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.

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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.

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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.

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Keeping Burnout at Bay 
Karie Pinnix
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