therapist is difficult right now, but keeping up the search is worthwhile as it can bring back some balance to your life. And you don’t have to commit to a big schedule–find what works for you , even if it is just once or twice a month. If your employer offers an employee assistance plan (an EAP), find out if you have short-term access therapists for no cost.

To find a therapist, ask your insurance company who is accepting new patients or use this online tool to help you find someone in your area.


For some people, talking helps but they also need medication to manage the imbalance in their brain chemistry. Have you tried medication and didn’t find the relief you were hoping for? It can take a few tries with different medications to get the right results. Medication management requires a  comprehensive approach to consider other medications you’re taking, conditions you have, your response to the drug. Don’t give up.

Faith community

Community and faith leaders are often looked to as pillars of support in times of crisis, and faith communities are frequently excellent supports and resources for those in struggling times. If you have a person in your life who can act as a confidant while also offering the reassurance that matches your beliefs, then maintaining that connection can give you the comfort and guidance you’re seeking. If a prayer group or a meditation group gives you solace, make sure attend whenever possible.

Family, friends, furry companions

The pandemic is affecting each of us in a different manner. Your family and friends might not understand the things you do and see every day at work, but they will recognize that you are struggling. If you have close, dependable family and friends, lean on them for companionship or comfort. If you have a pet, they can offer great solace without any judgment at all. They also are often highly tuned into your moods so just having them close by feels good. If you aren’t able to get a pet but would like to interact with animals more, pet shelters always need volunteers.


Find what makes you feel calmer with a goal of just taking care of yourself and relieving your stress. Nurses take care of so many other people and often forget the very basic need for self care. Exercise, meditation, faith practices, or being in nature are all excellent ways to lower your blood pressure and keep you moving forward. But making time for other things that make you feel good count too– binge watching movies, cooking, puzzles, crafts, coffee with friends, video games, a book club night, skateboarding, or  spending a day exploring a new place–if it helps you feel some relief, do it.